Archive for 'Business'

SEO Considerations

Things to Consider before Embarking on an SEO Initiative
1. How long have you been in business?

2. How long has your website been “live?”

3. How much traffic does your website generate per month?

4. Have you submitted your site to all of the major search engines?

  • a. If so, when was this done?

5. Have you submitted your site to any directories?

  • a. If so, which ones?
  • b. Is your site still listed on those directories?

6. Who are some of your potential linking partners?

  • a. Friends
  • b. Co-workers
  • c. Clients
  • d. Similar businesses which aren’t competitors
  • e. Business journals
  • f. Local chambers
  • g. Complimentary products/services
  • h. Affiliates/distributors
  • i. Suppliers

7. Do you currently distribute press releases about your business?

8. Do you currently distribute articles on topics related to your business?

    a. If not, do you know of anyone within your organization that may be a good candidate for writing these types of articles?

  • b. Do you have case studies or white papers you could share?

9. Does your company have a blog?

10. What other forms of advertising and marketing does your company utilize?

11. How much have you budgeted for a complete SEO Program?

  • a. Is this budget specific to the SEO effort, or is it a percentage of your overall marketing budget?

12. What are your plans should an SEO program not produce immediate (1-3 month) results?

Please Note: Most SEO programs take a minimum of six months to begin to reap benefits. We suggest utilizing traditional marketing methods until the SEO program begins to produce the desired results. Backing out of an SEO program after 3 months will likely produce minimal results although it is not impossible to see results that quickly.

The Basics of SEO

What is SEO anyway?
Search Engine Optimization (SEO for short) is a highly involved, somewhat lengthy, process designed to elevate an internet website’s major search engine ranking and/or positioning. The major search engines (Google, Microsoft Network (MSN), and Yahoo) make up greater than 70% of search traffic on the internet. This is a common way for people to find others, information, companies, potential business partners, etc. by entering a “keyword” or search term. Typically, the searcher will seek information on their keyword or search term and click on the top results. Thus the higher a site ranks for a given keyword or search term, the better its chances of attracting more visitors to its site.

Why Should I Care about SEO?
If you run a business and have a web presence, don’t you want the most people possible knowing about that business? Wouldn’t it benefit you if your website was able to bring you new leads or develop new customers every day, 24 hours per day? Research has shown that nearly 95% of all search engine users rarely read past the first page of search results. Because of that, it behooves you to have your website on the first page of search results for specific keywords and terms.

Can’t I just Pay for a High Ranking?
No! Organic (or “free”) search listing rankings cannot be purchased. These are “earned” over time via links, content, keyword relevance, page and site descriptions, titles of pages, etc. You can pay for clicks to your website based on specific terms or keywords however these are separate results from the free results people commonly click.

What is Pay-Per-Click?
Pay-per-click is a form of internet advertising where you pay a certain amount for each “click” or “hit” to your website as a result of a person searching for a certain keyword or phrase.

What is Click Fraud?
Click fraud occurs when a person or automated computer script imitates a legitimate search for a keyword or phrase yet clicks on the pay-per-click result for the sole purpose of generating revenue for the search engine or affiliate.

What is a Linking Partner?
A linking partner is a website which provides a link to your site. Some will require a link on your site to theirs in return (a reciprocal link) while others will want to have a link on a third party’s site in exchange for the link to yours. Reciprocal links aren’t as valuable as unique one way links but the more links you have pointing to your site (link popularity), the more “important” the search engines will consider your site.

What is Page Rank?
Page Rank is Google’s proprietary algorithm for determining a site’s importance. It’s expressed as a value from 1-10 with 10 being the most important and most desirable. The algorithm was designed by Larry Page, Google’s co-founder. Page Rank is affected by things such as the number of links pointing to your website, and the amount of unique and relevant content on your website.

What is a Keyword?
A keyword is a typical word or phrase you’d expect people to use when searching for your site. That’s about as simple as we can explain it.

What is Keyword Density?
The number of keywords you use on a particular page in relation to the number of total words on that page. The more keywords you have peppered throughout the page and site, the better your site may rank for that particular term. You must be careful not to load a page with too many keywords, however—that is considered keyword “stuffing” or spamming and is frowned upon by the search engines.

What is a Sitemap?
A sitemap is basically an inventory listing of all of the pages on your site. It tells the search engines how to get around your site and also how many pages there are on your site. It can be made visible to your visitors, but it doesn’t have to be. Uploading an XML file directly to the search engines is a generally accepted best practice for optimizing your search engine rankings.

What is a Spider?
Search engines utilize small programs to surf and inventory sites all over the internet. These are called spiders, and they follow links from site to site to gather their inventory to report back to the search engine. They are also referred to as crawlers or bots from time to time.

What is a Meta Tag?
A meta tag is an HTML piece of code which provides information about that particular page or document. These don’t provide formatting information or any actionable code—they are there for the search engines to catalog your site and the pages contained on your site.

What is a Blog?
A blog (short for weblog) is a news or journal type of site which is frequently used more for opinionated type of entries and is typically updated frequently. It is intended for general consumption but has become a valuable tool for all types of users to spread information and awareness of their websites.

Why Should I Write Articles for my Website?
Articles are a great way to increase the amount of unique content on your site as it pertains to the keywords you desire to rank well. There are numerous websites that publish articles, and it is common practice for the authors to include a link in their by-line back to their website. This creates an inbound link to the author’s website which in turn increases its popularity. It’s also a good way to increase awareness aside from the linking benefits.

What are Directories?
Directories are databases containing listings to websites based on categories and sub-categories. Many of the search engines access directories to crawl their links to learn of new sites. Directories are an invaluable resource for search engines and can often serve to improve a site’s ranking depending upon how important the search engine weighs the directory in question. Directories may provide a link to your site often without requiring a return or reciprocal link on your site.

Increasing Your Company’s Competitive Intelligence

Perhaps you run a small business and have a belief that you simply don’t have the time to consistently monitor your competitors and your market as you should. Keeping the business afloat is paramount to you, and hiring additional staff to address this area isn’t an option at this juncture. Consultants aren’t an option either because they’re costly, or your company can’t sacrifice the time necessary to properly educate an outsider about your inner business workings. For any of these situations, there is an alternative if you truly want to keep tabs on your competitive landscape: have your current employees take responsibility.

Tasking your existing employees with developing competitive intelligence for small portions of the overall endeavor isn’t that time consuming, and it will allow them to feel like they are part of the strategic planning process. If your company has a sales or marketing department, these employees serve as the ideal candidates for undertaking competitive analyses. They should be familiar with the market to begin with and have contacts throughout the territory which may provide some inside information. To think your sales or marketing staff doesn’t communicate with a competitor or two is rather naïve—it happens, and it’s a reality you can use to your company’s advantage if it’s encouraged instead of frowned upon.

What kind of information do you need from each employee as it pertains to the competitive landscape? Capturing the following competitor data is a good start:
• Strengths
• Weaknesses
• How your company can take advantage of their weaknesses
• How your company can minimize potential threats from the competitor
• Product and service offerings & changes
• Pricing structure & fluctuations
• Plans to expand or consolidate operations
• Management & staffing changes

Most top sales and marketing reps will know this kind of stuff inside and out (on your strongest competitors) without having to do a ton of “homework,” but that doesn’t mean the information is being shared throughout the ranks. Often times it’s not, and that’s a contributing factor as to why there is typically a great divide between the top and bottom performers. This presents an opportunity to improve overall sales performance in addition to other benefits mentioned in this article.

Once you’ve gotten your employees to gather and analyze competitive data, how are you going to efficiently distribute it amongst the ranks? Why not host mandatory weekly strategic meetings to feed this information into your organization’s collective mindset? As co-workers demonstrate a solid understanding of a specific competitor or issue, they become the so-called defacto in-house “expert” on that competitor or issue which their co-workers will value. It will raise mutual respect levels and give employees the opportunity to develop better presentation and teaming skills. Other workers will follow suit, thus increasing your entire company’s competitive intelligence. Choose to focus on one competitor or issue per week, and the meetings won’t infringe too much upon the normal work day. The weekly strategic meetings could be conducted over lunch, as an internal lunch and learn, where you order food for all in attendance in exchange for their undivided attention. Yes, you’ll have to pay some money for food, but it’s cheaper than hiring additional staff, and it raises the bar across the board for your organization to become a more competitively focused entity.

To summarize, the resources are likely within your reach to gather and distribute competitive intelligence throughout your organization if you desire to make this important for your organization. Smaller companies simply don’t devote enough attention to expanding their competitive intellectual capital, and this is a creative way to get more people involved in your strategic efforts and team build while maintaining some cost control.

Roger Bauer is Founder and CEO of SMB Consulting, Inc., a Louisville, Kentucky based small business consulting firm specializing in strategic planning, web design, SEO, sales and marketing, and business analysis. To learn more, point your browser to Business Consulting. To contact a small business consultant today, e-mail info@smbconsultinginc.com.

Product Differentiation? Hardly.

By Roger Bauer

It struck me the other day during lunch at a local Moe’s Southwestern Grill that a new phenomenon has swept the restaurant landscape in the form of poor attempts to differentiate from the competition—renaming accepted terms of business with cutesy nicknames. This is readily visible in the faster food sector, and it’s becoming more prevalent as companies struggle to connect with the consumer in manners which create loyalty and/or preference.

Take Moe’s as a primary example. Personally, I believe they have a very good product to offer, but they’ve gone and out “cuted” themselves with ridiculously silly nicknames for their fare which only serve to confuse and frustrate the customer. It’s easy to see them thinking behind the scenes, but it’s a risky attempt at product differentiation. They’re in fierce competition with franchises such as Qdoba, Baja Fresh, Chipotle, LaBamba, Taco Bell, and Tijuana Flats, (plus many others) but those competitors don’t require a translator to order a simple burrito or taco. Try popping into one of those places one day or night to order a “Joey” or an “Alfredo Garcia.” You’ll get looked at like you have three heads (with good reason).

What would possess a franchise to resort to childish nicknames to try to differentiate themselves? It’s probably an executive’s poor excuse of a marketing concept designed to separate from the competition, but that’s not the type of separation that enables your concept to survive long term. It will ultimately separate them all right—the competition will eventually gain as the initial shtick gives way to annoyance and turns consumers off to the point they prefer the competition even with all other factors being relatively equal.

Sure, things look great for Moe’s presently, and the concept seems “fresh” today, but that can change on a dime without warning. Their current growth could be sapped with one false step because there is less room to wiggle when you’re attempting to retrain your customer base to conform to your concept. What happens if the consumer collectively says “I’m no longer in the mood for Moe?” Would being “cute” be overruled by a desire to becoming truly different (i.e. better)?

Don’t get me wrong, there are a lot of positives. Their restaurants are well laid out, the décor is modern, the lighting is appropriate, and the food is tasty not to mention reasonably priced. The physical atmosphere is hip and inviting. There are glaring negatives, too. The staff collectively insisting on yelling “Welcome to Moe’s!” at the top of their lungs as a new customer enters doesn’t make me want to setup shop for very long. I can’t wait to get out so I don’t have to hear that any more than I have to. I’d like a little peace and normalcy with my meal Moe, thanks.

Topping off the frustrating concept Moe’s obviously insists upon cramming down the consumer’s throat is the staff correcting the customer when ordering by the desired ingredients instead of its nickname. You’re not training me Moe, you’re supposed to be providing a quality and quick meal which I am going to ring your register for—don’t correct me, simply make the food, take the money, and let me eat in peace!

Moe’s is not alone in this feeble attempt at differentiation, and they won’t be the last, but the lesson to be learned is to keep customer service just that—customer service. The customer is paying so don’t believe you’re going to train the customer as long as the equation is structured that way. If you begin to pay people to come into your franchise or business, you’re well within your rights to try to train them to do business your way. Stick to doing business as the industry dictates until you develop a better way of doing things. Then, and only then, you will have a true differentiator. Simply renaming a common item or process doesn’t make you different—it makes you contrarian. Don’t confuse the two.

Roger Bauer is Founder and CEO of SMB Consulting, Inc., a Louisville, Kentucky based small business consulting firm specializing in strategic planning, web presence, internet marketing, SEO, technology, and business analysis. To learn more, point your browser to Business Consulting. To contact a small business consultant today, e-mail info@smbconsultinginc.com.

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