We Moved! Come See Our New Blog!

May 10, 2010

Thanks to everyone that read and participated here. We have moved to a more permanent location where all future blog articles will be posted. Please check us out there..

Blue Sky Online

Thanks!


Google Just Completely Changed SEO… Back to What it Was!

December 10, 2008

From its inception, a search engine’s job was simple:

Return the highest quality websites possible for every inquiry.

Over 15 years later – that job remains unchanged. However, in the time since search engines first became available, the art of “search engine optimization” has become an industry within itself. Overnight “professionals” sprung up around the globe proclaiming that they knew how to get paying customer’s websites to the top of Google. And many did.

“Content is King”

The king phrase was born. SEO professionals understood that there were many ways to help the real value of a website shine through. They developed techniques (called Search Engine Optimization) to make the assessment process conducted by a visiting search engine spider easier and more accurate. The focus was on increasing  the value of the website, making it apparent what purpose the site served and ease of use.

One of the clearest paths to ranking better naturally was by adding more unique, relevant, quality information to the site and clearly labeling it. Google became the premier search engine because of their repeated value of quality. Their business became successful because of it and their model demands that they adhere to it.

However, as well as Google has done, their system has always been flawed. Algorithms are used to determine which site should be placed before another and while they are routinely refined, at the end of the day a machine is making an evaluation of the value a person derives from a website. The logic is inherently flawed.

The proliferation of websites in every conceivable niche and the potential to turn a home business into an international one has forged a tremendously competitive climate from day one. The SEO industry was molded by the ambitious demands of ROI-conscious customers that all wanted to be #1 before the industry even had its legs to stand on. Corners were being cut and tricks were employed in an effort to manipulate the system into giving their sites a more favorable rank than they deserved.

Up until a few days ago, the cat and mouse scenario best described the SEO industry. Search engines would alter their secret algorithms to stay one step ahead of cunning SEO strategists, paid to get their clients to the top. But the answer has always been the same:

Develop a quality website.

A Return to Quality

The problem with my over-simplified solution of “developing a quality website” was that the quality was being measured by a machine and often felt arbitrary and inaccurate. And the design, the aesthetic quality of the presentation of the site has not and cannot be factored into the equation by a machine. A machine cannot decipher beauty. Beauty is not deciphered. A machine can only follow an algorithm developed to guide its decisions and regardless of how complex and refined that algorithm may be, it will never be able to replace a human being.

Google’s ingenious solution was to leave their algorithms and spiders in place to filter out a list of sites they deemed to be valuable, but then let you, the user make the final determination. Just recently they quietly launched some new, groundbreaking features:

1. Promote: Google now gives you a little tool besides each listing to promote  it above the listing before it

googlepromote

2. Remove: Beside each website is also a tool to remove it from your list. Removing it sends it to the very bottom of the page.googleremove1

3. Add a Result: This feature is at the bottom of every search page and lets you add in your own website.

googleaddaresult

While this may not seem that significant, it completely changes the SEO game by rooting out deception and returning it to its essence. SEO experts can continue to sell their service of making sure your site is coded cleanly, labeled accurately and thoroughly, quality content is in place and relevant and the site is easy to navigate, but the power is in the hands of the user for the first time.  The only lasting strategy to get your website to the top of the list and keep it there is to develop a useful website.

The secret to ranking well has never been a secret. The time-tested principle of delivering a quality product each and every time is Google’s core business model. These new developments only push that farther by letting actual people decide on the list that is presented to them.

I recommend consulting with your SEO professional about employing the best practices, but concentrate on quality and never substitute a gimmick for it.

We love your feedback. Please do not hesitate to leave comments and questions here or to email us directly.

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Using Search Engines to Your Advantage – Part 2

November 5, 2008

It’s All About Quality

SEM, SEO, PPC, CPC – the list of acronyms is seemingly endless. An entire sub-industry has formed to serve businesses who want to use search engines to drive traffic to their websites with the hopes of increasing their profits.

Google is the undisputed king. Google currently commands about 80% of the market share because of one simple fact:

Google returns the highest quality websites back for any search conducted.

Google has a definite cult-like following much like Apple does, but loyalty formed after Google clearly outperformed its competitors for years on end. It is false to assume that people are loyal to a free service for any other reason. Regardless of what any Search Engine Marketing business tells you, Google’s business and the success they have achieved are due to their quality. Preserving the quality of their results is the cornerstone of their business. If your site does not meet their established criteria, you will not rank higher naturally than one that does – despite what any quick-talking salesperson tells you.

Any company that employs tricks to get your website to gain ranking is not looking out for your business’ best interests. By cheating the system, they are damaging Google’s business and it is only a matter of time before Google catches on. Remember, Google has infinitely more resources than you do and will continually refine their algorithm to account for sites using gimmicks to attain a higher ranking. Their business demands that they continually produce the best quality for every inquiry coming their way. Always keep that in mind. That’s what this all comes down to.

Natural Ranking Vs. Sponsored Ranking

There are 2 different ways your site can be ranked in any major search engine:

Naturally and Sponsored.

Natural ranking or Organic ranking is just like it sounds. Google, Yahoo, Dogpile, MSN, whoever, has listed your site based on its determination of your website’s quality. The more valuable your site is the closer to the top it will be. As discussed in Part 1 of this series, this is equivalent to the NY Times writing about your business on their own as opposed to paying to be included through advertisements. The power of ranking naturally is immense. Just as most people will visit a restaurant after reading a two page spread about it in a newspaper, the same is true online.

The investment in time and resources required to rank well naturally fluctuates depending on the competitiveness of your industry and more specifically on the keywords/phrases you want to rank for. The heavier the competition, the harder it is going to be to move above them. But the value derived from ranking in the top 5 for effective key terms is incredible and can continue to pay dividends even as your PPC advertising budget dries up. Imagine if the article written about your business in the NY Times lasted day after day, month after month. Imagine if it appeared every time someone searched for the type of food you served or the type of products you sell. This is what it means to rank well naturally.

I always explain to my clients the value of ranking well naturally because it is something I strongly believe in, however it is not always the most effective way to close sales. From a conversion or ROI standpoint, you want to aim for the most relevance to what a user is looking for. If a prospect searches for “Santa Monica Surf Lessons” and finds your website in the natural rankings, but then discovers that your business is located in Santa Cruz, that prospect is most likely going to start their search over. In other words, you may get substantial traffic, but if there is discrepancy between what a user is looking for and what you actually offer, your conversion rate is going to be low.

Either way, you’ve increased the awareness of your business and made an impression on that visitor, but you might not have sold anything.

The Importance of Sponsored Ads

While Google’s natural rankings are not specifically set-up to help you close a sale, their paid advertising campaigns are. A Pay Per Click or Cost Per Click campaign puts (almost all) of the controls in your hands, so that you can dictate the keyword phrases you want to target, the regions you want to cover, the time of day you want your campaign to run, the verbiage on your ad, the web-page a user will be taken to when they click on your ad, and to some extent, the placement of your ad.

Implementing a CPC campaign enables you to quickly launch yourself to the top of a search engine. This can be critical if you have a time-sensitive product or service. For example, if you have a product or discount you want to offer for the Christmas Holiday, time is of the essence and relevance is key. You can use a CPC campaign to begin ranking for key terms that match what your demographic is searching for (but your site is not ranking for naturally) and then send visitors to the web-page of your choice.

One of the advantages of a PPC campaign is that you can link your ad to the web-page of your choice, meaning you can send a user directly to the order page of the product they searched for rather than the page Google has deemed the best and most relevant. In addition, a PPC campaign offers you the flexibility to design highly relevant, effective pages that relate specifically to the term that brought the user there. These specialized pages are commonly referred to as Landing Pages and their sole purpose is to convert your traffic into paying customers. All of the images, verbiage, functionality, prices, etc. can be tailored to the exact product or service you are offering. You can implement a PPC campaign with corresponding landing pages at strategic times during the year, or you can run multiple campaigns simultaneously that appeal to different demographics. You can run different campaigns consecutively or only use them during down times in the year. The options are obviously numerous, which is why we recommend working with a professional to help you develop the right overall strategy, one that is tailored specifically to your business, budget and goals.

Pay Per Click AND Natural Ranking

More often than not, the answer for most businesses is to use both tactics in conjunction with one another. A PPC campaign can bring you instant, highly targeted traffic and will allow you to refine your ad in real time so you can maximize the results you are getting. Ranking naturally will bring you a constant stream of traffic that you do not need to subsidize by paying monthly for them and is a long term, but less specific solution. The right mix of both SEO and PPC will help generate sales. Each approach has its strengths and weaknesses and subtleties.

We advise you work with an expert in the field of Search Engine Marketing (SEM). In a later article, we’ll outline how to find a good SEM company and what to be careful of, but in the meantime, please feel free to contact us with any questions or sends us the names of companies you have worked with in the past. We would love to make that information known to our readers.

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Stop Dropping the Ball! A Better Way to Manage Leads

October 29, 2008

A common mistake I run into when speaking with business owners is that they do not have an efficient method for managing their leads. Their systems range from using Outlook to Excel to coffee-stained napkins and they quickly run into limitations and are not able to process and contact their leads in an efficient, timely manner – a fatal mistake.

Often the ability to follow up with a prospect’s inquiry and track the correspondence that has already been made and then share that information between departments will determine the success your sales team has. Keeping a thorough record of all pertinent information about the prospect, the product(s) they are interested in and the avenue by which they found and contacted your company are vital to dealing with them effectively. Using the right tool can keep your sales and marketing departments in sync and greatly improve their ability to close sales and generate new ones.

But even when business owners realize the value in having an effective way to manage their leads and the impact “dropping the ball” can have on their success, they usually still have the misconception that a program designed specifically to manage their leads is out of their reach.

Fortunately, that is no longer true. Competition among Client Management Relationship solutions has driven the prices down and technology, specifically the Internet has made them more effective than ever. Salesforce, the industry standard CRM does several key things:

  1. All of a lead’s contact information can be stored including their full name, phone number, email address, etc.
  2. Demographics about the lead can be stored including the industry they are in, the company they are a part of, the size and annual revenue of their company, the number of offices and their geographic locations.
  3. Vital marketing information can be captured; the product of the lead’s interest and the marketing campaign that referred them.
  4. Leads can be processed. All correspondence between the sales person assigned to the prospect and the prospect can be sent and recorded within the platform. Template emails can be created to expedite and standardize communication and leads can be given statuses showing whether they are hot, warm or cold and have been contacted.

The power this system gives a Salesperson is profound. They can easily run a report of all open warm leads that are interested in XYZ product and then send them all the same template email that is individually addressed to each prospect in minutes.

Having the entire system online allows the company to share the information internally and modify it in real time. A lead can call, inquire about a specific product, the person answering the call can note that and then place the lead on hold and the note can be seen by another employee who specializes in that product and picks up the call. The Salesperson can pick up knowing whether that lead has ever called in before, who they have spoken with in the past and what products they have expressed interest in before ever speaking to them.

To increase the value further, Google and Salesforce have integrated their products. Google Apps offers a free and low cost version of their services for small businesses including email, a calendar, documents, and a slideshow presentation comparable to Microsoft’s PowerPoint – all of which can be seamlessly integrated with Salesforce.

  • Contacts can be imported..
  • Calendars can be synced..
  • Documents can be stored..
  • Emails can be sent..

..And everything can be logged and managed by anyone designated in your company to do so.

Watch a video made by Google explaining how their solution integrates with Salesforce’s by clicking here.

We asked Betsy Moyer, a CRM expert and the owner of Adapt On Demand, a business process consulting and CRM implementation company about the benefits of integrating a CRM solution into a business’ process and she passionately quoted Al Pacino’s film, Glengarry Glen Ross, “A-B-C. Always-Be-Closing. Always be closing. It may not need to get much more complicated than that for a Salesperson. But for a business owner… gaining executive insight into your Sales Cycle is invaluable. A robust CRM like Salesforce.com will allow you to track sales patterns and aid you in making the best decisions for your Return on Investment.”

The bottom line is that there are a ton of tools at your disposal to help. We can help you figure out which are best for your business based on your budget, staff and needs. Please contact us with any questions. We can also help you integrate both Google Apps and Salesforce with your website so that anyone contacting you through a form or a PPC campaign is automatically placed in your lead management system.

We welcome any feedback you may have!

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Quick Tips: Improving Conversion Rates – Tip 3

October 28, 2008

Marketing consistency.

The rate at which people find your site and take the leap of faith of contacting or buying from you is based highly on the trust they place in your company. Since you are not standing before them, pleading your case, the vibe your site gives off coupled with your marketing consistency is one of your biggest assets in building trust.

By marketing consistency I mean maintaining continuity between what you are advertising and the actual product or service you are selling. While misleading visitors with deceptive verbiage in an ad might cause a spike in traffic, it is ultimately ineffective because you have failed to deliver on the promises that initially piqued your visitor’s interest. Although they have come to your site, they are likely leaving with a negative impression and future sales could be jeopardized.

Choose the words in your ad carefully, being mindful of their context and implications and the impression the imagery your advertising creates. Every aspect of your ad should be in line with what you are actually selling. Apple’s stock fell 5% the other day because of a rumor claiming that their new laptops would be sold at $800, a lower price point than any of their other models thus far. When CEO Steve Jobs corrected the rumor at the unveiling of the laptops and announced that prices would start at almost $500 more, the reaction was less than enthusiastic. Even though Apple did not deceive anyone in any way, the situation reveals the importance consumers place on expectations, regardless of how they are created.

Advertising something remarkable and then being able to deliver it is a proven way to generate sales and increase the effectiveness of your site, build customer loyalty and create consumer-driven buzz.

For more on this subject, I recommend reading The Anonymous Ad Guy’s insightful article that covers this principle and many others in more detail.

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Quick Tips: Improving Conversion Rates – Tip 2

October 21, 2008

Less is More

There is one constant mistake businesses large and small make that continually reduces the effectiveness of their websites:

Their websites are about too much.

As hard as it may be to swallow, people are only visiting your website for a small number of reasons. At Blue Sky Online, our clients come to us to improve the conversion rates of their websites, not in search of religious advice, marriage counseling or an exercise regimen. And although I’m confident that we can help our clients in a variety of areas, our business and website are only built around one:

Helping our clients make their websites more effective.

So where do you start?

The home page!

  • Does the design showcase the primary reason people are visiting the site?
  • Does the design highlight the advantages of doing business with you versus a competitor?
  • Does the feel of the site promote a sense of professionalism, authority and trustworthiness?
  • Does the functionality engage your site’s visitors?
  • Does your site identify and promote the core products that propel your business?
  • Is it easy to purchase / get in contact with you?
  • What is unnecessary? What can be removed / reorganized?

Time and time again, companies dilute their greatest strength by trying to be everything to everyone but overlook the fact that in doing so, they fail to be anything to anyone. It is vital you find your place online as you have likely done in the brick and mortar world.

“Do only what you are best at.” – Raymond Aaron

Guidelines to Streamline Your Website:

  1. Limit the different sections your site has, restricting them to just your core business; everything else is a distraction.
  2. Make the navigation of your site self-explanatory, straight-forward and clean. Use drop down menus to organize extensive content more effectively. Group the navigation together rather than having multiple sets of buttons / links.
  3. Design the site to immediately address the concerns a prospect has about your product / service / company. Any questions you continually receive from your customers add to a Frequently Asked Question page that is easily accessible and read.
  4. Use imagery instead of lengthy explanations whenever possible. A picture is worth at least 2,000 words online.
  5. At every point where you are providing information, give the user an exit to purchase your product / service or contact you immediately.
  6. Keep your site simple. If a chat, blog, RSS feed or MySpace pages does not directly help you sell more, consider eliminating it even if it reduces your popularity among Web 2.0 “gurus”

The underlining concept is a simple one: find the simplest, most direct solution to the problem your customers are attempting to resolve by buying from your company. The onus is on you (and your web designer) to find the most efficient answer to the problem your prospect is facing. Focus solely on the answer to that problem and not other questions that you may know the answer to.

Shoot us an email if you would like Blue Sky Online to assess areas of your website that can be improved and for a vigorous workout routine we recommend CrossFit – even though you didn’t ask.

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Quick Tips: Improving Conversion Rates – Tip 1

October 16, 2008

Respond quickly!

Websites often feel so cold and impersonal. The sense of trust that a customer needs to feel before buying from a company they are otherwise unfamiliar with can often be hard to convey through a website. Warm photographs of smiling grandparents lovingly pushing their grandchildren on a swing on a sunny day might not be appropriate for your business. But you can create trust by being accessible. In addition to making your contact information prominent, a prompt response to your visitors’ questions will go a long way to reassure them that they are safe spending their money with you.

That being said, I rarely see chats on small business websites that are effective. A chat is like a blog in the sense that it is only valuable if it is regularly being attended to and chats can be a definite draw on resources. One trick I personally use is to set up filters in my email to weed out spam and “non-vital” emails and then have the rest forwarded to my cell phone via SMS. Set up is easy and guarantees that I’m notified when important emails come in, regardless of my proximity to a computer.

I get around having an expensive data plan by having my emails forwarded as text messages. Almost all major carriers have an email address you can set up as a forward from your inbox:

AT&T
[10 digit phone number]@txt.att.net

Boost Mobile
10 digit phone number@myboostmobile.com

Metro
10 digit phone number@mymetropcs.com

T-Mobile

[10 digit phone number]@tmomail.net

Verizon
[10 digit phone number]@vtext.com

Virgin Mobile
[10 digit phone number]@vmobl.com

Source

You can also sync your website to a CRM solution like Salesforce to create a log of every contact a potential customer has made through your website. Having a record of all the incoming and outgoing correspondence will allow you to review the frequency and the details of the contact being made to ensure it is timely and processed in an efficient manner. Pre-drafted emails can be sent automatically and email marketing services like Constant Contact can help you keep in touch with your customers, but nothing beats a friendly voice on the phone that is one toll-free call away.


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