Archive for the ‘Behind the Scenes’ Category

What Does Your Email Address Says About You and Other Thoughts

Hello, the world of business has changed. Have you changed with it? How professional do you appear?  It might be time for a website.

I open my mail, mainly bills. I see a letter that looks like it might be from my credit card company. Opening it up, I discover the invoice that is not really an invoice, but rather an advertisement for a phone book. This comes a day after a marketer was cagily skirting the topic that he wanted me to advertise in a guide geared to a specific community. Consider for your own actions. When was the last time you pulled out the phone book to find a number? How often do you pick up a guide at your local club or church to find someone to hire? You are probably like me; you go to a search engine to find out the information that you need.
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The Free WordPress Theme and Your Business

Are free themes scams? Do designers use them to trick you into giving them a link? Does it matter?

A professional designer in my circle of contacts declared that those of us giving away free themes were scamming the public. In fact, I saw a few articles dismissing free themes. One argument was that if you wish a truly professional theme that you had to pay for it. Another argument was that free themes are only hiding links to a site that you may not approve. Both arguments are justified. I do not think that this tells the entire story though.
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What Do You Do During a Denial of Service Attack?

Is your business prepared for problems? You may think that internet attacks launched against your website may never happen, but they can be accomplished quite easily.

Last year, I experienced a rather clumsily executed denial of service attack against one of my business sites. The idea behind a denial of service attack is to keep loading a website into the browser, so that requests are sent to the server. The server becomes overloaded with requests, so the site becomes unavailable. This does not always need to be an attack though. If a major website with huge traffic linked to your site, the result can be the same. Last year, my site was loaded by a single person 5000 times in one day in the area where my local business takes place. Since this person allowed the site to load, the service was not denied, but the event caused an anomaly in my web analytics. This past week saw another more sophisticated attack launched against my site, which promoted my hosting company to limit access to my site. This kind of attack lasts usually for one day, so I was not too concerned. More annoyed than anything.
    I am not sure that I will ever know the reason for this attack, and I may never be able to prevent another one in the future, so I have to think about options. If you take your business seriously, you watch your competitors to ensure that they do not outperform you. Both attacks coincide with marketing campaigns that I launched, so I think that may have something to do with it. When a competitor revealed an advertising campaign that stated you had to use his service, because it was the only way to obtain good results, I reacted by countering his claims. Others in my industry did not see his claims as a threat to their business, but this competitor was successfully convincing our market that his claims were correct. My counter to that campaign was quite effective, which did not make him happy, but that is the nature of business. I looked upon these denial of service attacks as one method to counter my marketing efforts. This is a poor means to hamper marketing, but this may have been the intent.
    Our small business websites go through growing changes. We begin with a free blog or page from or industry association. Those of us who are successful with these efforts move onto having a website of our own. We obtain hosting with a company, which is probably a shared hosting account, since that is more affordable. As we continue with our success, we have to start considering semi-dedicated or dedicated hosting. More expensive, but we need the server capacity to handle more traffic. I am at the point of changing my hosting from shared to semi-dedicated, and this attack may have firmed up my plans. My marketing efforts have been paying off, causing more visits to my site. Upgrading my hosting does allow me to increase the capacity of visitors my site could handle, as well as improve load speeds. This choice is one step in a plan to deal with a future attack.
    Yet upgrading my hosting may not be the only answer. For most small business owners, what happens at are hosting company is out of our hands. They have to deal with the attack, which is usually done by limiting access to the site. I thought about my marketing campaigns, particularly the newly launched effort. This advertising was on the internet, and I was having the campaign point people to my site. It was the fourth day of the ads being live, so I would be leaving a bad impression if new visitors could not even load my site. There was a solution though: redirect the ads to my local listing on Google Places. I did a study of my competitors last year, and I discovered that many did not have a listing. Of those who did, their listings were not complete. This makes sense, because we all hope that people will either call us or go to our website. I did have a complete listing (in the vague notion that Google may see my listing as more valid, which did not seem to be the case). With a complete listing, I do provide the basic information needed by a potential client, so I could redirect my campaign to this listing, until the denial of service attack ended.
    This is where small businesses can fail. We focus our marketing efforts, due to our limited budgets. We try to do the right thing by having all of our marketing tie together, so we attempt to funnel the effort into having customers go through our website, come to our store, or to call us. We need to keep our options open, and we need plans in place if these funnels are closed.  So what can we do when we have a denial of service attack? With internet advertising, we have a quick way to redirect traffic to another site, so a Google business listing or a business listing on another site may be a good fall back. Make sure that our marketing does give other means of communicating with our customers (ads having phone numbers as well as a link). Then it may be time to consider upgrading your hosting. We cannot really stop this kind of interruption; we can only find ways to live through it.

Targeting Effectiveness Analysis

If you are a local business, how do you quickly find the data to check on your targeting effectiveness?

At the end of each year, I perform a final evaluation of my business efforts before working on the plans for the new year. This year I was taking a look at my metrics to see if they helped me achieve my goal, or were they more data that clouded the picture. One discovery that I made was that I had not organized data efficiently. I decided to simplify my analysis by looking at what data sets were needed, and how should they be presented to make a quick assessment. While I was in this process, I read a post on Google Analytics reports from Occam’s Razor that I found quite useful. All of a sudden, the report that I wanted became clear to me.
    First, you should understand the background. I have a consulting business, home inspections, which focus on a specific subregion, the area around Houston. Some of my clients are moving into the Houston area, so I do have website visitors from outside my area who will hire me, but the vast majority are already living in the city. I need to know what people in Houston are doing on my site, and how they came to me. I also want to check if some design choices in my website are working with this audience. I chose these factors to help me understand how well I am targeting my audience:
Unique Visitors- due to the nature of my business, I am interested in the unique visitors, because tat gives me an idea of my reach
New Visits- most people hire me once (most people are not buying or selling a home all the time), my clients will be new to my service
Bounce Rate- I am keeping them on the site. If people are leaving the site quickly in greater numbers, I cannot convince them to hire me. I want this number to be below 15% eventually. If it is higher, then either I am obtaining people to the site for the wrong reasons, or I am not fulfilling the reason why they came.
Page Views- this metric may just be here to make me feel good, because the next metric really gets to the heart of the matter for me, but I like knowing how many page views have occurred.
Pages/Visit- I have found that when the pages per visit is going up, I am engaging the visitor more, and they are likely to become a client. I want this number to go to 2.75 pages per visit.
Average time on page- again, I am looking at the idea of engagement. If they average time is around a minute, I know that they are only scanning my blog posts (which have a tendency to be a bit long). If the average time is closer to five minutes (which is about how long it takes to read one of my posts), then I know that they are actually reading the article.
User Interaction Goal more than four pages- this is a goal that I set up when I discovered from asking clients who hired me that they read more than four pages on my site. I am trying to sift out the casual visitor who came for one bit of information to find the person who is checking me out.
Depth of interaction being time on site more than thirty minutes- people who are more likely to use my service will be scrutinizing my posts more.
Real estate investor- my clients/audience are broken down into groups. I created a means for tracking one group, real estate investors, by tracking people who click on a link to a landing page meant for real estate investors.
Quote Request- one of my calls to action is to dive visitors to the request a quote page. However, I find that most people prefer to call me, so I have my phone number in that call to action. I record phone calls on a separate form, but I want to see if that call to action is working, so I created this goal.

Are these the only metrics that I am using? No. These are only the metrics which help me understand if I am reaching my target audience, and if they are behaving like a person who may hire me. You will have to determine how such visitors behave on your site. I broke my report into two tabs: one is looking at the data for general behavior; the second is looking at my personal goals which relate to aspects of how my site is designed. The dimensions is how I am viewing this data. I first look at the regions dimension. This breaks the data down to the state level for me here in the United States. Then I can look at the city dimension. There are many small cities around Houston, so I do have to scroll to see them, but at least with this dimension the top five cities give me an idea if I am hitting the Houston region effectively. Next I look at the medium dimension. Did people from this city find me through search, through another website, or directly? If they came directly, they may be coming from one of my off line marketing campaigns that lists the url of my site. I also want to know the percentage from the different mediums. By drilling down to this level, I obtain a quick breakdown. I currently want fifty percent of my visitors to come from search, twenty-five percent from other sites, and twenty-five percent directly. Roughly, I should say. I do have a sliver of site visitors that fit in the other category. Finally, I look at the keyword. This helps me understand how they are searching and finding me.
    If you want this report, here is what you have to do:
1) in another tab, open up your Google Analytics account
2) com back to this site, and click on this link (this will open up the create a report form in your analytics).
3) save the report. If you want to use this in more than one profile, then select the profiles that you wish to use the report in before saving.

    How can you change this report to benefit you? Research and an understanding of your site. My site is in a blog format with many informational articles; that is why I look at visitors who read more than four pages. You may want to track your “About Page”. Do your clients hire you because they like your bio? Are they likely to use you if they go to the page with directions to your store? Are you more interested in repeat visits to your site, rather than new visits? I am always evaluating how can I define the behavior of a potential client from just a visitor who likes my site. Some of my goals were picked from past observations, but I need to keep testing this, since maybe factors will change. You will have to find the way of determining this behavior in your own clients, but I hope this report points the way.

QR Codes, Augmented Reality, and Real Estate

Mobile devices are changing the way that we interact with our world and the internet. Social Media may be the trend, but QR codes and augmented reality may be the future.

Early this past summer, I watched a young couple step out of a car to look at a home, which was for sale. The young woman pulled out her phone, taking pictures of the property. She probably wrote a message to herself about the address and the Realtor. This caused me to speculate on Facebook and Twitter that this situation could have been different. The engagement factor by the Realtor might have caused these people to buy the home. However, the Realtor was not there, so what about a website? Having a dedicated page or even a website to a home that is for sale is not uncommon. What if there was a QR code on the sign?
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What is Your Message?

To become a successful blogger, you need to find a niche, but that may be as simple as coming up with a unique message.

I was taking a look at several top bloggers with twitter accounts. I wanted to understand the relationship between a social sphere with ablog as its base. Networking is vital for any business or venture. Facebook with its fan pages are great, but twitter was easier for me to investigate. Being more curious about blog design, I paid more attention as to how these bloggers had their websites arranged. I think that a business needs a base on the web, a hub where all of their social and marketing efforts go back to. I would love to see more functionality of accessing my social media accounts through my WordPress dashboard (yes, there are plugins that provide this to a degree, but I would love to see this expanded). I noticed a few things about bloggers who were being listed heavily on twitter and their blogs: a consistent, easy to understand massage.
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Social Media and the Importance to Your Local Business

There are many articles about using social media, but I wanted to share an observation about an effect of social media, and clients finding your site.

I have been quite busy lately. One project that I have taken on is to revamp my marketing. Since social media sites play such an importance among internet users, businesses have to consider the effects of these sites on thier business. I was taking a look at one business that is doing well in its field each day for the past week. I wanted to see how they advertise with the internet, and what kind of presence they have. Since search is such of important aspect of how we interact with the web, I began my study by examining how a site shows up in the databases of different search engines, and this brought up the fact that more social media sites may need your attention.
    I began by looking at the search engine results for a given business, like “general contractors in Houston”. The first thing a user will notice is the local results in the ten-pack. Often, the firms closest to downtown seem to have a predominate position. I was interested in firms that made the first ten, but were not near downtown. If they had a website, I examined the site for any useful information. This past week found me using the seoquake tool bar to examine these sites. This is a good SEO tool for the Firefox browser. I had never used it extensively before this week, and I need to play with it more, but I enjoyed using it. This put a good deal of link information at my fingertips. With this data collection, I also looked at the results below this tenpack. Again I did not focus on the top performers. I looked at relatively new sites that made it into the fist ten results. Then I looked at some of their links to compare to the earlier one.
    This is when I noticed that user review sites and other social sites were helping these websites gain exposure. Some websites may have had little in the way of trafffic, links, or authority, but they were noticed by the search engines. Comments in forums from review sites appeared to carry a good deal of weight. Sometimes the links seem to be created by the business owners, but many came from clients. These were interesting, because negative and positive comments were treated the same. Another factor in these reviews is that many came from businesses that do business with you. For example, imagine you are a restaraunt owner. This type of business has a tendency to obtain more customer reviews than many others. However, what you may find that a supplier to that eatery posted a comment. In fact many active reviewers appear to own a firm, and they may be commenting about some related business or a firm that they have a connection to. A supplier is one example, but for related business, I can offer this example: an interior designer commenting on the products for sale at Target or Pier One.

   This is all very well and good, but why bring this up. I want you to realize that you have to consider all of your contacts as “customers”. Your employees and their families, the companies that you deal with on a regular basis, and your clients all become witnesses to your business, and they may be writing a review. This could be an avenue of marketing to pursue. Why not write a review of a company you do business with? Why not write a review of the company your spouse works for? Why not ask them to do the same for you? You may find that this kind of review can carry weight with others.Consider this:  on one blog, I have a post that is viewed twenty times a day. This post has maintained this view rate for five months now. There are only seven comments on this post. Many people view a webpage, but few write a response.
    I came away for this experiment with the fact that part of marketing success depends on social media engagement, but you have to have a good social skill set offline to have this marketing work well for you. Look at everyone that you deal with as a person who can help further your cause, but you also have to be willing to further their cause.

Analyzing Search Results

What happens when websites do not strive to be found? I have been looking at some search results, and I am baffled.

This is not a post about SEO or SEM, so you will not find nugget of advice. There are better sites for that purpose. I wanted to share what I am finding in my research so you can maybe find your own insight. This is the background story: I run searches to see how the consumer may eventually end up at my site, where I might be able to convert them into a client. Instead of using Google Adwords, which I failed to implement well, I decided to check into which sites may provide me with direct advertising opportunities.These searches inspired me to study the Ten-Pack for several terms, since these results can lead to calls I was a bit surprised by what I found.

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Do You Market through Social Media Sites?

Have you considered how you are representing your firm through this medium? May you be hurting your connections?

Let me ask you a question: if we are talking at each other, can you call it social? I noticed that more often than not social media is not really social. It is not a problem with the medium, but with the users. Most people who want to connect with you are more interested in you hearing their message than listening to you. If you are a small business, you will want to monitor what might be said about your business, but you may want to consider how you build your business through sites like Twitter, Facebook, or any other social site.
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