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Google’s Algorithms as the Cast of “Mean Girls”

Google_Mean_Girls

You may have heard- Google is updating its algorithm at the end of the month (April 21, to be specific) to rank mobile friendly sites higher in search results. This was always vaguely the case, but no one could definitively figure out the amount of weight it carried. Which made me think, Google is the most popular girl in school who we all wait on to decree what’s important and what isn’t. We’ve been saying mobile friendly is cool for years now (hence the switch to responsive design only a couple years ago), but now that Google has declared that it’s definitely “in,” everyone is going to scramble to make sure their websites are compatible. Perhaps due to the excitement of using the stand desk all most of the day and Anchorspace opening to the public tomorrow, my brain decided that Google operates in very much the same way as Regina George. The rest of the Plastics are the algorithms that she has decided (in the past or present) are important. Get ready, because we’re about to crack open the internet’s Burn Book (well…sort of).

Google as Regina George. Like Regina, Google decides who comes and who goes, what’s in and what’s out, and we all clamor to meet it’s expectations. Ponytails once a week and pink on Wednesdays are the current expectations, but that could change at any moment. Below is a comprehensive infographic from Hubspot that details all of Google’s algorithm changes since 2003.

infographic google algorithm changes keyword seo

 

As you can see, there have been several updates to the algorithm every year, most go by without us noticing. Panda in 2011 and Penguin are considered the two largest updates based on the number of sites affected. Keep in mind that although your current method is doing well, this guarantees nothing about your site’s future performance. Regina can always change her mind and throw you under the bus.

Authorship as Gretchen Weiners. Google Authorship was declared dead in August ’14. As this article so eloquently says, “Google [Regina] has repeatedly demonstrated that nothing it creates is sacred or immortal.” Meaning, just because Gretchen/Authorship is “SUCH a good friend,” Regina/Google may still decide there are bigger fish to serve as your right hand man and then fry.

For those who implemented authorship on their website and gave it a lot of time and effort, the decision to pull authorship was a pretty big bummer. There were blog posts detailing the importance of integrating authorship, complete with how-to instructions for various software, so of course people thought “Hey, I should probably do this.” Remember the girl who bought  army pants and flip flops because she saw Regina George wearing army pants and flip flops? Don’t get me wrong, it’s fine to cater to Google’s rules, but don’t get caught in the web of having all your eggs in one basket. As the chart above demonstrates, the things that Google considers important are a shifting territory, and you have to be prepared to make changes when the time inevitably comes. In other words, don’t rest on your website laurels. The rules, much like Gretchen Weiners’ popularity, are fleeting.

Sorry Gretchen.

Sorry Gretchen.

Mobile Friendly as Cady Heron. Mobile Friendly sites have been around for a bit now, and are a huge determining factor in the amount of time visitors will spend on your site (more statistics on mobile users in this blog post). Yet, some people weren’t entirely sure if having a mobile friendly site was “worth it” until Regina/Google decided “Cady/Mobile Friendly is IN.” Once Google officially pronounced mobile friendly as relevant, even those who had formerly been on the fence were buzzing about how cool and necessary mobile visitors are for websites.

Creating a mobile-friendly site will only become more important, so if you’re not already on the bandwagon, you’ll want to hop on soon.

Loyal friends are always good to have around. Or at least, people to help you with navigation.

Loyal friends are always good to have around. Or at least, people to help you with navigation.

 SEO as Karen. Obsessing over search engine optimization is about as rewarding as trying to teach Karen algebra. The theory of keyword stuffing to increase search engine rankings is pretty outdated (I mean, it was a good idea in the 90’s, but so were scrunchies and mom jeans). This quote from the aforementioned Hubspot article perfectly articulates the early life of SEO: “Ranking high in search results could be accomplished by essentially using a simple, two step procedure: Step 1, stuff your keyword phrase into your page/website as many times as possible. Step 2, get as many gosh darn inbound links as you possibly could.” In the Plastics, simplicity comes in the form of Karen, who doesn’t fully understand carbs or weather.

Keyword stuffing as a method of increasing search engine results for your website is old school (and not in a good way). But, if you’re really interested in keywords, consider instead using something like Google AdWords. Our friend Colin at Root Deeper Marketing is an AdWords guru, if you want to learn more about this type of service.

Facebook as Aaron Samuels. Google and Facebook have an on again/off again courtship. There are rumors that  having a Facebook account associated with your website increases your ranking in Google, but no one knows how serious this relationship is (and let’s face it, they’re probably both seeing other people). According to Matt Cutts of the Google webspam team, Facebook and Twitter do not necessarily factor into Google’s algorithm. In other words, Google is able to retrieve certain content on your Facebook or Twitter page, but it can’t sort out the number of page likes or posts. Being popular on Facebook does not mean being popular in Google search results.

All other search engines as Regina’s Mom. (This is purely for my own entertainment). Regina’s Mom is a lot like Bing or Yahoo. Sure, they’ve been around longer, but we all know who really runs the show.

BingYahooCoolMom

The internet, like high school, is tricky to navigate, unless you have the right information and the basic understanding that nothing is set in stone. Stay in the loop with internet related news (or, have someone in your circle keeping you up-to-date with this information), and you’ll do just fine. Also, I hope you enjoyed this comparison as much as I enjoyed writing it.

 

Kassie is a distance runner and a distance reader really. She lives in Ellsworth Maine and, while she might be quiet when you meet her, will throw out something witty when you least expect it.

Selling Stuff Online: Your Time

The final in our series of ‘selling stuff online,’ is selling your time.

Now this is somewhat covered in the ‘events’ post but there we concentrated on ticket selling and more of the questions you’d need to ask if you were running an event with a group of people. Lots of people (massage therapists, internet marketing consultants, etc.) trade time for money and having a system that integrates with a calendar is their saving grace.

Instantaneous (Live) Support Versus Book Ahead

The first question you need to ask yourself is do you want live support or do you want to book time ahead. Most people don’t have the staffing (or general interest) to be available nearly constantly but I do know some consultants who hold ‘office hours’ where people can drop in unscheduled.

Most of the time though, there is some kind of way you can schedule time, like a calendar interface on the side of a page (as with paperfling.com):

paperflingsidebarscheduling

 

To a slicker landing page one a la blinds.com:

blindsdotcomschedulingscreen

 

Free or Paid

So a free consult could get people in the door but taking payment ensures people are truly booking something of value.

Some scheduling programs will allow you to take payment (or at least hold a credit card). There may be some additional fees (processing fees, monthly fees, etc.) for this, just as a warning but getting paid for your time up front may be worth a bit of cash to you. Sublime Canines won’t let you book a class without payment, which I’m sure makes sure EVERYONE shows up to their scheduled session:

sublimecaninestakespayment

 

Rescheduling

The more meetings you schedule, the more rescheduling you’ll have to do.

Having an email automatically go out to the client after they book (and also on the booking page) can communicate your rescheduling (and possibly refunding if you are taking payment then) possibility.

If not, you’ll want a way to handle rescheduling, whether it is setting aside your own time for admin or hiring out. I have been trying out Fancy Hands this month for rescheduling with clients and it has been AMAZING so far.

In any case, if you are going to think of exchanging your time for money, it is something to think about.

Taking Your Time Into A Marketplace

It’s one thing to have people book time with you through your website but there are a whole generation of websites that let people consult with people who will pay them.

Google Helpouts, probably the best known example, is shutting down in April but there are plenty out there: TaskRabbit, LiveNinja and other sites have let people sell their time/services for money in a general way.

liveninjabrowse

Depending on your service, there may be sites specific to your service (for example Uber with driving) or you can start on a more general website like LiveNinja.

So even if you don’t have any products, you can be selling something online. And that’s pretty powerful.

Other posts in our series:

Selling Stuff Online: Products

Selling Stuff Online: Events

Selling Stuff Online: E-products

Nicole runs Breaking Even Communications, an internet marketing company in Bar Harbor Maine. When she’s not online, she enjoys walking her short dog, cooking with bacon, and trying to be outdoorsy in Acadia National Park.

Tech Thursday: What’s in a Domain?

Nicole solo hosts this week’s episode of Tech Thursday. What if you have an existing website, but the domain expires? Well, there’s a few options:

1) Don’t let the domain expire in the first place! whois.net- type in your domain name, can find out renewal date and where you purchased from. Renew BEFORE it’s due- preventative measures are the easiest to handle.

But, if not…

2) Check damage if you move your website. Check who is linking to your site (type in link:yoursite.com on Google,) things you have control over (FB) are easy to change, but if other blogs or directories link to the old address.

3) How much of a pain would it be to have to change all your offline and online materials to a new domain? Remember not to hand over money to unknown people or companies.

Kassie is a distance runner and a distance reader really. She lives in Ellsworth Maine and, while she might be quiet when you meet her, will throw out something witty when you least expect it.

Selling Stuff Online: Events

SellingShizOnline

 

In our first couple blog posts of the series, we discussed the basics of online sales and what to consider when selling products. Selling tangible objects seems pretty straightforward, but what if your business a) is a venue, like a community center or stadium, or b) puts on a certain amount of events (or, as I like to call them, funtivities) each year? It’s not the same as selling a physical product on an ecommerce site. I only recently began to appreciate the many considerations of online booking when working on booking for Anchorspace this past month.

1) How does booking work? 

There are two ways we can think about online scheduling. Option 1 is a “Class” event (there is a set number of attendees in one space). Say you’re a higher education institution or a local YMCA. You have multiple instructors offering all sorts of classes at various times, or just one or two classes going every six months. Or, maybe you’re a business like us, and offer a workshop once or twice a year that has roughly 30 spaces open. With this type of scheduling, you want the registration to stop once you reach the desired number of participants. At Anchorspace, for instance, there are 4 desk spaces available to daily users. It’d be inconvenient (and not to mention confusing) to have people signing up for the space even after the four person limit.

Screen Shot 2015-03-03 at 9.49.51 AM

A “Class” type event. 

The other event type is a “Booking”- perhaps a “book now” situation for car maintenance or a haircut, or renting a bowling alley for a birthday party. This is more about attributing a certain time slot with a certain place/person, regardless of numbers. As the business, you don’t need to sell a ticket to each individual coming to the bowling alley birthday party- you just need to indicate to others that it’s already being used at that time. An example: the conference room at Anchorspace is available for booking every hour. We don’t need to know how many people will be using it (I mean, after 10 people elbow room becomes a concern), just whether or not it’s available from 10 a.m. to 11 a.m.

A "Book Now" type event

A “Book Now” type event

Discerning between these types of events will help narrow down the scheduling software that makes the most sense for you (some handle “class” types better than “booking” types).

2) How many people can attend?

Selling tickets for a rural high school’s prom is a slightly different experience than selling tickets to a Patriots playoff game at Gillette Stadium.

If you have tens of thousands of people purchasing tickets through your website, you’ll want to invest some money in a program that can handle that amount of traffic. A smaller venue probably doesn’t need quite as much attention, and can get by without all the complex bells and whistles.

3) How often does this event occur?

Is this a “one and done” event (sports game, New Year’s Eve Party) or recurring (a horse drawn carriage tour that leaves every two hours)? Certain plugins, like Tickera, are intended solely for “one and done” events. Maybe you’ve seen this in action, like a Bonnaroo 2015 site or Wordcamp Boston 2015. These events happen once a year, and often have their own website (though it may be linked to something larger).

Other plugins, like Events Manager, are made for recurring events, or businesses that host multiple events. With Events Manager, you can display a calendar in the widget area in the sidebar, along with your top 5 (or so) upcoming events. The example below is from the Grand Ole Opry. As you might guess, they have an event almost every day, and they have a vast number of users to accommodate in a buyer experience. Their event software is pretty robust and offers different viewing options to cater to the needs of many.

Screen Shot 2015-03-03 at 9.50.59 AM

4) How does payment work?

Do you want to require people to pay in full at the time of booking, or just hold their card information? (Remember, if you decide to take payment through your website, it’s important to have SSL and a payment gateway in place). Not all plugins integrate with all payment gateways- but there is something called Mijreh, a PCI compliant plugin that links ecommerce systems with payment gateways. As a disclaimer, I’ve never used this plugin, but have seen it referenced in my travels online and thought it worth pointing out.

(Some places may have free events, but since this series is about selling stuff, I’m going to save myself some sanity and neglect such events for now).

All of these questions should help narrow down what you need to look for in event management software. This will also determine how much moneyu you’ll throw down. Most online scheduling software will give you a free month trial to decide whether it’s a good fit for your company’s needs. After that, the pay structure varies. Full Slate, for instance, is around $30/month, but increases an extra $15 for each additional staff member. TicketTailor and Events Manager have a flat yearly rate. Some plugins will take out a certain percentage for commission, so be mindful of that as you’re looking around. Bonus: many offer discounts for non-profits,

Next week, we’ll explore the topic of E-products!

 

Kassie is a distance runner and a distance reader really. She lives in Ellsworth Maine and, while she might be quiet when you meet her, will throw out something witty when you least expect it.

Selling Stuff Online: Products

SellingShizOnlineLast week, we talked about some basics you needed to be ready to sell things online. The next few weeks is the fun part: what you actually sell!

The most normal thing to sell is physical products. Physical products being things that have dimensions, weight, and possibly variables for people to select from (sizes, colors, etc.)

Selecting a shopping cart software: part science, part art. 

We’ll get into selling other types of things next week but you don’t need me to tell you that buying a seat in a stadium for the next Britney Spears concert you are going to is different than buying a black t-shirt. So different cart software is built to sell different kinds of things. You may also want to ask yourself these questions as you start your research to find a cart you like:

1) What integration does my cart need to have? If your cart needs to interact with your POS system or Quickbooks, that’s a good way to cross off a lot of options up front. Note the word ‘need’ here, you may be smitten by some swoonworthy features but knowing what you need will keep your eyes on the prize.

2) What payment gateway do you want to use? Some software only works with one or two gateways, some work with lots more. If you don’t have passionate views on payment gateways like some of us do, enter into this research knowing you’ll be flexible.

3) What are you planning on selling? And how many? See concert tickets versus black t-shirt example above. Also some cart software charges you by the quantity of items you list. So get a clear idea of what you want to sell first to help you evaluate options.

Once you have your cart softwares narrowed down to two or three options, start reading online reviews and looking at examples of each. This will give you an idea of customer support and whether you like the way it looks. For example if a cart promises to be ‘responsive’ and looking at the 4-5 examples listed on the website none of them seem mobile friendly, you may want to ask yourself why. Or you could just hire some nerd to do this nerdy research project for you. Seriously, there is a reason I can’t find a fun picture to go along with this.

Care about the little things.

The more information you give to customers, the better. Things like dimensions and weight not only help them figure out how that item will look in their living room but help you figure out how much to charge for shipping. When possible, fill out all available fields for each item in your cart software… and be consistent product to product.

Decide on shipping.

The below chart shows why you need to decide about shipping:

shipping-study

You have a few options when it comes to shipping: free, calculated, or flat rate. Rather than saying the same thing this article says, I’ll link to a nice blog post from Shopify about the differences between these three. 

In short, we’ve seen free shipping is quite motivating for a lot of people… and most consumers understand the idea of the minimum order amount to get it:

someecardfreeshipping

 

Cross-selling and Upselling: Helping People Buy More

So now you have what you’re going to sell, a cart you’re going to sell if from, and some idea of how you’ll handle shipping.

Now it seems a little sad we’re already thinking of how we can get your customer to spend MORE money with you but why wouldn’t we be? Your favorite brands cross-sell and upsell to you all the time.

Cross-selling: If you like X product, you may also like Y, Z, and A products. Or customers who bought X also bought… you get the idea. Many cart softwares will let you cross sell.

Up-selling: Getting someone to buy a higher priced version of what they were going to buy.

This is the best visual example for this I have ever seen. And the blog it comes from is super useful and you can go read it: http://blog.flowify.net/up-selling-and-cross-selling-how-to-increase-your-restaurants-revenue-using-resources-you-already-have/

UpsellingInfographics

 

Luring Them In With Bargains: The Allure of the Coupon Code

Now there may be points in the life of your online cart where you either need to move some inventory (to make way for new stuff) or you want to experiment with pricing. Coupon codes are something you can typically issue for either a dollar amount or percentage off either all the items in your cart or just certain items. For obvious reasons, they typically have an expiration date.

What coupon codes allow you to do is measure if/how purchases change while it is in effect. Most cart software will let you make them.

Then you distribute the codes (or perhaps different codes) via direct mail, email, social media, print and online ads, etc. to get them to your customers.

Old-Navy-THANKYOU-376x300

 

So I hope that is helpful as you sell physical products in your online store! Next week, we’ll talk about selling event tickets and things you may want to think about related to that. Stay tuned.

 

Nicole runs Breaking Even Communications, an internet marketing company in Bar Harbor Maine. When she’s not online, she enjoys walking her short dog, cooking with bacon, and trying to be outdoorsy in Acadia National Park.

Selling Stuff Online: The Basics

SellingShizOnline

So, you have a thing that you want to sell on the internet, maybe some old college textbooks, tickets to your concert, or your first ever e-book. You’ve promoted your “things” online (hey, you may be offering the best water out there but if a thirsty horse can’t find it, well, you both lose). So, step one of selling your product online is hustling beforehand. If you haven’t already, I’d recommend checking out this 39 step product launch list from The $100 Startup. It works well with all industries and types of products.

Back to the matter at hand- you want to sell something online. Where do you start? It depends on the type of product you’re selling: physical (t-shirts, furniture, etc), events (tickets to a concert at your venue, hourly booking for a conference room), or electronic (an ebook or webinar streaming). Remember, hustling comes first- this series is going to help get your product from A to B in terms of function (although we will get into some neat sales strategies later on). Don’t worry, this is the first in a series of posts. Consider this the essentials to getting set up to sell online.

You need three things to sell online:

1) A secure certificate (SSL)

2) Some system to sell.

3) A payment gateway

1) Secure Certificate: Keeping Payment Info Secure

First and foremost, your website needs a secure certificate (this link is to a former Tech Thursday video where we explain Secure Certificates). Any site that accepts payment should have a secure certificate- it’s not just a best practice, most only cart softwares (the good ones) won’t work without it.

Remember, you can tell if a site is secure if it’s address is “https://….whatever.com.” (Note that ‘s’!) The setup process varies from web host to web host, but we can tell you that secure certificates are relatively cheap (around $15/year- well worth it, in our opinion). Plus, without this security, you may end up losing potential customers. Who wants to put their information into a site with Death Star level security (hint- there was a gaping hole in the middle of the Death Star. No one should have been surprised when it got breached).

The Mozilla Foundation is trying to get free SSLs for everyone but until that happens, whether you get one free or pay some money for it, it has to be installed on your domain.

If you use Firefox, right click on the padlock in next to URL (it appears when a page/site is https) and click ‘View Certificate’ and you’ll see all about it:

sslinfo

Note: You’ll need a dedicated IP to be able to install a secure certificate. Our host charges $30 for this, so for us to accept payments on our site as an additional per year is:

$13.95 for SSL + $30 for dedicated IP = $43.95/year in additional domain stuff

2) Software To Take The Payment

Next, you want to construct the actual sales component of your website- which we’ll explain in further detail in future posts. This construction process depends on the type of “stuff” you want to sell. If you’re selling physical products (t-shirts, books, jars of sea-glass), your website needs to be set up with a shopping cart. Sites such as Amazon use the shopping cart model. These sites also have to take into account the product’s dimensions, color, taxes, shipping costs. Examples of some popular eCommerce sites include WooCommerce and Shopify.

Amazon- an example of a shopping cart site. Fun Fact: when you're looking for automotive gear, instead of "Add to Cart" it says "Add to Garage." Oh, Amazon...

Amazon- an example of a shopping cart site. Fun Fact: when you’re looking for automotive gear, instead of “Add to Cart” it says “Add to Garage.” Oh, Amazon…

However, if you’re selling events (seats at a concert, spaces in a class), your site needs to be capable of online booking- a different set up all together. This involves more of a date-time purchase than a physical object. Some examples of booking programs include Events Manager (a Wordpress plugin) and Full Slate (a scheduling program we are using for Anchorspace).

An example of a booking site: Bangor Waterfront Concerts. This also made me excited for the summer...

An example of a booking site: Bangor Waterfront Concerts. This also made me excited for the summer…

Yet another option is an online payment form (common for accepting donations, subscriptions to online publications, popular programs for forms include WuFoo and Gravity Forms (a Wordpress plugin).

An example of a simple donation form a la WuForm.

An example of a simple donation form a la WuFoo.

So clearly different items require different amounts of information… and what you sell will depend on the solution you pick. We’ll discuss these in coming weeks.

3) Payment Gateway: The Third Party Taking Your Credit Card Fees

So if you sell things online, most likely you’ll be taking debit and credit cards (unless you are one of those uber cool people who only use Bitcoin or something).

If you sell things in real life, either with a full on credit card system like at a retail store or scanning someone’s credit card with a Square card reader, you know if you scan the payment for $10, you don’t get $10 in your account… you get less than that.

What interfaces between your shopping cart system and the credit card is the payment processor. We really like Stripe, mainly because it integrates with a ton of stuff and means we don’t have to charge our customers a monthly fee or a setup fee for processing… and it’s competitive. But other solutions exist like Authorize.net, Paypal (not the free version), etc. You’ll need to set something up to interface with the credit card before whatever is left is gently placed in your checking account.

If you want an excellent graphic and explanation of this, please visit: http://www.larryullman.com/2012/10/10/introduction-to-stripe/

Now that you know the basics of setting up an online storefront, we can go beyond the basics. Tune in next Tuesday when we’ll continue with this series talking about selling physical products (anything that takes up space in the world that’s not paper space)!

Kassie is a distance runner and a distance reader really. She lives in Ellsworth Maine and, while she might be quiet when you meet her, will throw out something witty when you least expect it.
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