Cheating Google

I found this brilliant article by SEO expert, Jill Whalen, which puts into words so much of what I’ve been feeling over the last couple of months.

Cheating Google

Just like in the real world, it seems as if the good guys keep on plodding away and sticking to the rules in the hope of being rewarded, whilst the bad guys in the black hats can do what they like and, not only get away with it, but get ahead of the rest of us because they keep on cheating Google and getting away with it.

Sure Google catches up with some of them in the end but they just move on and, as some of the gurus like to say, ‘rinse and repeat’. They just shut up shop when they get caught and go and do it again somewhere else.

It’s very frustrating.

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Local Small Business Advertising

My friend, Gavin King, talks about trying to build up a martial arts business and how not to spend your money when it comes to advertising.

I think it’s really good to hear real-life experience of what’s on offer and how effective it is.

Survive as a Martial Arts Instructor – Traditional Advertising Methods

Survive as a Martial Arts Instructor – Internet Advertising Strategies

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Virtual Admin vs Social Media Virtual Assistant

A virtual admin is someone who helps out with typing and other office-related skills, catching the overflow without actually being based in your office.

A social media virtual assistant performs a somewhat different role. S/he is responsible for maintaining your online presence. The traditional PR role with some added oomph from the addition of online social media.

"social-media-virtual-assistant"The aim of all these interactive tools is to reach out to people and share your product or service in a fun way. Jo Dodds described it brilliantly recently when she coined the 3 ‘C’s – Connection, Conversation and Commitment. Getting to know people and building relationships by providing useful information and other help.

The main thrust of both Twitter and Facebook is regular status updates. Some of these can be personal but others should be informative statements or useful links that relate to your business or niche and so will require online research. Few business owners have the time to oversee the routine running of their companies AND look up relevant facts to entertain and engage with their social media audience.

Ensuring that all Direct Messages on Twitter, Facebook and any other platforms are answered promptly or possibly merely filtering out any spam so that the business owner can see the wheat from the chaff to be able to respond personally. Decluttering and organising using human intuition rather than a software program to eliminate the unnecessary, so that the task is nowhere near as overwhelming as it would first appear.

By identifying a series of accepted responses to certain questions/comments, the SMVA can deal with the regular day-to-day customer service-based interactions, leaving the business owner the luxury of more time to address any more complicated enquiries. If s/he wishes to participate more often in one media, the SMVA takes up the slack in the others but, because all responses have been pre-agreed, the transition is seamless.

The content and replies on any website blogs, Facebook Fan or Group pages, Youtube or Flickr accounts should also come under the remit of the SMVA, where the goal is to make sure that the same visual and verbal message is distributed across all media.

The social media virtual assistant also keeps abreast of technological developments in terms of both software and which platforms are relevant to and most effective for the promotion of the business, ensuring that the company website is bookmarked, publicised and generally brought to the attention of as many interested potential customers as possible but without aggressively shoving up their nose.

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Small Business Customer Relationship Management

"small-business-customer-relationship-management"When I worked up in Town, I remember that one of my secretarial duties was to file away all the business cards that my employer had collected when he attended different industry events/corporate parties/business lunches.

Our small business customer relationship management existed in the form of about four leather-bound books containing several hundred cards, most from different individuals representing the same major players in our niche, but there were an awful lot of bits of thick paper. Very occasionally, I would be despatched to look through the plastic pages to see if I could help my boss to remember the name of the person he had been chatting to about a particular deal a few months before so that he could invite him out to lunch.

In what my kids would term ‘the olden days’, networking was done over lunch or in the pub across the road from the ‘market’ but this was the City and it was not a process that really affected local businesses. Such establishments would get their custom from passing trade, many of whom would be regulars because that shop/firm would be the only emporium of that particular type locally. They might give out a few ‘gifts’ at Christmas to those clients who had supported them the most but, more often than not, they had a pretty captive market because no one was going to travel all the way to the next town on the off-chance that things might be a bit cheaper.

These days, every High Street has two or three representatives for any one type of store – butchers, greengrocers, hairdressers, accountants, solicitors, restaurants, cafes, wine bars, pizza, fish and chip, and other fast food outlets, banks, building societies, chemists, off licenses – and these are all in competition with the giant supermarkets, who seem to have a toe in a vast number of markets that never used to come under their remit. Times have changed and people are no longer confined to shopping locally. Suddenly, the competition is not only right on your doorstep, it’s in every other local shopping centre, as well as on the internet.

This is why it is vital for small bricks and mortar businesses to hold on to their regular clientele, but so many of them have absolutely no idea who these are and no way of contacting them.

I was listening to a webinar recently and the speaker reminded us of the ‘goldfish bowl’ that used to stand at the check out of most businesses in days gone by – well, in small town America anyway. This bowl was a repository for the business cards of the regulars – just in case anyone needed their services. That was what you did. You made opportunities for yourself by leaving your card in places that other people might see it. Nowadays, most shops no longer have such a thing… or if they do, they just dispose of the contents after a week or so, with barely a second glance.

But, said the speaker, if you turn the original purpose on its head, isn’t that a great way to find out who your regular customers are?

In today’s hugely competitive market place, we should be using every method at our disposal to discover and retain the identities and contact details of our customers so, if they don’t return for some reason, we can offer an incentive to make them check us out again. Often, they haven’t come back because they’ve just forgotten the great service that was given. In today’s busy world, there are so many distractions and, if someone else is shouting louder/offering a cheaper service, it is easy to forget the original provider. Loyalty is not really a reliable commodity any more.

By offering your customers an incentive to leave their email address or name and phone number, a business can acquire a list of clients and have the ability to contact them from time to time with the offer of a money-off coupon or just to keep them advised of new business activities/changes of menu.

It’s a far more cost-effective way of advertising because you are preaching to people who have already tried and, hopefully, enjoyed the company’s service. Think about what happens if you put an advertisement in the Yellow Pages or local newspaper. These tend to be grouped together according to service/niche and so your ad is surrounded by all your competitors. If one of them is offering the service more cheaply than you, then you’ve wasted your money on that advert. They also tend to be aimed at a very large geographical area so you can also lose out if you’re too far away from the customer’s locale.

"small-business-customer-relationship-management"If you can email your customer base with a coupon, that’s a great deal cheaper than putting the same discount promotion in a newspaper ad and also a lot more focussed.

However, small business customer relationship management is still a tricky thing. There are rules and etiquette and codes of behaviour. Certainly in America, there are even federal laws covering ’email solicitation’. And you can’t just keep trying to sell people stuff or they will unsubscribe.

As with all social media, the goal is to provide information and offer good service. To build trust in your brand so that when people do need your product, it is you that they remember.

It’s not a quick process, it takes time. But it is an extremely worthwhile endeavour.

So, where is your goldfish bowl?

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WordPress Multi User

"wordpress-multi-user"I’m afraid I had to give up on WordPress Multi User. In theory, it’s a brilliant idea. Access to all your sites from one dashboard.

However, in practice, it’s a bit of a bodge. There is confusion over site mapping and, certainly, the Google XML Sitemap is not compatible. There are some special MU plug-ins but then there was conflicting advice over use of those too. Was I using a special Multi User plug in or just a function of regular WordPress? I know I had to change the coding in two files to make it happen but the suggestion was that with the new 3.0 version of WordPress, it contained a built-in multi-site facility that was different to the previous multi user format.

Despite the fact that there were several experts giving advice online, none of them seemed totally confident that they had everything up and running. Whilst it wasn’t too difficult to adapt the site to get the multi-user facility, everything seemed to fall down after that, especially if you’re not a fully-fledged geek.

The problem was that, if I wanted to host more than one site on the vcluster hosting at Fubra, I had to do it using WordPress Multi User and I wasn’t totally confident that it was working properly. I had a duty to my various clients to ensure that their site was being properly crawled by the Google spiders and I could not guarantee that. There were also issues over using different versions of the same template on the various sites. The only way to provide a proper hosting package was to have separate vclusters for each client at a cost of nearly £6 per month, almost double what was available at standard UK hosting sites.

So, despite the fact that the customer service at Fubra and the quality of the hosting itself was exceptional, I was left with no option but to bite the bullet and get a different UK web host account that would allow me separate cpanels for each individual client.

Unfortunately, it then took me two hours of faffing about to remove the code from the wp-config file that would change the site from Multi User back to single use again.

It doesn’t help that my laptop just doesn’t seem to like the new multiple user hosting account – it takes ages to load any of the pages. I’ve switched off my firewall and that makes no difference. But it’s only the sites hosted on the new account that are affected and only on my networked laptop. It seems to work fine on the wired PC.

Very frustrating.

On the plus side, I have a new project that will see me getting up close and personal with both WordPress and Drupal.

I’m very excited and totally trepidatious all at the same time.

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