Thursday, December 9, 2010

Call for Guest Posts

I recently took on a promotion my day job and find myself with less time for blogging. So rather than let The Nifty 150, I'm putting out a call for guest posts.

Do you have an idea for a blog post that would benefit small business owners?

Drop me a line and pitch me!

Monday, November 22, 2010

Filters vs Features

Do you need a better noise filter?
I just read a two year old post by Chris Brogan that really struck a chord with me.

His post is about Twitter. But from a much broader perspective, at the heart of the discussion is the balance between filters (tools that help us block out some of the noise) and features (new apps, platforms, or products that supposedly add to our productivity, but can also be major sources of noise).

Both are necessary and useful. But I think we, as a marketplace and as an economy, are placing too much emphasis on the features.

Do you think there's a market for some new/better filters?

Friday, November 19, 2010

Friday Morning Quote

"Someone who gets better whenever he fails will always outperform someone who responds to failure by getting worse. This isn't something in your DNA, it's something you can learn or unlearn."

                                                                                           Seth Godin

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

6 Marketing Lessons from the WWE

My kids' dream job.
I have never considered myself a fan of professional wrestling. Never watched a wrestling match. Never cared.

But I have two small boys.

Those of you with kids, especially boys, are already chuckling to yourselves. For those of you who don't have kids, or boys, let me explain: Boys do not have varied interests. Rather, they go through what we poor parents refer to as "phases". During said phases boys obsess (perhaps that is too weak a word?) about whatever it is that they are currently into, be it Bob the Builder, Thomas the Train, Pokemon', Bakugan, Nerf Guns, Star Wars, or alas, World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE).

As you probably guessed by now, my two boys are 100%, certifiably, batshit-crazy-obsessed with the WWE. Therefore, I have spent my Friday nights for the past several weeks watching Friday Night Smackdown. I'm only slightly ashamed to say I kind of like it.

I tend to look at everything through a marketer's lens, and if nothing else, I have come to respect the incredible marketing machine that is the WWE. According to Wikipedia, the WWE has been in business since 1953 and now employees 585 people, has annual revenues of over $100 million, and holds almost half a billion dollars in total assets. It didn't get that way by being bad at marketing.

So, without further adieu, here are five marketing lessons from the WWE that we can all try to apply to our own businesses:

1) Be Bold - You'll never get to the head of the pack by following everyone else. You have to stand out from the crowd. We all talk about having a unique selling proposition, but the WWE is one of those unique organizations that has truly found its USP, fostered it, and ridden it to the top. The characters (also known as "wrestlers") they employ are not only unique, they're impossible to forget.

As a result, many have become household names and brands in their own right: Hulk Hogan, Andre the Giant, Randy Savage, Jesse Ventura. And more recently: The Rock, The Undertaker, Edge, Kane, Big Show, Ray Mysterio, and John Cena. Chances are you've heard of at least a few of these. If not, ask the nearest ten year-old. (Or just wait - they're probably coming soon to an arena, movie theater, or state capitol near you!)

2) Tell a Story - I'll let you in on a little secret that I've only recently learned - The WWE is not about wrestling! It's more like a soap opera for boys and young men, and it's all about the plot. When Kane and Edge face off in the ring, it isn't about who is the better wrestler, it's about how Edge is going to retaliate for the illegal choke slam that Kane pulled during his match with Otunga last week, or how Kane is going to retaliate for the kidnapping of Paul Bearer (see video below!). There is always a subplot for indoctrinated fans. The more you watch, the more you know, and the more you know, the more you want to watch. Does that sound like a recipe for success?

3) Be Unpredictable - In my limited viewing experience, often the opponents in a WWE match do not even finish their match (it's not about the wrestling, remember?). Right in the middle of a match, some new person will burst onto the stage (also known as a "ring"), and BAM! - the plot thickens. I'm often left asking my nine year-old, "What just happened?". But I can't say it isn't entertaining! You never know what is going to happen next, and that keeps the viewers (also known as "customers") coming back.

4) Be Controversial - A corollary to all of these storylines and subplots is that something controversial is always happening. Someone is always cheating, someone is always out to get someone else, and occasionally, someone even gets kidnapped and hog-tied (like I said, it's entertaining!). In the world of marketing, controversy = interest. Take all the interest you can get.

5) Have an Adversary - The first time I watched wrestling with my boys, I was shocked when, right in the middle of what looked like a pretty serious match, a gang of wrestlers in matching black and yellow shirts stormed the ring and proceeded to pummel both of the opponents who started the match! My nine year old explained to me that these guys are The Nexus - they're the bad guys (though if you really get into it - which I totally don't - they aren't really "bad" per se, they've just been shunned by the establishment and joined The Nexus as a way to get a leg up in this crazy world). But I digress...My point is, having antagonists is what makes a story interesting. Good guys would be boring if there weren't any bad guys. Maybe you should go out and try to make some enemies!

6) Don't Take Yourself Too Seriously - I bet you didn't know there are over thirty types of specialty matches in the WWE. Oh yeah - there's the Battle Royal, the Casket Match, the Inferno, Hell in a Cell, Lumberjack, Strap, Triple Threat, and my personal favorite, the Punjabi Prison! I have no idea what any of this means (though my 6 year old could tell you in frightening detail), and that's the point - you don't have to know what it all means to enjoy it, and every WWE fan knows that the rules will all be broken anyway, so just enjoy the show!

So...Indulge me and check out the three minute video below courtesy of WWE Fan Nation.
Is it stupid and pointless? Yes. Is it entertaining? Hell yes! Is it marketable? Apparenty so!

The WWE, Friday Night Smackdown, The Nexus, wrestler names, and associated terms, names, or marks are registered trademarks of the WWE and/or its affiliates. Any trademarks and/or associated names or terms are used or mentioned herein for editorial purposes only.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Words for Hire: An Intro to Web Copywriting

Many people have a hard time writing about themselves. But as small business owners, we're also "do-it-yourself" types. So there is an inherent conflict when it comes to writing content for our own small business websites, blogs, and social media platforms.

Your website, blog, and social media presence are often the first thing your potential customers will see, and you only get a few seconds to make that crucial first impression. If your website, blog, and other copy hasn't been updated in a few months, chances are it needs to be. And if you let your website, blog, and social media copy grow inaccurate and obsolete, those potential new customers may pass you by.

"Your website, blog, and social media presence are often the first thing your potential customers will see, and you only get a few seconds to make that crucial first impression."

Far too often, small business owners write their own material, then forget about it. We've all come across a company website that was out of date and/or innaccurate, and chances are we went somewhere else rather than spend time trying to find the right information.

You already knew that, right? But who has the time to keep all of this stuff accurate and current?

Did you know there are people who will do this for you? Michelle Salater, owner of Written by Sumer, is one of those people, and I jumped at the chance to interview her about this incredibly useful service. Below is a transcript of our interview:

1. My readers and I are small business owners and "do it yourself" types. Most of us have never given much thought to hiring someone to write for us. Why should we?

Any business, no matter the size, should care about their marketing message because it is their unique, compelling message that attracts prospects and gets them to convert into paying customers. First impressions are everything, especially on the web. You have seconds to clearly convey what you do, whom you serve, and what benefit you provide to your customers. Too many small business owners think they are clearly communicating through their copy, but they aren't. Businesses evolve. Services change. And so does the market.

Often, what happens is companies add information to their websites over a period of time. The result is a smorgasbord of information that can easily confuse prospects. It’s often difficult to look at our own marketing message and see what’s really being communicated. When you’re too close to a project, it’s easy to get caught up in what you think needs to be said, rather than what prospects want to hear.

Clear copy equals more sales. When you can grab a prospect's attention and hold it, when you can get prospects to see that your services or products are the solution for them, when your copy helps prospects pre-qualify themselves, you will see an increase in sales.

In addition, we've found that when we write copy for clients, our questions and our copy help the business gain clarity about their target market and about why they do what they do. The more clear a business is on whom they serve, why they exist, and the true benefits of their services / products, the quicker they attract their ideal clients and increase revenue.

2. So do you write content for web pages, blog posts, advertisements?

We write content for websites, landing page copy, blog posts, press releases, brochures, and postcards. Most of the content we write is online and all of our copy is optimized. We do not write ad copy. We've learned to stick with what we are passionate about, what we're really good at. Advertisement copy and scripts are not our area of expertise. When businesses approach us about writing ad copy or scripts for video, we refer them to copywriters who specialize in these areas.

3. How do you write content without really knowing the business?

We are asked this question a lot. 80% of what a copywriter does is research. When we work with a client, we get to know their business inside and out. Before we write a word of content, we need to know about the client's vision, their mission, and what their goals are. We ask questions until we fully understand the client's target market; What really makes them tick? What keeps them up at night? Where do they shop? What do they do for a living? That sort of thing.

We also look at the competition and we study the client's services and products. We ask a lot of questions. Once we feel we have enough information, we do keyword research. After that, we begin writing the copy. Our discovery process helps to not only write compelling content that encourages prospects to take action, but also to minimize the amount of time spent revising the copy.

4. Do you write your copy for SEO purposes, for increased sales/conversions, or both?

Both. No matter what we are writing, we write with conversion and search engines in mind.

5. What does your "typical" copywriting project look like, and how long does it take?

Our specialty is web copywriting and for an average site (under 12 pages) our turnaround time is 3-4 weeks. It doesn't take that long to write a site, but we are often booked weeks in advance. For brochures or press releases--smaller projects--turnaround can be anywhere from a week to 2 weeks. The duration depends on the client's response time and our schedule.

6. Are your projects typically one time "makeovers", or long term relationships? Which do you prefer?

We strive to build long term relationships with our clients. Occasionally we have a one-time project, but this is rare.

7. Okay, let's say I'm sold on this copyrighting thing and I want to get started. How does the process work for a small business owner?

The first step is to find a copywriter or a copywriting company you think is a good fit for your needs and your personality. Ideally, you want a copywriter that will listen to your needs, has a solid understanding of your brand, services, products, and company culture, writes compelling marketing copy, delivers on time, and is professional from beginning to end. Take a look at previous work, check them out on social media and see what people are saying, read testimonials. Do your research before contacting a copywriter or a copywriting firm. I actually wrote a blog post about this titled 10 Questions to Ask Yourself Before Hiring a Copywriter.

8. Are there some things I can do as a small business owner to improve my own copy writing skills and/or make it easier for a professional to come in and help me later on?

Yes. You can start by going over all of your marketing copy and circling the amount of times you use the words we, our, I, my, our team, etc. Overuse of the first person is a clear indicator that your content is too company centric. Prospects don't care that you've won 18 awards for being great nor do they care about your process. They care about what's in it for them, how their lives will be better because they purchase from you. So, take out a red pen and go over your copy. Then rewrite the areas that are company centric. Focus instead on the benefits people receive.

There are many blogs that provide excellent, free advice. Those who subscribe to my blog, Copy Doodle, can learn from our info-packed posts on writing content for websites, press releases, blogs, etc. Copy Blogger and The Bloggers' Bulletin are also excellent sources for information.

I also have a product I created for those who don't have the budget to hire a professional copywriter. My web copy critique (affiliate link) is perfect for the DIY entrepreneur or a small company that doesn't have the budget.

9. I've actually had clients tell me that they don't want their website copy or pictures to look "too professional", because it won't look like they wrote it and they want to "keep it real". Personally, I don't think it's possible to look too professional, but how would you respond such a naysayer?

This is a great question. I think the type of person you described above doesn't understand what a copywriter does. I would ask them why they assume a copywriter would write something that is too professional. Professional copywriters write all sorts of creative copy, and and write differently for each company.

We don't write for our clients. We write for our clients' customers. Whether your copy is professional in tone or more conversational depends on your target market. We look for the best way to communicate with your prospects and then craft the tone of the copy accordingly.

Michell Salater,
Founder of Sumer, LLC
Michelle Salater is the founder and president of Sūmèr, LLC, a company specializing in web copy writing, SEO copywriting, and the promotion and marketing of websites after they launch. As an avid business blogger, Michelle has grown her small business marketing blog, Copy Doodle, to be a powerful lead generation and client education tool. Recently, Copy Doodle was listed #17 out of Technorati’s 100 Best Small Business Blogs. Michelle also speaks and coaches entrepreneurs, both privately and in online classes and workshops, on how to grow their businesses online and maximize their online marketing efforts. In 2009, Michelle won the Charleston Business Journal's Forty under 40 award for her business and community leadership. Pay her a visit at:!

Friday, November 12, 2010

What the Heck is SEO? Series Post 7: Link Building Strategies

10 Sure-Fire Ways to Build Quality Links to Your Website or Blog

In my last two posts in this series, we talked about the critical imortance of both links and keywords.

But once you're aware of the importance of those two things, the next question is always, So where am I supposed to get all these links from? The purpose of this post is to give you some ideas in that regard!

"Where am I supposed to get all these links from?"

Getting a link to your website can be as simple as finding a cool website or blog related to yours, emailing the owner, blogger, or webmaster, and asking "Hey, would you consider linking to my site?". Obviously, when you're just starting out with your off-page SEO and link building efforts, this can be a daunting task. And the fact is, link building is a tedious, time-consuming pain-in-the neck . But it is absolutely essential to success!

"Link building is a tedious, time-consuming pain-in-the neck . But it is absolutely essential to success!"

So where should you start? Below, I've outlined some sources of links that you may or may not be aware of, roughly in order from lower quality but easier to get to hard to get, but very high quality (I'll be talking more about link quality in an upcoming post on Page Rank):

1. Friends and contacts in your field - If you have a business with a website, chances are you have a few friends, relatives, or business associates who also have websites or blogs. Drop them a line (or better yet, call them) and ask nicely for a link! A few potential sources of quality websites in this category that come to mind are:
  • Suppliers - If you sell widgets, and you buy all of your widget parts from Widget Warehouse, why not ask them for a link? After all, the more widgets you sell, the more widget parts you'll buy from them!
  • Customers - Do you have a few regular customers who want to see you continue to succeed so you can continue to serve their needs? Do they have a website? There you go.
  • Partners - If you install drywall, but your buddy Joe always does the framing first, and your pal Steve usually does the painting afterwards - why aren't your websites all linked up so you can share the love?
2. Online forums and communities - Are you active in any online message boards or forums in your industry? Many of these will allow you to put a link in your signature. These are not high quality links, but they couldn't be easier to get. (Note: Please do not join a forum just for the sake of link building - this is called spam and everyone hates it. Rather, join, engage, and be an active participant in these communities. You might actually learn something or make a connection that pays huge dividends. That is the point - the links are secondary.)

3. Competitors in another market - One of the Catch-22's of link-building is you need links from sites that are related to yours, but if the site is related to yours, that often means they are a competitor and aren't likely to want to help you with SEO! Ahh, but what about the competitor in another market? If you sell used cars in Tampa, why not get links from used car dealers in California and Nebraska and get the idea!

4. People who linked to your competitors - Now we're getting down to the nitty gritty. Did you know that with just a little effort, you can get a list of all the web pages that have linked to a particular website? One of my favorite tools for this is Wordtracker's Link Builder software (affiliate link - note that they have a 7-day free trial!). You just put in the URL of a website, and bam - you've got a list of all the sites that linked to them. Chances are if they were willing to link to your competition, they can be convinced to link to you as well!

5. Directories - There are millions of directories on the internet. From huge, multi-disciplinary directories such as internet yellow pages to narrow theme-specific directories such as this directory of dog poop scoopers (trust me, if there is a directory for pooper scoopers, there is probably a directory related to your industry as well!).

Directories range from free sites where you just submit your site and it shows up in a day or two, to paid services with different levels of service and exposure based on your membership level. These can be excellent places to get links.

No mention of directories would be complete without a mention of the big three. DMOZ, The Yahoo Directory, and Best of the Web (BOTW) are all large, widely respected directories that search engines have traditionally given lots of weight to*. [I also like, but opionions vary on how much respect it gets from the major search engines]. These range from free but nearly impossible to get listed in (DMOZ) to very expensive but quick and easy to get listed in (Yahoo).

*Search engines have traditionally given substantial weight to links from established directories for the simple reason that search engines are robots. Conversely, well-run directories are edited by human beings, who at a minimum should ensure that your website is 1) legitimate and 2) listed in the appopriate catagory in their directory. So if the Yahoo Directory lists your site under the category Small Businesses > US > Florida > Tampa Bay > Pinellas County > Home Repair > Plumbing, Google and Bing safely assume that your website is in fact about a Plumber in Pinellas county, Florida. The concept is the same for smaller directories.

6. Chambers of Commerce - Many small business owners are members of their local Chamber of Commerce. But many of these business owners fail to take the logical next step of ensuring their business information and website are listed in the Chamber's online membership directory. Much like internet directories, Google and Bing give a lot of weight to links from Chambers of Commerce. It is almost always worth the extra time and/or additional cost to ensure a link to your website is included with your chamber listing.

7. Press Releases - Assuming you have something of interest to say about your business (a new product or service launch, a new location opening, an award you recently won, an upcoming event you are hosting or sponsoring, etc.), press releases can be an incredibly effective way to get links to your site as well as traffic. A well-written and properly distributed press release can get you mentioned in places such as Yahoo News, Google News, and industry-specific blogs and websites, and can even result in coverage of your news or event by local meda outlets. Check out my press release page for more inofrmation.

8. Blogs and Websites in Your Field - Well, duh! This kind of goes without saying at this point, but you might be surprised at how many bloggers and webmasters maintain a "Blog Roll" and/or a "Links Section" and will happily link to websites or blogs that they feel are of interest to their readers - don't be afraid to ask!

10. Guest Posting - As a small business owner, you have expert advice and experience in your industry that has value. Often, the best way to share that advice is by blogging. If you don't already have a blog of your own, start one.  And once you do, and have spent some time and energy building up the content and readership of your own blog, the next step is to look for opportunities to guest post on other blogs.

"Guest Posting is the holy grail of link-building."

Guest Posting is the holy grail of link-building. By writing a post for a respected blog in your industry, you not only get the customary link back to your own website or blog, but you also get traffic (via said link) to your site from a respected blog in your industry. And the owner of the blog gets free content that keeps readers engaged and interested in their own blog. It truly is a win-win if done correctly. One of the best resources I can offer on how to do it correctly is this e-book on Guest Blogging.

This concludes my rundown of the top ten places to get links to your website. Do you have an 11th? Or a question about how to go about asking for a link? Feel free to leave a comment below!

And stay tuned for my next post about the Top 10 Places Not to Get Links From!

By the way, have you joined The Nifty 150 yet?

Thursday, November 4, 2010

How to Turn Facial Injuries Into Pure Advertising Gold

"A bouncer in Birmingham hit me in the face with a crescent wrench five times. And my wife's boyfriend broke my jaw with a fencepost. So if you don't buy a trailer from me, it ain't gonna hurt my feelings".

Anyone who can work that phrase into a television commercial is a marketing genius. So without further adieu, enjoy this little slice of YouTube heaven:

As soon as I stopped laughing and regained my composure after watching this commercial, my first instinct was to share it with my readers. But, other than the fact it's hilarious, I initially struggled to find the relevance to small business owners.

That is, until I dug a little deeper and realized that the creative geniuses behind this commercial are Rhett and Link (if you look closely, you'll see them making a cameo appearance above). The video was made for I Love Local Commercials, an advertising project aimed specifically at local small businesses. They explain it far better than I can:

The best part? The Cullman Liquidation commerical is just the tip of the iceberg! For even more funny, irreverant, and clever videos, check out the other commercials produced for the I Love Local Commercials project.

Look under "Our Commercials" and scroll down to watch them all. You won't be disappointed, and you can even call it "marketing research"!

To nominate a local business for the I Love Local Commercials project, click here.

Or don't. I don't care.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Taking Plastic: 10 Questions to Ask Before Accepting Credit Cards (Plus Free Beer)

Do you take plastic?
At some point in the life of every small business, there comes a point when your customers start expecting you to take their credit or debit cards. Let's face it, credit and debit cards are widely accepted and widely used, and people carry cash and checks a lot less often than they used to.

But many small business owners make the mistake of signing up with the first merchant account provider they find, which can result in excessive fees and processing charges, cancellation penalties, and all sorts of other headaches.

It just so happens my friend Chris Lenz does this for a living. So I asked him a few pointed questions about setting up or changing a merchant account for credit card processing. While the answers may vary according to your situation and your business model, don't sign up with a merchant provider without asking these questions and getting answers you are comfortable with.

1. How much should the average small business owner plan on paying in credit card processing fees? And how is this determined? Is it based on your personal credit score, your annual sales volume, or some other factors?

This is probably the first question that a new small business owner asks, and also one that is the most difficult to answer. First, there are multiple types of fees that fall under the “processing” umbrella. Some businesses will require terminals, or POS (point of sale) systems, that can be either purchased or rented, others will operate via the web and have associated fees, and different processors may have monthly or annual fees for various other reasons.

Then there are the true “processing fees” for accepting the credit or debit card as payment. These fees will vary based on a multitude of factors including business type, how you accept payment (in person vs. over the phone or internet), and to a degree sales volume. These fees are in large part determined by the rules established by the associations themselves (Visa, MasterCard, etc).

As a general rule, if you are paying more than 2.5% per transaction in true processing fees, or more than 1% per month in monthly charges in addition to your processing fees, you should get an analysis done and see if it makes sense to switch to a new processor or a new plan with your existing processor.

2. Are there generally start-up costs or monthly fees associated with having a merchant account?

Most, but not all, companies do have some sort of upfront fees for starting service. These vary widely and are often negotiable. This is also true with monthly fees. As we move further into the world of paperless offices many companies now charge a fee for a paper statement, but will often email statements for free.
Some types of accounts, most notably e-commerce, will require a monthly fee because of the technical necessities of how they work.

3. How do merchant accounts compare to services like PayPal and Google Checkout? At what sales volume does it start to make financial sense to upgrade from one of these to a full-blown merchant account, and how much money can a small business owner save on fees? 

PayPal and Google Checkout are great services for merchants that have a relatively low sales volume and do e-commerce or use a virtual terminal. However they do have drawbacks. The main one that I have found is that they try to have a “one-size-fits-all” rate structure for all merchants, which can end up costing you more in transaction fees. As a guy who is 6’5” tall, I can tell you that one-size-fits-all rarely works!

If your business is solely or primarily e-commerce than these options should be offered, but only as part of your overall payment package. In my opinion, you should still use a processor for your credit card transactions, and offer these a secondary payment options for people that want to use them.

As far as the amount you can save on fees, this obviously depends on your sales volume. For example: If you process $100,000 per year and you're paying 3.5% in fees, you could save $1,500 per year with a merchant account that only charges around 2%. Obviously, every situation is different, but it pays to do the math!

4. Are there any risks associated with having a merchant account? Can it ruin your credit or hurt your business in some way if something goes wrong? Are there any regulations or safeguards small business owners should follow or have in place when handling their customers' credit card numbers and personal information?

The main risk for business owners has to do with identity theft.  According to the rules of the game as set forth by the associations, if a customer’s information is stolen it is ultimately the responsibility of the business owner. There are typically fines involved; on average, each compromised account costs a small business owner just over $200.

The industry has established rules, known as PCI Compliance, that must be followed. These rules pertain to your equipment and how you may handle credit card information on a procedural level. For example, do you store credit card information? If so, do you have a policy on where it is stored and who has access to it?

5. Are there different rules or fees associated with credit versus debit cards? What about between Visa, Mastercard, Amex, and Discover? Are there different processes or fees associated with in-person versus online versus telephone transactions? 

Yes, yes, and it depends! There are numerous rules and fees based on business type, how you take the information, average ticket, and many other factors. 

6. Is it better to have a machine to "swipe" cards, or to use a web-based terminal to process credit cards?

Although it is typically both less expensive and less risky to take cards face-to-face (swiped cards), there are some business types and some occasions where this is not feasible. In those circumstances your processor will need a thorough understanding of your business in order to offer the best advice. This is where a lot of small businesses go wrong. They sign up with a processor and end up with a payment system and/or a rate structure that doesn't fit their business model. 

7. For small businesses who conduct business through their website, are there any special considerations to keep in mind when setting up an online shopping cart?

When setting up a website with a shopping cart it is necessary to use a gateway to communicate with your processor. Although most processors require that you work through a third party gateway, this can be cumbersome, especially if you have an issue down the road. Also, not all shopping carts work with all gateways. For this reason I recommend selecting a merchant service provider early on to ensure that all your systems work together. Since I am a big fan of one-stop shopping, I recommend using your processor’s gateway service if they offer one. 

The nuts and bolts of how it all works on the back end between your shopping cart, your gateway, your processor, and your bank can obviously get complicated. That's why it is so important to have a customized plan from a processor who knows and understands your business model.

8. I'm a fairly smart guy, but even I can't decipher my merchant account statement. For someone who already has a merchant account, what are some things they should look at on their monthly statements to determine if they're getting ripped of or just to decide if it's worth the hassle to change to a new plan or a new company?

I spend all day reading statements, and sometimes even I have trouble! Many processing companies do not want you to understand what you are looking at, because the more you know the stronger you are going to be at negotiating with them, or understanding when you are truly offered a better program. If you see your rates go up with no explanation, or if you have not had another company review your statement and offer a competitive bid in several years then it is probably time for a review.

Most importantly, changing processors should not be a hassle! If you work with a reputable company then your existing representative should be happy to sit down and review your statement to answer any questions. And, if a new salesman is trying to win your business and won’t take the time to answer your questions then you need to run!

9. Speaking of changing to a new company, how difficult is that to do, and what are some things small business owners can do to make it a smoother process?

The number one mistake I see over and over again is business owners not knowing if they are still under contract with their existing company. Although most reputable processors are very transparent with their terms and conditions, some still try to use the fine print to hide this detail.

If you do sign a new contract while under contract with a previous processor, you will almost always incur additional fees. Most importantly, if a salesman tells you that there is “no term” or “no termination fee” ask to see something in writing. Too many times less than reputable salesman say whatever they think is necessary just to close a deal.

10. Any parting thoughts or words of wisdom for the small business owners who will read this?

The one thing every business owner needs to know, and I’m sure everyone reading this now understands, is that there are few easy answers when it comes to merchant services. Every business is different, and every solution needs to be customized. As much as we all want quick and easy answers this is one area of your business where you need to take your time.

If you speak to a salesman whose only question is “what’s your rate?” or who doesn’t ask as many questions about your business as you ask about his, then they are not really looking out for your best interests. 

When looking for a new company ask yourself, did this person take the time to really understand my business? Were my questions answered in a manner I understood? Most importantly, am I comfortable with the person sitting in front of me? If you can’t answer “yes” to all these questions then keep looking!

Chris Lenz is a charter member of The Nifty 150 and works as a sales rep for one of the country's leading credit card processors. He will quite happily sit down with you over a beer and review your existing merchant statement as well as your business model and help you save money on processing fees. Give him a call at 727-417-9386 or fill out this this form to get in touch. Tell him you found him through The Nifty 150 and he will even supply the beer! (Right, Chris?)

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Something Small is Coming!

Since I started this blog, my goal has been to grow my readership.

A logical measure of readership for most bloggers is their number of subscribers. But I see an inherent conflict there. If the purpose of a blog is truly to foster a community of like-minded individuals, then at some point your blog becomes a victim of its own success. Copyblogger proudly displays the fact that they have over 136,000 subscribers. Darren at ProBlogger boasts over 159,000.

I salute them and admire them for their talent, their art, and the time and effort thay have invested to create such a loyal following. But honestly, how much real interaction can you have with 136,000 readers? Can you really get to know 159,000 people and help them succeed? Maybe. Maybe not.

British Anthropologist Robin Dunbar has suggested that human beings are wired to truly interact with a community or tribe of only around 150 individuals.

(I credit Seth Godin for writing about Dunbar's Number in Linchpin and getting me started down this train of thought.)

What train of thought you ask?

Over the next couple of weeks, this blog is going to become The Nifty 150.

Want to read my blog? Fine. Stop by anytime.

Want to truly connect with a community of like minded small business owners and marketers, get my content delivered to your email inbox, and receive special members-only offers and ideas? Then you'll need to join the Nifty 150!

The Nifty 150 is a group (limited to 150 members) of subscribers to this blog who are invited to connect, interact, guest post, and share ideas with other members through comments and other means of discourse. It's kind of like that table in high school where all the cool kids used to sit. Pull up a chair!

Monday, November 1, 2010

The Empty Inbox Challenge

I have always been a huge proponent of keeping an empty email inbox, and I have found it very effective to look at emails with a very black and white lens - you either need to take action now, or save the task related to the email for some future date. Either way, the email should be moved or deleted.

But over the past year, I have fallen off the wagon. Badly. Currently, between my three active email inboxes, I have over 4,000 emails sitting there. The vast majority of these have been read and either need to be deleted or moved to a to-do list somewhere. But the sheer volume is overwhelming.

Google recently acknowledged this growing problem with their roll out of the Priority Inbox in GMail. But I've had a hard time integrating Priority Inbox into my workflow.

Today, I stumbled on a nifty tool called Good To Do. It is a simple, bare-bones online to-do list. And one of the features I really love is the ability to simply forward an email to your Good To Do account (i.e. and have it automatically become an active "To-Do" for a particular date. Thus the email: 1) becomes a more concrete action item with a due date assigned, and 2) can be safely deleted or archived from your email inbox, thus reducing the clutter.

Check out their demo video below. I have no affiliate relationship with Good To Do. I'm not even sure if they have an affiliate program. This is just one of those things that was too good not to share with my readers.

The Challenge: Use one of the tools above to clean up your inbox and leave a comment on this post with the details. The person who reduces the most clutter (i.e. gets rid of the most emails from their inbox) using either of the above tools and shares their story here gets a free hour of SEO consulting for their website.

Here's to an empty inbox!

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Why I Hate the Federated States of Micronesia

Yap, Chuuk, Pohnpei and Kosrae:
The Federated States of Micronesia
I live in Florida. That's why.

Every time I fill out a form online, I eventually come to the dropdown menu for "State" and hit the "F" key to jump directly to Florida (the only state in the union starting with the letter "F").

But does Florida pop up? No.

The Federated States of Micronesia does!

For the record, I have nothing against Micronesians or whatever they call themselves. My beef is with the database programmer who listed "Federated States of Micronesia" as one of the fifty U.S. states decades ago, and the millions of other programmers who have blindly followed his or her lead ever since.

Do the Federated States of Micronesia really need a spot on that list? Of course not.

Then why does everybody do it that way? Because we always have.

How many things in your business model are done just because that's the way you've always done it?

How many of them infuriate your customers?

For the record, according to Wikipedia:

The Federated States of Micronesia, or FSM, is an independent, sovereign island nation, made up of four states from west to east: Yap, Chuuk, Pohnpei and Kosrae. It comprises approximately 607 small islands in the Western Pacific Ocean spread over almost 1,700 miles (2,700 km) longitudinally just north of the equator some 2,500 miles (4,000 km) southwest of the main islands of Hawaii and about 1,800 miles (2,900 km) north of eastern Australia, lying northeast of New Guinea, south of Guam and the Marianas, west of Nauru and the Marshalls, and east of Palau and the Philippines.

If anyone can explain to be why everyone lists them as one of the 50 states, please leave a comment!

Friday, October 22, 2010

How to Form an LLC in Florida

LLC?   INC?   WTF?

I recently had an email exchange with a client about whether and how to form a Limited Liability Company (LLC) in the State of Florida. At the end of our exchange, I wrote "I think I'll do a blog post about this - we can't be the only ones with this problem!".

So without further adieu, here is an excerpt from that email exchange:

You form an LLC by registering with the State of Florida at It's actually a very easy process.
It's sometimes easier to make your LLC kind of an "umbrella" with a generic name ([Your Name] Services, LLC or something like that), then you can register a fictitious name (a "DBA") for each entity you operate under the LLC. So you could have DBAs ("Doing Business As") registered to the umbrella LLC such as: 
  • Business Name A
  • Business Name B
  • Some new crazy idea you come up with in the future
That way, you're not forming a new LLC every time you enter a new venture, rebrand,  or branch off into a new area of growth. You just register the new name as a DBA and you're all set - you can open bank accounts and everything.
Once you get your LLC documents, you can apply for your DBAs at You'll normally want to register the LLC as the owner of the fictitious name(s).
And that's really all there is to it. Forming an LLC in the State of Florida couldn't be easier. But why would you want or need to?

First of all, you should check with your tax professional and seek legal advice from a qualified attorney (as my friend Roz likes to say, "I'm no lawyer, but I know who to ask for one!") before forming any type of business venture.

But the fact remains that a Limited Liability Company, or LLC, is the simplest and most pragmatic option for the vast majority of small business owners. An LLC combines the "limited liability" of a corporation with the simplicity of "pass through income". So, as a general rule:
  1. Your personal assets are protected from the liability generated by your business activities*, and
  2. Any income generated by your business activities simply "passes through" to your personal income for tax purposes.
*According to Wikipedia, "It is important to understand that limited liability does not imply that owners are always fully protected from personal liabilities. Courts can and will pierce the corporate veil of corporations (or LLCs) when some type of fraud or misrepresentation is involved".

Trust me, you do not want to have your corporate veil pierced!

Have you ever been sued or otherwise been subject to liability and had your assets protected by your LLC (or exposed by the lack of one)? Have you ever had your veil pierced? Please feel free to share your experiences by leaving a comment below!

Thursday, October 21, 2010

An Englishman's Guide to SEO

1. Do you have a website?

2. Do you want it to rank well in Google?

3. Do you have 18 spare minutes?

4. Do you like British accents?

If you answered "yes" to the above questions, then boy do I have a treat for you! Make yourself a cup of tea, press play, and enjoy the video below. It was put together by Mike Mendel of, and is a perfect complement to my What the Heck is SEO? Series!

(If you have trouble loading the video, you can watch the original here.)

Click here for more information about the cool SEO tools available from Wordtracker!
Disclaimer: Tampa Bay Search is an official Wordtracker Affiliate.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Monday Morning Quote

"You have to go where the competition is not. The further, the better."

                                                                    Seth Godin in Purple Cow

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

The Five Dollar Typo Challenge

This could be yours!
I hate typos. Despise them.

 In fact, I hate them so much that I will give you five bucks if you find a typo on my blog.

 The rules:

  1. It has to be something I wrote. Comments, guest posts, and ads do not count.
  2. You have to be a subscriber to my blog. No smarty-pants passers-by.
  3. PayPal only. I am not going to the post office or giving you my credit card number.
  4. This offer stands until December 31st, 2010 or until I go broke, whichever comes first.
The process:
  1. Subscribe to my blog.
  2. Read it zealously. Every word. Every page. Every post.
  3. If you find a typo, email me. No phone calls please.
  4. Collect your $5.00 via PayPal.
  5. It is recommended, but not required, that you spend it on rum.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

What the Heck is SEO? Series Post 6: Keyword Research

In my last post in this series, we talked about the power of links. By now you should be starting to realize that SEO is not rocket science or black magic - it's a simple set of guidelines that Google and Bing ask webmasters to follow so they can figure out what web pages are about. You're probably eager to start revising your content and building links that contain your keywords. But what are your keywords? And how do you know which keywords to use?

This post will provide a brief introduction to the concept of keyword research, and show you a couple of tools for getting the job done.

"SEO is not rocket science or black magic - it's a simple set of guidelines that Google and Bing ask webmasters to follow so they can figure out what our web pages are about"

While Google and Bing are getting very good at semantic analysis, the fact remains that using the right keywords can make the difference between getting lots of traffic and new business, or having a beautiful website that no no ever sees. The key to using the right keywords is knowing what people actually search for on Google and Bing. And this information is not as top secret as you might think!

I'm going to let you in on a little secret many SEO companies don't want you to know - Google (which you'll recall from my first post in this series has a 70% market share in the U.S.) gives away this information for free! Just follow these easy steps:
  • Enter some keywords or phrases you think people may search for.
  • Have fun playing around with Google's keyword tool and exploring the many phrases people actually search for on Google. The tool is actually pretty intuituve and user friendly.
Google's Keyword Tool
According to Google:

You can search for keyword ideas by entering a keyword related to your business or service or a URL to a page containing content related to your business or service. Or, you can go straight to filtering keyword categories next to the statistics table. You can use one or the other or both together; the tool is completely flexible depending on how you'd like to use it. Things to try:
  • Open Advanced Options to further refine your search by: Country, Language, and Mobile search.
  • Relevant Categories will be highlighted in bold to the left. However, you can still select and explore non-highlighted categories.
  • Check or uncheck the Keyword Match Types boxes beneath the available categories to further refine your search in the main browser pane.
  • Click "Filters and Views" above the results table to customize the columns you see within your results data.
  • Add -keyword to exclude the keyword from your search results. (For example, add -classes to a search for tango.)
A special word of caution about the third bullet above (Keyword Match Types) - There are three match types you can select in the Google Keyword Tool:
  • Broad Match - Includes traffic estimates for all similar phrases and relevant variations
  • Phrase match - Includes traffic for searches that contain the exact phrase
  • Exact Match - Includes traffic for searches that match the exact phrase exclusively
If you leave it set to "Broad", the traffic estimates you see will be greatly inflated.

And another word of caution about the Google Keyword tool in general - This tool was designed for use by Google Adwords advertisers, and opinions vary on how accurate the tool is. Obviously, the numbers will be slightly inflated due to the fact that webmasters and business owners frequenlty search for their own keywords to see where their sites are ranked in the search results.

"Using the right keywords can make the difference between getting lots of traffic and new business, or having a beautiful website that no no ever sees."

If nothing else, the Google Keyword tool is great for comparing different keyword combinations and checking their relative traffic. For example, if the tool says the phrase "Tampa Auto Repair" generates 250 searches per month, and the phrase "Tampa Mechanic" generates 25, you can safely assume you'll get a lot more traffic if you rank well for the first phrase. But your actual mileage will vary.

My two favorite things about the Google Keyword tool are 1) it's absolutely free, and 2) it's from Google, so this is about as close to the horse's mouth as you're going to get.

But while this free tool from Google is certainly a good place to start, if you're serious about your SEO and you're looking for something more sophisticated, then I recommend Wordtracker (affiliate link). They have several tools available to help you with keyword research and linkbuilding, and most of them come with a free trial and a moneyback guarantee.

And that's it in a nutshell*. If you do your homework as you begin the SEO process, you'll get a lot more bang for your buck!

So now that you know what your keywords are and you've got them in the right place on your website, you're ready to start building links, right? But how the heck do you do that?

Stay tuned for my next post in this series - Link Building Strategies (or better yet, subscribe to my blog to get it delivered to your inbox).

*I fully realize that this was a very brief introduction to keyword research. The truth is it's a complex subject that is difficult to cover in a single blog post. I just wanted to introduce you to the idea and show you a couple of tools to get you started. I am planning an in-depth e-book on the subject in the future - please subscribe to my blog and I'll send you a discount code when it comes out!

Monday, October 4, 2010

Monday Morning Quote: Ask the Right Questions

"Relentlessly asking the right questions is a long term career, mostly because no one ever knows the right answer on a regular basis."
                                                                                                                 Seth Godin

Thursday, September 30, 2010

The What's Your Game? Game

If you don't read Naomi Dunford's IttyBiz, you should.

While much of Naomi's content is Rated R (frequent adult language, near-constant sexual innuendo, occasional partial nudity), she tells it like it is and is a brilliant writer.
Brilliant I tell you. Like Einstein + Shakespeare + Shakira brilliant. Naomi rocks. End of.

(In case you were wondering, I am trying to convince Naomi to publish a guest post I wrote about pirates, billboards, and liquor. Hence the sucking up. But she does rock, I swear.)

Check out IttyBizBookmark. Subscribe. Devour. Repeat. You won't be disappointed.

Anyway, once every two or three years, Naomi likes to dig up some cool thing she did two or three years ago, blow the dust off, and try it again. Today, she reissued her What's Your Game? game.

(Actually, she called it "What Do YOU Do? The Un-Meme Redux", but I don't know what that means, so I renamed it).

She challenged her readers (which in this scenario is me) to answer the following questions for their readers (which in this scenario is you). Buckle up.

What’s your game? What do you do?
"I'm all about helping the little guy. I see so many small business owners out there who are struggling to run their businesses, and don't have the time or the tools to market themselves effectively. It's like the internet is just passing them by, and there's a whole generation of consumers who aren't looking in the yellow pages anymore. I find it sad and frustrating and challenging and fascinating all at the same time. So that's what I do, I help local small business owners with their marketing. I do web design and SEO and press releases a whole bunch of other stuff, but I think the real value is in the relationship - having someone who is looking out for your business that you can bounce questions and ideas and concerns off of. That's me."

Why do you do it? Do you love it, or do you just have one of those creepy knacks?
"Lets face it, the knack and the love go hand in hand. It wouldn't do you any good to love marketing if you sucked at it. And it wouldn't do you any good to be great at marketing if you didn't love it. But I like to think I do have The Knack. For as long as I can remember, I've been fascinated by consumer behavior and how advertising drives and changes it, and I can often look at a billboard or a magazine ad or a website, or watch a TV commercial, and tell you with pretty decent accuracy whether it will be successful or be a total flop."

Who are your customers? What kind of people would need or want what you offer?
"Anyone who owns a small business and knows they should do something (marketing wise), but doesn't have the time or the inclination or the motivation to make it happen. My clients are overwhelmed by it all, and I help them bring some order to that and get unstuck."

What’s your marketing USP? Why should I buy from you instead of the other losers?
"I know what it's like to run a business and worry about how you're going to cover the payroll or fix the truck. I'm somewhat unique in that my wife and I own a couple of very successful small businesses that have nothing to do with marketing. We have a proven track record of success, and I have a unique perspective on owning and marketing a small business. I also focus almost exclusively on local businesses. The big marketing firm in New York doesn't know the difference between Dunedin and Pinellas Park, and that can make a huge difference as well."

What’s next for you? What’s the big plan?
"I'm always full of ideas, and my blog has really helped me put that energy to use. If I come up with some hair-brained new business or marketing scheme, I blog about it rather than launching a new venture, and that sort of gets it out of my system (and keeps my wife happy). So in the short term, I want to continue to grow my blog and my readership. In the long term, I'm planning a couple of e-books and courses of my own that will gradually replace some of my affiliate marketing products. I also have a day job and a business to run and two kids and a dog and a cat and a boat and all the other stuff that life throws at you, so I'm a pretty busy guy. But I'm having a blast!"

What the Heck is SEO? Series Post 5: The Power of Links

You've probably received an email recently with the title "Link Exchange Request". Or one from a company in India offering "Link Building Services". You probably deleted them, right?

The fact is, the world wide web was designed to be hyperlinked. Links are the power behind the web. So you should incorporate a systematic and regular linking strategy into your website (and you probably should look at some of those link exchange requests). Why?

If you've had your website up for a while, you know how difficult it is to get visitors or "traffic" to your site. You either have to advertise, or you have to have really good placement in the major search engines. In other words, when people go to Google or Bing and type in "Florida beach vacation rental" or whatever, you want them to find your page listed in the search results, right? Of course you do because this is the best way to get free visitors to your website.

So how does Google know that your site is about "Florida beach vacation rentals (or whatever)?" It knows by what you do both "on page" and "off page." The earlier posts in this series covered 'On-Page' SEO in great detail. But that was kid stuff.

Today, you're graduating to 'Off-Page' Search Engine Optimization!

The problem with 'On-Page' search engine optimization is it's relatively easy. Anyone can do it. And even if you've already done it, there's nothing to stop some snazzy upstart competitor from coming along and doing the same thing. That's why when you get serious about SEO, you have to start talking about 'Off-Page' factors such as links.

"The problem with 'On-Page' search engine optimization is it's relatively easy. When you get serious about SEO, you have to start talking about 'Off-Page' factors such as links."

Google and Bing consider other web pages powerful indicators of the content of your website. For instance, if I have a link on my site pointing to yours, and my linked text says Clearwater Beach Weddings, then I'm providing third-party verification that your site is indeed about Clearwater Beach Weddings.

Imagine the power of 50 sites pointing to yours with the same or similar linked text! No, don't imagine it. I'll show you the power. Right now!

You are familiar with Adobe Acrobat Reader, right? It's the free software that allows you to read pdf files. What would you search for to find the Adobe Acrobat site to download their software? Being a relatively normal human, you'd probably go to Google and type in "Adobe Acrobat Reader" or something like that right? And the site would be either number one in the search results or very close to it.

Proof of the Power of Links to Your Site:

Now try this: Go to Google or Bing and in the search box, type in "click here", and search for that keyword phrase. What website was number one for the search term "click here"? I hope you try this because this is very powerful. Go ahead, I'll wait...

Surprise! The Adobe Acrobat Reader download page is the number one search result for the term "click here"! Now go back and look at the page - notice that nowhere on the Adobe page will you find the words "click here". In fact, the page has absolutely nothing to do with the words "click here"!

So why is it number one in the search results, you ask?

On nearly every page on the internet that has a pdf file to be downloaded, you will find the following instructions: "To download your copy of Adobe Acrobat Reader, click here." The text "click here" is hyperlinked directly to Adobe Acrobat Reader download page on literally millions of web pages. Because the external links say the page is about "click here," that's what Google and Bing assume it's about!

"Google and Bing consider other web pages powerful indicators of the content of your website!"

Imagine the power of 50 or 100 (or 1,000) links from other web pages with your website's keywords all pointing to your site!

I just wanted to show you how powerful linking is so you will be eager to link and be linked to. As you can see, "off-page" links can actually be more powerful than "on-page" strategies. So when another webmaster sends you a link request, consider it carefully. It may be a great opportunity to improve your rankings in the search engines.

But don’t go out and start building links just yet – there are several pitfalls and best practices you should be aware of before implementing your own link-building strategy, which is why you need to subscribe to my blog and make sure you don't miss my next few posts about keyword research and link building!

Special thanks to David McRee for his assistance with this post. David wrote the original version of this article for his own website several years ago, and was one of my first mentors in the often baffling field of SEO. David was into SEO long before SEO was cool, and is known throughout Florida as The Beach Hunter. He blogs about beaches in the Florida Keys and throughout the state at!

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Have You Ever Done a Press Release?

Press releases can be a great way to announce a new product line, store opening, community award, or other news related to your business. They can result in local press coverage, high quality links to your website, and "buzz" about your company.

I use PRWeb to distribute all of my press releases. They aren't the cheapest distribution service, but you get what you pay for, and their reach is unparalleled and they offer a great analytics package to monitor the success of each press release. They also have a great learning center with free press release writing and distribution tips!

While I offer press release writing and distribution services for small businesses, I also realize that many small business owners are do-it-yourself types, so I wanted to pass on a promotion that might save you a few bucks - PRWeb is offering a 10% discount through its affiliate network on new customers' first press release throughout the month of October:

What the Heck is SEO? Series Post 4: Content and Headers

In our last post in this series, we talked about the importance of meta tags when it comes to SEO. In today's post, we're going to get to the heart of the matter - content.

So back to our story in the airport bookstore...

You've got two books in your hand. The titles caught your eye, and the descriptions look equally appealing. How do you decide? Most people at this point will open up the books and scan the content - maybe look at the headings and a paragraph here and there to see if the content of the book catches their attention. Google and Bing do the same thing, except they read and save (index) every word of text on your site!

You may have heard the phrase, "Content is King", but what does that mean? It means that the actual text content of your website is given by far the most weight out of all the factors Google and Bing consider when deciding where to rank your page in their search results!

"The actual text content of your website is given by far the most weight out of all the factors Google and Bing consider when deciding where to rank your page in their search results!"

So what are the secrets to writing good content? They're actually much simpler than you might think:
  • Your content needs to contain your keywords. If you want your website to rank on the first page of Google and Bing for the phrase "Dallas wedding photographer", and the text on your page does not contain the words "Dallas wedding photographer", it's probably not going to happen!
  • Your content needs to be well written. You can't just repeat your keywords over and over. They need to be sprinkled throughout your content in a natural way. 
Note: There is a metric called keyword density, which measures the number of times a given keyword or phrase appears as a percentage of all other words on a page. Don't worry about it - it's an obsolete metric, and there has never been a set standard for it anyway. If you give a draft of your content to your grandmother or a 10 year-old and they can read it and then tell you what the page was about, I assure you Google and Bing can do the same!
  • You need to use variations of your keywords throughout your content. If you're trying to rank for "Dallas wedding photographer", then sprinkle in words like photography and Texas and bridal, where appropriate.
Note: For those of you who just have to know the nitty gritty details, this stems from a search algorithm called 'latent semantic analysis', in which search engines look for semantically related words in addition to your keywords as a signal that strengthens their confidence in your content.
"The secrets to writing good content are much simpler than you might think!" 

    Header Tags

    Your keywords should also be used in your header tags. Remember in high school when you had to write that dreaded "research paper"? Before you even started writing the paper, you had to turn in an "outline" of your paper to your teacher, right? 

    Header tags are very similar to an outline. They are designated by HTML markup and ranked according to importance, as in H1, H2, H3, H4, H5, etc. Accordingly, header tags should be used to break up your content into meaningful sections. It only makes sense that if your page is about Dallas wedding photography, then the sections of the page should be broken down into concepts or ideas that are related to the theme of the page, right? For example:

    Dallas Wedding Photography (this is an H1 tag)

    Susie Smith is an award winning wedding photographer in Dallas, Texas...

    Engagement Portraits (this is an H2 tag)

    Susie offers engagement portraits throughout the Dallas area as part of all of her packages...

    Actual Engagement Photo Sessions  (this is an H3 tag)

    Click on the links below to see some of Susie's recent engagement portraits...

    So it stands to reason that Google and Bing will look closely at your header tags when trying to determine what your page is about. Thus, you should use them appropriately (and sparingly). Generally, I recommend having only one H1 tag per page, leaving no doubt in Google and Bing's "eyes" as to what each page is about.

    If you've read the other posts in this series, by now you're probably starting to see a pattern and realize that consistency is one of the keys to search engine optimization. Your keywords need to be sprinkled consistently throughout your title tag, meta tags, content, and headers.

    "Consistency is one of the keys to search engine optimization." 

    But there is one other place where your keywords play a crucial role in what Google and Bing think of your website. Stay tuned for the next few posts in this series (or better yet, subscribe to my blog and get them delivered to your inbox), which focus on one of the most misunderstood and misapplied principles of SEO - link-building!

    Taking the Long View

    Is it just me, or are we running our businesses and our personal finances and our country into the ground because we all want instant gratification?

    I'm not saying we shouldn't be aggressive and nimble and quick to embrace change when it comes to business and marketing and even politics. I'm asking, where do you want to be 10, 20, or 30 years from now?

    Let that be your guiding light and you'll have a much better perspective on just about everything.

    There's nothing wrong with getting rich slowly, and you might even make a few friends along the way.

    Tuesday, September 28, 2010

    How to Install Google Analytics

    Google Analytics is widely regarded as the industry standard for tracking website traffic. This powerful free tool will tell you things like:
    • How many people visited your website in a given time period
    • Where these visitors came from (i.e. search engines or other websites)
    • Which keywords these visitors searched for when they found your website (if they found it via a search engine)
    • Where these visitors were located, geographically speaking (as in country, state, city)
    • What web browser your visitors were using when they viewed your site
    • How long they spent on your website
    • Which pages of your site they visited and for how long
    • Which pages they entered and exited your site from
    • How many visitors completed a "conversion" (as in did something like buy your product or fill out a form or visit a contact page - this is defined by you)
    Given that Google Analytics does all this and more, and for free. I find it surprising that only 26% of the websites out there actually use Google Analytics. I figure at least some of the other 74% are small business owners who maintain their own websites and never knew they needed Google Analytics or were intimidated by the process of setting up a Google Analytics account and installing the Google Analaytics tracking script on their website.

    Installing Google Analytics is actually a fairly simple process, and I dug up a couple of easy to use resources with step by step instructions:

    Stay tuned or subscribe to my blog for my next post in this series , where I'll talk more about how to actually use Google Analytics!

    If you need help figuring out how or where to install your tracking code, feel free to leave a comment below.

    Monday, September 27, 2010

    Monday Morning Quote: Overnight Success

    "Overnight Success doesn't sleep in. Overnight Success doesn't watch a lot of TV... When you're wondering about the glamour and the wonder and the beauty of being an 'overnight success', real close attention to what time an overnight success gets up and starts!"
                                                                                                                            Chris Brogan

    Wednesday, September 22, 2010

    What the Heck is SEO? Series Post 3: Meta Tags

    In my last post in this series, we talked about the importance of title tags. Now we're going to continue our story in the airport bookstore...

    So you've narrowed it down to two books based on their titles. What is your next step in deciding which one to buy and which one to put back on the shelf before you head to your boarding gate? I don't know about you, but I read the inside flap which provides a description of the contents of the book.

    So do Google and Bing! The description of each page of your website is contained in the description meta tag, which is a snippet of HTML code that looks like this:

    <meta content="description of this web page" name="description">

    There is some disagreement over exactly how Google and Bing index and serve your description meta tag, and how much weight it is given. But published guidelines suggest that Bing gives at least some weight to the description meta tag, and we know for a fact that Google at least reads it, indexes it, and serves it in its search results.

    "Your description meta tag is often the first 'ad copy' search engine users see."

    The real importance of the description meta tag comes into play in search engine results pages (SERPs), because more often than not, your description meta tag is served as the description of your web page in the search engine results (below the hyperlinked title tag):

    Thus, your description meta tag is often the first "ad copy" search engine users see. It needs to be compelling, engaging, and to the point, and it should paint a clear picture of what your business does and why someone should click through to your website! Published guidelines suggest your description meta tag should be less than 150 characters in length (anything longer is snipped anyway, as in the City Search example above that ends with an ellipse).

    One final note on the description meta tag - if it is left blank, the search engines will just grab a snippet of text from somewhere on the page and show this in the search results. Sometimes they do this anyway if their algorithm suggests some other content on the page is more relevant, but having a well written description meta tag is the only way to exert some control over what search engines display in their results.

    "Having a well written description meta tag is the only way to exert some control over what search engines display in their results."

    Do It Yourself Tip: Many small business owners use a template based website or an online web editor, and it's not always obvious which field in your web editor fills the description meta tag. So here's a handy Meta Tag Analyzer to check yours right now!

    Another meta tag you may hear of is the keyword meta tag. Your keyword meta tag is a snippet of HTML code in each page of your website that looks like this:

    <meta content="keywords associated with this web page, separated by commas" name="keywords">

    Now you may be thinking, "that sounds too easy!". It is, and the keyword meta tag is disregarded by Google and given little weight by Bing and other search engines. Adding a few keywords to your keyword meta tag won't hurt anything, but it probably won't help either.

    "The keyword meta tag is disregarded by Google and given little weight by Bing and other search engines. Adding a few keywords to your keyword meta tag won't hurt anything, but it probably won't help either."

    There are several other meta tags that can be used on each page of your website, but none of them has much of an impact on SEO, so I won't get into the weeds here.

    Instead, let's back to the bookstore! So you've read the descriptions, but they both sound good and you still can't decide which book to buy. What would you do next? How about open the book and flip through the content to see if it looks interesting?

    BING-O (no pun intended!). Stay tuned for my next post on Content and Headers! Better yet, subscribe to my blog to get an email when it gets posted!