Author Archives: Dave Roberts

What not to do for SEO

What Not To Do for SEO

The work of SEO has changed a lot since I started doing it in 1998.  In those days, the task was to use tricks to portray the content of the site as being more narrowly focused on certain terms than it actually was, in order to rank high on those terms.  Since those days, search engines have become a lot more sophisticated, so the old methods to trick them aren’t as useful anymore.  However, I’m surprised that I still see some of these techniques being used, so it’s useful to lay out methods that you shouldn’t try (anymore) because they’re more likely to give you low rankings in search results than high rankings!

To understand the whole business of SEO, it’s best to think of search engines as businesses.  Their customers are the people who are searching; they want to satisfy those customers so that they’ll come back and search again, so that the search engines can offer them ads to read.  How do they satisfy their customers?  They want their customers to get good results from search!  They want to give high ranking to sites that have lots of up-to-date, in-depth content that’s relevant to the search being conducted.

Keyword Stuffing

The ultimate method for keyword stuffing used to be putting lists of desirable keywords at the bottom of each page, with the text in the same color as the background.  Site visitors couldn’t see it, but the search engines could, and potentially give high ranking because of the presence of these important keywords.  That particular technique was especially easy for search engines to detect and ignore.  Or, having detected this egregious form of keyword stuffing, the search engine might even reduce the site’s ranking below where it would be without any keyword stuffing, on the principle that a deceptive practice is being used, and other, undetected deceptions may also have been used.

You also see lists of keywords at the top of a page or at the bottom of a page.  Understand that this is the oldest trick in the SEO book, one that search engines learned about long ago.  It won’t help, and may actually hurt.

Writing for the Googlebot

The old idea was to settle on a single keyword for a Web page, and use it at the start, again and again through the text, and once more at the end.  In addition, be sure to provide all the variations such as singular and plural, so that the search engines, and Google in particular, will see all the words.

This is not only no longer necessary, but unnecessarily stilted writing for the bots will be detected and may actually hurt your ranking in search results.

Article Directories

About five years ago, article directories were popular for SEO.  The idea was that you’d write articles for directories, including your URL, and the posted article would give you a link from a site with a lot of content.  A lot of people did this, because it worked.  However, these days this technique simply doesn’t work and may even harm your ranking in search results.

The first problem with article directories is duplication.  Google wants to present a searcher with different content in the different sites that it summarizes in search results, so it abhors duplicate content.  This means that placement of the same article in many directories won’t be helpful.  There is “spinning” software available to substitute words in articles so that they look different, but these days Google can detect spinning as well, so even spun articles can get you into trouble.

Another problem with article directories is that they are often repositories of poor quality content.  They’ll have articles that are full of spelling and grammatical errors, that are also easy for Google to detect as poor quality.  Some sites using article directories may hire writers to produce low-cost, “unique” articles, often getting very poor quality results that get posted in article directories.

If you’re writing articles in your field, the best place for them is on your own site!  Start a blog and write for it regularly.  That’ll provide a steady flow of relevant, fresh content, just what Google loves to deliver to their customers, the searchers, those people we want to have as our customers too.  In addition, you can be a guest blogger in other influential sites, and link back to your own site.

Article directories just don’t have a place in your SEO strategy today.  

Article Spinning

Occasionally you’ll see ads for software to spin articles.  They will exclaim that a new level of AI is being used to produce really intelligent spins, new articles from old that don’t look like the old ones at all but read beautifully.

Now you can have it all, they’ll say.  Copy content from authoritative sites, spin it and put it onto your own site–it’ll never be detected as a copy, and you’ll have new, quality content.  Or take your own content spin it and put it on other sites that you build that link to your site.  Now your site will be seen as authoritative!

Don’t believe it.  Computer programs do not write as well as people do–you’re most likely to have just a jumble of barely readable copy.  And given Google’s growing ability to detect spinning, you’re just getting yourself into trouble, either now or down the road.

Stay away from article spinners.  This will save you a lot of time because they are usually considerably more work to set up and get working than the advertising tells you.

Buying Links

Google’s big innovation was to measure the importance of a site by the importance and number of links to it from other sites, and the importance of those sites.  A logical way to be seen as more important, then, is to get links from important sites.

Clever entrepreneurs noticed this also, and launched various schemes for selling links from high-authority sites.  You pay your money, and you get a link to your site.  As you can guess, this directly undermines Google’s most basic method for measuring the importance of a site, so they have been very concerned about link buying for a long time.  They’ve put great effort into detecting sites that sell links, so if you deal with them you’re at risk.

Google is always interested in learning about sites that are selling links.  They don’t tell us, but I’d guess that one of their important methods for detecting link selling is through voluntary reporting.  If I’m offered links for sale, I’ll be sure to check my clients’ competitors’ incoming links for any signs of these purchased links, so that I can report them to Google!  I’m not the only SEO professional who does this, I’m sure.

Don’t buy links!  It’s a waste of your money.

Multiple Redirected URLs 

Yes, we know that Google tends to give a site high ranking on the words that make up the URL.  I’m reading in search engine blogs that this is less important than it once was.  However, in the domain of small business where I work, your site will tend to rank better on the terms in your URL.  Yes, for large businesses brands are important; but for a business that’s too small to build a huge brand, those terms in the domain name are still helpful.

But there’s another practice I still see that’s not helpful:  the purchase of multiple domain names, redirecting them to the principal domain name.  The idea is that Google will be so stupid that you’ll get ranked better on terms in those alternate domain names.  You won’t; all you’ll do is waste the money that you’ve spent on those domain names.  And, similarly, don’t consider building a site full of low-quality content on those domain names and including lots of links to your primary site; that won’t help either.  Instead of building junk sites, build one really good site with a lot of high-quality content.

One domain name is all you need.

The Bottom Line

Instead of trying to trick Google, give them what they want–a steady stream of fresh, quality content that’s relevant to the main topic of your site.  And you may want to get help–like me–to be sure that Google will recognize the good quality content that you’re providing.

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Commitments and online reviews

Micro-Commitment: The Key to Online Reviews

Problems When I Ask for Online Reviews

If you ask customers to post online reviews of your business or product on a review site, you’ll find that almost all of them won’t do it,  Which, from the business’s side of things, seems odd–if they’ve had great service or enjoyed a great product, why not do the purveyor a favor and post a review?

The answer to this question lies in the psychology of your request and the customer’s attitude as a customer.  Once this is understood, that understanding also leads to a method for overcoming the problem and obtaining lots of favorable reviews.

In this issue, the reason why people don’t do reviews when asked are discussed, and then the solution to the problem is shown.  That solution is known to work and is today producing solid results.

“Please Review Us”

Well-meaning businesses who are proud of their product or service will often ask, in one fashion or another, for a review.  There might be a pretty sign in the office asking for a review, or you might be given a card asking customers to post a review.  The business might even be so desperate for reviews that they offer some sort of incentive, perhaps a discount or entry into a drawing for a prize, for people who do reviews.  These incentives are risky–they can incur the wrath of the review sites, who state their rules that they do not want businesses to offer incentives for reviews.  If discovered, the penalty for such incentives can be serious, such as putting a notice on the review site that the company doesn’t follow the rules to obtain fair reviews.  More seriously, the review site might even remove all of the company’s reviews.

The businesses who take all the measures can get a review or two, now and then, as a result.  If they aren’t noticed by the review sites.  If they’re noticed, of course, the net of their efforts can be rather negative.

Why doesn’t this technique work?  If a business delivers great products or service, why don’t customers post reviews?

Why Requests for Reviews Fail

In today’s rich advertising environment, each of us is bombarded with exhortations all the time.  “Buy this!”  “Try that!”  “See this movie!” “Join this rewards program.”  And so on.  There’s a literally endless series of such requests.  Each of us comes to recognize what’s in our own interest and what’s in the company’s interest.  We become skeptical about requests that are perceived to be in the company’s interest.

Put yourself in the customer’s place.  What good will posting a review do for you?  What gain is there for you?  Yes, some people–mostly people you don’t know–will read it, and it may get the business more revenue.  But does it do anything for you personally?  No so much.  So why go to the trouble of finding the page on the review site and writing a review?

The customer is entitled to great service and great products, and the best companies strive to provide them all the time.  The customer is entitled to think that the appropriate benefit to the business has already been conveyed by choosing this business to deal with.  In other words, the customer has already done a favor for the business by doing business with them.  If the business now asks for another favor that has no reward, how likely is the customer to respond favorably?  Not very.  Which is why most such requests fail.

There is one class of customer who responds to this sort of request–the unhappy one.  We know that unhappy customers are somewhat more likely to post reviews than happy ones, which tends to skew online reviews to be somewhat more negative than the true customer experiences.  But if we ask for reviews, then we’re showing unhappy customers a way they can take out their unhappiness on us.  Of course, there are those few chronic unhappy people who will always take advantage of an opportunity to complain, whether or not anything is actually wrong, and these people, too, tend to respond to requests to post reviews.

So how can we get around this problem?  How can we get customers to post reviews, without offering incentives?

Doing a Favor Instead of Asking for One

What if, instead of asking for a review as a favor, we were able to pose this request so that it would be perceived by the customer as a favor?

There are two important trends that have been observed in business:

  1. Customers will do a lot of work previously done by employees and like it, in the name of self-service.  This includes pumping their own gas, checking themselves out at a supermarket, ordering their fast food from a kiosk.
  2. Customers like to be asked their opinion, and will happily provide it.  They won’t provide it all the time, but the response rates will be reasonable.

The first trend is something we can see everywhere, that has revolutionized many businesses.  But that’s not what we’re about here.  However, this second trend is something we can leverage to get reviews!  Customers like to be asked their opinions; it’s evidence that the business respects them.  We can use this affinity to get reviews and, at the same time, we can head off reviews from unhappy and congenitally disgruntled customers.

What if we asked customers how happy they were with the product or service that they received, and then if they were happy, thanked them for their feedback and asked if they would share their opinion with others in the form of a review?  Using this approach, we’ve done the customer a favor by asking for an opinion, and now we ask a favor in return.

We’ve also taken advantage of the psychology of micro-commitments.

The Science of Micro-Commitments

Whenever we are asked to do something, our instincts cause us to test it.  If it’s more than we’re ready to undertake, we can perceive it as a risk, and our “fight or flight” instincts take over, and we don’t honor the request.  The same principles hold when we ask a customer to do something.  If that first ask is too great, then there won’t be many responses.  On the other hand, if the first ask is tiny, or can even be seen as a consideration for the customer, then a bigger ask that comes later might have more success.

The way to apply the science of micro-commitments to asking for online reviews is to ask first for the customer’s opinion.  Most people like to be asked their opinion–it’s a sign that the provider respects the customer and wants to please them.  So asking for an opinion will have a hugely greater response rate than asking for a review!

Once that opinion is obtained, and it’s best to not exhaust the customer by going on and on with the opinion (one click is ideal!), now is the time to take that second step.  If the opinion is favorable, now is the time ask for a review!  After all, you’ve now done a favor for the customer, asking for an opinion, so you’re set to ask a favor in return.  And, once the customer is involved in the process, continuing to do a review is now the easy continuation of a process they’ve already begun.

Of course, if the customer isn’t happy, this isn’t the time to ask them to share that opinion with the world by doing a review!  Instead, this is the time to ask the customer to tell the business what went wrong, what could have been better to make them happy.  In this situation, there will be a high response rate from dissatisfied customers as well, and these responses can be very valuable to the business.

The Bottom Line

If you want to get favorable reviews from your customers, don’t ask them to post reviews!  Instead, use the science of micro-commitment and ask them for their opinion, and then ask the happy ones to post a review.  You can do this with a person calling customers, or through emails, or you can automate the whole process through Dave’s Certified Reviews.

 

hurry and go to HTTPS now

Google: “HTTPS now. Or else.”

What Is HTTPS

If you look at the address bar at the top of your browser page, you’ll see the URL for this page of the Web.  If you’re using Chrome, the most popular browser today, you’ll see that the URL starts with “https://”, and to its left is a green lock with the word “secure”.  The happy symbol tells you that all the communication between your browser and the server that’s fetching Web pages for you is encrypted.  A third party who intercepts your communication won’t be able to read it, and, also important, won’t be able to change it.

The use of HTTPS instead of the earlier protocol HTTP, that doesn’t encrypt traffic, has grown to the point where more than three-quarters of all Web traffic is now encrypted.  Google has been pushing for the use of HTTPS.  Their advocacy is an important reason for this shift, which protects all of us, those who have Web servers and users who are using Web browsers.

Their pressure for HTTPS has helped all of us, but don’t think of them as crusading white knights.  Their revenue comes from user trust in their search engine, and user trust in the use of the Web.  Google’s neverending font of revenue depends on a safe Web, so this advocacy has been strongly in Google’s interest as well as ours.

What’s Changing

Today, if you’re using HTTPS, you’ll see the happy green lock and the word “secure” to the left of the URL.  However, Google has confirmed on May 17 that they believe that users expect the Web to be secure, so instead of showing HTTPS as exceptional, they’re going to assume that HTTPS is the standard, and if your site still uses HTTP, then they’ll display a red warning that your site is not secure.

This won’t take place until the next release of Chrome, so you have over the summer to make the transition to HTTPS.  However, it’s no easier in September than it is today, so the best approach is to get with it and make the change now if you haven’t done it already.

The other reason to use HTTPS is that Google also tells us that they’re considering it as a ranking factor in search engine results, so if you want to have your site show up prominently in Google search results, then you’ll use HTTPS.

The Bottom Line

If you’re not using HTTPS, make the change now!

If you’re using Dave’s Super Hosting Service, this isn’t a problem for you, because HTTPS is provided for all sites that I host.  In addition to backup to the Amazon cloud, the most secure backup server.  And the most advanced Web security protection that’s available.

Online reviews - internet concepts word cloud illustration. Word collage.

How Many Reviews Do I Need?

Intro

For this post, like many others, I’m indebted to a client for a discussion about this topic.  As you can guess, there’s no single magic number of reviews that you can aim for and then relax once you’ve attained your goal.  Even if there was, you’d still need to keep seeking reviews because anyone reading reviews wants to see a review of the business or product as it is now, not how it was three or six months ago.

The good news is that there is now some reasonably good data around on this topic, so we can get some guidance.

Why Do Reviews Work?

Today there’s a huge buzz in Internet marketing circles around online reviews.  That’s because they’ve been shown to be an excellent way to attract business.  In fact, it’s been reported many times that shoppers trust written online reviews second only to personal recommendations from family and friends.

Why are reviews so effective at attracting business?  This occurs because reviews have become the latest form of what’s called “social proof“–a well-known psychological and social phenomenon where people assume the actions of others in an attempt to reflect correct behavior in a given situation, observing what others are doing in order to decide how to behave.  It’s a case where we can do online what we are accustomed to doing in our everyday interactions with each other.

Recency

The recent BrightLocal survey showed that nearly one-fourth of consumers say that in order for reviews to influence their buying decisions, the reviews should be no more than two weeks old.  That’s a strong result showing that recency matters–so you need a continuing flow of reviews.

The Minimum

I’ve heard that there are two answers that consultants give:  either “that depends” or “you’re going to need to give me more money.”  In this case, it’s the first answer–how many you need depends on the purpose you have in mind.

If you ask how many reviews it takes for someone to make a purchase, the real number is likely one–one review that’s credible, that has enough detail, that the reader actually believes.  Of course, for even one review to be credible, it needs to be found in the company of other reviews, so just one isn’t enough after all.

PowerReviews conducted a study with Northwestern Univesity  They found that the number of reviews required depends on the length of the reviews.  When reviews are shorter, more reviews are needed to cause sales to occur; fewer reviews are needed if the reviews themselves are longer.

Brightlocal, in their 2017 survey, got some numbers.  The good news is that only 26% read 11 or more reviews before they believe they can trust a business.  Two or three reviews will do the job for 29% of review readers, 34% need four to six reviews, and 20% need seven to ten reviews.  Looking at this cumulatively, 86% of review readers will trust a business after reading seven to ten or fewer reviews.  And with just two or three reviews, 32% of review readers can trust your business.

That tells us that a relatively small number of reviews can do some good in convincing people to do business.

How many reviews do we need to get a great position in Google My Business?  Let’s look at some examples.  First, “Washington DC restaurants”:Reviews and Google My Business

The leaders all have over a thousand reviews!  Notice that the highest average scorer, Le Diplomate, has the top rank, even though the two restaurants ranked below it have more reviews.

Here’s the result of another search, for “Urbana, Md. dentists”.  The top listing here has 117 reviews and an average score of 4.9.  Note that they’re given top billing even though Urbana Dental Spa has the same star rating, but only 11 reviews.  It appears that Google is comparing the number of reviews for the businesses it retrieves.

Google my business and reviews

Now we know how many reviews we need to get into those top listings on Google My Business–more than the nearby competitors!  So keep an eye on how many reviews your neighboring competitors are getting, and attempt to get ahead of them.

A word of caution here–the number of reviews is not the only factor that Google considers in the Google My Business listings that it presents at the start of page one.  In order to get here, your site must also have quality content, presented in such a way that Google understands that you have what it considers quality content.

How Many Stars Do I Need?

In the examples above, it was clear that the average star rating was a factor in ranking as well.  The BrightLocal study compared purchaser behavior for various star ratings, for three categories of purchases:  hair color, light bulbs, and salon hair color.  For all three, the optimal range for purchase was between 4.2 and 4.5.

That’s right, the rate of purchase actually drops off for a star rating above 4.5.  The research team believes that a score that’s close to perfect may seem to be too good to be true.  Negative reviews can actually have a positive impact because they can help establish authenticity.  An earlier study by PowerReviews showed that consumers view the absence of negative reviews as suspicious.

This is really good news for a business that’s seeking reviews because it tells us that the occasional negative review won’t hurt us; it can actually help us.  As long as it’s merely occasional, and the average star rating stays above 4.2.

For some services, such as medical and dental services, there may be an exception.  Would you want a surgeon who botched only 5% of her surgeries?  Likely not.  Or a dentist who made a real mess of one in 30 fillings?  Probably not.  There are some services that are of great importance, where we may want a result that’s closer to perfection than the range of 4.2 to 4.5.  The only evidence I can offer to support this idea is a few sites of dentists with star ratings about 4.5 that do attract patients.

The Bottom Line

First, find out how many reviews you have today on the most important review sites.  You can count them on Google, Yelp, and other sites, or you can get a free report by clicking here.

Then see how your average star rating, recency, and number of reviews line up with the numbers given above.  If you don’t measure up well, then consider a review management service, such as Dave’s Certified Reviews.

Whatever you do, though, even worse than doing nothing is the fraudulent practice of writing or hiring people to write fake reviews.  The reviews will not be as effective as genuine reviews, and if you get caught you’ll pay a heavy penalty.

What is Web marketing?

What’s Hot in Web Marketing?

What’s Hot?

Marketing is all about building and influencing trends.  It’s also true that trends are important within marketing.  Certain approaches become “hot” and widely used.  Particularly with the Internet, the evolution of technology and discoveries of how people behave on-line make certain methods work particularly well at certain times.

Knowing what’s hot right now in Web marketing can be important to because that’s likely to be a technique that can pay rich dividends in terms of bringing business to you.

For this discussion, I’m grateful for a discussion that took place with a client yesterday, who had attended a talk on Web marketing that echoed just what’s presented here.

Evolution

What I started this business in 1998, Web marketing consisted mostly of what’s called search

engine optimization, or SEO, which at the time was fooling Google into the impression that your site had content about the most popular topics of the day.  A variety of tricks were used to do this.  Today Google knows all about those tricks, and if you tried to use 1998 SEO today your site would see very few visitors from Google.

In those days of yore, we talk about Web 1.0, the use of the Web as a distributor of information.  Visitors found Web sites through search, and then accessed information there.  Web 1.0 was all about information provided by site owners.  Visitors were passive consumers of information.

On-Line Reviews

More recently, we’ve seen the growth of importance on the Web of user-generated content, as Web users shift their role from passive consumers to active providers of information–this is generally called Web 2.0.  Of course, marketers are eager to use that trend to their advantage, hence the emergence of on-line reviews as a marketing tool.  In fact, on-line reviews are the hottest topic today in Web marketing.

My own review management service was started to enable business owners to obtain more genuine, favorable reviews from their real customers.  A number of my clients are now using this service to increase the number of reviews they receive, and to show a live feed of reviews on their sites, tagged so that Google recognizes them as reviews.

Mobile

Technology trends account for the second major hot topic:  mobile device use.  More and more users search the Web using mobile devices, mostly phones but also tablets.  Google recognizes this, and of course they don’t want to send their customers to sites that don’t look good on small screens, so they’ve told all of us that if your site doesn’t look good on the small screen, it’ll hurt your position in Google search results.

If you haven’t already done so, check out your site using Google’s Mobile-Friendly Test.  If you fail the test, it’s time to engage your Web designer to solve that problem.  If your site is built with WordPress, which I recommend, you’ll have a number of options, and you may be able to solve the problem with just a plug-in.

Content

With all the current attention taken by on-line reviews and mobile use, it’s easy to forget the importance of content, which after all is what Web surfers are looking for.  If you’re a small business and have limited resources to develop content for your site, it’s best to put a lot of your effort into what’s called evergreen content, which is content that will have continuing value, that won’t have to replaced right away.

Once you’ve compared as many sites for search engine positions as I have, you’ll see that the sites with a lot of well-written, interesting content related to the main theme of the site will have higher ranks in search engine results than sites with more limited content.  If you want to rank high for some term, write about that topic.

Producing content is hard for small businesses.  I usually advise small businesses to get double duty from their content by writing a blog, or articles, for their Web site, and then putting that content into their newsletter, as well.  I follow my own advice; this blog post will also be an edition of my newsletter.

SEO

Finally, we come to SEO, that used to be the cornerstone in Web marketing.  Even today, some small business owners look for someone to “do SEO” for their site, expecting that there’s some magic that can produce high rankings.  There used to be such magic, when search engines weren’t as sophisticated and could easily be tricked.  If you try many of those old techniques today, your site could be removed from the Google index, with devastating impact on your Web customer acquisition.

However, there is still an important role for the practitioner who understands technically how search engines analyze a site and decide whether the site has quality content.  Fortunately for me!  That role is to, first, understand all of the priority topics on this page and provide guidance with them, but then to make sure the site is set up so that Google will recognize the worthwhile content that is present.  If things like tags and headings aren’t given proper attention, the benefits that should come from a quality content development effort may not be realized.

The Bottom Line

Yes, you can do all of this yourself.  But it’s complicated, and it changes over time.  It’s easy to make mistakes that can ruin your ability to attract customers through your Web efforts.  So the bottom line is:  don’t try this at home!

The Internet offers you the cheapest advertising medium ever devised, and professional help (from someone like me!) can allow you to focus on your own business, while making the best use of what the Internet can do for you.  And getting the maximum business benefit from your investment in your Internet presence.

The most glaring example of how the unwary can get into trouble is provided by the unscrupulous providers of specialized Web sites for professionals.  I’ve seen these services provide sites for dentists, doctors and lawyers that will never bring them any ranking in search engines because of built-in problems.  Their customers think they’ve offloaded all of their Internet promotion problems into this vendor who delivers them a lovely site.  Then for the money they spend they get nothing.

No more ideas

End of Dave’s Posts and Newsletters

End of the Line

The day has finally arrived, I’m hanging it up. After writing this newsletter for more than ten years, presenting you with broad-based ideas and sometimes details, and even the occasional security alert, finally, I’m out of ideas. I sat down to write a newsletter, and nothing at all came to me. After hundreds and hundreds of ideas, having to choose sometimes one topic from maybe ten to write about, finally there are none.

I’ve never heard that writers run out of ideas, that we’re each born with a quota of ideas, and one day they’re all gone.  But that appears to be the case.  I hope you’ve enjoyed this newsletter.  Now I wish that when I had so many ideas, I had written down more of them, instead of just writing about what I thought was the best topic.  Had I done that, I’d likely still have plenty of newsletters to write!

I continue to teach–of course, when you teach an established subject, one can argue that you’re presenting the ideas of others, so you don’t need to have new ideas.  I’m hoping that I don’t need any new ideas for teaching.  Or perhaps I’ve run out only of post ideas, and maybe there are a few teaching ideas left in the reservoir.  We’ll see.

The Bottom Line

Best wishes in all that you do, I hope that I’ve helped you along the way.

April 1, 2018

We Live April Fool, Every Day

“Nutsy” Isn’t Fiction Any More

Usually I choose an absurd but slightly possible theme for my April Fool’s Day newsletter, such as Google Files Chapter 11 or Walmart Buys Google.  However, as I was casting about for a topic this year, I heard a completely ridiculous news story, and it made me think that we’re living in an April Fool world these days.  The ongoing dumpster fire that is consuming the White House continues to produce new events each week that top last week’s unbelievable errors in judgment and abominable behavior.

So my absurd but slightly believable story this year, sadly, is actually true!  Ronnie Jackson is the Navy doctor who gave the president his physical last year, and then proclaimed loudly that he was in incredible health.  There was a physician in the audience, none other than Sanjay Gupta, who questioned such a rosy health prognostication for a man who was obese, taking cholesterol-lowering medication and who has evidence of heart disease.

It’s quite evident that the president was pleased, since he nominated Ronny Jackson for a promotion after his physical.  Now he’s taken one step further and is nominating him to head the entire VA!

The VA is the second-largest organization in the federal government, smaller than only the Defense Department.  So Dr. Jackson will one day be running the White House medical staff, and then the next day a sprawling organization with a budget of $200 billion a year.  He has no relevant qualifications at all for the job.  None.  At. All.

Does this top the earlier selection of a new chief economic adviser and national security adviser because they look good on television news?

The Bottom Line

We live in April Fool’s every day.  Today we watch a competent manager be replaced by a fawning sycophant of the ruler.  What’s next?  What will top this?  One shudders to imagine.

Act Fast if Your Site Uses Certs from Symantec, Thawte, VeriSign, Equifax, GeoTrust or RapidSSL

HTTPS

In another issue, We’ve recommended that you should be running HTTPS, to protect your visitor’s interactions with you, and also to improve your ranking in Google search.  That’s still good advice.  However, HTTPS introduces some other complexities. One of them is the need to rely on a third party to issue the certificate that’s essential to running HTTPS on your site.  And what if that third party messes up?  We’re now learning what happens!

There have been multiple incidents of Symantec not following accepted industry procedures in the issuance of certificates.  Symantec is one of the largest issuers of certificates, so it tool a company the size of Google to stand up to them.  Symantec and other brands they own, listed in the title above, have been judged by Google to be not completely reliable.  So Google has established a time frame for ending Chrome’s support for these certificates.

What are the consequences of continuing to use these certificates as Google ends support for them?  Your visitors will see a security alert like the one at the top of the page.  That’s not what you want them to see!

There’s a good discussion of this issue in the WordFence blog, along with links to find the time-tables for nonrecognition of various certificates.

The Bottom Line

Check to see whether your site is using a certificate from Symantec or a Symantec company. If it is, make a change now.  If you’re using Dave’s Super Hosting Service, don’t worry, we don’t use Symantec certificates.

on-line reviews matter for your company

New Survey Data About On-Line Reviews

Reviews

Our friends at BrightLocal have kindly released their annual survey of local consumer reviews.  They usually come up with interesting results, and this year is no exception.  Marketing on the Internet changes rapidly, and it’s important to keep up with what’s important at this moment.  And, at this moment, on-line reviews have reached a remarkable level of importance.  Your business needs to pay attention to its reviews!

Here are some of the important findings:

  • 97% of consumers read on-line reviews for local businesses, 12% of them doing so every day
  • 97% of consumers say that they won’t trust a business unless it has at least a four star rating
  • Yelp, Facebook, Google and BBB.org, in that order, are the most trusted sites
  • 30% of consumers say that responses to reviews is key in judging local businesses

Using the Internet to Find a Local Business

Use of the Internet to find a local business has risen from 95% in 2016 to 97% in 2017.  Virtually all consumers are now using the Internet to find local businesses.

use internet to find a local business

It’s safe to say that the Internet has become a central method for consumers to use to find local businesses; 52% of consumers used the Internet once a month or more often to find a local business.

Now let’s take a look at the importance of on-line reviews in consumers’ search for local businesses.

Reading Reviews on Various Business Types

which businesses do you read reviews for

Virtually all significant business types are included in the use of reviews.  Take a look for your business in this list.  Are consumers reading reviews for your business?

Regularity of service use has high correlation with the frequency of use of reviews.  For example, most people are not looking for accountants or locksmiths nearly as often as they are for a place to have lunch.  Note that if your business is near the right side of this chart, then it’s particularly important for you to mind your reviews, since you will tend to get fewer of them, and it’ll be more difficult for good reviews to push a bad review down the charts.

Devices Used to Read Reviews

The desktop and laptop remain the most important reading devices, although we see steadily increasing use of mobile platforms, with the use of mobile apps for reading reviews increasing most rapidly.  This growing use of mobile platforms underscores the importance for everyone who has a Web site to be sure that it’s mobile-friendly.

Trusted Review Sites

most trusted review site

This data about trust is valuable for targeting review campaigns.  Yelp and Facebook are most trusted, followed by Google.  But then BBB.org is worth attention, too, at 15%.  Of course, if you’re in a travel-related business, this chart tells you where you want reviews.

It’s interesting that, although health care is a top subject for reading reviews, the health-related review sites didn’t make it into the most-trusted category.   If you’re in a health-related business, you’d be wise to seek reviews on Yelp, Facebook, Google and BBB.org, and not focus primarily on health-related review sites.

Effect of On-Line Reviews on Opinion

 

how on-line reviews affect opinion

Here we see that positive reviews make consumers trust a business more.  However, on the negative side, there is growing skepticism about negative reviews, and a growing willingness to discount them.  In addition, a growing number say that they read reviews but that their selection of a business isn’t influenced by them.  One must wonder about that answer–if reading reviews doesn’t influence the choice of a business, then why read the reviews?

Minimum Star Rating to be Considered

This result shows a sharp change from year to year in the minimum rating to be considered.

minimum star rating

There is a strong shift from 3 as a minimum star level to be considered toward 4, and 4 stars is now the most-cited minimum number of stars to be considered.  This may reflect inflation in average star rating, because more businesses are paying close attention to their ratings in on-line reviews.

Currency of Reviews

This result shows that it’s not enough to simply amass a lot of reviews and then relax–consumers are looking for current reviews.  It’s important to keep acquiring reviews at a steady pace so that the review sites always have current reviews for your business.

The Bottom Line

On-line reviews matter, and they matter a lot!  You can ask your customers to review you, or you can take a more active role in providing a steady stream of reviews for your business by using a review management service line Dave’s Certified Reviews.  You can get a free report on your reviews by clicking here.

don't use kaspersky

Don’t use Kaspersky. Here’s why.

Protecting Your Computer

This post is not really about Web marketing, but lately I’ve seen a dangerous message delivered by computer security professionals about Kaspersky and I want to refute it.

Today the Internet is full of attackers, from many sources.  It’s important for each of us to run security software on our computers.  Which one should you choose?

The choice is an important one.  Anti-virus software must reach deep into the operating system.  If our anti-virus software itself is corrupt, then none of our information on the computer is safe, and we won’t even know when it’s stolen or changed.

There are a number of good choices, but there’s one you absolutely should not choose under any circumstances–Kaspersky Labs’ products.

Russia

The computer security environment in Russia is challenging.  Those of us who see attacks on Web sites know that a large number of them come from Russia.  I routinely block all traffic from Russia from all my clients’ sites, to reduce the number of hacking attempts.

In addition to cyber criminal activity that seems to flourish in Russia, there is also the threat posed by the Russian government.  On the international stage, Russia is an adversary of the United States, and acts to destabilize our system of government, using cyber attacks as part of that effort.  So we know that, in addition to the threat of criminal activity, it’s also possible that the government can be involved in cyber espionage.

In the U.S., a company can’t legally spy on us through anti-virus software, and if they get caught at it, there will be serious penalties.  We’re also protected against the government–they can’t come after our computers secretly without getting a warrant from a senior federal judge.  Russia doesn’t offer such a robust legal system, particularly with regard to protection from the government.

Either from criminal activity or from government espionage, it’s possible that an anti-virus product coming from Russia will have code inserted to assist hackers.

Kaspersky’s Claims

Kaspersky, the owner of the company, claims to have no ties to the Russian government and no relationship with Russian intelligence.

But can we trust this statement?  If he was working with Russian intelligence, would he announce it?  He wouldn’t dare–such a statement would have dire consequences for him.  So we must reject as meaningless any statement by Kaspersky that his company has nothing to do with Russian intelligence services.

Even if Kaspersky himself believes that his software is free from tampering, it’s possible that criminal elements or the government have “persuaded” one or more of his employees to secretly insert code to help hackers, without knowledge of company management.  Again, because Russia lacks our robust system of laws, their legal system offers us little protection.

What This Means

The argument against using Kaspersky security software is purely non-technical, and doesn’t rest on any evidence that their products have been tampered with.  All things being equal, our computers are better protected with anti-virus software that’s developed in the U.S. legal environment.

What I Use

I’ve never had a computer hacked in years of using AVG Free virus protection.  You have to put up with AVG trying to sell you the paid version, but if you’re willing to do that you can have great virus protection for free.

There is some merit to the argument that a very popular anti-virus product, if it’s used on millions and millions of computers, can itself become the target of an attack.  For this reason, there may be some additional safety in using a less popular product, such as AVG.

The Bottom Line

Absolutely don’t use security software from Kaspersky.  If you have it, replace it. Now.

 

 

protect your site with https

Let’s encrypt! It’s time for HTTPS.

What’s HTTPS?

HTTPS is the secure version of the HTTP (hypertext transfer protocol) that our browsers use to access Web sites, that your visitors use to access your own Web site. HTTPS protects communications between the client program that your visitor uses and your Web server, so that eavesdroppers can’t listen in, no one can tamper with data that’s transmitted, and your Web site data can’t be forged.  HTTPS allows your visitors to visit your site in privacy.

It’s growing in importance, and it’s time for you to adopt it, if you haven’t already, both because you owe it to your visitors and because not adopting it will impede your efforts to use the Web to promote your business.

Today’s Usage

Adopting HTTPS, which uses the SSL (secure sockets layer) protocol to communicate, so that it’s called either HTTPS or SSL, today will put you somewhat ahead of the crowd, except for financial systems and medical systems, which have widely adopted HTTPS.  However, HTTPS adoption grew by 80% last year, so its time has arrived.  Mozilla has reported that more than half of pages visited by Firefox now use HTTPS:

sites accessed by firefox using HTTPS

This doesn’t mean that half of all sites now use HTTPS; far from it, in fact.  This result is strongly skewed by the use of HTTPS for financial and shopping sites and by Google, which all together carry a significant portion of all Web traffic.

How to Convert

The mechanics of conversion have become less onerous now that there are low-cost certificates available, that are required for implementing HTTPS.  Most Web hosting companies can help out with the implementation; it no longer needs to be expensive or difficult to convert to HTTPS.  You’ll notice that my own site now uses HTTPS.

The method of conversion depends on how your hosting service is implemented and the technology that dellivers your site, so a discussion of that here wouldn’t be of much value.  Just understand that the technical work to be done is not difficult and shouldn’t be costly.

Why Convert?  Here Are Five Reasons

1. Protect your visitors’ privacy

Your visitors deserve to be able to visit your site in privacy.  In these days of ever-intrusive commercial data collection, HTTPS helps your visitors keep their private activity on the Web private.  Outside the US, of course, a visitor can fear exposure to the state of his Web activity.  HTTPS is a way of respecting our visitors.

2. Search engine ranking

Google has announced that the use of HTTPS is a ranking factor in your position in search engine results.  This can be viewed as a carrot–Google is offering better placement in search engine results for use of HTTPS, or as a stick–use HTTPS or suffer a penalty.  But however you see it, it’s real, and there are benefits to you from adopting HTTPS.

3. Browsers will mark HTTP as insecure

Today, browsers typically show a small lock next to the URL when HTTPS is used.  However, both Firefox and Chrome are preparing to mark HTTP sites as dubious at first, and then as insecure.  This is not something you want shown to your visitors!

4. HTTP/2

Finally, in 2015, the successor to HTTP/1 has been adopted, and HTTP/2 has many improvements, especially in performance.  For compatibility reasons, browsers will support HTTP/2 only over HTTPS.  If you want to benefit from the evolution of the Web, particularly performance improvement when delivering data-heavy sites, you need to adopt HTTPS.

5. iOS and Android compatibility

iOS 9 has a strict requirement for HTTPS, and Andrioid M has a less strict but still real requirement.  If you intend to deliver content to iOS and Android smartphones, in the future you’ll have to use HTTPS, so changing now makes sense.

Dave’s Super Hosting Service

If you’re using Dave’s Super Hosting Service, don’t be concerned.  All the sites are being converted to HTTPS, using my own site as a test vehicle.

The Bottom Line

The first reason given, which is respect for the privacy of your visitors in this era of unprecedented snooping on all of us, is reason enough.  But if you add the second and then third reasons, it’s clear that you need to get on with it and adopt HTTPS if you haven’t already.

 

 

 

 

 

Email subject lines

Exclusive Bulletin: Write your subject line so that your emails get read

This past week I had the good experience of dealing with the support staff at SendMail, a mail relay company.  Because their whole business is sending out other peoples’ emails, they know a whole lot about the factors that let emails get through the myriad spam filters used by ISPs who receive email for their customers.

The support person and I were watching a mailing of a newsletter that was going out to some 13,000 subscribers.  All went well, but I received some advice–in the subject line, avoid words that are in all caps, and don’t use multiple special characters such as ! or &, in order to avoid being classified as spam by ISP filters.

This caused me to realize that, while I knew some general guidelines about writing email subject lines, I hadn’t studied it in detail.  So I decided that both you and I could use some guidelines, taken from wisdom offered by industry luminaries, distilled by my experience of years of actually doing it and looking at results.

Hubspot tells us that 33% of email readers decide whether to open or not based on the subject line alone.  That gives us motivation to pay attention to this topic!

Subject lines have two jobs. First, they have to get through ISP spam filters, or no one will see the email.  Then they have to get through the “filter” of the recipient’s mind so that the email gets opened, read, and acted upon.  This newsletter gives you some ideas on how you can accomplish both with your emails.

Personalization

One topic on which experts disagree is personalization in the subject line.  Some say that placing a first name in the subject line makes the receiver think the email is intended specifically for them and will increase open rates.  Another expert says that the technique is over-used, our friends don’t put our first names into subject lines, and when we see our name in the subject line we’re likely to recognize it as machine-generated.

Personally, if I see my first name in an email subject line there’s little chance that I’ll open it, because I realize that it’s an overworked advertising tool, and there’s likely to be little personal content inside that email.  Understand that the balance of expert opinion doesn’t agree with me on this issue, although some experts I respect such as Nielsen Norman Group do.

I think if the recipients for your email are adults with some computer experience, adding personalization in the subject line is a bad idea.  There are creative ways to use it in the body of the email, though.  For example, if you know how many times a guest has visited your hotel, you can say “You’ve spent a total of 83 nights in our hotels, so we’d like to offer you some special benefits.” This provides the reader with personal information they may not even have known.

Short and Sweet, Emphasis on Short

Our same friends at Hubspot tell us that as many as 40% of emails are opened first on mobile devices, and that fits with measurements that I’ve made with my own and clients’ emails.  Do you want to read something long on your phone?  No, you don’t.  So Hubspot recommends subject lines of no more than 50 characters. Many industry experts agree with that recommendation.

I don’t.  While you might not want to read a long subject line on your phone, if the part of it is interesting it might motivate you to open the email at least to read the rest of the subject line!  A quite extensive study by adestra supports the use of longer subject lines.

With regard to word count, adrestra’s study shows that there are two sweet spots–less than 5  words and more than 15 words.  If you can convey the point of the subject in 5 or fewer words, do so!  But if you need 15 or more, that’s fine too.  The middle ground of 5 words to 15 words is not as good, and is to be avoided.

With regard to the “sweet” part of this guidance, think about the person receiving your email.  Especially, understand that they are not part of your record-keeping system.  They don’t care that “Order number 84756633 has shipped”; they care that “Your order from Smith Co. has shipped”.  You may use an order number or a reservation number to track the transaction internally, but expecting your customer to use that number is to force them to be part of your records for you.

If you’re sending newsletters should you include the word “newsletter” in the subject line?  I’ve gone back and forth on this issue, believing that perhaps if people see it’s my newsletter, and they are subscribers, they’re more likely to open it.  On the other hand, it takes a lot of space out of the subject line, especially when you add whose newsletter it is.

adestra’s study shows that the use of the word “Newsletter” in the subject line lowers the open rate significantly.  Perhaps the term has been overused.  Here is their table on the impact on opens and clicks of certain words.  Notice that we still have some good words to use in the subject line:  Bulleting, Alert, Exclusive, Special.

This table is for the publishing sector:

Effect of subject line word choice on open rateThe B2C sector, below, has some interesting findings.  We need to beware the use of free, half price, and especially coupon!  However, if instead of a coupon we offer a voucher, our open rates will soar.  And, of course, who can resist two for one?  My wife and I have booked several cruises on the strength of two for one offers.  Note the importance of latest; of course, everyone wants the latest, best information.  I’m going to use the word latest in the subject line for this newsletter, and will measure its impact.

B2C word choice in subject linesUse A Familiar Sender Name

Hubspot found that an email from a person’s email address was associated with more opens than an email from an institutional email address.  Everyone would rather communicate with and be addressed by a real person, not a department or function.  And they reflect that in their open rate.  Choose a person in your company to be the official source of these emails, especially for anything that repeats like a newsletter, and be consistent about it.

Never, never, never use noreply@company.com as the source.  First, it tells the reader that you don’t care what they think about this communication, and if they reply you’re so rude you won’t even read their reply.

Be Concise

Many readers are scanning subject lines on their phones, deleting emails that they don’t want to see again.  So be sure to tell them what’s up using as few words as you can.  Make the content as relevant as you can.

If it’s general information, try to say something about the benefit, not just the topic.  For this newsletter, the benefit would be getting the newsletter read, so a subject line might be How to get your newsletter read.  Including the good words from the table, it could be rewritten as Exclusive Bulletin:  How to get your emails read.

As an experiment, I’ve used just that subject line for this newsletter!  If you’re reading this as a newsletter, then it worked.

Don’t use ALL CAPS or overuse exclamation points!!!!!

My helpful support person at SendGrid pointed out that a number of companies who run mail servers that receive email on behalf of their customers use spam filters that use all caps and lots of exclamation points in the subject line as one way to identify spam.  And if they classify your email as spam, then their customers won’t see it.

This works twice, actually.  In addition to the spam filters, customers actually prefer the subject line to be written in sentence case, with the first letter capitalized and then only proper nouns capitalized.

Consider Preview Text

A number of email clients provide the first line or so of your email alongside the title, so make sure your opening sentence in the email encourages recipients to open it.

Use a Deadline

If it’s appropriate, a deadline can motivate the recipient to open and read an email.  If there’s an opportunity that goes away, or a meeting or event on a specific date, put that date in the subject line, to let the recipient know that they need to respond or lose an opportunity.

A deadline can be an important motivator to open an email.

What If It’s Not Opened?

Even if your email isn’t opened, don’t despair!  If the recipient doesn’t unsubscribe, just receving your email with your company name and the piece of your message that’s in the subject line has reminded them that you exist for them to do business with.  If they felt there was no possibility of doing busiiness  with you, they’d unsubscribe.

As long as they don’t unsubscribe, even unopened emails are doing a marketing job for you, and at far lower cost than other forms of advertising.

The Bottom Line

Pay attention to what the recipient sees on your emails–the sender and the subject line–to get your message read and acted on.

AMP? What is it? Do I have to do it now?

Accelerated Mobile Pages

Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) is a Google and Twitter project that’s intended to provide website pages that load fast in mobile devices.  It’s an open source project, intended as a response to various efforts from Apple and Facebook.

What Makes AMP Fast?

AMP pages are HTML pages, but there are certain HTML tags that you aren’t allowed to use.  There’s also a streamlined version of CSS that you need to use.  Finally, JavaScript is not allowed at all.  They provide an off-the-shelf JavaScript library you can use, that supports functions such as lazy loading.

The whole thing is designed around readability and speed.  Images don’t load until they are scrolled into view; that’s provided by the JavaScript library.  And the design is intended to allow pages to be cached, so that Google can host those pages and download it fast to mobile devices.

What About Position in Search Results?

The first use of AMP has been by news providers.  They use it to make news pages that read very fast on mobile devices.  Google has cooperated by showing these early in search results.

Google has told us that the position in search results is determined by the desktop version of the page, not the AMP version.  There is a boost in position in search results for pages that are mobile-friendly, and that applies to AMP pages as well, but there’s no position incentive for AMP.

However, if your site has AMP pages, they may be displayed in Google search results, once AMP is fully implemented.  Since a growing number of searches are now conducted using mobile devices, it’s time that your site offered AMP pages if you’re serious about getting search traffic.

How Do I Implement AMP?

If your site is built with WordPress, you’re in luck.  Download the AMP plugin, and for most sites, the job is done.  If you have a custom site, then you’ll have to custom-build AMP as well.

If you’re not using WordPress, note what’s happening here.  Google supports a new feature that provides their customers better service.  So they tell everyone to implement it–but since so many sites use WordPress, a plugin is provided.  Don’t be surprised to see this scenario play out again with other new developments.

The Bottom Line

Implement AMP now.  And if your site isn’t built on WordPress, it’s time that it was.

 

 

 

 

 

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.

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.

 

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.

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.

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.

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.

 

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.

 

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.

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.

 

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.

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.

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.

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!

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.

 

Say Yes to WordPress. Here’s Why.

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

WordPress now hosts more Web sites than any other platform on the Web, some 20% of all sites.  Many benefits derive from the huge number of sites using it, which creates an attractive marketplace for people who design and build Web sites, for people who help you use Web sites to promote your business (like me!), for people who develop add-on software for WordPress, called plugins, and even for people who host Web sites.  If you choose WordPress, you’ll always be able to find people to help with site design, maintenance or promotion, you’ll be able to buy great extensions for your site at low prices, and you’ll never be stuck when a company goes out of business.

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

For several years, I developed 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 and now have to redevelop them.

Because the code is open source, even if the company that leads the writing of WordPress goes away, the code is available to everyone, and there are lots of developers to help keep it going.  And because 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 may already be 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.  Anyone who wants to make money from selling a WordPress plugin realizes that the plugin is competing with a price of zero for the platform itself.

Professional Ecosystem

In addition to developers, there is a huge community of people who use WordPress to build sites, and provide other services around WordPress.  They compete with many other providers, so the competition drives down the price for site development.

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.

No advanced skills are needed to edit a page on WordPress; anyone who can edit a Word document can edit a page on a WordPress site.

Security

Unfortunately, the Internet is a rough neighborhood 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, the same large installed base that attracts service providers also attracts people with malevolent intent.  So you need to protect yourself.

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.

But there’s good news here, too.  The robust plugin market has produced a first-rate security package for WordPress, the security plugin WordFence.  It’s so good that it’s included in Dave’s Super Hosting Service.  I’ve seen a number of WordPress sites hacked, but have never seen a site protected by the premium version of WordPress.

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 the load you’ll experience, and you’re careful to test your complete site for performance, there’s no reason that the biggest companies can’t use WordPress.  For small business, good design practices are all that you need to do to obtain the performance you need.

Future-Proof

WordPress has a commitment to backwards compatibility, so new releases of WordPress won’t ever break your site.  You avoid the infuriating problem of a new release requiring, suddenly, tons of work.

Again, because of the huge number of WordPress sites, 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.  When Google wanted sites to implement Advanced Mobile Pages, they developed an AMP plugin for WordPress, so you can have AMP on your site, with just the installation of a single, free plugin.

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.

 

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.

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.