Monday, June 4, 2012

Where Are You in the Blogosphere?

To  blog or not to blog is no longer the question for entrepreneurs, small businesses and many individuals. It seems as if almost everyone is blogging, so the real questions are how to blog, where to blog, what to blog, and how to use the blog to drive qualified traffic to the website. Well executed and publicized blogs can be the path to entrepreneurship for bloggers who find the right audience.

Who Is Blogging
The blogosphere is exploding with over 181 million personal and business blogs tracked at the end of 2011 by NM Incite, a Nielsen/McKinsey company
http://blog.nielsen.com/nielsenwire/online_mobile/buzz-in-the-blogosphere-millions-more-bloggers-and-blog-readers/

Blogs encompassed almost every conceivable topic from AARP articles to zoology.  To find out who is blogging, the Technorati State of the Blogosphere 2011 survey collected data from 4,114 bloggers worldwide from September 13 to October 4, 2011 http://technorati.com/blogging/article/state-of-the-blogosphere-2011-introduction/

The survey found that 60% of the respondents were hobbyists blogging for fun, 18% blogged full- or part time for income,  8% are corporate bloggers who blog for the companies that they worked for as part of their jobs, and 13% of the respondents are entrepreneurs who blog for the companies that they own.

Blogging has spawned a whole group of entrepreneurs who blog for profit, such as the “Mommy Bloggers” who are paid to review products and affiliate program members who receive commissions for products that their readers buy after clicking on links.

Where They’re Blogging
There are three major free blog hosting services.

Blogger.com, which is now owned by Google, does not release statistics on the number of users. The State of the Blogsphere study 2010 http://technorati.com/social-media/article/how-technology-traffic-and-revenue-day/ found that Blogger and Blogspot were more popular with hobbyist bloggers.
According to the wordpress.com website on March 16, 2012, there were over 72 million Wordpress sites internationally, and Wordpress hosts about half of those blogs. Wordpress.com and wordpress.org are available through free downloads. There is user documentation on their websites and free tutorial videos are available on www.wordpress101.com which also has paid membership material.

Although it is the newest dedicated free webhost, Tumblr – www.tumblr.com -  has shown explosive growth and now hosts nearly 44 million blogs. One interesting feature of Tumblr is that it allows a blogger to call in and create an audio blog entry.

According to NM Incite, during the third quarter of 2011, Blogger got 46.3 million unique visitors, Wordpress blogs had 20.4 million, and tumbler had 13.8 million.

Some businesses integrate blogs into their existing websites as a separate page or tab. Provided that new articles are uploaded on a regular basis, this is a good way of adding fresh content to the website and obtaining better search engine rankings.

Some bloggers use dedicated domains for their blogs with top-level domain names. Many affiliate marketers use this strategy for better search engine rankings for their keywords. Some companies use a separate domain to create backlinks to their main business sites. And some companies have both a page on their main websites and a separate domain for their blogs.

What They’re Blogging About
Some of the most popular blogs are used to disseminate information, express opinions, talk about hobbies and pets, review products, discuss politics, and provide updates on technologty.
Delivering the right material to the right audiences is very important to bloggers, and they closely follow their readership through web analytics. There are many free services that enable bloggers to determine who their visitors are, where they originate, how many are returning visitors and what keywords were used to find the blog. Among the most popular we analytic services are Google Analytics – the most widely used service, Feedburner, Yahoo! web analytics, Histats, and Clicky.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Credibility: A Vital Component of Success

By now almost everyone has read about Bernard Madoff‘s $50 billion Ponzi scheme that swindled his customers, employees, friends, and relatives over a period of approximately 20 years. During this time, his operations received a “clean bill of health” from the Securities and Exchange Commission and the auditor. This fraud has received national and international publicity because of its widespread repercussions including the demise of charitable foundations and the suicide of a well-known international money manager, but there are many other lesser known money managers who have scammed investors out of significant sums.

In South Carolina, Albert Parish, a respected economics professor at Charleston Southern University and owner of Parish Economics, received a 24-year sentence for defrauding his customers (including the university) of an estimated $134 million, some of which was used to fund his $1.2 million pen collection.

High-profile C-level executives of companies such as Enron, WorldCom, Adelphia, and Tyco received prison sentences for misappropriating funds and defrauding shareholders and employees of hundreds of millions of dollars. The Sarbanes-Oxley Act was passed to prevent such future scams and legislate greater transparency.

How were these well-respected men able to fool sophisticated investors, and in some cases regulatory agencies, for so long? The answer is that each of them had a great deal of credibility. Bernard Madoff was a former head of NASDAQ, Albert Parish was a university professor and Kenneth Skilling, Bernard Ebbers, John Rigas, and Dennis Kozlowski were CEOs of large corporations.

On a much smaller scale, I recently found an ebook that I wanted to order until I checked the contact information on the website. There was no company name, address, telephone number or email address. Instead, the only method of contact was to fill out a form on the webpage and wait for a response. I won’t enter my credit card information on a website that I do not consider trustworthy (but I’m from New York and I lock my car in my own garage).

Obviously, credibility is one of the most important criteria for the success of both businesses and individuals. Following are ways to create and maintain credibility.

1. Acquire acknowledged expertise and obtain licenses and certifications to verify your credentials.

2. Ensure that the products, services, and/or work that you provide are of consistently high quality. Remember that a warranty or other guarantee is no substitute for quality control.

3. Provide outstanding service to effectively prevent and/or rapidly resolve problems.

4. Create and maintain the proper image and positioning.

5. Use advertising, marketing, and public relations to inform your existing and potential customers of your capabilities and successes.

6. Obtain and publicize testimonials and references.

7. Develop a code of ethics and act accordingly.

The following books provide useful information and techniques for developing trust in the marketplace:

Winning Credibility

The SPEED of Trust: The One Thing That Changes Everything
Building Trust: How to Get It! How to Keep It!


Friday, August 15, 2008

Domain Name Sales Indicate Continuing Value of Internet Real Estate

Three domain names were sold for over $1 million in 2008, including one whose sale price was nearly $10 million according to DN Journal, the Domain Industry News Magazine. The journal listed a total of 57 six- and seven-figure domain name sales through August 10 of this year. The complete top 100 sales list for 2008 can be viewed at http://www.dnjournal.com/ytd-sales-charts.htm.

I have two domain names for sale at sedo.com ( http://www.sedo.com/), one of the largest and most prestigious international domain brokers, which sells approximately 19,000 domains per month. These domain names — http://www.kingdomofcats.com/ and http://www.wizardsandgenies.com/ — are designed to capitalize on two of the hottest niche markets today.

According to the U.S Pet Ownership & Demographics Sourcebook (2007) published by the American Veterinary Medical Association, cats are now the most popular pets. There were more than 82 million pet cats and 72 million pet dogs in the United States in 2006, with nearly half of pet owners, or 49.7%, considering their pets to be family members.

As a result of the large number of cat owners in the US alone, the website http://www.kingdomofcats.com/ can be used to showcase a wide variety of goods and services pertaining to cats, such as veterinary services, health and wellness products, medications, food, treats, toys, litter and litter boxes, clothing and accessories, print and e- books, cat care, and carpet and upholstery cleaners and deodorizers.

The domain http://www.wizardsandgenies.com/ can also be used as an ecommerce site. It can easily profit from the current popularity of wizards attributable to the Harry Potter series whose worldwide sales topped 400 million (www.thebookseller.com). The wizard frenzy will probably continue for the foreseeable future with the scheduled release in December of JK Rowling’s The Tales of the Beedle the Bard and a new Harry Potter movie in July 2009. The website could also be used for the sale of games, fiction and nonfiction books, magic related items, costumes, Halloween products, artwork, and other similar products.

US retail ecommerce sales, adjusted for seasonal variations, for the second quarter of 2008 were estimated at $34.6 billion, an increase of 2.9 percent over the first quarter of 2008 (US Census Bureau). I believe that ecommerce is a win-win situation. Online websites are convenient for the consumer and allow the retailer to do business 24/7.

For further information about www.kingdomofcats.com or http://www.wizardsandgenies.com/ contact Norma Wolpin of Strawberry Tiger at 954-829-6266.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Improving Your Search Engine Rankings

According to a June 2008 Netcraft survey (www.netcraft.com), there were 172,338,726 Internet websites, an increase of 3.9 million sites for that month alone. Of course, your website doesn’t compete with all of these, but how many sites offer the same products or services and how many of them are attracting visitors that comprise your best target markets? Here are some tricks of search engine optimization that should improve your rankings in major search engines such as Google and Yahoo.

It’s important to appear as close to the top of the listing for your products or services because few searchers look beyond the first few pages. So here are some relatively simple methods that should increase both the number of your website listings and their rankings.

Page Title
The page title appears in the top bar of your Internet browser and should inform search engines about the main topic of your website.

URL
The url is your unique website address and may contain keywords that search engines will categorize.

Keywords
The selection of keywords is one of the most important steps in optimizing your web pages for search engine listings. Keywords are the words that are input into search boxes to find websites that contain the information, products, and/or services of interest. It is generally most effective to use phrases as keywords rather than merely single words because of the tremendous competition for single words and the tendency of searchers to use phrases rather than only one word when seeking information.

After you prepare a list of potential key words and phrases, the next step is to determine the demand for each, its potential to obtain good search engine positioning, and suggested additional keywords which you might have omitted. Here are some sites which will assist you in selecting the most effective keywords for your purposes:

The keyword tool at SEO Book http://www.tools.seobook.com/keyword-tools/seobook/

Wordtracker free keyword tool http://www.freekeywords.wordtracker.com/

Google http://www.google.com/provides the number of results for each term searched

Google traffic estimator https://adwords.google.com/select/TrafficEstimatorSandbox

Site Description
The site description is a summary of the content and purpose of your website written in html code that does not appear on your website. The description should be short (generally a maximum of 25 words) and factual and include your main keywords. However, it should be informative rather than a mere collection of keywords.

MetatagsMetatags are keywords in html code that are not visible to website visitors. While metatags are less important than in the past in obtaining good search engine positioning, well chosen metags reflect your content and assist the search engines in driving qualified traffic to your web pages.

Content
A content rich website using effective keywords is one of the most important factors in attaining good search engine rankings. For approximately 6 months, a web page that I wrote for a local CPA firm was the first result in a Google search for “cost segregation Florida” even though much larger national firms also offered the service in that state. I attribute this partially to the depth of information on that page which included an enlightening PowerPoint presentation.

In general, each webpage should use your keywords approximately four or five times, contain high-quality content, and be no longer than 250-300 words. Flashy graphics may add some sophistication to your website, but graphics are not indexed by search engine spiders.

Search Engine Submission
There are many websites, both fee-based and free that will submit your url to search engines for listings. Submit Express, http://www.submitexpress.com/submit.html, will submit your website url at no cost to approximately 20 search engines including Google, Yahoo and msn.

Site Map
A good site map will not only improve the navigation of your website, but will also use the keywords that you want to appear in search engine rankings.

Links
Search engines also decide on your website ranking by its link popularity. Links on other sites that direct traffic to your website improve your search engine listings. You can help to create these links by several methods. DMOZ is a large directory that is used by Google and other search engines. You can obtain a DMOZ listing by going to www.dmoz.org/add.html and following directions to submit your url.

I also find that online public relations can be a major factor in obtaining higher rankings. Press releases can be submitted for free to http://www.pr.com/ or for a fee starting at $80 to http://www.prweb.com/, both of which sites distribute the releases to many other online sites. Be sure to include your keywords in the summary last paragraph of the release and upload the release onto your own website.

You can exchange links with other sites, but be sure that the sites are reputable and not merely “link farms.” Joint ventures are one way to increase the number of exchanged links.

Finally, you can write articles for sites that are exclusively online or for publications that offer both print and online versions. Of course, the articles must be informative and well written and include a short biography.

For further information about optimizing your website for search engine inclusion, I recommend the following books:

Get to the Top on Google: Tips and Techniques to Get Your Site to the Top of the Search Engine Rankings -- and Stay There

THE SECRET TO GETTING LISTED AT THE TOP OF SEARCH ENGINES

SEO: Search Engine Optimization Bible

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Your Website is Speaking to You – Are You Listening?

Do you know who your website visitors are? How they found your website? How long they stay? Which pages they read or land on and exit without reading? This kind of information can provide valuable insights into the effectiveness of your website, individual web pages, online and offline marketing campaigns, keyword search terms, and the techniques you use to drive traffic to the site.

Many website owners look at the number of hits and believe that their site is attracting much more traffic than it actually generates. A hit merely indicates the number of files sent to a user when the user lands on the page. So, a single visit to a page which contains ten separate graphic files will show up as ten hits. However, tracking hits over a period of time may indicate whether your website is attracting an increasing or decreasing number of visitors.

Here are some other statistics that can assist in determining the strength and weaknesses of your website and the changes required to attain your company’s marketing and sales objectives.

You can obtain a breakdown of the total visitors to your site by unique visitors and returning visitors. An effective search engine marketing program will enable qualified new visitors (those potentially interested in purchasing your goods or services) to find your site, provide reasons for repeat visitors to come back to your site, and encourage all visitors to advance in the sales cycle (i.e, make a purchase, request additional information, fill out a registration form, etc.).

By examining your visitors’ paths through your site, you can find out the number of pages viewed, the order in which they were viewed, the time spent on each page, any actions taken on particular page (such as clicks on specific links), and the entrance and exit pages. If you examine the data carefully, you might find that patterns emerge, such as a specific landing page that attracts most visitors. Where are you losing your visitors? How sticky is each page? (Stickiness refers to the amount of time that visitors spend on your web page). How many visitors landed on a particular page and then exited immediately? How many visitors exited from the same page? All of these statistics are highly relevant in evaluating the usefulness of your website in your marketing and sales mix.

Another important issue is where your traffic originates. Web analytic software indicates whether your visitor came from a company or an Internet Service Provider such as ATT or Comcast. It can also indicate whether your traffic came from a search engine, which specific search engine, the terms that the visitor used, and where you appear in the results for that search. Sometimes you’ll find some peculiar results. For example, in one search that I found, the number one result for the search for Rob Jones was Rob Smith of Jones & Co.). Although I changed Rob’s last name and the name of the company, you can see how search engines can sometimes return unexpected results, and it’s good to know about these potential deviations when developing your keywords.

Free basic statistics are available from a variety of sources including your web hosting company, Google analytics (www.google.com/analytics), StatCounter (http://www.statcounter.com/), and Gostats (http://www.gostats.com/). Companies such as WebTrends (http://www.webtrends.com/), Index Tools (http://www.indextools.com/) and OneStat (http://www.onestat.com/) sell more robust software that can provide in-depth information. I suggest that you take advantage of trial offers and compare several software applications before you purchase.

While this article includes only a brief overview of the information available from your web analytic statistics, the following books provide more complete pictures of how you can best monitor your website usage.

Actionable Web Analytics: Using Data to Make Smart Business Decisions

Web Analytics For Dummies (For Dummies (Computers))

Competing on Analytics: The New Science of Winning

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Some Frequently Overlooked Deductions That Make Tax Time Less Taxing

It’s that time of year again when businesses and individuals are organizing their expenses for tax deductions. While there are a myriad of potential deductions, following are a few of the most frequently overlooked.

Business Deductions

New equipment. Section 179 of the Internal Revenue Code allows businesses to deduct in one year, rather than capitalizing them over several years, the total cost of new equipment up to a maximum of $125,000. However, this deduction is subject to being phased out if a business places over $500,000 of new equipment in service during that year. Assets that do not qualify for a Section 179 deduction include real estate, property purchased from a close relative, and inventory purchased for the purpose of resale.

Software. Although computer software generally must be depreciated over 36 months, there are two notable exceptions. If software is placed in service between January 1, 2003 and December 31, 2010, it is eligible for a 100% deduction in one year under Section 179. For software included as part of a newly purchased computer system that cost no more than $125,000 in 2007, the entire cost can be deducted in one year under Section 179. For further clarification, see IRS Publication 946, How to Depreciate Property.

Insurance. The necessary and ordinary cost of insurance for your business, trade, or profession is usually deductible.

Repairs and maintenance. The costs of repairing or maintaining business equipment, buildings, and office space are deductible as business expenses.

Startup costs. Up to $5,000 in startup costs for a new business can be deducted in the year that the business is established.

Disabled access credit. Small businesses with revenues of $1 million or under and fewer than 30 full-time employees may be eligible to deduct expenditures to remove barriers to accessibility by disabled individuals (in buildings constructed before 1990) and to acquire or modify equipment or devices for individuals with disabilities. The maximum credit in 2007 is $5,000 (See instructions on IRS form 8826 which can be found at www.irs.gov).

Deductions for Individuals

Education. Generally, the cost of education necessary to maintain or improve your job skills is a deductible expense.

Job-related expenses. Certain unreimbursed job-related expenses, such as travel, uniforms, and union dues, are deductible.

Medical expenses. If your medical expenses amount to more than 7.5% of your income, the following costs may be deductible: medical transportation expenses, eyeglasses, hearing aids, equipment for disable or handicapped persons, salaries paid to nursing personnel, and the cost of alcohol and drug abuse programs.

Long-term care insurance premiums. The amount of qualified long-term care premiums that can be included as medical expenses ranges from $290 to $3,860 depending on the age of the insured.

Any tax information contained in this article should be reviewed with a tax professional before taking any of the deductions or credits discussed.

The following books provide information on tax planning and deductions.

Lower Your Taxes - Big Time! 2007-2008 Edition (Lower Your Taxes Big Time)

J.K. Lasser's Your Income Tax 2008: For Preparing Your 2007 Tax Return (J.K. Lasser)

J.K. Lasser's 1001 Deductions and Tax Breaks 2008: Your Complete Guide to Everything Deductible (J.K. Lasser)

The Ernst & Young Tax Guide 2008 (Ernst and Young Tax Guide)

Friday, January 25, 2008

Loyalty Programs: Do They Create Customer Loyalty or Program Loyalty?

As I was having my hair styled last week, I realized that I was the epitome of a loyal customer. I have followed Lynn to three different salons within the past year without incentives such as coupons, frequent customer cards, or discounts after so many visits. Moreover, I have recommended her to several of my friends.

If I had been merely a satisfied customer, I might have found someone else at the original salon which was offering discounts to retain its clientele. When you think about it, how many satisfied customers has your business lost lately?

Many companies conduct satisfaction surveys, believing that satisfied customers will also be loyal customers. However, in a 1995 Harvard Business Review article, “Why Satisfied Customers Defect,” T.O Jones and W. E. Sasser, Jr. found high rates of defection among customers who were merely satisfied while only those customers who were identified as highly satisfied were likely to purchase again.

According to a businessweek.com article by Fred Reichheld and Rob Markey(NPS: The Next Six Sigma?, September 22, 2006), customer loyalty can be gauged by responses to the question: "How likely is it that you would recommend this company to a friend or colleague?" Those customers who were most likely to recommend a company “bought more goods and services, bought them more often, gave the company a greater share of their wallet, and were more likely to talk up the company to others.”

If you are typical, you probably belong to several loyalty programs, but your loyalty may be attached more to the program rewards than to the company providing them. Here are some measures which have been identified to promote the consumer behaviors that are valued by companies:

- Engaged and empowered employees who provide high levels of service
- Customer feedback that enables companies to understand and reward their best
customers
- Products or services that are perceived as high quality and tailored to
customers’ needs
- Rewards that are desirable, attainable within a reasonable amount of time,
and renewable

There’s also a downside to loyalty programs. As a University of Florida study (Steven Shugan, 2007) points out, when businesses promise future giveaways, they trade immediate cash benefits for future liabilities. In addition, some programs may reward new customers more than existing ones through various enrollment incentives or special offers.

Developing customer loyalty requires a lot of motivation, focus, and work. Here are some books that may help you understand this complicated and many-faceted subject.

Customer Satisfaction is Worthless, Customer Loyalty is Priceless: How to Make Them Love You, Keep You Coming Back, and Tell Everyone They Know


Customer Loyalty: How to Earn It, How to Keep It

Who Stole My Customer?? Winning Strategies for Creating and Sustaining Customer Loyalty