Oct
07

Blogging for Profit

As published on Hybrid Mom

Let’s be honest, it’s hard to make money off of a blog, but it is possible! There are a large group of people who have successfully done so. Generally, if you have a blog attached to your business website you won’t be blogging for profit (that’s more about driving traffic IN, not out). If you’re blogging for profit, you’ll want the traffic that comes to your site to leave it to go to where your paycheck is. I recently blogged about blogging for your website, and now present the alternative: personal blogs or mommy/social blogging. As you venture out to the world wide web and begin to market yourself, I’ll share with you some things that I’ve found that may help you on your way.

Let’s start with a disclaimer (or is it a confession): I personally have not made a brag-able profit from blogging. I do it more because I love it and my blogging goal is to drive traffic in (not out) since I have an online boy store to market. But, I do gain a little (ok, tiny) bit of revenue from blogging and I have figured out some ways to potentially make more if that were my goal. I’ve been fortunate to gain enough credibility from my blog that I am occasionally approached to do reviews and giveaways. First and foremost, I think you need to keep it honest. I’ve turned down things that didn’t fit in with my style (mommy blogger) and I will only provide honest reviews. I’d actually prefer to tell you about something that I already have and enjoy than a strange new product that I haven’t had enough time to properly evaluate and judge. I will also not give glowing reviews for a product for which I’ve formed a low opinion–given the choice, I’d just rather not write about it.

Keep in mind that without popularity (visible popularity, I’ll get back to this later) it is VERY difficult, if not impossible, to make money from your blog. Your first step is getting an audience. You have to start that process by coming up with subjects that appeal to your potential audience. Your next step is to find someone to read what you write! One of the most effective ways to do this is to visit and comment on other blogs in order to get your link out there and hopefully gain some followers.

Gaining an audience can be tricky. You’ve got to have a niche.. something that makes people want to return. Maybe you’re offering information, product reviews, giveaways or maybe you’re a really funny writer. Your blog doesn’t need to stick to one theme, you may have the ability to offer that entire diverse set of niche’s. Visit other blogs that align with your niche. The loose etiquette of “you comment on mine and I’ll comment on yours” may be just the key you need to begin getting noticed but it does take time.

Finding more followers

There are also many sites that are designed specifically for getting bloggers together. Some that you can join for free are:

Technorati – exposes your blog on an international level. Your blog feeds (once you join and set it up) will automatically deliver your blog posts for a wide audience. The readers have an option to rate your blog.

Mom Bloggers Club – Meet other mom bloggers. You can interact with others, have your blog feed straight into your profile and often you can become aware of opportunities to review products or participate on other blogs. I actually found Hybrid Mom from Mom Bloggers Club.

BlogCatalog – is a very large blog catalog where you can meet other bloggers as well as market yourself and maybe find a few followers yourself!

FriendFeed – keeps track of your social networking status’s updates (such as Facebook and Twitter) that you like to (and should) use. People can also keep track of what you’re doing in this same way. To learn more about social networking, please refer to my previous article Does Social Media Work?.

Revenue generating programs

Affiliate Programs – I know there are many more out there but these are the only ones about which I can offer a personal opinion:

Amazon Associates- you can display a widget of your favorite products that you’ve purchased and used from Amazon. Writing a review about it will assist people in determing if they need that item also and when they click on your link and buy that product, you get a percentage of the sale.
LinkShare – this is a program similar to Amazon’s except that it deals with individual businesses. Find the companies that you like and use and would love to recommend to others and apply to be their affiliate. It’s free to apply and use and if you’re generating traffic and interest you can make percentages off of sales that came from your website to theirs.

Project Wonderful - this is useful for both generating revenue and for advertising your site. It’s set up in an auction like environment. You state how much you’re willing to pay for advertisement on other sites as well as place code on your site to display ads from other sites. Other sites will then bid on how much they’re willing to pay you in order for you to display their ad. One of the nicest features is you can determine on which sites you want to advertise based on their content/niche, and also you can approve or disapprove those wanting to advertise on your site. Click-throughs from your site generate money into your account.

Google Adwords – This is popular enough to probably not need much explanation. In a nutshell, you can place Google Ads on your site that will interest your readers based on the content that Google has established is relevant from your articles.

When I spoke earlier about a “visible popularity”, make sure you’re keeping track of your stats by using something like StatCounter, W3 Counter or Crazy Egg. These services will allow you to follow your hits, unique visitors and the path your visitors took to get to you. These tools will also help you determine what advertisements are actually working for you. Not only can you tell how someone came in, but where they exited. These are also stats that potential advertisers or affiliates will want to know about your site.

FeedBurner (or other feed hosting services) – is a great place to host your RSS feed and offers you ways to display how many people are following your blog. This is a must! People need to be able to subscribe to your blog in order for you to visibly show your popularity.

As with any business endeavor, blogging requires a lot of patience and work but it’s not an impossible dream. As I’ve mentioned in previous articles, you should blog because you want to…. passion for blogging will show in your writing and from that alone, you’ll gain followers (once they find you!). Good luck and happy blogging to you!

Sep
30

What’s in a host?

As published on Hybrid Mom

In a previous article, I wrote about What to Look for in a Web Designer.  Along with a web designer, your site also will need a domain name (internet address) AND a host.

When you’re quoted a price by a web designer to design your new website, the costs of web hosting often aren’t included. If it’s not mentioned, ask.  This is an area where there should be full disclosure.  Where is your account being hosted?  For how long?  For how much?

What is a Host?
They’re your office building. They hold the pages that make up your site and display them on the internet. They deliver your site to the internet so that it can be found. In a nutshell, a host is connected to all of the routers around the world necessary to populate and inform the internet of your website’s presence. It’s the holder of your domain name (website address). It’s the keeper of your email address and the “storefront” of your website.

Prices may vary, but on average (at the time this article was written), I find that web hosting should cost you around $200.00 for 2 years and will preferably include unlimited bandwidth and storage space. Some hosts may cost more, and some may cost less–make sure you examine all the features offered to ensure you are getting what you need for the money. Most of the work of figuring out what you need is your web developers responsibility but it certainly doesn’t hurt for you to know and understand what you’re paying for. FYI, your host relationship can outlive your partnership with your web designer.

All Hosts are not created equal. Important things to know about your host are:

  • How long have they been in business? I personally would not choose a new company. Make sure they have the experience to handle such a large responsibility.
  • What is their up-time? (i.e. how long are they up and running with no problems as opposed to the amount of time that their servers are down due to unexpected crashes and scheduled maintenance).  I expect no less than 99% up-time from my hosting companies.
  • What limits are they going to put on the amount of data that you store (disk storage)? Many hosts in the $200 range offer unlimited storage.
  • What limits do they have for the amount of traffic that your site generates (bandwidth)?  Again, many hosts offer unlimited bandwidth. Beware those that try to cap you or want to charge you extra beyond a certain amount of disk storage or bandwidth.
  • How many email accounts are you allowed?
  • How many domain names can you have under one hosting agreement? If you want to open a second business, you shouldn’t have to pay hosting twice… domain name costs would be extra but that’s it.  One domain name should be included with the cost of your hosted account.

Your web designer may very well tell you that they’ll host your site. Those costs could be padded into the cost of your web design and could impact the base cost of your website. Personally, I’d want to be the holder of my own host. Sure, let the designer get it for me, but I’d want it in my name and under my control should I decide at some point I want a different web designer or would like to dabble in web design myself! Not to mention that this is a fast moving industry–what if your web designer goes out of business or doesn’t otherwise meet your needs? I advise you not to put all of your eggs in one basket.

Can I choose a host by myself?
Certainly. Any web designer should be willing to work with you even if you have already obtained a host.  Note that some designers will refer you to and will say that they prefer a specific host.  There’s nothing wrong with that, just make sure that you go in with your eyes wide open and understand the specifics. Note that your designer may get some other perks by obtaining your host for you (via affiliate accounts or a discount for their own site). This is normal, but note that you shouldn’t be paying them any more than you would pay the host if you went to them by yourself. A designer should not should not pad the price but offer you straight costs, honest quotes and in the process remove some of the hassle for you.

Where can I get my own hosted account?

I’ve had good experience with Lunar Pages.  I use them myself and am an affiliate and recommend them to my clients (the link will take you to my affiliate account with them).  There are many more out there to choose from such as Network Solutions, GoDaddy, Web.Com and BlueHost. Those are just 5 out of thousands but they are 5 of the biggies that I’ve worked with in the present and past.  Just make sure that you don’t get a larger package than you need.  Your designer can help you with your specific websites requirements.

Something else to keep in mind is registering your domain name anonymously.  This is an extra small fee with your hosting company but will help protect your privacy.  When people do a “Whois” search (and some will) if you do not purchase an anonymous domain name, your personal information (name and address) are out there for all to see.

Domain Account only:

So let’s say this new business idea of yours manifested awhile back.  You were inspired to grab up the web address so that you owned it when you were ready to take the plunge.  A very common misconception is that you do not have to have your hosting account with the same company that you’ve purchased your domain name from.   Your web designer can help you point your web address to any host of your choosing by redirecting the Name Servers.  In many cases the name can be transferred for as low as $10.00 if you want to keep all of your bills in one spot.

Just make sure you’re informed.  If you have some basic knowledge of what you’re getting into, you’ll feel so much better stepping into the decision to have a website created to put you and your ideas on the World Wide Web (www).

Sep
11

Photography for your website

As published on Hybrid Mom

I recently wrote about “What to look for in a web designer” but there’s more to a great looking website than the layout, functionality and design. Most (maybe all?) web designers have access to a lot of great stock photos on the internet, but ideally most people want their front page to show their own product or an example of their own work rather than a stock photo that may be flooded all over the world wide web. If stock photos aren’t the choice for you, the photos need to be more than just “snapshots” taken as you leave the job site or a product on your counter. Great photography can make or break the aesthetics of a site. It can make it look elegant or sloppy depending on the photography used.

When you want a website to really pop, investing in a good photographer is a must. They have the artistic eye as well as the expertise and the proper equipment to really showcase what you’re trying to promote. Your web designer can make “decent” pictures look “good” but not “great” like a professional photographer can do. Skimping on the images on your site is not a good way to go especially on the first page that people come to.

If you can’t afford a photographer and must take the photos yourself, here are a couple of tips.

With people or places especially, use the outdoors. The sun’s natural light will provide a much better image than trying to control the lighting inside.

For clean product pictures, make a light box and invest in some sort of lighting. This can do wonders towards really making your products display well. Here is a site I found (and used) to make my own light box. This worked for me as a start but I knew I needed better lighting than I was able to make do with so I ended up purchasing one of these from Amazon:

If you can’t work with a light box (maybe your product is too large) be sure to place your product on a contrasting color surface… maybe a sheet or poster board can work in a bind. Use lots of light, steering clear of flourescent lighting (once again natural light is best). Take your photo at the largest resolution that your camera will allow. These suggestions provide the best chance of your web designer being able to showcase your photos in a nice professional looking way.

One of my clients sets her products on a mirror and uses a white background and takes wonderful photos of her products. I don’t have to doctor them at all and they look lovely and very professional.

Most web designers have developed working relationships with photographers. Ask your web designer who they can recommend that won’t break the bank! There are many, many talented photographers out there that can help make your website the fabulous showcase that you’re looking for. Remember the old adage, “a picture is worth a thousand words”, the same is true for a website.

Sep
03

Does Social Media Work?

As published on Hybrid Mom.

What are “social media”? Social Media are internet based online communities and forums (message boards) where you interact with other people, many of whom you don’t know in real life (IRL). You can talk to friends, talk about your day, meet new people, and expand relationships. They are also places where you can introduce your ideas, services or products to new people. There are too many out there for me to include them all, but some sites that are examples of Social Media Networks are Twitter, MySpace, FaceBook, Linked-In and yes, Hybrid Mom!

Using Social Media to help promote your business (or even Mommy/Social Blog) is an excellent tool, and it’s FREE! Just as with blogging though, if you don’t actively use it, it won’t help you at all. You have to be an active member in the community and do more than just talk about your business. Consider it to be one big party at which you hope to network with peers to get your business known. You wouldn’t just walk up to a stranger and say “I sell Thingy McBoppers!”, would you? (If you do happen to sell “Thingy McBoppers”, I’d love to know what they are!) You’d mingle, you’d get to know people, you’d talk about their kids, your kids, their pets, your pets, the weather–you get the drift. When talk turned to work, you might then be able to mention that you sell Thingy McBoppers. If the conversation interested them, you’d jump into a further explanation of what you offer and could potentially walk away having found a new client or customer.

Here are examples from some of the social media sites I use:

Twitter:

Say what you want to say in 140 characters or less. A “Tweet” is your comment that you post on “Twitter”. An “RT”, or “ReTweet”, means you’re passing along information posted by someone else or are asking people to ReTweet your comment. Something with an @ in front of it means it’s intended for a certain recipient or in response to a certain recipient, i.e. “thanks for the info, @hybridmom!”. If you see a # sign (tag) before a word, it’s a popular subject and is used to help others talking about the same thing to find your post.

MySpace:

You can have a company identity on MySpace with followers and commentary. You can also announce new products, add your blog’s feed (updates on your latest posts) to your profile, and advertise. It’s a place where people who have connected with you can find out about upcoming events, promotions or sales.

FaceBook:

Facebook allows you to keep up with all of your friends, relatives, “fans” and anyone else you meet along the way. Having a “Fan Page” on your FaceBook identity is a very good marketing idea for your website. It allows your “fans” (customers or clients) to keep up to date on all things pertaining to your business. If you do a “Page” on your site, I highly recommend you add the widget (widget link will take you to my blog where you can see the Face Book Fan Widget in the right column) that FaceBook offers onto your blog or website to encourage others to become your “fan”. Like MySpace you can also feed your blog posts into your daily feed with a third party tool (there are several to choose from).

Hybrid Mom:

You’re already here, so you may know all about Hybrid Mom. In case you’re new here, Hybrid Mom is a whole new world and community that is yours for participating in. It’s a world of helpful mom-preneurs, career moms, work-from-home moms and stay at home moms–all in all, it makes for excellent networking opportunities. There are resources and information to help you along your way and great friends to meet and with whom to share stories and experiences.

Don’t forget to be social when using Social Media! If you choose to only talk about your business, what you want to sell or promote or the cause you serve, people are not going to gain a “relationship” with you. Change up your content with a few off-topic items to inspire interest, or mention items that you’ve read on other sites / blogs. The more diverse and interesting your content, the more repeat readers you will gain. On my social media sites, I don’t only talk about my businesses–I’ve linked them to my personal pages and I’ll talk about my babies growing up to be big boys and how my husband is late for dinner! Social Media is first and foremost (my opinion here) about making connections but “friendly” connections. Would you want your friends to only call you when they need something? Think of social media the same way.

In addition to the many advantages that I already listed, if you read my article titled Know Your SEO then you may already realize that making an online presence using social media can help your search engine rankings! Guess what, all those pages that you put your company info and website link into create another reputable “link back”.

As you build a following on your Social Media sites, you will increase your brand recognition. People will become accustomed to seeing your name, and gain trust in it to be a reputable company that isn’t a flight-by-night, here today / gone tomorrow business. Plus, they can get to know the person behind the business which, aside from face-to-face communication, is a close as you can get to establishing that personal connection that many crave. The more you get yourself out there, the more likely people will be to remember you when it comes time to needing your “Thingy McBopper”.

Aug
24

2 Years Ago Today

As published on Hybrid Mom.

I wrote this post on my One Stop Boy Shop Blog on July 4th, 2009. This could be considered my “Hybrid Mom” defining moment—it was the day that I made the decision to stay home with my boys but to also pursue other opportunities that fulfilled the nerd in me. I hope you enjoy my Hybrid Beginnings!

newbornNate

Two years ago today was one of the biggest decision days of my life. I had recently given birth to my beautiful, precious 3 month old baby boy (a child who hadn’t yet earned his apt nickname “Trouble”). I had named him Nathaniel given the name’s meaning: “gift from God”. I became pregnant with him within 20 days of an ectopic (tubal) pregnancy and at a time that it supposedly wasn’t possible for me to conceive.

I had a successful career in the I.T. industry and had been a Network Manager for 12 years. While pregnant with my sweet Nathan, I was given a promotion to project manage / lead a large I.T consolidation, while still maintaining my position as Network Manager. It was a lot of stress and a LOT of hours but I thrived in that kind of environment. I was up to challenges and I loved seeing the progress of the project.

I was strong, cranky (I was pregnant after all!), assertive and confident in my field. I was good at what I did and it all came very naturally to me. It was a perfect combination of job duties for me, one that allowed me to put out fires and rescue high dollar, critical networking servers and also manage a project of great importance. I was definitely seeing signs that even bigger things were on my horizon if I could pull this off.

This new position was all consuming and so important to me that I returned to work before my 4 months of maternity leave were over. I just HAD to get back to work, I thought I was irreplaceable, or maybe I feared that I would be replaced and would be less “important”. So I left Nathan at daycare at the tender age of 3 months and returned to work.

On the 4th of July weekend, just 4 days after Nathaniel (my gift) had been placed in the care of others, I noticed he felt warm and he wasn’t hungry. He was also lethargic and had a fever of 103. I called our Pediatrician and she told me to take him straight to Children’s Hospital.

I didn’t realize what a terrifying day he and I were in for. He’ll never remember it, but it’ll be imprinted in my mind forever. They did urine samples, which made us both sob. They took blood samples which made us both cry and then, the most terrifying moment of all…. they asked me to lean him forward in my arms and they performed a spinal tap on him. I broke down in tears as I held my screaming baby.

They admitted him into the hospital that night with multiple IVs and nurses constantly monitoring him. I sat beside his crib while he slept, just staring at his precious face and hearing the 4th of July fireworks outside the hospital. As I gazed at him with the love I felt for him bursting from my heart, I had an epiphany. I realized that if I worked REALLY hard, I could someday maybe have my beloved career back ….. but there was nothing I could EVER do to get this time back with my 3 little men. I could not risk him getting sick again or being unavailable to my other boys. I could not leave them in the care of others. They were mine, and this little baby boy was vulnerable and he was precious and worth any sacrifice that I had to make. I re-evaluated what was important to me and what was within my reach. Not everyone has the ability to stay home with their kids, but with some pinching, we could live off of my husband’s salary. Why was my career more important when I had a choice?

I didn’t sleep at all that first night in the hospital. The next day was much the same—he slept and was nourished and hydrated through his I.V. That day from his hospital room, I called my boss. I told her, “I can’t do this anymore. I quit”. Later that evening, Nathan awoke, crying and HUNGRY! I was SO, SO happy. The next day we were discharged with a once again healthy baby boy with a diagnosis of “fever of unknown origin”.

I hired a nanny and finished out my 2 week notice by working part time from home and part time in the office. I haven’t looked back since. There have been instances when a “perfect” job opening has crossed my path and I’ll admit to considering them but when it comes time to fax that resume in…… I just can’t do it.

Two years ago today, I made what I felt was a sacrifice. I know now that it was what I was meant to do. I’m thankful that I have this opportunity to be homenatesm with my boys. Sure, I still work. I started my website business a couple of months later and then a year later I launched my One Stop Boy Shop, but I do it from home, in my own time, with my boys here with me. I’m the luckiest mom on earth. I have 3 wonderful, HEALTHY, happy boys… and I’m one happy Mommy (most of the time LOL, they do tend to drive me a little wacky).

Maybe someday, I’ll go back to the high tech industry but for now, I’ll take hugs and kisses for my salary. THIS job is much more important to me and has much greater benefits.

Aug
14

To Blog or Not To Blog as seen on Hybrid Mom

Nancy

As published on Hybrid Mom

Probably the number one question that I get asked as a web designer is, “I have a website, but do I need a blog?”  This is a good question, and is usually followed-up by a host of others:   “Why should I have a blog?  What good will it do for my online business?  I’ve heard it’s a great way to get more hits and higher rankings with the search engines, is this true?”

Are you ready for the answers?   Here you go…it depends!  I know, what a great vague answer, right?  Fortunately, in this article, I’ll go into detail of how it can be beneficial for your online business presence.

I’m only going to discuss this from a website owners standpoint.  We can later add social or mommy blog articles and how to gain viewers and revenue at a later date if there is interest.

First off, you might be asking “what IS a blog?”  Blog is the shortened name for a “Web Log”. Blogging can serve a variety of purposes; it can be used as an online diary, a place to inform your customers of sales or new products, or it can just be a way for you to satisfy your urge to spread knowledge, wisdom or humor.

If you plan on starting a blog that is linked to your business, then be prepared to write VERY often, because your Search Engine Rankings will improve only if you actively use it.  You need to actively visit other blogs, commenting and leaving your blog’s web address in your signature–there’s usually a place for that on comment submission forms on blogs.   I talked more in depth about SEO (Search Engine Optimization) tips and tricks in my last article on Hybrid Mom.

Blogging has a very loose etiquette of “you comment on mine and I’ll come and comment on yours”.  Since I’ve started blogging, I’ve met some wonderful online friends and look forward to their new blog posts and the comments they leave on my blogs.

A blog can help your online business in a variety of ways.  It’s free advertising, search engine friendly, a great marketing tool and it creates those valuable link-backs that help determine your page rank.  Leaving your address in comment forms on other sites creates a link back to your site, which helps make you a “popular link”!

Once you’re blogging regularly, make sure that you’re blogging about things that people want to read.  Create content that makes people want to come back for more; find a target audience and participate on their blogs and hopefully they’ll return the favor.  Just because it’s a “business blog” doesn’t mean that it also can’t be a fun blog.  There is no rule that says you can only talk about your business.  Find material that you’re comfortable writing about and have fun with it!  I write about my boys all the time on my One Stop Boy Shop Blog.  They’re my inspiration for the majority of the articles that I write on that blog but I also use it as a way to announce new products and sales.

As you come to know other bloggers, an additional step you can take is linking with each other.  Keep a blogroll of the blogs you like best or swap button ads and people who like yours will do the same.  This creates a permanent link back to your site from theirs…. that’s another show of popularity and another way for others to find your site!

Since we’re assuming here that this is a blog linked to a business website, you will want your blog to be taken seriously.  Consider having a WordPress blog using your own websites address.  Attach your blog directly to your website and don’t redirect it to a blogging network.

When you establish your blog, make sure you set up a news feed (RSS) so that your regular readers can keep track of when you’ve posted a new update.  I use FeedBurner myself. By letting people know right away that you’ve posted a new article, you ensure frequent returns to your site.

As you take the first steps to set up your business blog, remember:  blogging should be an enjoyable experience. Articles from your heart will come most naturally, and tend to also be the most therapeutic and entertaining. People will be able to tell if you’re not really enthused about your subject matter.

Can a blog help your online website?  Absolutely.  But you’ve got to use it to it’s full capacity to reap the benefits.  Your website designer should be able to help you set it up if you’re not comfortable doing it yourself.  It shouldn’t be an addition to your website, but an extension of it.

Aug
03

Search Engine Rankings

As published on Hybrid Mom.

Search Engine Rankings (SEO) are a big mystery to a lot of people, and rightfully so–good rankings are hard to get and even harder to keep. Thankfully, how to achieve them is not necessarily something that you need to know how to implement yourself; a good customer oriented web developer will happily assist you with these things. So that you can keep up with the lingo when discussing it, though, I will detail the basics of what it is all about.

In the dynamic world of the global internet, it turns out you’ve got a lot of competition out there. Search engines, although similar in function, tend to work differently from each other. Even though there are dozens of search engines, the two that most people immediately know are Yahoo and Google.

Yahoo determines your page rank (how high up in the results you appear) by a number of methods. They examine your site (index it), they search out your keywords, they examine your meta-description and your meta keywords (these are located in the “header” of your first page of your website) and compare these to the actual content on your site. Your meta-description should be concise and to the point. My example is “Pages by Nancy creates custom websites, marketing materials for affordable prices and specializes in serving small businesses.” See, I just put in relevant search words “custom websites, marketing materials, affordable,” etc., so that people searching for “prices for custom websites” or someone searching for “small business custom website” may find me.

You should try to keep your relevant meta-keywords down to around 20 (these are also contained within the hidden area of your website known as “the header”). Keep in mind you do not need to reuse keywords…. for instance I wouldn’t say “affordable websites, custom websites, websites for small business.” Instead, I would say “affordable, websites, custom, small business.” These words are read by a computer, so they don’t have to be in any order or make sense when not placed together. They are what the search engine will use to try to find the most relevant words used by someone’s search criteria.

Search engines also look at page names/titles. Each page on your site should be uniquely named with pertinent information as to what the page contains. Your Services page shouldn’t just say “Pages by Nancy,” it should say “Custom business cards, websites, marketing materials, blog installation and I.T. Support”. These are all things that are relevant to the page and contain important keywords describing what you offer.  Adding appropriate page titles is a crucial step in making your website visible on the internet.

Google is a bit different, and I caution people to tread lightly with them. They have the lion’s share of internet search views, and if you do something that breaks their rules or their trust in your site, you can get blacklisted from their search engines. Google checks for practices that they feel are an attempt to trick them or web searchers; we’ve all clicked on that link that takes you to a spam or inappropriate page that seemed okay from the search results. The only way that I know of to get past being “blacklisted” is to get a new domain name and start over.

The Google ranking algorithm is a well kept secret, and many people are making their living attempting to decipher it. Here are a few things that I think I know to be true (I don’t make my living deciphering them). Google will look at your unique page names and your meta description, but they’ll ignore your meta-keywords. Instead, they will look at the first 100 words on your front page and determine their own list of keywords. They keep track of all sites linking back to yours and decide your popularity based on the amount of legitimate sites that link back to you. This could be in the form of a Mom blogger doing a review, a button ad on a legitimate site… or you leaving your web address in the comment section of a reputable blog.

From Google’s perspective, link buying is a big no no. Trading links with companies that you don’t know or have a relationship with is also something to avoid. You do not want your site associated with a company with a suspect or unknown reputation. You want what is called “Natural or Organic” rankings…. don’t buy your rankings, you need to work for them.

As for the companies out there that promise to guarantee you front page rankings–well, the nicest thing to say is don’t believe them all. I can’t say that all of them are not legit, but I can say that many of them make me pause and wonder how they can make such a promise while keeping you in the good graces of Google. They may very well be doing things that can get you banned from Google, and in fact I know some folks who had that happen to them as a result of using an aggressive “we’ll get you number one rankings” service. There ARE some legitimate Search Ranking Experts out there that can help, but none of the highly reputable ones that I know of are inexpensive. They’re good at what they do and they can support their fees by being true experts in their field.

All of the search engines, will look to your site to include a sitemap and a robot text file. These should be created and uploaded by your designer at the time of your site launch on the internet. These files tell search engines what they’re allowed to look at and what they should expect to find when cataloging your site.

Finally, you’ll have plenty of time to exercise your patience. Good page rankings will not happen overnight and require some persistence to both achieve and maintain. When you first launch, it can take as long as two weeks for the search engines to crawl (search) your site and index it in their catalog. By performing a little research, you can improve your page rankings yourself, but if it feels overwhelming don’t forget that your web designer should be able to help. Your designer will have tools available to them to monitor what the search engines find on your site, when it was crawled, and can provide useful feedback to assist you with adjusting your keywords before the next scan. After all, a website isn’t complete unless it can be found on the internet.

Jul
27

What to look for in a web designer

My work background is in Network Management. Armed with that knowledge and over 12 years experience (in corporate networking), I’ve learned a bit about how all of the pieces work and in this article, I’ll share observations I’ve made as well as questions I recommend that you ask when looking for a web designer for your business or blog.

First of all, you should be aware that the saying “you get what you pay for” does not necessarily apply in the world of web design.  I’ve seen a lot of mediocre sites that have cost people thousands and have been left incomplete or non search engine friendly.  Just because someone charges you a lot does not mean they are going to give you a lot.  An ideal web designer needs to be customer service oriented and realize that people are paying them for a service that someone else could provide.  Your web designer should make the experience as painless for you as possible and you should know in advance what you’re going to get for your money.

Second, keep in mind that your web designer does not need to be geographically close to you.  Websites are built every day by and for people who are continents and oceans apart from each other.  Modern technology can put everything needed within reach in a matter of seconds.

Here are some other things to look for:

  • Check out their portfolio—hopefully it’s not just static non-clickable images.  Go to the actual sites they’ve built and maneuver around and see if you like the layout, the feel, the consistency and functionality of each of the sites.
  • Don’t be afraid to use contact buttons on their client’s sites to email and ask if they were pleased while working with their designer. If the designer lists testimonials, chances are good that there will be links to the client who left them.  Contact them!
  • Check out the web designer’s site.  Do they try to answer your questions with their content?  If it’s sloppy and has silly (lazy) spelling or grammatical errors or if things don’t line up very well… then move on and find someone else.
  • Find out how accessible the designer will be to you.  If they don’t respond to your initial inquiry in a timely manner, that’s a good indication that your site will not be a top priority to them.
  • Ask if they’re going to stuff your site into a template or if you can have some creative input.  I generally don’t recommend using templates, although there are some really nice exceptions out there.  I’d want a site that was made just for me and showcased my product or services uniquely in a way that pleased me.  After all, you are the customer and should get what YOU like.
  • Make certain that they’ll at least start you on a trail to getting your sites listed with the big search engines.  If no one can find your site, then it’s not going to do you much good.  I’ve discovered that a lot of web designers don’t even bother to follow some of the most basic SEO rules–they’ll skip putting in your meta-description, meta-tags (keywords) and do not uniquely name each page of the site.  This makes for a poor website, even if it looks pretty on the outside.
  • Ask questions.  They won’t be able to teach you everything that they know, but they should be willing to try to explain some basics to you.  Find out how things work at least at an entry level.
  • If they don’t list their average prices right on their website or insist on meeting with you in person in order to give you a quote, beware.  These are all red-flags that could mean you are heading into some high pressure sale techniques and that they’ll charge you a lot more than you need to pay.
  • Find out how much they’ll charge you to make changes to your site.  There will always be things that you’ll wish you’d said differently or need to adjust for search engines or a newer/better picture falls into your hands.  Make sure those changes will be made for you and at what cost.
  • Rarely will your site design include hosting fees and domain name.  Ask what those fees will be and for what duration.  I personally would question paying more than $250.00 for 2 years for hosting and domain name.  Anything else may be a heavily padded setup.  If their cost is more than that… ask why or if you can obtain your own host agreement with a reputable company.

Above all else, go with your gut.  If this feels like the right person to work with, you’ll probably be just fine.

Jun
16

More about Blogging

If you are running a serious business whether it be an online company or a local one you should consider a blog. If you want your blog to be taken seriously, then you should seriously consider having a WordPress blog with your own address.  Having your own domain name gives your blog an impression of legitimacy, like you’re not here today but will be gone tomorrow.  The disadvantage of having your own url is that you need a place to host it.  I use Lunar Pages and recommend Lunar Pages to all of my clients.  What’s important to know about them, is that they have tools to make it very easy for you to set up your own blog using WordPress.  They’re also affordable and offer unlimited harddisk and bandwidth space.  This is very important whether you’re considering a blog, a website or even both!

Your web designer should be willing and able to help you with this.  Use a template that compliments your website and make sure you link back to your real website from your blog.  You don’t want your prospective customers or clients to get lost now that they’ve found you!

Adwords make very little money.  You can add them if you want, but don’t expect to make much and they can make your blog look cluttered and make the important information harder for your readers to find. Now then, if your blog IS your business then by all means, consider AdWords, Project Wonderful and Affiliate Programs. I’ll write more on other posts to encompass this “money-maker”.

Make sure you set your feed up.  I use FeedBurner myself and recommend them. A feed will allow people to subscribe to your blog so that you have returning visitors to your blog.

Make sure you set up Askimet for your blog! It’ll save you the hassle and headache of spam. It’s a plug-in offered on WordPress and is well worth the time in small effort it takes to configure.

Want to know more about the visitors that come to your blog? Two good FREE sites that I use are W3 Counter and Stat Counter

Don’t forget to check out my recent recommendations in To Blog or Not to Blog. A blog is only worth as much effort as you’re willing to put into it. It IS a powerful way to market your business and to improve your search engine rankings, but if it’s not used to it’s full capacity then it won’t be worth the time and effort.

Jun
11

Social Networking

Some other great ways of driving traffic and increasing your ratings on the Search Engines is utilizing the social networking companies that are out there.  For instance, I have a page on Face Book for my One Stop Boy Shop where people can be a fan and I also send an RSS feed through my profile for all of my online friends to see.  Fans can also be notified of sales created just for them.

The ones that I have found the most useful are Facebook, MySpace, Linked In and Twitter.  I encourage you to create accounts on these sites, but just creating them doesn’t give all the help it can.  Sure, it gives you a link back which is vital in assisting with your Google Rankings, but you need to use them.  Utilize them and market them.  You can use these tools to expand your customer base and to reach out to people who otherwise never would have heard of your product or service.  And best of all, they’re all free.  Unless you count the time and resources it will take you to maintain them, but in the end it’s very worth it.  You’re bound to meet some neat people along the way, cultivate some friendships all while promoting your business.  It’s a win – win.

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