Remember the good old days of the “Website Under Construction” banners? That is actually how I used to find a lot of clients. I would use my spider to go out and look for “construction.gif” and a short time later have a small business website client ready to go. It was almost like, well – you know, fish in a barrel. Only clients aren’t fish. Clients are people and they have the same personality traits as the rest of us. Heck, you’re a client to someone.
The web has changed a lot since I did my first site for Media Play back in 1994 – which never made use of the afore mentioned (and pictured sample) greeting. In fact I rarely see the sign but what I do see is equally or more disturbing. Many of these are simple to address and cure even if you, heaven forbid, do you own online development.
Five Tips To Drive Away Clients
Small business websites are just as crucial, perhaps more so, to a small business as enterprise sites are to major corporations. For the small business person a website usually handles part of the job of sales clerk, part of the job as communications tool and even part of the job as marketing intern. Converting casual visitors to dedicated clients is generally the goal so wasting their time in the first visit generally means that’s there last visit.
Noise that plays automatically – in crude terms people refer to this as ear rape and it’s a great way to have them click away from your site and even say negative things about your site in social media networks. Silent pop-ups, silent auto streaming videos and even silent redirects are all more acceptable to visitors than anything which makes noise when they visit your site. Imagine someone at work trying to sneak a visit to your site or someone in a shared workspace – or a parent who just got their children to sleep. Noise that plays automatically is here at the top of the list because it’s an horrible offense.
Broken Links – websites with broken links are generally websites with too many links and no dedicated webmaster. Promising someone a peak at your menu using a broken link generally results in them navigating away never to return. The worst broken link you can have is your “Contact Us” link but any broken link is not a good thing. Trim your links, use a service to scan regularly and have a human person double check at least monthly.
No live chat response – and I admit I have been guilty. If you are going to install one of the many “Live Chat Now” services on your small business website be sure to either (a) turn it off when you cannot monitor it or (b) pay someone to monitor it at all times. In addition be lite on the canned responses. For example if the user types in “small business help” as their user name and your system says, “Welcome small business help, what is your question?” then ten seconds later posts “Just one moment small business help I am answering your question”, then ten more seconds “While you’re waiting, small business help, please check our FAQ section” … you get the picture.
Past date events and announcements – not too long ago I stumbled on a site which offered a local meeting I was interested in. It was talking about “next week” and giving the date of May 11 and I was interested in going. As I was completing the free RSVP I noticed it was May 11, 2010 and this is 2012. Why is that still on this site? What else on this site will I waste my precious seconds reading?
Excerpt marketing – you’ve seen it. You go to your favorite search engine and typed in “price of 10k gold” and clicked on the link which took you to a page that simply has a link to another article about the price of gold. Just a short line designed to capture search engine traffic for page impression purposes. Google is trying to thin these out but they often pop-up, get high in the ranking and trick a lot of people before they are de-indexed. That’s the black hat method but you can also be guilty of it on a small business website by doing the same thing in innocence.
Small Business Websites and Customer Relationship Management Systems (CRM)
It is my belief every small business needs a web presence. While brochure sites are easy to build they don’t do much for the prospective client except ask them to pick up the phone or stop in. Contact automation has a powerful place but must be used wisely. Using the big name companies with fees of $30 to $100 per month just to manage a small list of contacts really doesn’t make sense when you can own your own, custom developed CRM for about the same as it costs to subscribe to a major service for a year. You never worry about a customer who forgot they signed up and reports you for spam or how many emails you can send to each contact per month when you own your own Customer Relationship Management System.
Small business SEO is the realm of snake oil and magic bullets. It’s the place in cyberspace where digital hustlers spread their lore and captivate audiences with stats and stories from around the globe. You will find both the trustworthy provider as well as the ant-lion hustler spewing great gushers of acronyms in volume enough to spin the heads off ten penny nails.
Let’s see – what all did I confuse the search bots with in that paragraph? I got “small business SEO” there at the lead then I hit it with “snake oil” and “magic bullets” in one sentence. I think by the time I got to “ant-lion”, “hustler” and “ten penny nails” the Googlebot probably thought I was using an article spinner. That’s another topic in and of its own but for now let’s get to the pertinent information for the small business online marketer who, let’s face it, needs to be found in search engine searches.
How we got here today, I mean the history of search engines, is important but that’s a little beyond the scope of time I expect you to invest in learning the what and why about small business SEO. Today nothing matters more than Google. That said there are other important tools and systems relative to online search marketing but none of them tops Google. In fact Google dominates the search engine space with 83% of the search engine activity as of May 2012 (resource). The closest “competitor” is Yahoo with 6.5% and Bing is all the way down at 4.15% of total global search share.
What is SEO?
Search engine optimization, SEO, is the practice of creating or modifying a website, a webpage and/or the content thereof to be more “search engine friendly” and thus result in more searches displaying your page higher (ie closer to the first result) in the search engine results pages (SERP). As an example if Janet makes wood beads for jewelry she would certainly like for her website link to appear at the top of the search engine results when anyone searches for “wood beads for jewelry” or “wood beads”. It could mean the difference between a few sales and thousands of sales – this, of course, depends on the demand for the product.
Chances are you have thought about it, dreamed about it and even discussed the idea of starting your own business. Congratulations you still believe in the American Dream. There are currently somewhere around 25,000,000 small businesses existing as a legal entity inside the United States of America. I chose the word “existing” instead of “operating” for the simple fact that some of these small businesses never quite get off the ground. I further used the word “legal entity” because there are also thousands, if not millions, of small businesses operating “under the radar”.
Starting a small business is a big decision. Making big decisions requires planning – if you plan to succeed. True enough many, maybe even most, small business owners start out by “just jumping in there” but there are many pains which can easily be avoided just by taking a few breaths and planning.
When considering starting a small business, at least the first one, most people are quite clueless, even in this age of the Internet, about required steps, suggested steps and steps to avoid. Don’t count on this article answering all of those. However, from my 33 years as a small business person having owned and operated nearly a dozen with an array of results, there are some pointers from experience I can share with the average person to possibly make things a little better for you. These tips should apply well to almost any business and will certainly give every reader food for thought on how to start a small business.
Tip One – Passion
If you’re not passionate about what you are thinking of doing then sleep on it until you are passionate or until the idea passes. How many people have gone to a food storage container party or a make-up party on a whim only to leave with hundreds of dollars worth of product samples to go home and start their own business? As an avid yard-saler I can tell you it appears to be a very large statistic. My favorite place to buy those well known kitchen items is at yard sales from people who are selling their demonstration kit for pennies on the dollar. If you haven’t been already planning and strategizing for at least a few weeks I strongly recommend waiting until your emotions level out.
Blogging is an elective. There is no requirement for blogging just as there is no requirement to eat diet food … unless, of course, you really need to. Likewise with blogging. If you study the statistics for small businesses you will find certain types of businesses do much better as a result of blogging than others. We know, for example, that social media’s highest participatory demographic is females between the ages of 18 and 34 (report link). We also know that companies who blog have 55% higher website traffic than companies who do not blog (report link).
Every legitimate business should have an online presence. If any business has an online presence they should also employ some method of making sure that online presence is seen.
Small Business Blogging
For the small business person the concept of outbound marketing to gain inbound results really is simple: find the highest return for the least investment which pays off the quickest. What some “social media gurus” may try and sell you is that blogging and social media sites like Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn are all you need I, who depend on internet marketing clients to buy my pies, disagree in a pretty major way. While these tools certainly should be in virtually every small business marketing strategy they should never be depended on to achieve your fullest results.
Every legitimate business should have an online presence. If any business has an online presence they should also employ some method of making sure that online presence is seen. One advantage of blogging over a simple, static, brochure type site is the frequency at which relevant content can be published. Google prefers new to old and so do readers. If you are in a business like many of my clients who are either in the mortgage business, real estate business or training/public speaking business the content of your business is constantly changing and therefore needs to be reflected in your online information. Blogs are perfectly suited for this by leaving the older copy available in an archive and publishing the most current and accurate information regularly.
“And now”, as Paul Harvey made famous, “the rest of the story.” I get it – you’re a small business owner. You know how to do it better, faster, more efficiently, with a special twist, or any other number of ways to make it “better”. If you did not think one, some or all of these to be true you would not be a small business owner or independent contractor. For you the world offers few challenges you are not willing to take on regardless, or in spite, of your experience in the given field.
The truth is I could do my own dental work. I can certainly cut my own hair and even press my own clothes. Just because I can does not mean I should. Even the pressing clothes one has a trade off which may prove best to contract the services of a professional for any number of reasons. One big failure of small business people is to calculate the true value of what may prove to be our most valuable asset: our time.
But I can do it myself
Recently I explained to a client I can write, comfortably, SEO articles on virtually any topic. I can write real estate SEO articles and I can write articles on recombinant DNA. What I failed to include is that I can also do my own taxes, file my own corporate formation documentation and even represent myself in court – should the opportunity so present itself. So where should I draw the line?
Remember you’re not the only light in the sky. It takes thousands and thousands of (visible) stars to make the night sky dazzling. One star alone does not a starry night make. Learn to identify your limitations and leverage your strengths to create opportunities for the true professionals – the other stars in the sky. When it comes to where you are the sunshine then you’re still not the only light in the sky but in your time you will outshine the others.
There are currently around 27,000,000 small businesses in the United States and that according to old figures from 2007. We are pretty certain that as a result of corporate downsizing and economic disaster many people have joined the self-employed and small business ownership ranks since 2008. If you are one and you’re still finding it difficult to fit all of the necessary hats on your head perhaps this is just the discussion for you. Rather than spending hours listing things you probably suck at but attempt to do anyway, like your own website and your own payroll (if that’s you), let’s look at recommended ways of determining your strengths and leveraging the results from exercising those to cover the small monetary fee for hiring a professional to take their field off your table.
Simple: enough to properly convey your message to your readers.
Truthfully that is the answer. However you’re here to read and learn so let me fill in with some words to expand on that statement/idea. There have been many articles written, many discussions held and hundreds if not thousands of sessions dedicated to the topic, “how many words should a blog article be?” We will also need to know if you are seeking this answer from a purely technical sense or from a readability sense because the answers “could” be different.
When blogging nothing is more important than interesting, relevant content for the traffic delivered by the search engine. One would not, for example, like to do a search on “platinum ditanium alloy” and find an article on “organic rabbit farming” – unless of course platinum ditanium alloys (PDA) are used in the organic rabbit farming process. In reality what one would expect to discover would be articles about the creation, use and availability of platinum ditanium alloys. So, keeping this in mind, if you are writing an article or curating a blog about PDA you would generally want to publish content relevant to that topic and not your family trip to Popocatepetl.
How many words should a blog post have?
If you try and find supporting documentation you will be let down by the results. Mostly what you will discover are pontifications and opinions based on personal preferences often stated as absolute facts when, in fact, no such facts are easily found.
Ken Lyons recommends 500 words. He states it is his recommendation and offers no factual support. (link)
All-Things-SEO recommends between 300-450 words after stating there is no direct information about this topic. (link)
Heather Lloyd-Martin recommends 250 words as a rule of thumb then un-recommends it if your article has more or less than 250 words. (link)
SEO Book appropriately talks about paginating for the purpose of selling more real estate to Google for Ads. (link)
What does Ken recommend?
Ken recommends writing an article that presents your position and opens the question and closes the answer. If you are reviewing a movie make sure the reader has the information they need to capture the spirit of your experience. “I went to a movie and it sucked.” That’s a tweet, not a blog post. Every good article has certain elements which are included either by design or inherent to the conversation of the topic. It also depends on if you are writing for paper publication or search engine marketing. I don’t write for paper so here we go:
Relevant keywords in the title and headings – if I were writing an article for small business bloggers to answer the question, “how many words should you write?” I would like include that in the title of the article.
Accurate and relevant content – when someone finds your blog post and it has everything to do with the title chances are greater they will “like”, “share” or comment on your article.
Good grammar and spelling – believe it or not the search bots only know so much and misspelled words are counted as “different” words. For example aluminum and alminum are not the same word and if someone is searching for aluminum but you spell it alminum you’re pretty much taking yourself out of the equation. Good grammar simply means you’re going to be presenting your content in a universally understood form. “If he was up on the stuff he’d a been already know the cat were not hers.”
Write in your style. Address the topic. Complete your thoughts. Please the reader. Forget the word count.
We all know our friend Laura Fitton created a great thing with oneforty but it’s not history. It was consumed into the grander blend of things and then just … disappeared. I loved oneforty. I used oneforty. I had Laura on my talk show to talk about oneforty. I recommended oneforty … okay, enough. We need a list. Thing is there are hundreds of them out there and if you do a search for “twitter tools” you’ll find them.
They will be packed with an endless list of deceased websites …
So, thanks to my new friend, Nick Kellet, here is a list of Twitter tools you control. When you add your tool link to the list others will be drawn to the list and find it there. If it’s a great tool you’ll get the thumbs up. Need I explain farther? Well, here’s the list – add, vote, vituperate but whatever you do – participate!
You bet it can be valuable to record conversations on Skype. But I bet you have search for “recording skype calls”, “skype call recorder” and even “free skype call recorder” before you found this article. According to Steve Ballmer’s CES closing keynote there were over 300 billion minutes of Skype conversations in 2011. It’s fair to say many of those were important business calls or even audio interviews which need to be archived. For my personal use interviews for either Social Media Edge Radio or RETSO Radio are a regular part of my week. Using a Skype call recording application is crucial.
Using this free application to record Skype calls is definitely not the only way it can be done. I have tried others including PrettyMay, Freecorder and others. Of all the few I have tried for Windows the MP3 Skype Recorder (available from here) has been the easiest to setup and use and has delivered the highest quality of its class.
Yes there are other ways! If you have a different way please share it with us and tell us why you like it.
Probably not. Most individuals don’t really need one but when you start hiring others to engage with the public – or just have others representing your brand – it is important to have a well understood policy on how social media is to be used. Here are just a few links to social media policies online you can use to gather information about how to write your own or to make sure the one written for you is up to snuff:
My password was one of the ones exposed. Fortunately even before I knew this, as soon as I heard there had been a breech, I changed my password. Like many things with LinkedIn it wasn’t as simple as logging in and seeing a link that says, “change password” or “manage login”. No they don’t like to do things that way so I safaried for it and report now back to you.
Changing You Password on LinkedIn
Log in using your existing password
In the upper right corner click on your user name
From the drop down menu select “Settings”
Near the lower left corner of your screen click on “Account”
Near the center of your screen, under “Email & Password” click “Change Password”
In the pop-up type your existing password once followed by your new password twice