Thursday, September 27, 2012

6 Easy Tools to Drive Traffic to Your Website

If you have a website, you have probably heard about rankings and Search Engine Optimization, SEO, which essentially means optimizing your website so that it appeals to search engines and ranks high in search results.  There are a few tricks that non-technical web maintainers can do to help drive traffic to your site for free and fairly simple to use.

1.  Use free tools to track visitors.

Google Analytics has a gold mine of data about your visitors and other statistics.   You can plan and track campaigns, visitor locations and even drill down to what type of computer your visitor has and what his or her domain is.

2.  Claim your Place Page!

Claiming your Google Place Page is one of the most important things you can do if you are trying to reach local or regional customers.  It's free, it's easy but will literally 'put you on the map'.  Google™ map, that is, which is what people see first.  Searches are becoming more and more mobile so having your place page will also help when people are searching on the fly and want instant results.

After you get your official place page, do not forget to add your information and other pictures, also called engagement objects.  Make sure to check that the pictures convey the message you are trying to get across.

This process can take up to a month - you actually have to submit an application to Google to claim your place, it's not a given.  Plan accordingly if you are launching a new website or expecting to see instant increases in customers or web interest.  Here's a great step-by-step guide.

3.  Include Quality Score Indicators. 

I have to admit, I did not know what these were and I maintained more than one website for over five years. The key word there is maintain; we were able to update and change content, plug-ins and other things but we hired a web developer to set up the websites so they were formatted correctly and optimized from the beginning.  Quality Score Indicators are those items that you typically see on every website along the bottom or additional tabs such as:
  • About
  • Copyright
  • Privacy policy
  • Executive Bios
  • News Releases
  • Social Plugins
  • Engagement objects (you know those little picture boxes that show up?  Yes, those things.)
I can name six of these, you?

You should also always have your business name, physical location and phone number on every page. How frustrating is it when you have to search to find a phone number, mailing or physical address?

4.  Keep it Fresh.

Fresh content is important.  If your press releases are two years old, put them in archives and remove the press page.  Old content indicates to the viewer that you may not still be in business or up on the latest technology or systems.  

Duplicate content and just listing key words at the bottom are frowned upon by the search engines.  If you are going to blog, do it regularly.  Prime example:  I wanted increase traffic to a website I used to maintain.  I met with an SEO expert at a training and he suggested doubling my blog posts - and bingo!  My traffic increased over 150% over a one-year period just by the increasing the frequency of blog posts. 

5.  Look at how things are written.  

People are lazy readers anymore.  We are becoming programmed to search and find, rather than keep track of where things are.  If you use Gmail instead of Outlook, you know what I mean - no more folders for every single topic, if you are looking for a past email, just search for it. 

Use the KISS principle - Keep it Short and Simple.  Also keep in mind:
Heat image - how readers look at a web page.
  • Readers skim.
  • Stick with short sentences (10 words or less) and paragraphs (1-4 sentences).
  • Use bulleted and numbered lists.
  • Identify headings as headings, not just bold the type.  Also capitalize post titles.
  • Avoid duplicate content (duplicate pages are a no-no in SEO terms.)
  • Make it fun to read!  Include pictures that are relevant, not just a canned image or cartoon character.

6.  Be creative but not Sneaky.

Finally, search engines use a number of different things in their mathematical ranking approach.  It is best to not try and outwit the system or take shady shortcuts.  Done correctly and with strategic key words and phrases throughout your website, your site will rank higher.  If you are seeking local customers, just signing up for your Google places page will help in a big way.

One thing that you can do is to take your keywords and business name and include common misspellings.  Not on a visible web page but in the site set-up and design.  

There are numerous other ways to drive content to your website, but these are a few that you may find useful.  Above all, a website is a work in progress.  Constantly updating content and keeping it fresh is an ongoing part of maintaining a quality website.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Top National Trends for Small Business Development

I just returned from the National Conference for the Association of Small Business Development Centers in New Orleans.  There were over 150 different training opportunities; over 1000 attendees nationally and internationally and likely after viewing over 10,000 slides.

It was a great opportunity to learn best practices, receive network training and meet other advisors.  Whether it was a session on SEO, Business Valuation or Tax Strategies, the information was timely and relevant.

Here are the top five things I learned about current trends for small businesses to be on top of (many are probably no surprise):

1.  Mobile is in.
Unless you do not use the internet, you probably know that more people than ever have smart phones and use them.  Websites need to be optimized for mobile.

2.  Search Engine Optimization is more important than ever.
Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is positioning your website and web content so it ranks higher in Google searches.  The same still holds true as it did five years ago - if a web company offers you 'top rank in Google' searches, shop around.  There are a few basic tips that help your website rank higher in search, and there are also some things to avoid.  Top tip:  Claim your Place page if you have not.  Bonus Tip:  If you do not have a website, you could be losing business.

3.  Customer Relationship Matters.
Customer Relationship Management (CRM) is getting even more strategic.  A recent article talked about how restaurants track their customers by codes such as VIP, CT (Cheap Tipper) and more.  One presenter suggested that you should be in touch with a customer at least every 90 days - whether it's mail, a postcard, e-newsletter or phone call.  Relationship = retention.  You want your customers to stay with you, and more importantly tell all their friends and have them be your advertising.  Some methods are 'free stuff' or, technically included in the up front cost.  For example, an auto dealer that provides free oil changes for one year.  Who wouldn't tell their friends about that?

4.  Top Restaurant Trends.
Here's a news flash.  Customers expect more now than in the past.  It is not enough for a restaurant to have Good Food, Good Service and Clean Restrooms.  Dining out is an 'experience'.  The recession did have an impact on dining trends.  How many of us have said, "We'll just get take out and save the extra cost on drinks, appetizers, etc.".  Other trends are for fast casual, fresh-local, different diets (gluten free, vegan, vegetarian.  Top tip:  Kids = sales.  There's a good reason why restaurants will offer a free kid's meal.  It gets the parents in the door and gives them a perception that they are getting a good deal.

5.  Tax Strategies.
An oldie but a goodie - tax strategies isn't the sexiest workshop to attend but I got some great tips.  There are two tax deductions that are often overlooked by small business owners.  The home office deduction and auto deduction are two tax deductions to be aware of if you are a business owner, especially if you have a home-based business.  A home office needs to be a  dedicated space in your home; it can be a portion of a room, not typically garage space, but needs to be dedicated.  The auto deduction can be taken in two ways - by 1) keeping track of miles driven and then using the IRS standard mileage rate at 55.5 cents or 2) the actual expense method.  The most important thing for the auto deduction is documentation - either keep the log, or keep a file with all your receipts.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Great read: Can you patent your idea?

What is an idea worth?
Great article for those inventors that want to patent an idea.

SBA Online: Is your business idea patentable?

The article gives a good summary about:
  • What can and cannot be patented;
  • The different types of patents;
  • The patenting process; and
  • Other ways of protecting your idea/invention.

Just having an idea is not enough.  An inventor or entrepreneur with a new and unique idea/product/service needs to approach this the same way they would start any business.  The best way is to develop a business plan to address the basic business planning questions.

  • Is there a market? 
  • Who will buy it? 
  • What competition is out there?
  • How much does it cost?
  • How will you make money?
  • How much will it cost to get started?
  • Is a patent the best way to protect your product?  
Planning ahead before you run out and spend your life savings to develop a prototype or initial product only to find out that they do not sell could save you time and money down the road.