The Best $40 You Ever Spent on Networking… Plus A Worthy Cause

A great opportunity to network with folks from the SMX Social Media Expo in NYC: EVEN for people not attending the conference: IMNY Charity Party Sponsored by the Best of the Web. Plus, you help fight cancer. Truly great.

Details:
$40 Donation to Leukemia and Lymphoma Society
Monday, October 15, 2007
7:00 pm to 10:00 pm
Town Tavern Bar & Grill 134 W. 3rd Street and 6th Ave. (Google Map)
All Internet Marketers Are Welcome!

Everything I’ve heard about conferences has talked about how awesome the networking opportunities are… so to be able to get that and help fight cancer too is tremendous. Plus, the fact that it’s the night before the conference begins, you just know that all the SEO rock stars are going to be there. I won’t be able to attend the conference but will be able to slip away for a few hours for this so I am excited about it. If you’re in the NYC area (I’m in Northern NJ) you’d be crazy to miss this!!

Start clearing your schedule now, alert the spouse and do what you must.

See you there.

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SMB: Focus On The Here And Now

Chris Silver-Smith wrote a well articulated piece about Internet Yellow Pages being Toast in 4 years that set off a bit of a fire storm among yellow pages advocates. I’ve also read a lot on the internet about the print yellow pages being dead. Even Bill Gates has gotten into the act… forecasting near 0 yellow page lookups in 5 years for most demographics. All this, while Click-Z reports staggering growth in the IYP sector.

What is a small business owner to make of all this? Nothing.

All of this is hogwash from the stand point of a small business owner.  The local space is far to complicated for generalizations of this sort from where your sitting.  These posts have considerable practical applications for large businesses and certainly for yellow page publishers but small business owners should pay no attention.

To show you what I mean I’m going to take an educated guess at some statistics here, I don’t think I will be far off, but if I am please correct me in the comments below.

There are over 2, 0000 categories in a yellow pages directory each with it’s own share of usage in print and online.  I think it’s fair to assume that one might  shop differently for a Pizza Parlor than a Roofer.  And if I’m a roofer, I care only how people are shopping for this service and if lookups for Pizza have shifted it means little to me.  And vice-versa. Generalizations cannot help either one of these business owners.

There are also more than 70,000 towns, cities etc. that will each have their own propensity for print and online usage. A person doing a local search in Manhattan may behave differently from one in Okay, Ok.  When you consider the permutations of this many business types and this many locations it becomes far too complicated a matter for a small business owner to draw conclusions from generalizations.

So, what is a small business owner to do? Track the hell out their advertising.

I would begin by taking Matt McGee’s advice and use Google Analytics. Many small business owners have little idea what this can do, so in short: Google Analytics can track where the visitors to your site came from, what they typed in to get there and whether or not they converted online (email form etc.).

For offline conversions in a service industry… use a tracking number. This can be purchased through the local telephone company; they call it RCF (remote call forwarding). And although I’ve not tried it yet Ring Central has an offering that I think may be worth a look.

If I already had a business line I would start with Ring Central and purchase multiple telephone numbers.  If I did not have a business I would buy at least one RCF number from my local telephone company and tell them I wanted a yp listing with that. That will give a link to my site in hundreds of local sites including G Maps, IYPs and a lot of the review sites.  They won’t have seo value in the traditional sense, though I’ve not seen a business place top 3 in Google Maps without one, it will make your business far more visible and easier to review.

Both of these options are going to be in the $15-$30 per month range depending on how many numbers you buy. And all have additional charges after a certain amount of minutes are used.  But they are worth it if you are investing in advertising already.

Please disregard articles that predict the future and focus on where the calls are coming from right now. Also, read almost any other post from Chris Silver-Smith who contributes often to the Natural Search Blog.

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Nobody Wants To Admit The Problem With Local Is The Lack Of SEO

There is a post on local search over at Search Engine Land recounting what the big boys of local search are talking about at the conference. It begins with:

Huge market, huge confusion, huge challenges—that could summarize discussion on the Meet the Local Search Engines panel

They talk about content as the major issue and argue about the solutions; but that isn’t the problem. There is plenty of content in the local space you just can’t find it… why?

There is so little SEO in Local.

As much as people rebuff SEO, the local space proves that SEO provides a critical function in the usability of the web.

Content is the issue? I’ve been in local since 1997 and I remember the days when few small businesses had a web site but it’s just not true anymore. There are dozens of local sites in nearly every line of business in every region now. The problem is search engines can’t find them.

The navigation is almost always Home, Services, About Us, & Contact Us and the only unique content in most of them is their name. Think how much more satisfying local search would be if SEOs played a larger role in development.

As for “huge confusion”, here’s where the confusion is: 3 out of every 4 local searches is done on a search engine, and search engines can’t find the appropriate sites to return because they have not been optimized for search and nobody is willing to admit that. Because it would mean admitting that SEO is good… and the big boys are not going to do thay… at least not until they can figure out a way to monetize it.

Posted in SEO | 5 Comments

Do It Yourself Website And Promotion On A Shoe String

I read an interesting post recently by David Wallace on On Increasing the Visibility of a Small Business Website on a Shoestring Budget. He gave some interesting advice for a small business starting on the web. I would like to build on this the way George Lucas built on the Star Wars series; with a prequel.

You see, David assumed the business already had a website. This post will provide advice on getting started with a website, use very little money and generate enough revenue to begin investing in David’s advice. I actually used what follows in this post to get a friend started on a shoe string.

  1. Sign up for Yahoo! Site Builder.
    • Yahoo! Site Builder(aff) provides an easy way for the do-it-yourselfer to have a website and it is easier to use than PowerPoint.
    • URL is included.
    • Comes with Domain Based email, which you need to look professional. No more mybusiness@aol.com.
    • Yahoo! indexes this site quickly… I used this service earlier in the year for a quickie and the site was indexed within a couple of days. And came up on the first page of search results for the keyword + regional term on Yahoo!. Like David said, if this was a mortgage broker it would have been more difficult but for a Painting Contractor it worked just fine.
    • $100 credit for Yahoo! search marketing (will need a $30 initial deposit)
  2. Price Tag: $25 + $11/mo.

  3. Read some good, practical and free advice on SEO:
    • This one from Jill Whalen’s High Rankings Advisor about title tags alone might be enough to get a local site ranked.
    • Here is one from Seomoz that is a good read for anyone but especially a newbie because it will educate you enough that you will be insulated from the garbage written about SEO on the web. It will also familiarize you with the rock stars of the industry… read their blogs often and you won’t go wrong. And lastly, it will educate you about the factors that really matter when optimizing your site.
    • Read this post from Local Biz Bits if you are going to create a site with multiple pages: Break Up With Your Services Page
    • And you can find a good SEO e-book for free from Dan Thies at Seo Fast Start

    Price Tag: $0

  4. Buy Perry Marshall’s Ultimate Guide to Google’s Adwords and use Google’s how-to resource
  5. Price tag: $16.47

  6. Begin your paid search marketing program
    • Sign up for Google Adwords
    • Sign up for Yahoo Search Marketing
    • Try and get your ads to the top of the search results so they are above the natural results by writing your way to to the top.

  7. Price tag: Difficult to say: I spent less than $30 before I started seeing conversions.

  8. Devise your IYP/Maps/Local site strategy
    • Figure out the most popular IYPs in your area
    • Sign up if the price is right and you are able to follow Dick Larkin’s advice and get to the top. Superpages offers a PPC program that will allow you to get to the top with little money down and no contract… $50 at set-up covers the cost of clicks with a $15 monthly minimum.
    • Go to the local sites mentioned above and set up your business profiles.
    • Call satisfied customers and ask them to review you on these sites as well.
  9. Price tag: $50

Your business is now all over the web and the phone calls and emails will begin coming in from new customers. For a local service service business this list should provide you with the opportunity to get Thousands of dollars in revenue before you spend $200. And the credit card bill hasn’t even arrived yet… woo hoo!

Now, you have the money to invest in David’s advice.

Posted in Website Design | 6 Comments

The 2 Most Important Posts in Local Search

There are 2 local search posts that taken together give us the necessary information to start making good advertising decisions. They provide practical information that can be used immediately to attract the majority of local searchers in your area to your site. And then how to implement a strategy to help convert them. In short they give the “what” and “how” for a local online advertiser.

On What Sites Should a Local Business Advertise?

The first of the important posts answers this question, it is from
comscore, unfortunately the information from the post disappeared. So here it is:

localsearchshare.gif

There are a ton of posts on the most searched sites and the most searched local sites, but this is the only one I’ve found that combines and ranks them both together. If anyone knows of another, please let me know.

The data is a year old now but I believe the information is still very relevant and with this in hand you can pretty easily figure out what it would take to give yourself the opportunity to come up in 90% of the local searches for your industry. And that is what you want.

In fact, you can add up the percentages of the first 6 sites and you’re better than 9 out of 10.

These sites are also somewhat intertwined; the Time Warner Network is AOL and they get their search results from Google and a click on the Yellow Page Icon on their home page will take you to Yellowpages.com. A click on the Yellow Page Icon on MSN will take you to Superpages.com and the sponsored results on MSN local are also taken from Superpages.com ppc ads. So effectively you can advertise on just 5 sites and get comprehensive coverage on the web.

What Are The Most Important Components of Local Search Strategy?

The next most important post was written by Greg Sterling for Search Engine Watch and talks about how local searchers behave following their choice of portal. So this picks up right the first one leaves off.

Let’s examine the most important points and the take-aways from this critical information.

51% of Local Searches will include a regional term and 49% won’t. (paraphrased)

Take-away: When doing paid advertising on Search Engines: Google, Yahoo and MSN, you need to set up 2 seperate campaigns. One national campaign that targets keyphrases + regional terms and one that is geo-targeted and includes only the keyphrases.

23% used a specific business name

Take-away: Use your business name as part of your <title tags> and buy the keyword for your name in your ppc campaign.

19% used a specific service term to search (example – “root canal”)

Take-away: Don’t use a ‘Services Page’; have a different page for each of your services and include the name of the service and the regional term in your Title tags for organic search. And buy these long-tail phrases in your ppc campaign and direct the landing page to the most appropriate page for that keyphrase.

Conversions came after a second round of searches. (Latent conversion)

Take-away: provide a way for your user to easily bookmark your site. I took the additional step of providing an offer that could only be redeemed by email. By doing it this way I manage to get in their email inbox with a coupon. When they are ready to purchase the service later, I am the only one in the email inbox. Here is an example for a garage door company in Orlando.

68% of conversions will likely come from phone, 16% said they would use email to contact the business and 11% said they would contact using an online form. (paraphrased)

Take-away: Have all three of these contact options on your site.

89% of respondents found search to be “somewhat effective” or “very effective

Take-away: With local search providing a “satisfying experience” it’s just going to continue to get bigger and more important.

These 2 posts together tell us where to advertise on the web and help develop a strategy for using these sites most effectively. That’s pretty good for less than 20 minutes reading and that is why these are the 2 most important posts in local search.

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Get Your Local Site To #1 on Google PPC

Scaling the mountain to the coveted #1 spot on Google with PPC can be done in 2 ways; you can pay your way to the top or write your way to the top. The oversimplified formula for ranking is ($bid) x(Click-Thru Rate%), which means Google will rank an ad with a $2 bid and a 1% CTR lower than an ad with a $1 bid with a 3% CTR. So you will get more opportunities and pay less for each with a good ad.

This formula plus an estimated and undisclosed 100 other factors, will determine where your ad shows up for your keyword. The most important of these ‘other’ factors is certainly the copy. And since copy will definitely influence your click-thru rate… it counts double, easily making it the single most important component of your PPC program.

4 Rules For Writing Your Way to The Top of A Local Search on Google

1. Include keywords in the title of the ad (25 characters).

2. Write a 70 character sentence (I like sentences at the top) or 2 phrases less than 35 characters each and try and weave the keywords in logically to the copy. Consider the user first, write good copy and then see if there is a word you can change to the keyword.

3. Include the geography in the ad.

4. The copy you write in the ad is also above the fold on the landing page.

Rewrite the Keyword In Your Headline

Including the keywords in the headline is the easiest thing to do but it’s not always done. I understand that people want to get creative, but this is not the place to do it. Not in a local search anyway. The most you can really do is add an adjective like professional or award winning plus the keyword. Don’t use anything you can’t back up like best or award winning unless you can prove it and do prove it on your landing page. Google monitors such claims. The other thing you may want to do is include the geography here.

Examples of headlines I might use for a Landscaper in Danbury Connecticut for the query Landscaper in Danbury.

Danbury Landscaper or

Professional Landscaper

Very easy right? Not so fast… here is where it gets hard, not hard like calculus, hard like elbow grease. You should set up ads for each keyword a user may type in. So, if the query changes to Landscape Contractor, consider having a different ad with Landscape Contractor as the headline. It just takes some good old fashioned hard work to write the ads for each keyword and Google’s Keyword tool to make sure you are targeting the right keywords. Write separate ads for at least the most common phrases plus your geography. (You geo-targeting, in which case I would not use the geography in the copy… google will put it in for me.)

70 Characters to Motivate

Now that we have the headline, we need to write some copy for the ad, only 70 characters and so much to say. Before we get started, however, we need to check the landing page. Is there anything we can get from the landing page that would make good copy for the ad? There is… ok… good just rewrite it so that it makes sense in the PPC ad format. This is important because any copy that is in your ad should also be on your landing page… if it is not, your potential customer will not trust you or just get irritated. Either way the ad will not convert and your #1 position will be wasted.

If you have no copy on the landing page that works, re-design your website. I don’t mean to over complicate this; but if you cannot find 70 characters on your landing page that will motivate people who are in the market for your service to choose you, you need to re-write the copy on that site. No way around it. Answer these 2 questions and you’ll be fine: Why should I choose you over the competition? and What are the benefits of doing business with you?

You may consider putting geography here if not used in the title, such as ‘Serving Danbury For Over 20 Years’.

So at this point the ad might look something like this:

Professional Landscaper
Landscape Design & Construction
Serving Danbury For Over 20 Years

This ad is a little generic, so I’m not crazy about it; but I was able to logically weave in all the keywords for the query and got Landscape in twice, that will help when Google decides where to rank the ad initially. This ad is likely to be very near the top of the page right away with a competitive bid (ads cannot get placed in the top spots on the left until they are approved- will take a few days). With a good landscape construction job being worth upwards of $15, 000 you should expect to pay a couple of bucks for a click and consider it a bargain.

For ideas on writing even better ads look through the direct mail that comes to your house. Get ideas for headlines, especially from the pieces that are done professionally. Also, look through your val-pak or super coups and see if there are many advertisers from your industry. If there are that indicates that coupons work well for your industry and that an offer might work well in your ppc ad, as well.

You can put discounts in your ad, like $1oo off for new customers, as long as the offer is restated within 2 clicks of the landing page. Than your ad might look something like this:

Professional Landscaper
See Your Landscape Before You Dig
Free Computer Assisted Design

Than on the landing page you’ll want to explain that offer or have a prominent link to a coupon for that offer.

I’m not in love with this second ad but I’m not really worried too much about it. I’ll split-test one against the other and the loser will be gone in a short time anyway. I’ve warmed up to ads real quick that I wasn’t crazy about initially when they started producing double digit click thru rates.

Include Your Geography Somewhere In The Ad

Now I have one last problem with this second ad… there is no geography in it. That will hurt the ad… I need to fix it. I have run into this problem before, with only 3 lines of copy to play with… it’s bound to happen.

I’m going to fix this problem for only $8 by chuggin’ on over to godaddy.com and buying another URL. What URL I buy will depend on my service area. If I only service the city of Danbury I will purchase DanburyLandscaper.com. But if I service the whole county, I will purchase FairfieldCountyLandscaper.com. It’s not quite as good as just Danbury for this query but otherwise I would have to buy more than 60 Urls, so it’s going to have to do. There is a couple of other benefits with purchasing the county url: the ad will crank for county searches in fairfield and it will allow me to put some geography that isn’t redundant into my geo-targeted ads.

The next thing I have to do with this url is 301 redirect it to my site. This sounds complicated but I promise it isn’t. GoDaddy does the work for you. Purchase the domain, then click on Manage Domain>Forward>and you get to this screen:301 Redirect in GoDaddy

Simply put the radio button on 301 moved permanently and type your url including http:// into the box.

You must 301 redirect the ad to your site or you could create problems for your site in the organic results.

If you purchased fairfieldcountylandscaper.com, make sure that at the top of the landing page it says… Serving Fairfield County or some such thing for the reasons discussed above. Also don’t be surprised if some of your keywords for the county search, a very popular query, start exceeding 20% after a little split testing.

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Google Maps Provides Good Results For County Search

Go to Yahoo, Superpages.com et al. and do a search for a ‘business type’ and select your home county as the ‘geography’, you will get a message saying something like; “we are not able to find that location”. Not on Google Maps.

I used several different lines of business and used Bergen County NJ as the geographic modifier on G maps and got very good results. Here is a screen shot for Interior Decorator Bergen County NJ:

Google Maps Double Click for Full Size Image

With the ability to produce results this good at the county level, it probably won’t take long for the local box to show up on Google.com for county searches the way it currently does for city searches.

Could this lead to Google dominating local search the way they dominate general search now? Could be… every article I ever read on local predicted functionality would be the key to taking over the fragmented industry… and this is functional.

If you have optimized your site for county search you might want to begin preparing now for the local box stealing your serps. To get acquainted with the local algo here is a great post from Small Business SEM and one from me earlier in the month Top 3 Spots in Google Maps.

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Optimize Your Local Site… For Your Customers

If you are able to completely fill out the Business Profile offered free from sites like Yahoo! Local and Superpages.com, you will enhance your credibility big-time, which means more customers for you . But you have to fill it out completely… y’know even the certifications and affiliations part. Oh! you left that section blank? Why?

Certifications and affiliations are what give you credibility and set you apart from the newbie hacks in your industry. And I have seen studies that show in print ads these mentions help the ad convert.

Here’s how I would recommend going about it… Let’s use a Lansdscape Architect as an example. Go to Google and do a search for Landscape Architect plus your state. I did it for Landscape Architect NY. The first listing is for the ASLA, an organization devoted to the industry. If I am serious about my business, I should belong to this organization, don’t you think? Ya, I know it costs money to join but if you believe in what they do it should be worth it. Plus you can now put ASLA Member on your website with their nice logo. Instant credibility for you. Also, the site has a search box that allows people to search the site to find a local Landscape Architect – qualified traffic… perfect.

The next result is the NYSCLA. This site offers all the same benefits as above but with an added bonus – I can write it out and get the keywords ‘New York’ and ‘Landscape Architect’ on the page. Oh! it’s all good.

Next, if I have been in business for over a year and have no complaints on file, I can join the Better Business Bureau.

Now when someone is looking in my area for my service they will see that I am a member of the ASLA, the NYSCLA (spelled out or with the <abbr> tag), and the BBB, whether they come to my site or my business profile… Voila’ – instant credibility.

Next, does your industry require you to be licensed? It does… good. Typically the state or whomever else requires and issues the license will have a website. Find the page that shows that you are licensed and copy and past the url into your site and create a link to make it easier for your visitors to find… more credibility for you and if your competition didn’t take the time to do this simple step, their visitors maybe wonder why, don’t you think?

Your certifications and affiliations may also provide you with the best possible links for your site. Which is as it should be… as you build credibility with your customers, you also build credibility with search engines. Hmmm… those search engines are getting pretty smart, eh?

Now, if you haven’t done it already, do some searches for your line of business and then add some geographic modifiers. I bet there are some folks working pretty hard to improve your industry. Support them… your customers will appreciate it and so will they. And let me know what you find out; I’d love to hear about it.

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Editorial Citations and Mis-Use of the No-Follow Tag

Browsing through Yahoo! Answers I saw that someone had asked for help in “improving their website’s rank in Google. I thought the answer given was a very good one. Here is the screen shot:

Yahoo Answers Seo questoin

This is by any definition an editorial citation. Yet, these links are all no-follow. I understand why Yahoo has to do it but I also think there must be a better way. Anyway, best to focus on what you can control right? So, since these sites have taught me much of what I know about SEO, I’ll do what little I can to right this wrong:

Here are 3 of the very best sites on Search Engine Optimization – SEO:

Seomoz
Search Engine Watch
SEO Book

Posted in Uncategorized | 5 Comments

Superpages.com Traffic Does Not Show Up In Google Analytics

I get a warm feeling when I look at my analytics and see my efforts bear fruit… don’t we all. I use multiple analytic providers, Google Analytics for conversions and the rest and Shiny Stat to keep an eye on Google Analytics (GA). Recently I noticed some conversions from “Direct Traffic”, as reported by GA and suspected that some had simply bookmarked the site and returned later to request the service. So, I checked further and found that the conversions had come from ‘absolutely unique visitors’, hmmm… off to Shiny Stat to see if I could find out anything else. They reported visits simply from directory. So, off I went to Superpages.com to run a traffic report on the PPC campaign I set up with them. And one by one I tracked the dates of the clicks with the dates of the “direct traffic” I was receiving and lo and behold they matched…wow.

This campaign is so local that the traffic was low enough that I could figure this out with a good degree of accuracy. If this was a major campaign, however, it would be nearly impossible.

Local Directories are Shooting Themselves in the Foot

I went on to test Yahoo! Local – a featured listing and organic, yellowpages.com, true local and local.com and found that only yellowpages.com reported the click-thru accurately. The others were recorded in a fashion that made them “untrackable.” Will professional search marketers advertise on sites that they can’t track easily?

Now that local search has arrived (you almost wouldn’t know it because as it finally arrived the conversation shifted to mobile) these sites may be able to attract more of the professional search community… but not without fixing this problem.

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