Just what can a blog do for you and your business? While blogging may have started out as a purely social, if somewhat narcissistic pursuit, it has matured in recent years to become a rather effective tool for marketing goods and services. Since the web is now the first place people look for information, offering most up-to-date and sought after information prospective customers want is a great way to increase your business opportunities. A combination of blog posts, social media posts, and viral content can be incredibly beneficial to any business looking to drive traffic through their doors and up to the cash register.

Blogs are one of the most cost effective ways you can reach thousands of prospective customers. You can post information and immediately engage your readers and convert them into paying customers. Posting new and informative content also has the added benefit of increasing your website’s search engine page rank, which can also result in higher sales.

Don’t know where to start? Contact us for a FREE SEO consultation that points you in the right direction for your business.

One of the most cost effective ways a small business owner can market their business is through a website. Of all the website platforms out there few are as cost effective as WordPress and while WordPress itself is a free website platform, it is still an investment. At the very least, an investment in terms of time, but if you had professional help to execute your online vision, it was certainly an investment of money.

One of the most difficult ideas I have to introduce into my clients minds is this… “Even if the platform itself is free, it does come with a price… responsibility.”

Free Isn’t Freedom

WordPress is developed by a community of developers and as improvements, features, performance increases are added to the WordPress platform — or errors, bugs and vulnerabilities are discovered in code — this community releases fixes and updates free of charge and makes them available to all WordPress installations. Thankfully, your WordPress site will notify you of available updates as well as tell you what is included in these updates (provided you have a valid email address entered for the admin). Simply keeping your site up-to-date by following the prompts on your site’s admin panel will ensure your website stays working in tip top shape. However, failing to apply updates as they are released will result in bad (and potentially expensive) things happening.

In other words, if you don’t keep your site up-to-date, the problems that arise will most likely cause your business harm and cost you money.

Ask a business owner what the most important part of their website and they are likely to list their content as their primary concern. Ask a developer that same question and the answer will be security. While the truth is somewhere in the middle, just as you must constantly produce new and valuable content to stay in Google’s good graces (and rankings), you must constantly update your website to prevent problems (problems which could get you blacklisted by Google, Yahoo, and Bing).

Time Isn’t Money

One of the most common complaints I receive when something does go wrong, and I’m contracted to fix the problems that result, is that they “don’t have the time to maintain” their website. On average, you SHOULD be spending 30 minutes per month applying updates and making sure your website is secure. This is the bare bones MINIUMUM amount of time you should be spending in your WordPress admin panel, more if you really want to make sure things are running smoothly.

If you take no other information away with you after reading this article, make sure it is this: Ignoring your website for long periods will greatly increase the chances that your site goes offline; or worse, gets hacked and used to compromise the computers or devices of your visitors.

5 Reasons to Keep Up with Updates

So, let’s dive in to why keeping your wordpress website updated is the most important business chores you can undertake.

  1. Security: WordPress currently powers 25% of all websites in the world. Because Wordpress enjoys this immense popularity, it is also a popular target of hackers, malware distributors, spammers, and data thieves. Failing to keep your WordPress installation current will certainly increase the chances your website ends up under the control of someone other than you. If that happens, and you are not a developer or someone with a better than good understanding of what is under the hood of your WordPress installation, I am going to charge you quite a bit of money to fix your site (unless you have a previously contracted maintenance plan).
  2. Added Features: Almost every WordPress release includes new features that users request. Sometimes they are small, like keyboard shortcuts to allow for faster creation/editing of content. Other features are huge, like a recent update that added the ability to edit images from within the media admin. If you are still running on older version of the platform, you are missing out of some great quality of life changes that greatly improve the ease with which you can create the content that drives your site.
  3. Faster Performance: Every WordPress update improves the performance of your website. Google places a very high value on the speed of your website, so if you are looking to improve page rank, making sure you have a fast website is an easy way to make that happen. The people who develop WordPress are always looking for ways to squeeze more speed out of the platform. Each new release comes with several performance improvements that makes your WordPress website run more faster and more efficiently than the version before.
  4. Exterminating Bugs: WordPress is a great platform, but it isn’t perfect… nothing really is. Older versions of WordPress are buggy, which is why WordPress releases updates so often. You may wonder why these bugs aren’t caught during the testing phase, and though hundreds are caught during initial testing, bugs do sometimes slip through the cracks. Quite often, when a client comes to me with an issue they suddenly discover on their site, my first response is to ask them if they are running the most recent version of the WordPress platform. Seven times out of ten, simply updating your installation will fix issues that suddenly appear out of nowhere.
  5. Error Show: Failing to update the site or the plugins can cause your site to stop functioning even if it isn’t hacked. Visitors may encounter a cryptic error message and be scared off by what they see. If you depend on your site for eCommerce, losing a perspective customer should scare you straight.

I have helped hundreds of small business owners build and leverage WordPress websites to increase sales, share information, and generate new leads. Unfortunately, after the build is complete, unless I am contracted to do so, I can’t visit the site to make sure everything is running smoothly. As a standard, I explain the demands of website maintenance and give them the option of signing up for a maintenance contract to protect them and their investment, and many do take advantage. Some clients take on the responsibility themselves only to discover that their time is spent better addressing other business concerns and will forget to take just a few minutes a week to click a button or two. As a result, it is often fixing those sites that make up a majority of my billable hours. The easiest way to keep your website relatively cheap to run is to stay on top of the updates available in your admin panel.

 

You don’t need to hire a company to submit your site to search engines. You can do it yourself easily and quickly. To submit your site to the big search engines, simply visit the search engine you wish to be listed by and enter the appropriate information. Here are the details on how to submit your site to Google, Yahoo and Bing.
Submit your site to search engines

Submit Site to Google

Google makes it incredibly easy to submit your site. To submit your site, visit Google’s web page for URL submitting, type in your URL, make sure to enter the correct information for the anti-spam robot challenge (captcha), and submit.

You can also submit your site map to Google via their Webmaster Tools (if you don’t already use Webmaster Tools, you should).

Submit Site to Bing and Yahoo!

Bing allows you to submit your URL, just like Google. However, the process is a bit more complex than it is for Google. You’ll have to login and enter the information, and you will also have to verify the site (to make sure it belongs to you) by adding some code to your site root directory. Follow the prompts and you should be able to get listed relatively quickly.

Since 2010, Yahoo search has been powered by Microsoft’s Bing search engine. When you submit your site to Bing you will also show up in Yahoo’s search results.

A Final Word on Search Engines

In case you were unaware, reputable search engines do NOT charge a fee to be included in their search results (however, there are paid listings sections of the results, also known as pay per click). So long as you follow the search engines guidelines, which are pretty lenient and only take exception to sites that engage in manipulative and unethical practices, you will be listed.

Get the secrets to better SEO ranking

Despite what some experts tell you, no one can guarantee you top ranking in search engines… All they can do is tell you what you can do to improve your position. I’m a big proponent of organic SEO. Without getting too complex, organic SEO (search engine optimization) is the phrase used to describe the process of obtaining a natural placement on organic search engine results pages (SERPs). Some examples of techniques used for organic SEO include using keywords and keyword analysis, backlinking, link building to improve link popularity, and writing content relevant for human readers. These things all work in concert to boost your position on a search results page… the higher your position on the first page of search results, the more likely you’ll get traffic to your site.

Tips for SEO Success

I’ve put together a few tips that can put you in a better position to succeed, but by no means should you consider these tips a magic bullet to solve your ranking problems. I can talk about SEO for days, but chances are you’ll fall asleep long before I finish, but in a nutshell, here are the basic tips that I tell all my clients:

  1. Make the website about one thing. Though you can address different aspects of your business, choose one primary topic that is most essential to your message. For instance a baker who specializes in wedding cakes shouldn’t really give up 75% of her website to cookies and cupcakes… the site should focus primarily on wedding cakes, but still address the other items he or she bakes.
  2. Mention keywords where they matter most. Include your “one thing” in the site title, domain name, description, tagline, keywords, blog categories, page titles, and page content wherever you can.
  3. Link to internal pages on your site. Be intentional about linking your most important pages directly from your homepage and cross-linking them with each other.
  4. Use a permalink structure that includes keywords. Use a URL structure that includes text, and make sure you include keywords in your URLs. Permalinks are automatically generated with wordpress so you don’t have to worry about this so much, but you should include keywords in your titles to ensure they work correctly.
  5. Remove anything that slows down your website. Especially anything on your home page that loads from a third party site. Page load times are important, so get rid of any non-essentials that bog down your website. These may including music players, large images, flash graphics, and unnecessary plugins like twitter or Facebook feeds.
  6. Use keywords in your image titles, captions and alt tags. Also, re-title the file name if it doesn’t reflect your main keywords (e.g. career-coaching.jpg instead of d1234.jpg).
  7. Link to other websites with relevant content. You can do this by including a blogroll, link list, or resources page on your website. Of course, do it sparingly, as each outbound link is a “vote” for another site. However, if you do it well and people click your links, this tells search engines you are a trusted authority on your particular topic.
  8. Update your website frequently by using a blog and adding a “recent posts” feed to your home page. Sites with dynamic content often rank higher than those with static content. That’s why blogs and directories (like Wikipedia) do so well on search engines. They are constantly being updated with new content.
  9. Make sure your website is indexed by search engines. If you do a search for your site on the popular search engines, and don’t see your site listed, you can submit your site to Google, Yahoo, and Bing manually.
  10. Have other websites link to you. This is really, really important, when it comes to SEO. Of course, this is also the most difficult part of the SEO strategy… you can’t really control this. You could ask, but no one is likely to link to you unless you offer really valuable content, which is why it is important that you create really valuable content.
  11. Write like a human. None of the above matters if you create content that sounds like a robot wrote it. Don’t simply sprinkle keywords into previously written articles and hope it works. Grammar and spelling do matter.

I’ve been thinking a bit about splash pages and their value. I’ll be the first to admit that I’m closer to a developer than I am to an artist. I find innovative ways to deliver on the promise posed by a strong online presence. While there is graphic design involved in the process, it takes a backseat to SEO which has proven to be a constant source of aggravation for my clients. Understandably, I tend to err on the side of caution when it comes to a website design. One of the most common “arguments” I have with the graphic designers I work with is balancing form with function. A beautiful website is a wonderful thing, but if that beauty interferes with the core function of a website (to inform, communicate, and sell a product or service) then it is a failure.

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Splash Pages & SEO

Finding the balance between form and function is tricky, but one thing is always easy for me. Doing away with “splash pages.”

Since search engines use the top-level URL to rank a website, moving your site to a secondary level (for instance /home/yourhomepage/aftersplash/ or any other nested directory structure) will invariably hurt your page rankings. I’m often surprised when someone willingly sabotages the primary goal of a website through poor SEO practices. Here are the 5 main reasons why I try to steer my clients away from splash pages:

1.When a picture is not worth a thousand words. Without text, text-based web crawlers can’t index your site’s content appropriately. If the first page they encounter is light on text-based information, that page is essentially invisible to search engines. Sure you can add a caption or alt text to the image, but that is not the best way to increase page rank (though images with alt text on a page that is already rich with content is a great thing).

2. Keywords are king. A splash page rarely has much in the way of text other than a “skip intro” or “enter here” link. There aren’t very many words that are as worthless to site ranking than these.

3. Links never lie. Links are the currency of search engine ranking. A typical splash page has one link which goes to your home page and normally, a person encounters your splash page just once. Every visit thereafter will annoy your visitors if they always end up on a worthless page. They’ll typically link to the main content area where your navigation resides, never returning to the splash page. Web crawlers don’t work that way. In terms of SEO, splash pages are a complete waste of your best online real estate.

4. Giving them the run-around. Google and Yahoo!, the two most popular search engines, want to give the people what they want, and they want the content linked in the search engine. When they see that your base-level URL is redirecting to another page, your site’s ranking will be affected negatively.

5. Faster pussycat, faster! Page load time is a now a major factor in search rankings and graphic heavy splash pages (or worse, flash heavy splash pages) tend to slow down load times. If your site loads slowly, your search ranking will suffer.

I rarely seek out new clients, but occasionally I’ll reach out to small business owners who I feel would benefit from a website redesign. In many cases, the benefits are obvious and most, if not all, make the decision to contract me to build their new website or help them increase their search engine ranking. There are a few though who see the benefits, but cannot justify the expenditure or feel that “now just isn’t the right time.” I usually accept their reasoning. If they believe it, it’s valid as far as I am concerned. In a few instances though, I will explain why there is no time that is better (or worse) when it comes to your online presence. Here are five reasons that anytime is the right time to invest in a website redesign.

 

5. It’s one of the cheapest forms of online promotion there is. A website doesn’t have to be expensive. Every small business, and the smallest of small businesses, will spend hundreds of dollars a month on their telephone; they’ll spend hundreds each year on their yellow pages and local advertising and hundreds more on letterheads and business cards for staff. Many businesses will even spend hundreds or even thousands of dollars extra on their office or shop lease to be in the best position for their customers. Any business that has started in the last 50 years knows how important all these elements are to success.

4. It is a great ongoing communication tool for current customers as well as a great way to get new customers with little effort and expense. Most consumers want to feel informed, wanted and respected. A website redesign featuring a blog or consistently updated message is an easy way to keep them in the loop.

3. Stay Green! With the constant push to lower carbon footprints and pressure on our environment, using a website as your main marketing or advertising tool cuts down on the impact of printed materials. Consider how a website redesign could significantly cut down on expensive paper communication with your most desired customers since a well designed website is much more cost effective than printing.

2. Versatile and adaptable messaging. During a recession, people are looking for the best deal possible. A yellow page ad is not only expensive, it stays the same until the next publishing cycle. A website lets you cater your message to the situation quickly and easily.

1. These days, most people use google to find things. Not just things on the internet, but things with brick and mortar store fronts. Without an appealing, easy to use website, chances are people aren’t seeing you as easily as they are seeing your competitors. If you measure the cost of a website vs the cost of advertising in the local yellow pages, you’ll find that your dollar not only goes further, but is also the easiest way to convert readers into buyers.

If you’ve been thinking about a website redesign for your business, or if you just want to ask questions about what you can do to improve your online presence, contact us today!

I have a lot of friends and colleagues who work as independent graphic designers and quite often their biggest complaint deals with clients with small budgets. A professional designer can help any business fine tune their message and promote their brand, but a small business owner may not have the budget for professional services.

Why Hire A Professional Designer

These small budgets rarely include money for time consuming development or complex design cycles. For down and dirty projects this isn’t an issue, but oftentimes small business owners expect more for far less money when it comes to professional designer and developer services.

The most common position for small business owners is that they can’t justify the expense of professional design and development, especially for their website.

This is why platforms like Wix, Weebly or Squarespace exist. The selling point for all three of these build your own website platforms is to get a “great websites at an affordable price.” While each of those platforms does indeed offer a low cost alternative (at least superficially) to hiring a professional designer and developer, the truth is a little harder to see when you’re staring at a really low price point for something you desperately need.

All those platforms do indeed offer low cost alternatives. That much is true. What they don’t mention with the “features” of that low cost option though is just what you are getting for your money. In many cases, what you get is far less than what you might get from a professional designer and developer.

For one, the low cost options usually do not include some of the most important features of owning your own custom website. Namely, actually OWNING that custom website. For instance, Wix’s paid plans start at $4.08/mo, but even the starter plan doesn’t remove Wix ads from your site. As you add features to the standard Wix site, the prices go up, and they all remain more expensive than their main competitors – Weebly and Squarespace. And they remain much more expensive than setting up your own website with WordPress through a professional designer and developer. At each stage, Wix doesn’t even allow unlimited bandwidth or file storage. A website from a professional designer and developer won’t come with any of the limitations and caveats of these canned website options.

Weebly and Squarespace have similar limitations and pricing structure which in the end means you’ll feel as though you’re shelling out much more money and effort than you would have had you simply hired a designer and developer to create your own custom site using something like WordPress.

One of the big selling points of using these “canned” systems is that you can create beautiful websites will very little effort. While that is technically true, in practice its a lot harder to create websites as beautiful as their example sites because your content may not be as pretty as their examples. Worse, using their canned images usually results in a site that hundreds of other Wix, Weebly, or Squarespace customers are ALSO using. So much for a unique visitor experience. That is where hiring a professional designer and developer really shines. You’ll get something unique that NO ONE else will have.

These canned systems also restrict your ability to change the style sheets above and beyond what their simple admin tools allow. What if you want to use a non standard font? Or create a custom layout for just one page that isn’t in their layout library? Can’t do it because you cannot edit the CSS file of whatever template they’ve provided for you.

Finally, the issue of SEO must be discussed to truly reveal the value of thinking you’re saving a few bucks on design and development.

When it comes to a website, SEO is probably even more important than the design and function of your website. Let’s face it, being the prettiest belle at the ball is pointless if that ball is being held in a closed room with the lights turned off. That’s what SEO is like when you use these canned platforms. If you believe the marketing message on these sites, they’ll try to explain away a number of SEO issues, but because of the basic structure of the site does not allow for search engine access. Digging into the way Wix works, you will discover that all pages are canonical, or simply tabs of the homepage, and therefore they could never rank on their own. That’s a huge red flag for anyone familiar with how SEO actually works.

The bottom line is that there will always be people who just cannot afford professional designer and developer services. They’ll always look for solutions that match their budget and there really is no avoiding that. Even explaining that a well designed and developed website is a business investment that will give you a return on investment for years to come may not sway the conversation your way.

Often, I help my clients who are leaning toward these canned services to do the math. I explain that a “great” Wix site will run them about $24.92 per month (for their VIP package which still isn’t as powerful and functional as the cheapest website I build, but I needed a baseline). Over 12 months, that website will cost $299! Deal! Except thats just the fees for the site framework and function… what about the time it takes to put that “great” site together? Budget 20 hours (conservatively) to get it all organized and set up. How much is that 20 hours worth? Hundreds of dollars? Thousands? What about the time it takes to get your SEO up to par? What about finding and sourcing images? What about testing on various devices to make sure your site presentation is consistent across multiple devices?

Once they really think about the value proposition, the decision to use a professional designer and developer becomes much easier.

Ok, so what if you stumbled upon this blog post and are thinking, “Uh oh! I use Wix!”

Don’t worry. All is not lost… I mean other than the site you already have on Wix since you don’t really own that site and can’t simply move it to another host or framework. What you can do is hire a competant developer or designer to build you a beautiful, well developed site that you can be proud of, has fantastic SEO, and actually belongs to you.

Give us a call even if you just need more information about what we can do to help you figure it all out.