How is your company’s Online Health?
If you have not taken a look at your business listings and search engine visibility in the past six months, set a few hours aside to perform an online self-exam.
Why is an online self-exam important? Imagine an outdated business description being found by prospective customers. Are your products or services up to date? Have you refined or added to your business services? Are contact details accurate? Is your address spelled correctly?
My first step in what I call the ‘discovery’ process prior to a new business consultation is to go to three major search engines and perform some due diligence. I review the sponsored links, I count all the links in which the business name might appear, I take stock of page density, peruse industry directories, look for yellow page ads, and how many other thriving websites your name may appear on. In my work, I am solicited by international companies trying to sell me advertising, partner with me, share website links, and confirm ‘free listings’ in directories I have not yet heard of. I also subscribe to an excellent online business service that automatically placed my website link on hundreds of sites out in cyberspace, many of which I have yet to scrutinize.
Like many other very small companies, my own listings are the LAST ones I research. For many of the local small businesses I contract, I also look at what the competition might be using to get a leg up in the listings. If you have a lazy Sunday afternoon, do yourself a favor and see if your business listings are accurate and up-to-date.
Finding Yourself: The Process
STEP 1: Type in your company name in Google, Yahoo, Bing, AOL search. Follow all the links, notice how many listings appearing on each page, and how many pages in which you can find yourself.
STEP 2: Type in the industry or service + your local area, region, county or town (i.e. “northeastern connecticut”, “central massachusetts”, “new england”, “downtown Boston”). Will all your competitors appear before you? Do you show up at all? You may want to rewrite your website page titles or descriptions.
STEP 3: Type in your website address (URL) in Google or any other major search engine service – then review all the links that appear. Are there any dead links, obsolete pages, incorrect entries? How many pages of links do you dominate? This morning I discovered an entry created for me in a website designer business directory. For the most part this listing was accurate, however the word “tiny” had been substituted for the word “small” in the phrase “small business website specialist”, making me a “tiny business website specialist. I found no photo, no logo, a misspelled street name, incomplete profiles and descriptions of services, and an opportunity to add nice details for a reciprocal link on my website. I claimed this ad and it is now being reviewed.
STEP 4: Look at the websites of your closest competition. Do the pages load in quickly? Are there any dead pages or graphics that fail to appear? How does your website performance measure up? Pay attention to the page titles displayed in the top of the browser on the competition versus your own website. If the competing websites are real class acts with current social media posts, you may need to rethink your online marketing plan.
Help on the Way
Search engines vary in the number of characters or words allowed in titles and descriptions in your web pages. Testing the copy in various analysis services is a must. Most research and discovery sessions to evaluate business/website visibility will take between three and six hours. Corrections to website copy must be published and tested. Often times, the findings require the client to roll up sleeves and claim free listings to update or correct on his own behalf. A client that expects a hands-off approach to his online presence is setting himself up for failure. The internet is 20 years old, and ignorance of computer operation can no longer excuse you. Consider hiring a third party to take appropriate action in commercial directories and/or social media resources.
Is it my imagination, or are smart phones and tablets marketing “new and improved” upgraded versions of their devices merely months apart? The iphone, tablet/readers and pc/tablet hybrids all want to be your go-to device and seem like great tech toys for the consumer that wants to hold the world in his hands. While I see the value in personal internet portals, these new technologies are completely changing the rules of web page presentation.
Have you noticed the proliferation of highly visual messages – photography, info-graphics, jquery powered slideshows – and the decline of text on websites? Has the attention span of the public become so short that a picture must now convey the company story? Back when dial-up reigned, graphics were scarce and web pages resembled ordinary documents.
There are new protocols for website developers now that public wireless internet is ubiquitous and bandwidth abundant. Have you noticed how many websites now look like Facebook and Pinterest? What was once true for keyword and metatag selection in page text and bold headlines has been supplanted by clever subliminal messages conveyed by photography, collages and infographics. The abundance of infographics in use today gives the viewer the visual equivalent of a soundbite. The danger of marketing with chunks of imagery is that one can’t possibly make a rational decision on so little information. Maybe staring at little media screens puts your brain into a suggestive state, where positive imagery seals the deal.
I consider myself a late-bloomer and strive not to follow trendy design until I must. Last fall we completed a project that was directed by a client’s cellphone. We ultimately recoded her home page to give short chunks of information with a prominent call-to-action graphic. Complex key phrases were replaced with bullet-points. I thought it looked more like a power-point slide than a home page… but my client was already onto something I had dismissed as a fad. Since then I completely remodeled three of my sites to include more impactful graphics and slides.
Last week a telemarketer told me in the first sentence of her spiel that my company is nonexistent on Google, not user-friendly on cellphones and I need to have her company fix it. A funny fact is my Google rep told me a half-hour before that I am right at the top of local search for website design. For the past year I have contributed short posts about marketing, social media, scams, spams, and other topics from the small business point of view. My message is about what I can do for small business owners who need a dedicated webmaster to present their company story with care.
That said, I do understand the value of impactful graphics, concise messages and the new expectations of the hand-held device and the browser with a short attention span. Need a consultation? Call during regular business hours or shoot me an email!
Anyone with a Facebook account has been asked to participate in “likes”, “follows” and “comments” by vendors, service providers and blog sites. You feel you should be utilizing the new social technologies in your marketing efforts, but what do you do after opening your account?
Keeping it real on Facebook
Facebook has been described as the number-one time suck on the net. As a platform for families, extended families and friends, folks can be themselves, reveal their inner children, share the fun, and continue conversations. Facebook ‘friends’ were friends, the site was a neat place to meet, share the love, plan real get-togethers, and share pictures of vacation spots and the grandkids. Many offices have their staff wired to the internet, and many people keep their facebook page open all day!
The environment for the entrepreneur and business, though, is not casual and carefree, and commentary is not always friendly. A spontaneous comment or shared political post potentially opens your thread to everyone, including people who have little else to do than spew (ever see YouTube or Yahoo comments threads?) … there are haters, spammers and flamers lurking everywhere.
This summer I found an award-winning social media marketing training resource which outlined the basic tenets of today’s major social media sites. Though Facebook dominates (today), there are new sites opening up every few months. While you may have dismissed Facebook as a fad, know that it dominates the social sharing world (today), and thousands of companies are exploiting the site as a low-cost marketing medium.
If you are like me and other busy sole-proprietors, you may have experienced “paralysis by analysis”. If you have a company Facebook page, a LinkedIn profile and a list of existing clients, I can help you learn the basics, and together we can map out a long-range plan to monetize your efforts or attract new clientele. Existing clients will be billed at my prevailing website design rates and may contract my services on a monthly basis.
Imagine that you go online to check your company email and you are not permitted to log in to your account. Many thoughts go through one’s mind, notably, ‘could the server be down?’, ‘did my webmaster change my password without notifying me?’, or ‘jeez, is my website still there?’ So you decide to look at your home page and you see this:
Account Suspension is a polite phrase that means, “you have been kicked out of the clubhouse.” But what is the problem? What has my webmaster done (or NOT done) to allow this transgression? Customer technical support is contacted, and to your great surprise you learn that you have been caught sending unwanted commercial emails to unsuspecting people and your name has been blacklisted. Better yet, one of your competitors was a recipient of your email and they were in the mood to make an example of you. Your sitehost receives the directive to suspend your site, and they may or may not allow you to gather up your belongings before tossing you from the server.
Zero-Tolerance Spam Policies
Many hosting providers (and domain registrars) make no bones about shutting you down for violating their Zero-Tolerance SPAM Policy. You are found guilty of violating the Terms of Service and you are shut down without warning. If you have an otherwise spotless history and cordial relationship with the site host, you may have better luck getting your website back. An example of an across-the-board anti-SPAM policy :
Sites advertised via SPAM (Spamvertised) may not be hosted on our servers. This provision includes, but is not limited to SPAM sent via fax, phone, postal mail, email, instant messaging, or usenet/newsgroups. No organization or entity listed in the ROKSO may be hosted on our servers. Any account which results in our IP space being blacklisted will be immediately suspended and/or terminated.”
Are you purchasing the services of an email address provider that advertises online? Do you know how they harvested the email addresses? Is your website’s link in the body of the email? Even if you hired a service in good faith because their website claims they have thousands of potential customers eagerly awaiting your sales pitch in their Inbox, you owe your company and reputation a little due diligence. Ask how their email addresses have been harvested. Email stripping programs steal addresses from the internet for the purpose of sending unsolicited email messages. The host involved in this example does not allow mass emailing. The first promise you need to make when pleading with tech support for assistance will be that you will prevent mass emailing from recurring (forever).
It is not illegal to allow your visitors to ask to be included in your email newsletter list. There are some very effective software plug-ins for WordPress that are easy to use. In this case, emails are sent from your host mailserver, but these are confirmed, opted-in and willing recipients. Be certain that your email rate (1 email sent every 8 seconds, for instance) does not violate your host’s recommendations, and you’re good to go. All mails contain ‘unsubscribe’ links that you do not have to monitor at all.
Whether you thought your email list provider seemed reputable or not, getting blacklisted is serious for your company and all who associate with you. Your email list service must immediately cease all further mailing using your domain link forever.
The Federal Trade Commission Bureau of Consumer Protection provides an informative guide called The CAN-SPAM Act: A Compliance Guide for Business.
Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Many small “ebiz” owners have questions about the “internet sales tax” and how it might impact their profits. The proposed legislation is called the Marketplace Fairness Act of 2013, and the 45 states that collect sales and use tax on goods and services will be affected.
Apparently the Federal Government trying to tell you that your US based internet business is responsible for collecting sales tax on everything you sell in the US, no matter what state your buyer lives in.
The legislation has little to do with “Fairness”, of course. It’s about collecting revenue.
In 1992 the United States Supreme Court decided that “no state may require retailers to collect sales taxes from online buyers unless the retailer has a physical presence in the taxing state”. In other words, paying tax to an entity that has no physical presence in the state you live in is not even legal.
Big-box retailers who push this legislation claim that they lose business unfairly because people shop online to avoid paying local sales taxes. That simply isn’t true. Consumers shop online for convenience, not to avoid paying tax. Look at the shipping and postal delivery rates these days- that’s certainly not stopping online sales!
Businesses netting under $1 million are exempt from this legislation. For businesses with over $1 million in sales will have to have to pay a tax service to do all this for them… or purchase and run 45 different software programs to figure out sales tax state by state.
Website and Marketing Services
There is no sales tax on advertising, inclusive of online marketing and website services. If you are the owner of a registered small business, advertising is one of those investments that may be claimed as a business expense on the income taxes you file every year.