Category Archives: Web Marketing 101

dedicated IP address word cloud

Do You Need a Dedicated IP Address?

Today, for nearly all small businesses, you don’t need a dedicated IP address. This may not agree with what you’ve read and it may not agree with what I’ve told you in the past. Please, bear with me.

What is an IP address?

An Internet protocol address is assigned to every computer interface to the Internet. One form of these addresses is four decimal numbers, such as

An Internet service called the domain name service translates domain names (such as into its assigned IP address. This translation happens as part of the process to access a website from a browser, or to send email, as well as applications that use other Internet protocols. You can think of DNS as a sort of worldwide phonebook for the Internet.

DNS allows the use of names that make sense to people, rather than IP addresses that are purely numeric, to use the Internet. It’s a lot easier to use than having to enter the IP address every time you want to send email or access the website.

Dedicated IP addresses

If your website has a dedicated IP address, then it is the only site that is reached through that address. DNS will have just one domain name entry that gets translated into that IP address. A good analogy to this is the private telephone line, that has a phone number that only you use.

Shared IP addresses

Because there is been a shortage of IP addresses, various techniques were used to stretch the remaining supply. One of these techniques is to assign several website domain names to the same IP address. It’s easy to see that this practice can conserve on scarce IP addresses.

In the past, I have cautioned against shared IP addresses. If you share an IP address with other websites, and those websites engage in spammy behavior, that IP address could show up on various blacklists that are maintained by a number of different companies who provide various Internet services.

In addition, there was the risk that behavior of other websites who shared your IP address might cause all of you to get poor rankings in Google search results.

Some cases of shared IP addresses occur because a large number of websites are hosted on the same server. Depending on how much traffic the sites receive, and the capacity of the server, that could mean that your website doesn’t have enough CPU resource to give quick performance. That’ll make your visitors unhappy and it will also make Google unhappy enough to give you lower rankings in search results.

Shared IP addresses and website security

We all know that Google has led the charge toward universal use of SSL and HTTPS so that communication between your browser and a website is secure. Google’s Chrome browser, now the industry leader, shows a “not secure” warning if your site doesn’t use SSL, and Google also threatens lower position in search results. As a consequence, SSL has been widely adopted.

At one time, a dedicated IP address was required in order to use SSL. With the development of Server Name Identification (SNI), however, that need has disappeared. Essentially all browsers in current use support SNI, so it is not a security reason to favor dedicated IP addresses any longer.

What about shared IP addresses and SEO?

It’s important to remember that with regard to SEO, Google doesn’t tell us how they decide where your website winds up in search results. What we know is what’s been learned through experience and what has been shared in the community of people who work in the SEO field.

Google does offer a set of webmaster guidelines to follow, laying what they do and don’t want to see in a site, and shared IP addresses are not in the list of don’ts. This tells us that a shared IP address by itself won’t hurt rankings in Google results.

Quality hosting

One of the first checks I make as part of a new SEO engagement is for shared IP addresses. I usually find one of these three situations:

  • A dedicated IP address
  • An IP address that is shared by a relatively small number of legitimate sites
  • An IP address that is shared by hundreds or thousands of sites, some of which look suspicious

If I find either the first or second case, I’m not concerned. The second situation even occurs for some of the largest companies; they will have several of their sites sharing an IP address.

Often, I find the third situation. There are hundreds or thousands of domain names sharing the same IP address. Usually, just a quick scan of the domain names reveals that these do not all belong to legitimate businesses. This is a sign that my client has purchased the least expensive hosting service, that just throws huge numbers of domain names on the same IP address.

Websites can be hacked and misused, or the hosting company could just be hosting sites that are used for illegitimate activities. In either case, the IP address can wind up on blacklists maintained by various Internet providers, and it can be difficult to get off these blacklists. Trust me, that’s the voice of experience.

The hosting service that I offer has recently transitioned so that all websites are hosted on Amazon AWS, in order to provide the utmost in availability. Along with that change, and the complete virtualization of the service, now shared IP addresses are used. This takes place in an environment where the behavior of all the sites is carefully monitored.

The bottom line

If you use a quality web hosting service, you don’t need a dedicated IP address.

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Black Lives Matter illustration with strong fist


Yes, I know this is about Web marketing. Please accept this single departure from the topic. It’s time for every one of us to speak out, with every platform we have, on the issue of racial justice, particularly police brutality toward black people. Perhaps, after 400 years, we care enough to actually try to solve the problem.

I first learned of police brutality toward black people in 1965, when I went on a double date with Wade Horsey, a black fellow Hopkins undergrad in my class of ’65. We went to Sandy Point State Park. On the way back, his date spoke about being pulled over for a speeding ticket, and spoke of it as something she feared. It turns out that searching all passengers in the car was routine for her for a traffic stop.

Recently I was horrified to watch the police murder Floyd George, in public, while this poor man begged for his life. A policeman acts like that in front of other police officers and the public only if he believes that his colleagues–and the entire power structure above him–will lie for him and he will never be penalized.

The thousands of demonstrators nationwide give me encouragement, because I see many white faces in the large crowds. If whites finally recognize this problem and take it up, then perhaps even the flaccid U.S. Senate will wake up and help enact federal laws to make choke holds illegal, require police to intervene if their colleagues are commiting a crime, require body cameras for all police, and require independent prosecutors for police crimes.

Our fellow citizens who are black have to teach their children strategies to use in public, especially with police, to protect their lives. When will the rest of us wake up to the shame of such unequal, unfair treatment, and demand better of our government, or society and, especially, our police?

I hope that we have reached a turning point, although I’ve heard that before. I recall a black friend talking about the “post-racial America” that we were entering when Barack Obama was elected president. Instead, having a black president unleashed a fury of racism even, shamefully, on the part of elected officials.

It’s up to all of us to speak out everywhere we can, through every vehicle we have, to end this despicable part of our national heritage, that has hobbled us for 400 years.

Black Lives Matter!

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Are You Making These Four Mistakes?

Inside vs. Outside Language

In every business, the people inside the business use different terms to refer to products and services than those used by customers. That’s necessary, because inside the business, employees make finer distinctions about the products and services than customers need to worry about. What this means, though, is that the everyday language you use to talk about what you do and what you offer won’t work well on your website!

There’s an old marketing saying that “It’s hard to read the writing on the bottle when you’re trapped inside,” that applies to this situation. When you’re writing or reviewing copy for your website, keep in mind that a potential customer is looking for a discussion of how what you offer will provide benefits. Focus on what you do and sell only to the extent that it provides benefits, and be sure to give lots of detail to benefits.

Three Seconds

For a long time, there’s been a belief in Web marketing that a visitor who comes upon your site for the first time decides quickly–typically within three seconds–whether to stay on this site or to look for another. There are some recent studies indicating that even three seconds may be too long–that many decisions whether to move on can be made in less than a second. However, all agree that a first step of visitors is to give the first page that’s seen a once-over to determine whether the information that’s sought is likely to be found on your site.

If your visitor has to wait for more than three seconds for the first page of your site to appear, you’ve lost the game before it even started. You don’t want to use much of that three seconds for the visitor to be waiting! So quick loading of that first page is critically important. Super-cheap hosting service won’t provide quick loading at all times of the day, so you may need to pay more for your hosting service. And then pay attention to tuning the site for fast loading. Of course, you can use Dave’s Super Hosting, which is intended to give great performance at every time of day.

Once that first page is loading quickly, now be sure that what appears in those few seconds is enough to give the visitor an idea what’s on the site, to make that affirmative decision to stay. You may have a wonderful graphic design, but if the visitor can’t tell what the site is about right away, the chances of the visitor staying and reading what’s important are greatly reduced.

Call to Action

You’ll hear experienced politicians always end a campaign speech asking for your vote. They know that, although it may seem obvious that they’re speaking in order to convince you to vote for them, that if they don’t really ask for your vote they’re much less likely to get it. That “call to action,” in marketing terms, is essential to motivate the behavior you seek.

Be sure to include a strong call to action, although it might seem obvious to you. “Start your free trial now,” “save an abused animal today,” “take a test drive today.” Make sure the information needed to respond to the CTA is prominent. If you want them to come for a test drive, provide your address and driving directions., To contribute, provide a “contribute now” button.

Lead Magnet

A lead magnet is some incentive that you offer a visitor in order to obtain some contact information such as a name and email address. It’s common to offer a newsletter in exchange for an email address. The newsletter also gives the visitor who’s not completely sold a chance to be reminded of this interesting site (yours!) that they discovered and wanted to consider further.

The Bottom Line

Consider each of these mistakes and make sure you’re not making them! If you’re concerned about the load speed of your site, consider Dave’s Super Hosting, that offers great performance and backup at low cost.

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Google's Corporate Headquarters

SEO Pointers from Google

One of the advantages (and disadvantages!) of what I do is that I pay close attention to whatever Google releases about their algorithms and how they affect ranking of search results. Although we don’t pay for Google’s services, they are a business, and their goal is to provide relevant search results for their customers, who are searchers, so that searchers will use Google’s search services, allowing Google to show them ads that Google gets paid to show.

So Google is constantly changing the details of how they rank sites in search results, continuing to improve the relevance of search results. They’re in competition with other search engines, who are all doing much the same thing. The others keep an eye on Google and try to follow them as well as seeking their own advantages.

Usually what I read from Google isn’t of much interest to my readers of this newsletter, but there were two recent releases that you may find of interest, about two specific techniques. The advice gives you one thing to do, another to not do.

Fix Broken Internal Links

When there’s a site redesign and pages are removed, Google reminds us to make sure that we also remove all links to those pages. Otherwise, our visitors will get 404 (page not found) errors, and of course, so will Google, realizing that our visitors are not having the best possible experience. In addition, page ranking information won’t flow within the site from one page to the other, causing an overall penalty, however slight, in search results position.

One important technique for SEO that’s often overlooked, I’ve found, is internal linking. That is, links from one page to another within the site. This can give a powerful boost to rankings, especially when the linking follows a pattern between different types of pages. For example, one site had both cheese and wine. On that site, I advised them to show wines that went with the cheese on the wine page, and cheeses that went with the wine on the wine page, and to present these pairings as links between the pages. The result of this was a dramatic rise in page rankings, way above all competitors that sold wine and cheese.

A great way to check for 404 errors is to run one of the spider programs on the site once in a while, looking for any 404s, not just internal links. It’s good advice to regard each of them as highly undesirable and fix every one. Just from a standpoint of the experience you want to provide your visitor, a “page not found” for a link the visitor tried to follow because of interest is a negative element that you don’t want in your visitor experience. And if your visitor wouldn’t like it, then it’s fair to expect that Google won’t like it either, and would prefer to direct visitors to sites that don’t give “page not found” errors.

Don’t Relabel Old Content with “2020” Titles

Google believes that their customers are interested in current content, and they seek to provide current content. You may have seen advice to put the current year in your titles so that Google knows that your content is current. All things being equal, as you create new content, putting the year in the title is a reasonable idea. It does tell Google that this is current title, provided that the year is relevant to the content. There is evidence that this is a useful technique.

However, Google is advising us that the technique of relabelling old content to 2020 won’t cut it–that such a method is actually a way to let Google identify low-quality content. John Mueller of Google posted just this opinion in Reddit.

What’s the best approach? Understand that Google already knows about your earlier content. They’ve taken it in, assessed it and indexed it according to their evaluation of its significance for searchers. Simply relabelling old content is just a waste of time, and now, we believe, could be even worse than a waste of time.

Leave last year’s content labelled with last year’s date, and write new, quality content, and label it with the current year.

The Bottom Line

Build your Web content for the visitor. Provide the best possible visitor experience, with regard to the content you provide, how it’s organized, its currency, and its relevance. By doing this, you’ll build an effective site that turns visitors into customers, and you’ll also be giving Google just what it wants to put your site in first place in its listings.

Of course, it’s also not a bad idea to hire an expert in how Google understands things, such as myself, to be sure that your great content is presented in such a way that Google can recognize its greatness!

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online review being posted

Online Reviews Matter–But Don’t Ask for Them

You know that many prospects for your business now shop reviews in much the way they used to use search engines and shop the results of search. Because of this, reviews are important. You’re tempted to ask your customers to write reviews. But that’s not the best way to get reviews. In this post, I explain why it’s a bad idea to ask for reviews, and what you should do instead.

The Transaction

The logical time to ask for a review is at the close of a transaction. The patient is checking out, the customer is paying for a purchase at the cash register, the restaurant patron is paying the check. But that’s a poor time. You’ve done your job of delivering the goods or services the customer wants from you–and the customer has met their obligation, by paying. So the transaction is complete, all obligations are met.

If you ask for a review now, when both sides have met their obligations, you’re asking for a favor–the customer is not in your debt. Your most dedicated customers, who’ve been coming to you for a long time, will feel obligated and will write a review, but most won’t do so. They’re being asked for a favor, and they may or may not get to it. There’s no compelling reason for them to review you, even if they’re quite happy with what they’ve received. They may even be somewhat annoyed that you’ve asked them to do a review.

Yes, if you use this approach, you’ll get a few reviews–but you bother all your customers with a request, and only a few of them will deliver. Do you want to ask a favor of all your customers in order to get just a few reviews?

Another Approach

There’s a way to turn the tables on this situation. Instead of asking for a favor, start the dialogue of getting a review by complimenting the customer! Ask the customer to tell you how satisfied they were with the goods and services that they’ve received. This is not asking them to proclaim your goodness to the world; instead, it’s complimenting them by demonstrating the importance of their opinion of you. Again, not everyone will reply, but at worst you’ve ended the transaction with a compliment to them, rather than asking for a favor.

Once you get a reply to your request for an opinion, you now have an opportunity. You’ve done a favor for the customer by receiving their opinion, and now you’re in a good position to ask for a favor. This is the time to ask the customer to please share their experience online with others, and pointing out that their sharing will help you and others as well.

Another benefit of this approach is that it lets you weed out any customers who weren’t satisfied, as well as that person we all see now and then who complains about things, no matter how good they are. Those people will tell you they aren’t happy about what they received, and now you have an opportunity to find out why and remedy the situation, and not ask them to complete a review.

If you’re actively seeking feedback, you’re likely to receive some surprises, as you learn about things that your customers don’t like that never occurred to you. This feedback will give you a continuing way to monitor just how your efforts are coming across with the people who really matter, your customers.

How to Do This

A good review management service, such as my own, is the way to implement this approach. You can distribute a card the size of a business card that says “How did we do today? Please give your opinion.” and put a QR code to scan and a URL to visit. Both take the customer to a feedback screen where they indicate the degree of happiness. The happiest are then asked if they’d please share their experience with others; the unhappiest have a chance to tell you why they aren’t happy.

Alternatively, if you’re in touch with customers via email, you can automatically send them an email asking how things went, following the same sequence. Or if you have a newsletter, you can simply cycle through your newsletter subscribers, sending out 5 to 10 emails a day asking that same first question. If you have a list of email addresses for all your customers, you can simply cycle through that, asking about the last interaction with you.

The Bottom Line

Instead of asking for a favor by asking for a review, instead do your customer a favor by asking for an opinion. Then ask the happiest customers for a review, and follow up with the less happy customers.

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tune images for site SEO

SEO for Your Images

We all know that our writing is a lot more interesting if it’s illustrated by images. In addition, an image provides an instant “table of contents” to a blog post. So there are lots of reasons for including images with your site.

However, just including images isn’t all that you can do! You can optimize your images for SEO, so that the image itself will help your search engine positions. No, Google still doesn’t understand images, so it can’t extract the meaning from the image and use it to index your site; but because Google doesn’t understand the image itself, the steps you can take to tell Google about the image are especially important. This post is about some steps you can take so that your images can help your site’s position in search results.


Both human and search engine spider visitors care about performance. No one likes waiting for Web pages to load! A delay of just a second in image loading can cause some visitors to leave your site, and longer delays have worse effects. Akamai published a study on this effect, and although it’s dated (2009), one would expect that the abandonment rates today would be even greater because of the overall expectation of good performance. Here are some of their findings:

  • 47% of visitors expect a page to load in 2 seconds or less
  • 40% of visitors will leave a page if it takes 3 seconds to load

On WordPress, there’s a way to compress your images so that they take up less storage space, and consequently there’s less information to download to display an image. You don’t have to do a huge study of the technology; just choose an image compression plugin such as EWW and it’ll store compressed versions of your images and automatically use the compressed versions for downloads, that will improve load time for the pages of your site.

It’s a good idea to test your site for performance, before and after image compression. Pingdom has one of the best free performance test facilities.

Image File Names

File names are used by search engines as a clue to content, so name your image files with meaningful and descriptive words. When you use multiple words, separate them with hyphens so that search engines can easily find the individual words. Don’t use underscores, because search engines don’t treat underscores as word separators.

Use The Alt Tag

The alt tag was originally intended to help sightless visitors, giving them a way to access a summary of the image. Search engines themselves can’t look at and understand an image, so they use the alt tag the same way. Provide a short description of the image, again with descriptive terms. Five to ten words is a good length.

Include An Image Title

The image title is also used by search engines, although it’s less important than the alt tag. So choose descriptive terms for the title that are relevant for search.

Align Your Text with Images

Your text that’s close to an image on the page should use the same terms that you’ve used in the image name and the alt tag, so that the image and text appear to be related.

Add Image Structured Data

Google Images presently supports structured data for product images, videos and recipes. So today you’ll benefit from using structured data to call out such images. Use of structured data will help your site get displayed as rich results by Google.

Use A Site Map

A site map is an XML file that tells the search engine where all the pages and images of a site are located. A search engine can crawl your site much faster using a site map than they can by following every link on the site–and if they use your site map, they’ll be sure to visit all of the pages and images. They repay the favor you do of providing the site map by indexing your site, and changes you make, more quickly.

There’s quite a bit of information to provide about an image in the site map, including the title, caption, URL and more. If you’re using WordPress, you can save yourself the work of building the site map manually by using an SEO plugin. Yoast SEO is a plugin that will automatically put all your image information into the site map that it maintains automatically.

The Bottom Line

Pay attention to your images! They can help you succeed with search engines. Alternatively, you can use my service and all this work will be done for you.

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constru;ction workers causing problems

What If Your Site is Down? Availability

Clearly, your Web site doesn’t help your business if it’s down. Someone who visits it gets a very bad message of some sort. What kind of impression is made? That your business can’t even bother to keep its Web site working! Who would want to do business with such an organization?

This post deals with the issue of Web site availability for small business. I’ve been forced to confront this issue, because my hosting provider just experienced a 24 hour outage, the first such outage I’ve had with them in more than ten years of using their service.

Everyone wants their Web site to be up–all the time. More correctly, they would like hosting that makes their site always available inexpensive. However, there’s a tradeoff–today, barring widespread Internet failure, you can have whatever level of availability you want, if you’re willing to pay for it. Here are some of the issue and tradeoffs to consider.

Consider Your Needs

What’s the purpose of your site? If it’s to attract business, sign up newsletter subscriptions, and take the occasional online order, then perhaps the business can actually continue to run quite well if the site is down for, say, 24 hours. You don’t want it to be down very much, but you can tolerate an occasional outage.

Of course, if ecommerce is your main business, or some other online function, then you need to be up all the time, so that customers can spend money or do whatever they do with you any time they’d like to. You don’t want a customer who has decided to do business with you to go elsewhere because your site is down.

There are other issues important in hosting as well. For my hosting service, I use the WordFence security plugin, which has valuable security features. One of those features is a scan of all the code on the site, comparing it with the originally released WordPress code, for WordPress itself and plugins. I’ve seen this scan find penetrations of a site, so that I could fix them, before there was any other evidence of a problem. However, the scan takes a significant amount of cpu time to run. I’ve learned that most hosting services limit the cpu time per site so that this scan can’t run to completion. If you installed WordFence on such a site, you could have a penetration that wouldn’t be detected until the site started to malfunction.

Most small businesses, that don’t depend on their site for the daily business to operate, can withstand an outage that’s hours long. However, even a low-traffic site needs to have high limits on cpu time, so that sophisticated security tools can operate properly.

Recent Outage

The outage that my hosting service experienced last week is instructive. The service is provided by a large data center outside New York. It has backup power with on-site fuel for several days. It has multiple Internet connections from different vendors. Each site is monitored continuously, and if there’s a failure the people who manage the service get the site up and running again quickly. This should be the model of great availability, shouldn’t it? There shouldn’t be an outage longer than minutes.

Near the data center are four railroad tracks. Crossing the tracks is a bridge. Near that bridge, a crew was digging last week, and they realized they had “hit something”. That something was a major cable carrying a lot of Internet fiber. As it turns out, the independent Internet connections from the data center all connect to various upstream providers, and all of the upstream providers for the data center crossed the railroad tracks through the same cable! So the entire center was off the Internet, and all of my hosting service was down.

Because all of the upstreams crossed the tracks at the same place, there were no Internet connections from the center that could be used. Happily, the discipline of repairing fiber cables has advanced, so the repair was completed in about 12 hours.

I spent 30 years working for the IT office in a large government organization. We had multiple Internet connections, and we knew about disaster and disaster preparedness. However, one day a backhoe operating near the Washington beltway, near an overpass, cut a major fibre cable. And guess what? Although there were multiple Internet connections coming from our campus, with different companies, upstream the different providers all crossed the Beltway at the same overpass, in the same cable. Needless to say, considerable attention was given to the repair.

What’s the lesson to be drawn from this experience? That in spite of everything that’s done at a single location, Web availability is still subject o occasional outages that may be noticeably long. We all know that Amazon Web Services, that darling of availability and failover, occasionally experiences major outages.


The big question for availability is the question of failover. Usually, failover has three elements:

  • installing copies of the site on two different IP addresses
  • monitoring the site to detect a failure
  • changing the IP address used by the Internet to access the site to a backup when a failure is detected

I’ve recently looked at a lot of hosting offerings that mention the word “cloud”. Of course we all assume that the “cloud” will be highly available. Similarly, we assume that big companies that offer hosting are highly available.

I found that most of the “cloud” offerings have backup and failover, but it’s entirely within a single computer center.  This means that a fire in the center, that took down the whole center, would take down all the sites. Loss of power if the backup didn’t work (that happens!) could also cause loss of all the sites. Of course, a loss of the Internet connection to the data center could also take all the hosted sites off the air.

The best approach to providing never-interrupted availability is for the two IP addresses to be at two different physical locations, at some distance from each other. In addition, the monitoring and switchover service must itself be highly available; it must itself be built so that it spans several locations. A quality distributed DNS service (that directs the Internet to an IP address for a domain name), along with two instances of quality hosting, are needed.

I’ve found that there are offerings of true 100% availability hosting service, but they are prohibitively expensive for small businesses. If you’re Home Depot, these services are just what you need, but for small businesses, there’s nothing that removes that risk of a whole data center being disabled or cut off from the Internet. At present, we’re all vulnerable to that enemy of Internet connectivity, the backhoe!

I’m staying with my present hosting provider, in spite of the outage, because of more than a decade of highly reliable service from them. They’ve provided excellent availability–and their service is free from the CPU limitations imposed by the major hosting providers that prevent complete security checks for my clients’ sites.

A 100% Solution

For clients who want 100% availability, I’ve begun work on a method to provide hosting service that won’t go down, even if a whole data center has a catastrophic failure or is taken off the Internet. It will involve the three ingredients for failover that are listed above, and the backup sites will be hosted geographically separate from the primary site, and there will be a highly available DDNS service to do the switchover.

Backups will be stored at a third location, independent from the first two, so the site can be restored even if both of the online copies are lost. In addition, if certain conditions are met by the site, additional special security features will be provided so that the site can’t be hacked.

This is an approach that’s intended for small businesses. If you’re the Washington Post, for example, I won’t be able to host you for $200 a year and provide 100% availability. But for small businesses, I have a way to provide very high availability.

I’ll make this 100% available service available to my clients. The approach I’m planning to use will let me offer it at or near my standard price for hosting service. If the price is the same, then I’ll be converting all my clients to 100% availability at no additional charge.

The Bottom Line

Today, the best way to handle this issue is to make it clear to business management that you don’t have 100% availability, that there will be outages that may last hours but they won’t be frequent, that there may be a year or more without an outage. Or, if you really need 100%, then simply pay for it. My offering of 100% Web site availability for small business is on the way, watch for it.

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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.”


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?


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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


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


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, 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 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, 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.


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.


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 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.


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:


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.


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 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, 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–you’ll see that it shares an IP address with

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?


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.


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 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 is much more useful to us than 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.


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.