How To Blog

How To BlogYou’re in business and you’ve heard that you need to “have a blog”. You’re probably sitting there wondering what that means and how in the world do you start blogging?! Let’s talk about that.

Question #1 – What is a blog?

In its simplest form, a blog is simply a website or an area on your website that is updated frequently with fresh and relevant content to your customers/visitors. Another feature about blogs is by nature they have a social nature to them since most allow for visitor comments and interaction.

When we build website for clients, we use a framework (WordPress) that has a blogging system build in. Makes life much easier.

Question #2 – How do I blog?

The foundation for an excellent blog starts with your mindset. It’s not about you or your business; it’s about how you can help others. The most effective blogs serve their industry, their clients, their customers, their visitors. They provide outstanding content and they are rewarded with participation, engagement, backlinks, and business.

Once you have the other-centered mindset, you need a framework.

You don’t have to publish content every day, but you must commit to publish at least once a week to get the best results. The good news is that most blogging platforms will allow you to future schedule your updates so you can create a series of content updates and publish them over time (for those of you who write in spurts).

Most business owners struggle with “what” to write about. This should help.

Business Topics for your new blog

  1. Company News/Updates
  2. Industry News/Updates
  3. Tips/Tricks/How-To’s
  4. Product Reviews
  5. Case Studies
  6. White Papers
  7. Interviews
  8. Questions/Answers
  9. Personal Insights/Opinions/Commentaries
  10. Opinion Polls
  11. Things to Avoid/Scam Alerts
  12. Sales/Promotions/Coupons/Special Offers
  13. Top 10 Lists/Best Of Lists
  14. Contests
  15. Free Resources

With a little more brainstorming you can easily add more to this list.

Putting it all into practice

Make yourself a publishing calendar for 2012. Start with a simple spreadsheet or document and list each week (1 – 52). Now think about your business and any key dates, events, seminars, or seasons. Mark those weeks and come up with some placeholder topics using the 15 topics above. After you’ve done that, start filling in the rest of the weeks. You’ll find you can fill that calendar up pretty quickly.

Download my example publishing calendar

With your calendar full you might be intimidated by all the content you’ll need to create. If you love writing, commit to writing 1000 words a day and start at it. If you hate writing, find someone at your company to take over (you can be the editor), hire a VA to assist, or hire an excellent online marketing company (like us!). With a plan in place, you’ll find that getting started blogging isn’t as hard as it looks.

A future topic to discuss is how get the most SEO bang for your writing bucks. Creating content with an eye toward search engines is the next step to getting quality traffic to your site.

Good luck and get started with your blog!

Requiem For Your Yellow Pages Ad

If you haven’t seen the numbers regarding the physical Yellow Pages, prepared to be amazed.

Yellow Pages Are Dying Google Trends Chart

See that red line? Not looking good right? Here’s another chart.

Yellow pages vs Yelp vs Google Maps

If you’re spending your marketing dollars on Yellow pages ads, you better be 100% sure you’re getting a positive ROI because the charts don’t lie (nor does general public sentiment). While not scientific, if even my 70 year old Mom says she doesn’t use the Yellow Pages to look up businesses, you should at least reexamine your YP ad spend . . . right?

One of the first things we do when working with local businesses is review the marketing budget and where the dollars are being spent. You can easily cut down to a smaller Yellow Pages ad (or even quit YP advertising) and save a nice sum. Invest those dollars into a website redesign, SEO, and Adwords marketing. You’ll get a much better return on investment.

 

Why Your Business Needs An SEO Expert

Google’s Eric Schmidt testified before a United States Senate Committee today (09/21/2011). Though the subject was antitrust, former Google CEO Schmidt provided some insights into how Google’s algorithm works.

To give you a sense of the scale of the changes that Google considers, in 2010 we conducted 13,311 precision evaluations to see whether proposed algorithm changes improved the quality of its search results, 8,157 side-by-side experiments where it presented two sets of search results to a panel of human testers and had the evaluators rank which set of results was better, and 2,800 click evaluations to see how a small sample of real-life Google users responded to the change.

Ultimately, the process resulted in 516 changes that were determined to be useful to users based on the data and, therefore, were made to Google‟s algorithm. (emphasis added)

This process goes on year after year. Google recognizes it faces stiff competition from many fronts and providing the best search results is a critical part of their business.

So what does this mean for you, a local business owner? It means you need a company that has your back when it comes to search engine optimization (SEO).

The SEO industry is as dynamic as Google. Change occurs on a daily basis and keeping up with the latest information is a full-time job. The work is hard, but the rewards are incredible. SEO can make or break your business; SEO can be the difference between being in the red or being solidly in the black.

If you’re not an expert in SEO, you need to hire one. It’s that simple. Call us.

 

5 Signs You Need To Update Your Website

I talk with business owners and I’m often asked “should I redesign my website?” It’s a great question and here are my top five signs that you are in desperate need for a website update.

1. You have outdated information
Go take a look through your website and see if you can find any outdated information. Surprised? Most sites older than 6 months have some outdated information (staff changes, special offers expired, broken links, old pictures, etc.). If your copyright notice is 2009 or older, you’re in desperate need for an update.

2. Your site is not running on a CMS platform
Most sites will benefit from a transition to a modern, SEO-friendly, plug-in friendly content management system (CMS) like WordPress. You’ll instantly benefit from a thriving 3rd party ecosystem, thousands of website developers/platorm experts, and high-level administration tools. Another benefit is you can easily update pages or blog posts with a rich user-interface. Website maintenance is easily performed by yourself or in-house staff.

3. You are missing social media integrations
Does your site intergrate with Twitter, Facebook, and other social platforms? If not, you’re missing out on quality traffic streams and important social signals. You’re also missing out on communicating with your fan base and building your brand. Social media participation and integration is no longer a “nice to have”.

4. Your bounce rates are high
When was the last time you audited your traffic analytics? Compare your bounce rates from last year to this year. How are you doing? How is the “average time on page” or “average page views per visit?” What about your site visitor goals? If you’re doing the same or worse, it’s time to focus on the non-performing pages and rewrite/redesign them for better conversions.

5. Your site looks unprofessional
It’s understandable that when you started your business, you were bootstrapping and making due with whatever would fit your budget or with volunteer help from friends/family. With the advent of sophisticated platforms like WordPress, there’s no reason to have website that looks anything less than professionally designed. There are 1000’s of professionally designed templates you can use that out of the box put you light-years ahead of what you’re currently using. This is your business. First impressions count and you want to wow your customers, not scare them away.

Still undecided? There’s one more thing to consider. If you are at all concerned with ranking well in Google, having fresh, regularly-updated content is a must-have. Nobody wants to eat stale bread. It’s that simple. Fresh, relevant, and accurate content is the SEO mantra.

Are you ready to update your website? If you need help, give us a call. We are experts at website redesign or website migrations to the WordPress platform.

Google Places News

In the land of Google, change is the modus operandi. One recent troubling problem afflicting Google Place pages is easy ability to mark a business as closed. Some business owners are having to check multiple times a day because competitors are using this flaw against them.

Google says:

“Every year, thousands of businesses open, close, move, change their hours, get a new website, or make other types of changes. We can’t be on the ground in every city and town, so we enable our great community of users to let us know when something needs to be updated. The vast majority of edits people have made to business listings have improved the quality and accuracy of Google Maps for the benefit of all Maps users. However, we’re aware that abuse – such as “place closed” spam reports – can become an issue, and we’re working on improvements to the system to prevent and flag any malicious or incorrect edits.”

What other testers have found is that it can take only two people to mark a business as closed for the listing to display “closed”.

It’s also important to understand that Google is using crowd-sourcing to update their maps and local place information. Here’s more info from Google:

As a business owner, you might not always have the time to keep your Places listing up-to-date. If we receive more recent information about your business, we’ll automatically update your listing on our sites (like Google Search and Google Maps). We hope that this not only helps customers find accurate information about your business, but also makes it easier for you to keep your information updated online.

Each time your listing is updated, you’ll receive an email notification that a change will happen on your external business listing within the next 4 weeks. You won’t be notified again when the change is published online.

If you have more accurate or recent information about your business, you can sign-in to Google Places for Business and click Edit, then click Submit. If your listing is part of a bulk upload, click Edit your Data File to make any changes. Upcoming edits to your Place page won’t be reflected in your Places account.

Edits we may make to your listing include:

  • Business name
  • Address
  • Phone number
  • Website
  • Pin marker location
  • Applying the label of ‘Permanently Closed’

If your business is marked as permanently closed when it isn’t, click the Not true? link on your Place page.

I’ve added some highlights and color changes to show you the important parts. In their efforts to be efficient and get others to do the work, they’ve opened themselves to spammers and nefarious actors (i.e. your unethical competitors) exploiting this open-source updating policy.

The reality is that you need to monitor your place page regularly. Having a partner like Blue Dagger Media can relieve you of this concern since we have packages that own, optimize, and monitor your Google Place pages. Don’t let this flaw in Google Place rob you of business. Put a strategy in place to own and monitor your online properties.

Starting A Business

[custom_frame_left shadow=”on”]
Starting a Business Interest Level in USA
[/custom_frame_left] So you’re thinking about starting a business and wondering where to start? You’re in good company. Check out the USA map on the left. What you’re seeing is the level of search interest for the phrase “starting a business”.

First lesson: you’re not alone.

What the search data shows is that most of you are looking for information about business licenses, business plans, and business ideas.

Let’s explore each of these.

Business License
Each State and City are different. It’s easy information to find online and you’ll typically download a form, fill it out, include a check (or pay online), and get a certificate.

Be careful about zoning restrictions and your type of business. If you’re planning on running the business out of your house, watch out for association rules or other legal restrictions. Most of the noise is about creating traffic in a residential area. Be smart and meet with large groups off-site.

Business Plans
You will find the license part to be the easiest question to answer. The business plan introduces some challenges. Business plans are good things, but I suggest to my clients to go with an abbreviated version. The danger of paralysis by analysis is real and some would-be business owners never pull the trigger because they get stuck on the business plan.

If you’re just starting out, I recommend a rapid release program. You may have heard the term “ready, fire, aim”. The idea is to get to market as fast as possible. Don’t be a perfectionist with your product. Get started and let the market tell you what changes to make. When the market proves itself, continue to refine the product and build larger processes to support the business.

Bottom-line: no sales = no business.

Simple as that. If you waste your creative energy and passion on everything but making sales, you’re missing the fundamental key to business. That’s why I telling you to abbreviate the plan and accelerate the marketing/sales process.

Business Ideas

Let’s be straight about business ideas: they are worthless apart from execution.

You need ideas? here are 999 business ideas.

The most successful business ideas are ones that find an urgent need and create a product or service to meet that need. There’s nothing wrong with copying what works. You don’t get extra points for being creative. It’s the opposite, you put yourself at greater risk the farther you deviate from what is currently working for many other businesses.

Don’t try to be unique. Instead, focus on getting to market fast and listening to your customers. You want to prove the business model (customers that buy from you with a profit margin) and pivot quickly. Why? Because a business plan does not survive first contact with customers. You will refine your idea based on customer input and ultimately develop your winning product.

Once you land on a proven business idea, you’re ready to build out and launch a wider marketing strategy.

[message type=”custom”] Do you need help with your business idea? Give us a call and let’s talk. We can help you with practically every aspect of online marketing (website design/hosting, lead capture, E-mail campaigns, SEO/SEM, marketing plans, etc.). We also provide individual or group consulting. We are here to help you succeed. [/message]

You Don’t Have a Website?

Your Website Is Your Real Estate Online

Having a website is like owning a piece of real estate (virtual, of course). It’s your place to call home and is the foundation to build your online presence.

But . . .

I hear a lot of excuses for why local businesses don’t have a website. Maybe you’ve even said these yourself:

  • I’m too busy
  • It costs too much
  • I get most of my traffic from referrals (or the “I don’t think it’s that important” excuse)
  • It’s too much of a hassle
  • I don’t know how

The list is endless, but every excuse misses the point. Your website is your brand online. It’s the face of your business to the world. It’s your personal piece of Internet property. It’s your official home for information about your company and products. It’s your center for branding and PR. It’s YOURS!

No other property is 100% yours. Google Places, Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Yelp, and the like are all third-party properties owned by other businesses. They are here today, gone tomorrow. Third-party sites are fickle and come with terms of service that may or may not benefit your business (let alone your privacy).

Still not convinced?

Here are more reasons you must have a wesbite:

  • Your competition has a website (ouch!)
  • Your customers expect it
  • Your website is open 24/7
  • You can sell products/services through your website
  • You can generate leads through your website
  • You can instantly update your information, products, and catalogs
  • You can learn about your customers behavior (likes/dislikes)
  • You can provide your customers with support, FAQs, and other types of help

And this is just a partial list! Do you still think you don’t need one?

So what now?

You’re convinced, you want a website, but you’re asking yourself “now what?” You have some options (each with their own pros/cons).

Building your own site is possible, but you’re going to quickly find out that unless you have the design and technical skills, you’re in for a long process. You’ll also find your first attempts are less than spectacular. You’re going to spend hundreds of hours (yes, hundreds) reading, trying, designing, getting frustrated, asking friends/family for ideas or help, etc.

One of the biggest mistakes you’ll make is focusing on how it looks (graphics) instead of ease of use, optimization, and marketing. It may look great, but it’s going to struggle at converting visitors to customers. I’m not going to tell you “not” to do it, but I will tell you that as a business owner, it’s not the best use of your time.

You might think the biggest pro in doing it yourself is the cost savings. You just saved yourself $3500 dollars right? Or did you? Let’s do the math.

As a business owner, what’s your time worth? What’s your hourly rate? 75/hr? 125/hr? More?  Lawyers charge 300+/hr. Where are you? Let’s say you value your “CEO” time at 75/hr. If this project takes you 150 hours, that’s $11,250. Let’s say you cut that down to 80 hours, it’s still going to cost you $6000.  You’ll spend 80 hours on a website that isn’t optimized, looks “ok”, and doesn’t convert visitors to sales. That’s also 80 hours you didn’t grow your business.

Not a pretty picture. There’s many a business owner that set out to cross the desert of web design to be never heard from again.

Your best choice is to hire us to build your website. We have results-based approach that focuses on usability, local and organic search optimization, and lead conversion. When we create a website, it is part of a online marketing strategy. We design sites to answer the question “does your website make you money” with a resounding “Yes!”

The fact that we do this as a core function of our business means we are experts and efficient. We know what needs to be done and how to do it. It’s one of the smartest investments you can make in your business.

You’re Starting A Business During A Recession?

I’m often asked “why are you starting a company in the middle of a recession?” It’s a strange way of saying hello, but I understand the question. I think the best way to answer the question is with a story.

I met Larry and his wife Patricia a few years ago when I had just moved across the country and settled into my new town. I needed a haircut and figured I’d look around where I lived to see if I could find a barber. Their shop was dated and things ran a little slow inside (kind of a New Orleans “big easy” pace). Larry is an older guy (a few years north of 70) and has been cutting hair almost longer than I had been alive. I walked out of there with one of the best haircuts in my life.

Fast-forward a few months and I’m getting to know Larry pretty well. I’ve been in the shop enough to know that business wasn’t exactly “booming” and so I start researching their barber shop online. No website, no local results (their shop was 41st on the list for their city), no online presence. They were invisible.

I started doing some mental math based on what I was paying for a haircut and the volume of customers I was seeing in the store. The numbers didn’t look pretty. So I asked Larry if he would be interested in setting up a website and optimizing his local search results to start getting more customers. It was the first time he really discussed it and had a lot of questions, but was willing to give it a try.

Nothing too different about this story so far. It’s our next meeting that changed my perspective forever.

At our first meeting to review the design process, Larry and Patricia took me into the back of the store. They shut the doors and then I noticed Patricia was crying. She said “Tom, I’m nearly 70 years old and I’m still working. We aren’t making enough money here to ever think of retiring. Things are very tight. Larry should enjoying his final years. We both wanted to tell you how much we love you and thank you so much for trying to help our business.”

I had a few tears in my eyes as well as I listen to both of them pour our their hearts. Two wonderful, hard-working people facing the challenges of running a business. That day I walked out of the tiny barber shop knowing that what I loved doing was helping people succeed with their businesses.

They have a great website now, they are in the top 7 local results for barber and beauty shop searches. They are now averaging about 4 new customers a month from online searches. The best part is seeing them smile and the “free” haircuts I get.

So why am I starting a company now? I couldn’t think of a better time when online marketing can have such a big impact on a local business.

– Tom