This lecture, by Joseph L. Bower, Professor, Harvard Business School, is one of the 10 videos Inc. Magazine recommends for every entrepreneur. Check the full list here. How many have you seen already? Any not on the list that you’d add? Tell us!
This is a continuation in our series on small business SEO.
We’ve discussed keywords and how to build content around them but as previously mentioned, this is only one piece of the puzzle. The second, equally important piece, is building links back to your site.
Google’s search algorithm is designed to compute the diffusion of authority from one site to another. The more trusted a given site is, the more authority it has to offer to anyone it links to. Authority is determined by a few different factors:
What is the intention of the site? If the goal of the site is to provide quality, unique, relevant information on a topic, it will get priority over a site that has commercial intentions. However, there are gray areas in that zone. For example, Wikipedia’s goal is solely to provide information with zero commercial intentions. However a site like Ezine Articles has every intention of providing quality information BUT subsidizes their content with advertising.
How trusted is the source of content? Sites that are published by reputable universities, or by the government themselves are automatically seen to have authority. These sites domain names will end with a .edu for a school or a .gov for a government web page. Other sites that have a large amount of authority are sites published by reputable, well accepted news organizations.
How many pages on the internet link to the site? Of course, the whole purpose of this post is to discuss this in particular. The more pages that link to a site, especially pages with authority, the more trusted the site becomes..
Does the site have an editorial process for content published there? The rule of the thumb is that if a site has an editorial process to keep “junk” content off of the site, it will have more authority. This may or my not be because Google specifically gives it more trust out of the gate, but rather because it will often have the exact type of content that Google is looking for. For example, Wikipedia accepts content from anyone who submits it, but it can be edited out by the community very rapidly if it doesn’t meet a certain criteria of quality. Another example is sites like article directories such as Ezine Articles. For your article to get published on this site it has to be manually reviewed by a human reviewer for quality. As a final example, media outlets have a rigorous editorial process compared to the aforementioned outlets. For this reason, content posted on these sites have a mammoth amount of authority.
Methods of Building Links:
Use blogs to your advantage! First of all, if your company doesn’t have a blog up, start one. That being said, find relevant blogs in your niche. Write up a guest post that you think would be beneficial to their audience. Send them the guest post and offer to let them post it if they have a day where they need content to post up. Just make sure that in your article, normally in the “about the author” area, you are linking back to your site. Go ahead and link back with one of your target keywords as an anchor text. Another great way to use blogs to your advantage is by following several blogs in your industry. As the authors publish posts, go ahead and comment on their post leaving your URL in the URL field. Blogs are seen by the search engine as a content source and that means these are somewhat authoritative links.
Distribute content! Write up some articles about a hot topic in your industry. Submit these (one to each) to large, high authority, article directories. Examples include Ezine Articles, Buzzle and GoArticles. Content is not limited to text. You can make a podcast and submit it to several podcast directories or apply this concept to any other medium.
Join forums! Sign up for the large forums in your industry. On your profile for the forum, write a little about yourself and what you do using your target anchor text to link back to your site. Also, put a link in your forum signature with your anchor text linking back. What this will do is insert this link below every single post you make on the forum. By just taking part in every day conversation on these forums you are not only gaining exposure for yourself and your brand, but this will create links to your site.
Press releases work WONDERS! Remember what we said about how powerful links from the media are? These aren’t as hard to obtain as you would imagine. Simply creating writing a press release and dropping it onto PR Newswire will get it immediately picked up by SEVERAL media outlets who automatically post content from this wire. This means very powerful authority links for your site. Power does come with a price though. For example, one agency charges $550 to write a press release and distribute it onto the eReleases newswire. However, this is a small price to pay for droves of these high authority links.
This is the first post in a series explaining how to optimize your website for maximum search engine exposure.
Many small business owners struggle to receive traffic from the search engines due to the tremendous competition in most verticals. Let’s begin by evaluating the core fundamentals of search engine optimization.
Basic web page structure includes a header tag called the “meta.” This area is where you specify to the search engines what your site is about. In years past, all you had to do to rank well for a search term was to stuff this tag with a lot of keywords that you wanted to be listed for. The problems with this primitive approach to search technology is pretty clear. Even if your site had absolutely nothing to do with what you indicated it did, you would still rank well for it because the search providers didn’t know any better. This lead to the first evolution of search technology.
With the first major evolution, search providers would send what are known as “spiders” or “crawlers” to pages that existed on the web. Unlike in the past where these technologies were to read only the meta content of a page, they were now programed to actually read the text that was on the pages. This now meant that sites would rank well based on what the actual contents of their site was about instead of simply what they indicated their site was about. As you can imagine, this was a tremendous game changer for search engine optimization as a whole. Now, you would not only have to indicate what your site is about via the meta tag content, but also ensure that what was in that field was consistent with the text that was actually on your site. While this was a major improvement, it still had blatant flaws. People could still manipulate the content on their page and stuff it with irrelevant keywords to convince the search engines their site was about one thing, when in reality it was about a completely different topic.
So the search engines proceeded to take their algorithm to the next level once again. If people couldn’t be trusted to be honest on their page about what their site was really about, how could sites be evaluated? The engines evolved their algorithm to now not only evaluate a site based on the content written on it, but also based on what other sites were linking to it. If prominent, authority sites are linking to a site, chances are it has some kind of authority. The algorithm is now programed to evaluate, not only the on page content for a site, but also who is linking to it and what types of phrases they are linking to it with. For example, you will notice in the header of this post there is a link that says “NY office space,” and links to the Sunshine Suites home page. This indicates to the search engines that the Sunshine Suites site is about NY office space. This principle is now applied all over the web with other sites, linking back to your main web property.
In the continuation of this series, we’ll look at:
How to find target keywords that you will have the most success ranking for.
How to build quality links to your site, making the search engines see you as the authority that you are.
How to develop authoritative content to make crystal clear to the search engines what you’re all about.
All small business owners understand the power and value of offering employee benefits. However, many small businesses struggle with the pricing of traditional benefits.
According to the NFIB 2003 Small Business Poll on Compensating Employees, the most common benefits distributed by small businesses are paid vacations, health insurance, paid sick leave, disability insurance and education reimbursement. Numerous small businesses also offer pension plans, life insurance and even dental insurance.
Offering benefits have pros and cons just like any other business decision. So why offer benefits? First of all, a solid benefits package will often attract a higher quality employee who is looking for long term work. This can also help you retain employees longer and develop stronger employee loyalty towards your company. By doing what you can to encourage staff retention, you can prevent turnover which can be time consuming and costly. On top of this, benefits can be an affordable way for you to offer your employee more value, without an increase in salary. This has a serious tax upside to it. The downsides are that offering things like medical benefits isn’t all that cheap for small businesses, nor is it the easiest process to implement. It will all back out to how much you think your brand and employees can prosper with the added benefits.
Offering benefits shouldn’t be limited to the most common ones we all think of. There are plenty of creative ways to offer employee benefits to encourage performance and help company staff retention. Some cool examples of this are:
- Offering wellness benefits. Let’s face it. We all know that health insurance costs are on the rise, so why not encourage prevention? Offering your staff benefits like a paid gym membership can save on healthcare costs and increase morale.
- Transit benefits: Offering your employees parking spaces so they don’t have to pay for them out of pocket can help make a world of difference. Even in urban areas it’s possible to offer commuter benefits where your company provides transit passes. This can either be paid for by the company, or withheld from the employees pay pre-taxation.
- Recreation time: This works great if your company demands a high pressure workplace. Allow your employees to clear their mind and do something relaxing on company time. Even if it’s just 2 paid hours per month, this can help your employees unwind, recharge and come in feeling fresh and raring to go.
- Community hours: Encouraging your employees to get involved in the community benefits EVERYONE. Your employee can go support a cause the believe in, the community reaps the rewards and you can earn excellent publicity for your company in the process.
While trying to offer benefit solutions like medical, dental, life insurance, etc, isn’t very easy or cost effective, creative benefit packages can deliver a very similar value proposition at a fraction of the cost and hassle. A little creativity in demonstrating to your staff that you care about their well being goes a very long way.
Small businesses often struggle with the concept of brand imaging. In reality, working with small businesses is often a great way to get superior service, however not everyone sees things this way. Sometimes, potential customers will shy away from working with a company of one even before you can give them the chance to prove yourself. One way to prevent this is with very simple and affordable business imaging. Imaging is where you can make your company look larger than it is by featuring some of the resources that potential clients perceive only larger companies to have. The most common example of this is a toll-free phone number, and professional sounding phone system. Sounds like an expensive setup? While your customers will think the same thing, in reality it’s quite affordable!
There are numerous awesome toll free number providers who will also provide you the capability to have an interactive phone menu. These providers are designed to specialize with small businesses and are incredibly affordable as a result. For one monthly price you will usually get:
-A toll-free number, or local number in an area code of your choice. (Local area codes are a great option if you want something like a prestigious, New York City “212”)
-A monthly allotment of minutes to use on the phone line (often it can be used for inbound and outbound calls)
-A virtual call routing system. (“Thank you for calling ….. press one for sales, two for support” etc. This system will usually feature extensions as well.)
-For a one-time setup fee, most providers can sell you a vanity custom number that you specify. This is a tremendous way to setup a phone number that leaves an impact on your customers.
Let’s look at some vendors and their pricing for this type of solution:
-Ring Central: For $14.99 per month you get access to a toll free number, 100 minutes (4.9 cents for each additional minute,) and you can use up to 10 extensions. (Dial by name is not included unless you purchase a larger plan.) A vanity number will cost you a one-time setup charge of $30.) This also includes interactive phone menus. Ring Central pricing becomes more affordable with their larger packages. For example, their 1,00 minute package is only $30 per month. Twice the price for ten times the minutes.
-Phone.com: Phone is probably the most affordable option for smaller plans. Their $14.88 plan includes 400 minutes, unlimited extensions, dial by name and interactive menus. You can get pick up a vanity number for them for just $25. With Phone.com, your first month of services is free.
-Grasshopper.com: A new player in the space. They charge $9.95 a month with $25 activation fee for a toll free number, unlimited extensions and all their features. Their service offering doesn’t include minutes until their $24 a month plan, which includes 500.
While all of these solutions are awesome, and truly affordable for any small business, the one thing that may still be seen as a turn off is your menu greeting. If it’s just you recording the greeting, you potential customers might become suspicious. Phone.com offers a voice over solution to record the menus for you, but it is rather expensive. A really sick option is to check out Fiverr.com and find a professional voice over talent to record your menus for just $5.
A toll free number, custom branded to your company, that leads to a professionally recorded menu. What could make you look more professional than that? Considering it will cost under $20 a month in most cases, with just a $25 – $30 setup fee, this is one of the most powerful investments you can make in branding your small business.
Ever since Facebook Status’ and Twitter became popular, the world of “microblogging” started to gain traction. People were updating and tweeting about their personal lives, and companies started observing what people were writing about, and even interacting with their client base. More recently, a wave of internal microblogging platforms have entered into the space allowing companies to start their own twitter-like communities. Let’s explore creative ways internal microblogging systems can be used to benefit small businesses.
One example use of a microblogging community is what we do here at Sunshine Suites. We utilize microblogging platform Present.ly to maintain a sense of community throughout the building. Even though each of us work at our own company, we can interact with other members of the building through the platform. The beauty of this is that it brings together a niche group of small business owners who can all networks with each other in real time, or throughout the day. Moreover, what makes this concept unique is that the individuals on the platform are likely in the building work space if they are interacting. In the event you find someone on the system who you would like to have lunch with, or bounce ideas off of, they probably aren’t too far.
While this idea works well for our office community, there are countless other applications. For example, small business owners can use microblogging to keep their remote and in-house workers on the same page. This is a powerful concept that is going heavily underutilized. As a small business owner, when you pay out remote contractors, you have certain expectations that need to be met. These include consistent progress on your project, and a rough idea of how long each sub-task of the assignment is taking. Keeping track of which remote contractor is working on what, and how long they are taking can be a painstaking task. However, if you require each of the remote contractors to log into your company microblogging system and leave an update about how your project is progressing can keep everyone on the same page. It’s a simple, non-invasive way to ensure that consistent progress is being made. Additionally, if you feel a certain task took longer than projected based on the updates, it can be promptly addressed with that individual. This can save countless hours of mismanaged time because it keeps you in the know about how long each task is taking to complete.
Microblogging platforms aren’t only good for management, but also interaction between yourself, your remote contractors, and even remote contractors collaborating amongst themselves. Sure, there are elegant solutions for collaboration like BaseCamp, but sometimes minimalist simplicity can work wonders.
While microblogging is fantastic for things like office communities and small business interaction, there are still more uses for them. These types of platforms can be used to create private communities to bounce ideas around. Think something along the line of a “mastermind group.” This is effective for small business owners because they may be willing to discuss some ideas with a group of their trusted friends in the industry, but don’t want their discussions made private. The sky is truly the limit.
Company intranets are internal networks used by companies to share information exclusively with their employees and partners. Intranets are also used for collaboration, and will often encompass email capabilities for it’s users. This type of organizational system was used exclusively by larger companies for the longest time since it used to require expensive, proprietary technology. However, recently Google has made this next level collaboration experience available to any company with a domain name through their “Apps for Domains” suite.
The most common examples of large, expensive intranet solutions are Lotus Notes (with Domino server) and Microsoft Sharepoint. Both of these solutions would have to be licensed from their respective developer, and then hosted on your own technology. Clearly, not only was this expensive, but a true hassle to maintain all of the technology involved. This is exactly why this type of collaboration system was exclusively used by huge companies. Recently, service providers have licensed out the technology and hosted the infrastructure associated with either platform, and would sell it to smaller companies on a “per user, per month” basis. While this made pricing more reasonable for small business owners, it was still quite an expense. Most services were charging $10 per user, per month for them to host either Lotus Notes, or Sharepoint for a small business.
Now Google has entered into the equation, and they have created quite a splash in the space. Ever since they made their “Apps for Domain” open to the public, they have given small business the opportunity to even the playing field. To use Apps, you need to have your own domain name already registered. Most companies already have one that they use to direct to their site. Once you have the domain, you simply need to sing up for Google Apps service. From there you will need to make a couple simple adjustments to the name servers to direct all the email to the right place.
Google Apps is incredibly simple to setup. Start by creating an email account for each person you want to have access. From there, they will receive access to all of the following:
-Gmail for your company. Not only will Google host all of your email, but they give you and your users access to the Gmail interface that you know and love.
-Google Docs for your company. You and your co-workers can create documents and share them company wide with ease. Additionally, if you only need to share with certain people, you have that option as well. These documents can be collaborated on by anyone who you give access to. Since they can be accessed, created and updated from anywhere with an internet connection, this is an ideal tool for small businesses.
-Google Calendar. Using Google Calendar effectively can help keep you more organized than ever before. You can even share calendar feeds with co-workers so you know who’s up to what.
-Google IM. This will let you and your co-workers chat in real time over Google’s Jabber service. This solution is very similar to Lotus Sametime, but it’s included in the Apps package.
-Apps Marketplace. Google recently took their game to a whole new level again by adding the “Apps Marketplace.” The marketplace is a tremendous selection of third party vendors who integrated sign on through Google Apps. Adding one of these solutions will mean your team won’t have to log into numerous solutions separately. Once they are logged into their Apps account / email, they will automatically be authenticated for the other services.
So as great as this sounds, what does it cost? Google offers this in two flavors. The free “standard” version and the paid edition. A free account allows you to have up to 50 users, with about 7.5 GB email storage in each. These accounts display advertising as well. The paid edition is only $50 per user per year. That will remove the advertising and give each account 50 GB of email usage.
Interested in Google Apps? Sign up here.
As small business owner, if you have started hiring employees you will quickly come to realize how much work is involved with keeping an accurate payroll. This information must be kept accurate to comply with strict IRS criteria. Considering how intense all the record keeping involved is, most small companies are best suited just employing the aide of a payroll management service. Let’s look at how to weigh your options in the payroll management search.
Right off the bat, you have a few options in terms of how you would like to submit your payroll to the service. The most common options are online, via phone and via fax. Be alert if you are opting to submit payroll online. Many payroll solutions who utilize online payroll with seemingly be the most affordable. Often time this is because your entire payroll processing experience is self-service and completed online. While this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, it is something to certainly be aware of if that is not what you are looking for.
If you begin pursuing an online / self-service payroll solution be certain to discuss with the company just what support is in place in the event that you need it. Many of these solutions are offered as 100% self-serve, leaving you on your own if you have any questions or serious concerns. The upside to this type of solution is if you know what you are doing with managing payroll and simply need a system to process it for you, this will end up being the most affordable solution by a landslide. However, keep in mind that when you need support or have a question, it might not be there. If you are still unsure of yourself, it may be worth it to pay the additional premium of working with someone over the phone.
Payroll services that allow you to handle your payroll over the phone will often (but not always) have access to more dedicated customer support. Services that utilize the phone tend to be a lot more hands off for you than any one that makes you enter the times for the week over the internet. How phone payroll services tend to work, is your payroll rep will call you at the end of each week asking how many hours each employee worked. From there, they will handle sending the checks (or direct deposits) to your employees no the correct payroll day.
Once they are made aware of how many hours each employee on the payroll worked, they will proceed to do the following:
-Pay the employee via check or direct deposit.
-Calculate how much you owe in payroll taxes and pay that to the IRS on your behalf each payroll.
-Calculate how much you will need to pay into each respective employee’s disability and social security fund. Then make the appropriate payments on your behalf.
-Handle filing all workers compensation information and all appropriate disbursements.
One crucial factor you will want to discuss with any payroll service that you consider working with is if their payments are bonded and insured. What makes this so important is you are designating the payroll service to pay taxes on your behalf. If you are not working with a bonded agency, and anything happens to the tax money before they pay it to the IRS for you, you will still be held responsible.
As with any business decision, don’t shy away from conducting due diligence. Call up numerous vendors and ask them flat out what makes them better than their competition. This will help you make the most informed decision possible, minimizing the chance that you will make a decision you later regret.
Have you ever heard of using a “hashtag” on Twitter? Maybe you’ve seen people on Twitter write a word, phrase or series of letters preceded by a “#” sign. This is what is known as a hashtag. Let’s take a look at what hashtags are, and how we can leverage them as small business owners to drive more traffic to our blogs.
Hashtags are very similar to the “tag” feature of most blogging platforms. It uses key words to indicate what the post is about. The primary function of hashtags (and even tags in general) is to add a sortable element to the post. A hashtag can be a broad topic (such as #Marketing, #PPC, #SEO, #SEM, #SocialMeida) or very specific to an event (such as #ASE10, #ASW10, #SESNY.) Either way, you should be leveraging conversation on it to get your business in front of a relevant audience.
To “talk” on a hashtag, all you have to do is include the tag, preceded by the # sign in your tweet. What this accomplishes is listing your tweet among all of the others that have the same tag. For example, if you were discussing a hot new hip hop track, you could tag your post #HipHop. Any interested parties that search for, or routinely follow #HipHop will see your tweet. Tweeting on these hashtags about relevant things that the community is looking for can get your brand serious exposure to your target audience. Keep in mind that you are not trying to spam links or sell on the hashtag. Just put out great information that your audience will want to read. Not only will this you prominent within the community, it should help get you some very relevant followers and even clicks to your site.
There are numerous shows, concerts and events throughout the year that have a hashtag associated with them. It should go without saying that if you are at the show, this is an invaluable way to see what is going on, and who is where. However, don’t overlook this opportunity to see what is happening at events you could not attend. Many times people will be live blogging a play by play of what is happening. Even if you are not at the event, you can make use of the hashtag associated with it to network with conference participants. Don’t be shy! If someone on the hashtag is talking about something that interests you, send them an @ reply and be sure to tag that with the # too!
It goes without saying that if you’re not on Twitter, you should be. But if you are on Twitter and not using hashtags to your advantage, you are truly missing out on an incredible opportunity.
This post is a continuation of a series about how to utilize various internet advertising platforms to generate leads for your business.
Using pay-per-click traffic is only one effective way to drive relevant viewers to your lead page. As relevant as it is, the primary downside of this advertising medium is your restriction to target only based on key words. Let’s look at another rapidly growing online advertising medium that will allow you to show your ad to your ideal consumer based on demographics.
Many times companies know who their target demographics for their product or service are, they just need a platform to put their ads directly in front of that specific demographic. Enter social media advertising. The two most prominent players in this space are Facebook and MySpace. Both of which allow you to run advertising campaigns that will be displayed to people in the demographics you specify. Both Facebook and MySpace allow you to target by geographic location, age, gender, relationship status, education level and more. MySpace will also allow you to target based on parental status.
Facebook’s platform allows you to create ads that consist of a headline, an image, and body ad copy. MySpace on the other hand allows you to upload banners in any standard IAB compliant size. No banners? MySpace also offers a unique tool called the AdBuilder that will help you build banners on the fly. If you are working with a limited budget, using the ad builder tool and Facebook’s propriatery ad format will help you get campaigns up as quick and affordable as possible. However, having your own banners created to run on MySpace will probably get you noticeably better results in the long run. You will have more control over the images, text placement, call to action etc, which can all result in more clicks to your landing page.
One thing that is crucial to keep in mind when running display campaigns, is to test and optimize every variable in the process for maximum profit potential. For example, if you are only running one banner or text ad, to one demographic, you may or may not do well on the campaign. In the event of the latter, you will have to proceed to guess what worked out well, and what did not before continuing. Ideally, try a few different banner or text ad designs. Three to five is a good place to start, but the more you are running, the clearer you will be able to distinguish which is working well and why. Target each of the ads to not only what you believe to be your ideal demographics, but also one or two other sets of demographics as well. You may be surprised by what is working out and you will never know what works unless you test. Testing numerous variables is not going to be useful unless you are tracking which ads are performing best. Take cull advantage of Facebook and MySpace “conversion tracking” (pixel) technologies to determine which of your ads is bringing in the most leads for the lowest cost.
As you optimize your ad campaigns, you will begin to learn which ads are driving leads for the least amount of money per lead. Of course, the goal will be to drive as much traffic to this as possible. However, do not rule out any ads that are performing well and are driving you leads for a reasonable price each. While you want to drive the majority of your budget to the best performing ad, runner ups can help bring in plenty of new business for a feasible price.