You Don’t Have to Spend A Lot To Make More Money From Your Website

Sometimes very small businesses must rely on what they can do for themselves to keep their online marketing efforts fresh.  There has never been any argument that small budgets sometimes prohibit small businesses from getting agency help. That’s okay.  If you do your due diligence and are careful, there’s no reason you cannot help your online presence, and revenue from your presence, by rolling up your sleeves and doing some of the work yourself.

I found some resources that will definitely help you out.  Some of these resources might list “comment on blogs” or “submit information to blogs” or anything that says “Link Exchange” as a tactic – PLEASE DO NOT DO THAT!  It’s not valid – but I didn’t want to disqualify 90% good advice for 10% nonsense.

I wrote an article in 2007 called “30 Free Ways to Market Your Small Business Site” over at SearchEngineWatch.com.  I updated that post last year and it’s one of the most popular pieces I’ve written to date.  There are 30 actionable things you can do, all by yourself, to promote your small website.

This article by PCmag.com from 2009 has some good ideas.  I like the tips on keeping slow employees and downtime for marketing.  Your customer service staff is your front line, and they can write content or answer questions online because they know exactly what the people that call are asking.  Use them!  Also checking out what the competition is doing is great – just don’t chase them.

TEST your pages!  If you don’t have analytics, install Google Analytics on your website.  If you don’t look at any report on a regular basis, just being able to use their Content Experiments features is worth the time to install.  Testing new ideas for landing pages is a great way to increase revenue without spending a ton of money in advance.  Simply changing the color of your “Buy Now” button can have a big effect.  Making it easier for visitors to buy from you is also a great way to increase revenue.  Check out these Tips for Optimizing Your Site for the Sale.

Perhaps one of the best pieces of advice I found was in this National Federation of Independent Businesses article.  “Get Out The Door.”  If you operate online, your world becomes this 5 square foot cocoon around your desk.  Even if you do not have a brick and mortar business – networking and meeting people in your community or niche is so important.  You can find clients, partners, innovative thinkers, and people with problems your business can solve.  It’s a great way to keep your brain from going stagnant.

Bottom line? Get creative!  Think about all of the things you can do to help yourself and make a list, cross things off as you get them done.  Add new ideas.  Buy a nice Moleskine notebook that you can keep your great thoughts in and journal your way to a better online marketing strategy!

Pubcon Day 1 – Google Places & Maps Optimization

Andy loves Pubcon because the moderator isn’t necessarily an expert on the topic, so he’s excited to hear from all of the panelists. Side note – I LOVE Andy’s accent :) And he used the word “queue”

Andy Beal, Founder & CEO, Trackur.com, Moderator - and all around nice guy.  Be sure to say Hi to Andy if you see him wandering around :)

Brian Combs, CEO, of ionadas local LLC is up first.  He’s going to talk to use about Google Place Rank.  He’s showing his daughter Aubrey’s photo, ZOMG cute!

Place rank is page rank for locations, Continue reading

Pubcon Day 1 – Local Search Rankings

We’re talking about local search today!  This is the only local session I’m planning on blogging, but that might change.  In fact it just did – I’m staying to hear more on Google Places and Maps Optimization!  I hear via Twitter Salon A has a torturous noise going on, no thanks.

*Note – if you are using a Twitter client makes noise everytime someone sends you a message, silence it during a session…#duh

Arnie Kuenn, President, VerticalMeasures.com, Moderator

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The Day We Closed Google: An Illustration Of The Problem With Crowd Sourced Edits

An interesting new Google Maps interface was found this past week by Daniel Hollerung, and after he tweeted Mike Blumenthal and I about it, Google Places confirmed it was an interface they are testing for verifying map accuracy. I’ve replicated an example of the interface using the listing for my friends over at Search Influence:

Google Map Correction Tool Interface

While this particular Google Places information accuracy widget is new, Google has long been leveraging similar user-generated content to try to enhance and grow map information. They have been actively crowd-sourcing map accuracy work for a while now, but it’s not without significant issues.

Obviously, one of the more serious issues involved is the fact that people will lie and cheat.

So, it’s no surprise that Google Maps help groups have instances reported where people suspect that their locations have been compromised some by malicious competitors, disgruntled former employees, or randomly psychotic customers. I’ve had clients and colleagues approach me with similar reports, and Mike Blumenthal has reported these types of stories as well.

Not only can some of the general public be expected to purposefully try to cause mischief, well-meaning people can also ignorantly make mistakes in commenting or reporting on data accuracy — just think of all the stories throughout popular culture of stereotyped representations of men who can’t find addresses while driving (and refuse to ask directions) or spatially-challenged women who can’t read maps. I’m not suggesting that these stereotypes are accurate representations of the sexes, but that the stories likely come from the fact that many people, regardless of sex, find navigation and map interpretation highly challenging.

So, there are some inherent problems with attempting to base a large percentage of location accuracy upon crowd sourced information.

What’s particularly concerning about Google’s methodology is that they’ve recently declared that they’ll sometimes use this data to override business owners’ disclosed information, or call into question accuracy in consumers’ minds. Blumenthal hilariously communicated the issue in his brother-in-law’s open letter response to the matter. An actively-engaged business owner may have gone in and verified that their address and map are correct in Google Places, but if a small handful of users claim the address is wrong, it can get incorrectly flagged as being a closed location, or that the address may be wrong — something which would clearly discourage potential customers from going to the business.

Mike organized a really humorous experiment to illustrate this issue when he asked a handful of us to go in and flag Google’s own corporate headquarters as “closed”. Continue reading

Vacation Rentals Inflating Reviews In Google Maps

I’ve been noticing an oddity in Google Maps for vacation rentals: some listings have got simply unbelievable numbers of reviews.

Now, I see a wide range of numbers of reviews for all sorts of industries — from zero or just a small handful, to around a hundred, all the way up to a few thousand for highly-popular eateries located in big cities. So, a range of these numbers is normal, and for some cases it’s normal for there to be a few thousand.

For instance, the famous Union Oyster House in Boston is showing a couple of thousand reviews. Considering it’s the oldest restaurant (in continuous service) in the entire country, this even makes sense. It makes even more sense when you see that they have quite a few hundred reviews in Yelp, and OpenTable as well. When someone has placed a reservation for the restaurant in OpenTable, they may be receiving an invite to rate the restaurant after they’ve had their visit there. I’d say this is is a great practice and works well for everyone — the business itself, the person rating, OpenTable, and for consumers shopping for an eatery. The natural outcome is that they’ll have hundreds and thousand of reviews in a relatively short time period.

But, there’s something else going on in vacation rentals which is similar, but isn’t ideal. Continue reading

3 More Unorthodox Ideas For Local Citations & Links

You may have seen my article a few weeks back, “10 Unorthodox Ideas For Local Citations & Links“. In it, I outlined some unconventional local link-building and citation-building strategies which focus on doing things which might get others to do a lot of your local citation development work for you, and which might also increase the “Place Rank” of your business’s location.

For instance, if your place of business is located in an historic building, you might get it registered with the National Register of Historic Places or you might apply to get it designated a state historical marker. Doing either of those things would get the location intered into dozens if not hundreds of databases and directories, causing the address to get republished in numerous places, resulting in more prominence for the location and your business, by association. I’ve used this sort of tactic before to gain local citational references from Wikipedia.

This has been one of my secret tactics – most businesses may not merit an article in Wikipedia, but their building just might. And, Wikipedia content gets redistributed simply everywhere — even into Facebook! (Yes, Wiki links are nofollowed, but are local citations, hmmm?)

These round-about link-building ideas require some effort on your part to accomplish — they won’t happen in an instant click. However, they’re fairly robust and have some viral characteristics which can mean that you’ll focus on one project which may result in multiple high-quality links and citations.

So, what are some other, similar tactics you can use to nab some astonishing numbers of links and citations? Here are three more, in the same vein: Continue reading

Trust Seals Could Bang Up Conversions For Local Websites

Internet 500 Retailers have been in-the-know about one secret key to online success for quite some time: trust seals. Trust seals are graphic badges which adorn the websites of companies and are awarded based on whether the company and/or website meets certain criteria, such as if they meet security guidelines, quality measures or if they have honorable business practices. There are a handful of better-known trust seal organizations which usually provide the assessment and seal service in return for a fee.

For internet marketers, there’s a really compelling reason why one should seriously consider paying the fees and going through the steps for obtaining a trust seal: they can inspire consumer confidence.

Some of the more popular website trust seals include Trust Guard, ValidSafe, Merchant Safe, TRUSTe, VeriSign, McAfee Secure, and VeriSign.

Trust Seals, Trustmarks

There have been a number of different academic researcher studies which have found that trust seals can improve rates for online purchases. In one research paper from 2001, Myth or Reality: Effect of Trust-Promoting Seals in Electronic Markets,” Xiaorui Hu, Zhangxi Lin, and Han Zhang found that the seals can encourage consumers to buy from storefronts they are not familiar with, and that the seals that consumers recognized more influenced them more. David Gefen’s earlier paper, E-commerce: the role of familiarity and trust,” also found support for the theory that trust seals influenced online book purchase decisions.

However, online website trust seals decended from their offline counterparts, which already had a long history, if not track record. In 1894, due to faulty electrical parts causing fires, the National Board of Fire Underwriters started performing the first tests on the combustibility of insulation materials — their mark was the Underwriters Laboratory or “UL” seal of certification. But, even before that, seals of quality, certifications, trustmarks, and seals of approval have been in use by tradesmen or service providers. Royal seals of approval likely date back a few hundred years more.

Although there is not as much research on the subject, Continue reading

Google Local Search Ranking Keys: Relevance, Prominence & Distance

Google LBC Shop IconGoogle disclosed their three primary types of signals for local search rankings this past month in a blog post on LatLong. In it, they flat out stated that these are: Relevance, Prominence and Distance.

For those who’ve been following our articles and conference presentations for the past few years, none of these broad categories of signals come as any sort of a surprise.

Although Google LatLong declares in their post’s title that it’s about “How Local Search Ranking Works”, they’re still understandably obscure for the most part, and avoid providing all that many specifics. There’s a natural tension between informing businesses on how to provide Google with ideal information necessary for ranking, and providing so much info that search engine optimization specialists have “undue advantage” (from Google’s perspective).

So, I thought I’d take this opportunity to list out a number of more specific factors which could feed into Relevance, Prominence and Distance. Read on for a refresher on local search ranking factors which likely could contribute to each of these.
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What’s Best: Microformats, RDFa, or Micro Data?

In a recent post by Mike Blumenthal about Google’s announcement of supporting Microformats for local search, Andy Kuiper asked in the comments whether it would be best to go with Microdata versus RDFa or Microformat for marking up local business information. As the number of flavors of semantic markup have grown, I think Andy’s not the only one to wonder which markup protocol might be ideal. Here’s my opinion.

Microformats LogoWhen you’re asking “which is better?”, it’s important to know what we’re speaking-of, since there are a number of different goals that people could be pursuing. For some, this is a question of which is better from an elegance-of-coding perspective (if you’re interested in this, you might read Evan Prodromou’s great article, RDFa vs microformats). For yet others, the question should be focused on what’s best for their site — which solution is the simplest, most cost-effective to apply, and least likely to cause problems. Finally, the question could be seen from a perspective of what’s going to work best for the purposes of search marketing?

It’s this last orientation of the question that I’m focusing upon — which semantic protocol is going to work best for Search Engine Optimization (“SEO”)? Continue reading

Resources For Subjects In My MIMA Summit Session

MIMA SummitDuring my MIMA Summit 2010 conference presentation today, I’m covering a large chunk of information very rapidly. So, I’m providing this list of links to longer articles which more thoroughly cover the subjects touched upon in my presentation for those who might wish to dig in deeper:

Title Tag Optimization

Image Search Optimization

Benefits of Loose Image Licensing for Image SEO

Video Search Optimization

Online Catalog Optimization

RSS Optimization

Local Search Optimization

Local Search Ranking Factors

Local SEO 101: Choosing Local Domain Names

Ranking of Businesses Without Websites

Avoiding Tracking Phone Numbers

Category Names In Local SEO

hCard Microformat for Local SEO

KML & My Maps For Local SEO