Better SEO In Less Than One Hour

The most common question I get over email: “How can I improve my site’s rank in search engines?” I’ve sent variations of this in about fifty emails but thought I’d finally write this up and put on the website. A few things to know.

1. Anyone who promises you page 1 ranking in Google is full of crap.

There I said it. If they get you the number one spot really quickly, it’s because they’ve bought you a Google Ad or they did something really ridiculous and probably illegal. I can buy an ad for you in five minutes, or you can buy one yourself. (Google, like any good business, makes spending money with them as easy as possible, trust me.) That is not SEO. Ranking in search engines means being high up in what’s called organic (re: non-paid) search results.

2. Google Adwords, while sometimes helpful, is not SEO.

There is a reason people specialize in SEO (search engine optimization). It’s a bit technical, the rules are always changing, and it takes effort to do it right. If you are looking for a magic pill/quick results, buy pay per click ads. You’ll get hits more quickly, sure, but they’ll stop the minute you stop the ads. If you want more of an explanation about the difference between paid ads and SEO, check out this post from The Maine SEO Blog about it.

Hey look you're number one... Wait, you paid to be there. Guess what happens when you stop paying? Photo via:

Hey look you’re number one… Wait, you paid to be there. Guess what happens when you stop paying? Photo via:

OK so you get that SEO means being in it for the long haul. Let’s oversimplify all this.

3. Search engines like three things. Give them these three things and they’ll be happier with you:

  • Links (your site linking to other sites and others linking back to you)
  • Keywords (words phrases that people are searching for online)
  • Frequently updated content (how often there is a change on your site)

People sometimes think about being sneaky and do things like put a bunch of keywords all over their page or join link farms. In the biz, this is called ‘black hat SEO’. These practices can fool search engines temporarily but more importantly:

1) Search engines could find out you did something naughty and blacklist you, like they did to JCPenney fairly recently. Do you get so much business that you can afford to disappear from Google searches?
2) It will annoy those visiting your site. Because remember, who’s doing the searches? People. Who’s going to think it’s weird you put all these random keywords on your site? People. Who’s going to think the random links on your sidebar are sketchy? People.

OK, OK so you get it, there is no short cuts and this will take time. So what *can* you do that’s legal and helpful to give search engines the three things they want?

Here’s a few things you can do to help your site rank better in search engines.

Claim your business on Google Places, Bing Local, Yelp, etc.
Here are some of the sites where you can ‘claim’ your business:
Google Places
Yahoo Local
Bing Local
You’ve probably noticed when you do a search, sometimes these directory listings come up above search results. These listings besides just having the standard contact information also allow you to add keywords, etc.  If nothing else, enjoy the free inbound link to your website.
Note: To prove you actually own the business, the service will usually use a verification phone call where they’ll actually call your business phone and give you a code to type into the site… so try to be by your business phone when you’re doing this.
Time estimate: 5-10 minutes/site

Use SEF links (search engine friendly).
OK someone sends you an email. Would you rather click on:

Exactly. Not only do people like to know what a link is but search engines can read the text in your links and treat them like keywords. Bonus is it’s not difficult to turn on SEF links if you have a website that runs off a content management system. You can even manually create them for HTML sites if need be.
Time estimate: 5 minutes – 30 minutes

Autopost website updates.
So when I post to my website, I also have it connected so it goes out to Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn as well automatically. If your website has an RSS feed, this is pretty easy to set up. I use RSS Graffiti for Facebook and BlogToTweet for Twitter/LinkedIn.
Time estimate: 10 minutes to set up

Write something for your website… whether it’s a blog entry or more info for a page on your site.
Search engines (as well as real people) like it when your site has new stuff. As a matter of fact, the more often you update your website, the more often it’s indexed by search engines. I know, crazy huh? Also more pages of content help your site seem more search engine friendly. So every blog entry you write, every new page you create all helps.

So take 20 minutes and sit down to write something. Write about how your business started, an interesting customer who always comes in, review a new product you’ve just gotten in, write a how-to… It doesn’t have to be perfect, just something people might be looking for online, something that they can now find on your website.
Time estimate: 20 minutes

Setup social media pages.
Another way people increase visibility is with social media. Sites like Facebook and Twitter make it easy to keep in touch with potential customers and take just a few moments to set up.

But how does social media help with search? Well, on every profile/page you make, you can add your website link as well as a space to put info about your business. You see where I’m going here, right? Keywords and a link? Nice.

Social media will also increasingly become a part of how search engine results are calculated. So social media isn’t just touchy-feely anymore! In other words, all aboard! There’s no better time to finally create that Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, Youtube, Flickr, or other social media profile related to your website.
Time estimate: 10-20 minutes/profile

Create a 301 redirect.
This is kind of nerdy but it is a good search engine-y thing to do to keep from accidentally duplicating your content. Search engines do things like penalize you for duplicating content (the same thing written multiple places- it’s what spammers do). Here’s a few ways to do the redirect.
Time estimate: Non-geek under and hour, Geek a few minutes

Have a blog.
Hands down me and most everyone else who does this for a living will tell you to do for better SEO is start a blog. Because blogs have links, keywords, and frequent updates… just like the search engines want. And once set up, a blog is technologically easy to update. Again, perfection here isn’t important (just look around my blog and you’ll see what I mean). Just write something and allow people to interact with you and other readers about it.

Clearly a blog could potentially take a lot of your time but if you plan your entries ahead of time, keep posts short, and set aside time, you can put a small amount of time towards this project.
Time estimate: 1 hour/week (that’s about what I spend)

Is this everything? Of course not. Is it something to start with? Absolutely. And if you want to totally geek out and see what factors are important to search engines ranked in order of importance, check out this fine study with 2011 data: And if it all overwhelms you, contact your favorite geek.

Have a quick tip that helped with your SEO? Share it in the comments!

Marketing Monday: Valentine’s Day

I heard a story on NPR that the average person spends $150ish on Valentine’s Day. The number seems to vary based on what article you read but I couldn’t help but think this is kind of ridiculous. Yeah, I’m not very romantic but, ignoring romantic love, I’m not completely repulsed by Valentine’s Day. Here are a few interesting Valentine-related phenomenon I noticed recently:

Valentine's Day: Some good stuff with the commercialism

Valentine's Day: Some good stuff with the commercialism

This week’s episode of Community and 30 Rock
I love a good sitcom, and it’s shows like Community and 30 Rock that renew my faith in the genre. These shows crack me up, and their Valentine’s Day episodes about love of friends was very cute. I want to go to there.

Groupon FTD Coupon Scam
Groupon seems to be agitating people a bit lately. First the Superbowl ad, now this bit with FTD where they offered a discount on flowers with elevated prices. They seem to have gotten it straightened out but hey, bad press is better than no press, right?

My friend Cherie’s blog post about Valentine’s Day Competitiveness
My friend Cherie tweeted “Congratulations. Your husband sent you a teddy bear. You clearly have a much stronger marriage than me.” and I snorted. I am glad she was also inspired to write this post about Valentine’s Day competitiveness in relation to her kiddos. Hilarious.

Heart-shaped Peeps
Sure, this product is just Easter pushed at all times of the year but the white hearts have a slight vanilla flavor and if you let them age with the bag open for 1-2 weeks, you’ll have a slightly crusty snack of perfection (or you can cut them into squares and pretend they are gourmet marshmellows).

So while the idea of paying double for a meal out makes me roll my eyes, I do understand that Valentine’s Day isn’t all bad… Wow, this Peep is fantastic!

Have you noticed anything cool related to Valentine’s Day marketing?

Marketing Monday: Four Internet Marketing Questions Answered

Every Monday, I talk about internet marketing. I profile companies, interview people, and answer questions. Please let me know if you have an idea for a future post!

I thought it might be fun to do a post about some recent (and frequent) questions I’ve gotten both via email from clients and during presentations. Maybe this can help someone else or maybe just make you a more conscious person online. In any case, here are a few basic ones in no particular order:

Why do people follow me on Twitter then unfollow me right away?
I love this Twitter ‘strategy’ that some people have really picked up on lately. This is how it works (for the person doing it):

1) Find people on Twitter.
2) Follow them.
3) Wait 24-48 hours.
4) Unfollow them.
5) Smile as you think you’ve increased your follower numbers without the other person realizing you did this.

This plan works well on the surface since many people have their accounts set to automatically follow anyone who follows them on Twitter.  But there are at least five free services where people can be notified when they are unfollowed by someone on Twitter. Other people besides me will no doubt catch onto this and the Twitter users who appear and disappear will get a reputation for being a spammer.

Instead, I just follow people on Twitter I want to follow and don’t follow back people I don’t want to. Among the things I look at when I make my follow decision are:
1) Their website in their profile. Is it lame? Or does the link no longer work? Is the link title misleading to what the website actually is? None of these are good signs.
2) Their profile picture. Is it some sexy woman stock photograph? Do they tweet about a bunch of random stuff? Probably a spammer.
3) Their last 3-4 tweets. Are they useful? Are they telling me to buy a bunch of random products I don’t need? Are they on topic?
4) How many people follow them. Are they following 2,000 and are followed back by 200 people? That means they are part of the noise, not the conversation.

Another way to manage your list if you automatically follow people back  is do what my friend Lynelle does and check your list every couple weeks to unfollow people who are spamming or otherwise annoying you.

Why do some business Facebook pages have friends instead of fans?
You realize you wanted your business page to be seperate from your personal page. So you made a profile: First Name: “Breaking Even” Last Name: “Communications”. This restaurant did this very thing:

It was suggested I be 'friends' with this BBQ pit. A business should have people who like it, not friends. This is against Facebook user policy, and could be wiped out at any point because it's violating terms.

It was suggested I be 'friends' with this BBQ pit. A business should have people who like it, not friends. This is against Facebook user policy, and could be wiped out at any point because it's violating terms.

There are two reasons people seem to do this, which is actually incorrect in terms of Facebook page setup:
1) They don’t know what they are doing.
2) They want to intentionally have a profile so they can message customers directly. (Business pages can only send updates.)

Most of the time, I find the situation is more number 1 than number 2, which is always reassuring. That said, even if you did this without malicious intentions to spam your client base, it is still against Facebook user policy to set up a business page as a profile and Facebook is beginning to delete profiles that are doing this. And do you really want to start over with a proper page once you’ve built up your friends (who should actually be fans)? Probably not.

Here is how you can fix this if you’ve done something similar:

1) Once you are logged in as yourself (not your fake business profile), go to www. and click the ‘Create Page’ button.
2) Follow the steps and publish the business page in its correct form. Add information to this page so people can find it in searches and so it looks legit.
3) Ask everyone that is ‘friends’ with the fake person to move to the new business FB page, giving them the link on the fake person’s wall. If you feel ambitious, also email your fans to tell them you are moving with the new link.
4) Wait 24-72 hours to give people a chance to move.
5) Delete the fake person. Enjoy being a legal Facebook business page owner.

Or you can ask for help from someone who knows what they are doing. Remember just because someone uses their personal Facebook profile a lot doesn’t necessarily mean they know how to set up a business page correctly! After you have a page, make sure you are an administrator on the page even if you don’t use Facebook yourself, just in case there is ever an issue.

Why do people use the contact form of my website to send me really weird stuff?
Often, these are a dead giveaway of spam. This is almost verbatim an email I got two weeks ago when someone filled out the contact form on my website:  ‘Dear Sir/Madam, Many Canadians have no idea they qualify for home refinancing…” I think they wanted me to write about this program on my blog but I’m still not entirely sure.

Now, a quick look in the ‘About’ section of my website would have told this person that I am a madam and that I am not Canadian. Clearly, I am not the target audience for this product. People may want to reach out to websites like yours to find new suppliers for a wholesale product, to get their book reviewed, or any number of reasons and they may not be as thoughtful as they should be.

Meanwhile, you can learn from this situation. If you want to build a relationship with through someone’s website or blog, do a little detective work  in the About, Contact or FAQ section of the website before writing to the person. Can’t get a name? Get something else, like their blog topic or some other reason why you are contacting them. You can even be nerdy about it and  keep all your data about different websites in a spreadsheet to keep it all straight and be able to find the information easily later.

Let’s rewrite the email above having looked at my site for two minutes:  “Dear Nicole, I see you have a marketing blog and may or may not own your own home. I wanted to let you know about a program for Canadian home owners that may be a good blog topic (Marketing Monday maybe?) for your Canadian readers…” The rest of the email could be a press release but at least I know the person took the time. I would actually read and respond to this email, wouldn’t you?

Even though it takes a little longer to research and write more personal emails, I guarantee you will get a lot better responses and better results from people you correspond with online, especially if they have never met you. The internet is an impersonal space and if you can make it a more personal connection, you are two steps ahead of the game and no longer wasting your time contacting irrelevant people. And if someone irrelevant contacts you, just delete it. If they really want to contact you, they can make it more personal next time!

How can I make my company website less corporate and more personal?
I am all for fun websites. I tried crazy patterns on my Myspace page back in the day. I experimented with fonts in emails to friends. I posted cutesy pictures on my personal blog. But I did so without wanting people to take me too seriously.

I just got followed by the person on Twitter who runs a non-profit. Here is the non-profit’s website:

Does this website make you want to give this organization money? (Black bars added by me.)

Does this website make you want to give this organization money? (Black bars added by me.)

Don’t get me wrong, I do have a pink website myself. But I like to think my website is fun while still allowing people to take me seriously. Your business or non-profit site should be the same, especially if you want money from people. Your website is peoples’ first impression of what you do. Make decisions accordingly. By looking at websites comparable to your own (related non-profits, friends’ business sites, etc.), it’s easy to see how to make a business or non-profit website personal without making it look like their favorite 8 year old made it. No offense to 8 year olds of course!

Things you should never sacrifice for looks/personality: being able to search/find information, a clear purpose (What should people do when they get to your site?) and contact information findable on every page.

And if you want the hard truth about a website’s functionality, I am happy to tell you in a really nice way.

Have a question yourself? Comment below and maybe I’ll write a fun blog post about it!

This Week In Business: Moving Sporadically Edition

It has been one of those weeks where everything is turning up in unexpected places (ever find a book in your fridge?) Yeah, it’s been that kind of week.

My worst idea happened Monday night when I decided to not go to bed until I fixed something. At 2 am, I decided to just look at it in the morning. Guess what? I figured it out easy the next day. But then of course, I was thrown off for the week… and there was a lot of moving to be done. And because I was so tired, some of the moving was a little sporadic.

I went to the Schoodic Chamber’s meeting to give a talk… and I was an hour early.
I headed to Winter Harbor (an hour from my house in Bar Harbor) and I got to where I was supposed to on time. Only, the door was locked and the parking lot was empty. Hmph.

I started walking around and saw a man painting his house. Thank goodness he was actually in the Chamber (I love small towns). “Doesn’t that start at 7?” I look at my cell phone: five minutes of 6. Good thing Winter Harbor is a beautiful town to kill an hour in!

My Mac died.
So I will be the first to say I don’t know nearly enough about Macs but I do know when a computer is acting weird. I combed the forums, I tried moving/deleting files, but nothing would stop the spinning beachball of death.

I brought it to the monthly Downeast Mac Users Group meeting and guess who may have messed up her computer enough to need a new hard drive? That would be me. But no worries, I have a backup computer and use Dropbox (free up to 2 Gigs) so most everything is saved. But still, a pain…

I moved my blog to Wordpress… ok Matt did but I helped.
Nine months ago, Matt began helping me move the blog part of my website over to Wordpress. But work kept coming up. Finally, this week it happened. And tonight, the whole thing officially went live on my site.

Now you won’t notice much different as we’ve kept the same design (and actually Matt is still fixing stuff). But you will notice features like better search and archives, a fun tag cloud, and some functional Wordpress plugins doing things, like detecting how users get to my site and giving them a proper greeting.

I applied to try out merchant services.
I’ve been really dragging my feet about accepting credit cards. I’ve wanted to but it’s this whole process and I didn’t want to go through the whole setup only to find one person prefers it to paying with their checking or Paypal account.

I got an email offer from Quickbooks to try their merchant services for 60 days only paying the transaction fees. I find out tomorrow whether I’ve been approved but at least I’ll get to answer my questions like “Will people use it?” and “Will I get paid quicker?” with some actual data from trying!

I think one more good night’s sleep will leave me moving a bit less sporadically tomorrow. But I’m willing to accept that some weeks have days that feel like Monday every day. This was definitely one of them! Happy almost weekend!

Marketing Monday: Jet Blue

Every Monday, Breaking Even looks at a business, website, or non-profit doing cool things online. Have an idea? Contact me and let me know!

It’s easy to do the whole internet marketing bit when things are going well but what about when you have a PR disaster? How do you handle bad press about your company when you’ve made yourself very available online?

Jet Blue had an employee freak out on them last week. He’s been getting tons of press and I don’t feel a need to give him any more.

That said, I do need to say how Jet Blue has handled it seems really great.

They’re keeping calm and carrying on.
The natural instinct when something doesn’t go your way is to disappear for awhile. But JetBlue continues their Twitter customer service and Facebook notifications about news and events.

They briefly and professionally addressed it on their company blog.
It would be weird to completely ignore the controversy but what should you say when you don’t want to be libelous or strangely silent? Read the great blog post solution called ‘Sometimes the weird news is about us…’ They aknowledged what happened and thanked their great employees.

This is bound to make it into some kind of ‘Letters for any occasion’ book.

Commenters may want the flight attendant rehired (or otherwise compensated) but not many people seem to be attacking JetBlue.
Comments were mixed about the incident but while people expressed opinions, many said they ‘still love Jet Blue’ or called it ‘my favorite airline’. Overall, ideally what you’d want to happen when your company does something ‘controversial’.

If you are a third party, might as well capitalize on a cultural phenomena (read: strike while the iron’s hot).
Want a t-shirt commemorating the incident? Choose from dozens of designs.
Want to watch an animation of the event? Check out this recreation in CG animation.
Basically, you could Google the name Steven Slater and any product you’d want and find some entrepreneurial person who’s set up a website around it. And hey, you’ve got to admire that on some level.

So just because you’ve made yourself accessible online, doesn’t mean you can’t handle it when things don’t go your way as a company. Take it from Jet Blue: be excellent, be professional, and realize this could happen to anyone.

Marketing Monday: Meatless Monday

Every Monday, the Breaking Even blog takes on a business, non-profit, or website with a good marketing idea. Have one? Send it in!

This morning, I was listening to NPR (on the Maine Public Broadcasting Network) and heard about former marketer now turned non-profit marketer Sid Lerner talking about the Meatless Monday concept him and his firm started as a way to get people to eat healthier one day a week. According to the story, 20% of the American population was aware of the term. Personally, I’ve heard about it on a few blogs I read (I do like food) and I was surprised the recognition of the phrase was that low.

Not just a campaign but a website providing useful information and incentives to step out of their comfort zone one night a week.

Meanwhile, it turns out some college campuses have also bought in to the concept but most younger generation folks aren’t going meatless for cholesterol but for the environment. (Which is a big reason why I eat meat only a couple times a week myself. Holy grain acres, Batman!(As a complete aside, you can read a whole nerdy though somewhat slanted article about grain acres here with neato diagram if you are interested.)

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