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Saturday, April 26, 2008

Do You Make These Mistakes With Your Web Site?

by: Lauren Hobson

While it's true that "nobody's perfect", I think the same goes for small business web sites as well - no web site is absolutely perfect. Even the best of the best often have room for improvement!

But there are some basic web site mistakes that many small companies make that can end up hurting business instead of helping it. Do any of these mistakes show up on your web site?

  • Not enough content.

    Often, small businesses will put minimal information along with their contact information on their web sites and think that's probably good enough. But today's web visitors are looking for something more, and lots of good quality content is a great way to deliver value to your visitors and build credibility for your business.

  • Old or outdated content.

    If you want visitors and search engines to pay attention to your web site, you need to keep adding new content and updating the existing information on your web site regularly. If your site never changes, the search engines will ignore your site, and visitors will not have a reason to come back. It's also unlikely that visitors will recommend your site to their friends and colleagues, too.

  • Not being search engine friendly.

    Speaking of search engines, what happens if a search engine spider visits your site, but can't read your web pages? Nothing happens, and that's a problem. If a search engine spider cannot read your web pages, it just moves on to the next site, and your information is completely ignored. Your web site must be search engine friendly in order to be included in the search engine databases.

  • Not monitoring your site in the search engines.

    Even if your web site is search engine friendly, there are constant changes going on with the search engines and also with your competitors. If you aren't monitoring how your site is performing in the search engines, how will you know if these changes are affecting your rankings or if you are losing traffic? Monitoring your web site means that you can react to changes and take appropriate steps to make sure your site shows up in the search results and that web traffic keeps flowing.

  • The site is built using Frames or Flash.

    Not too many web sites still make this mistake, but there are still some small business web sites out there using one or both of these methods. Sites built with Frames or Flash intro pages cannot easily be read by the search engines, and web visitors typically hate using them as well. These are older web techniques that don't reflect well on your business, they don't perform well in the search engines, and today's web visitors expect better.

Making your web site the best it can be is a very effective and affordable marketing option for most small businesses. Of all the other types of advertising and marketing that you do each year, your web site has the potential to be seen by more customers, can continue to promote your company perpetually through links, is always accessible to customers, and can instantly reflect changes and provide fresh information to draw people in.

Avoiding basic web site mistakes will help your site perform better, making it a "perfect" marketing strategy for your small business.

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Saturday, April 5, 2008

Reliable, Respected, Revered or Feared

by: John Mehrmann

What is most the most important attribute to developing your reputation? Would you prefer to be known as reliable, respected, revered or feared? Is it possible to be all of these things over time? Constructing your reputation is like solving a Rubik's Cube puzzle. It takes time, several steps and the right combination of twists and turns. It is also important to know what it should look like when you are done. When you have the goal in your mind, then you can go about solving the puzzle.

The GOAL

The goal of developing your reputation is to be true to yourself. Be consistent with your principals and your personal values. Your actions, your decisions and your interaction with others should be a reflection of the way that you live your life. If you attempt to disguise your intentions or beguile your associates, you will not be able to maintain trust or confidence. If your intentions are to help your customers, look for other individuals with similar intentions. If you are content with your own situation, then enjoy the camaraderie of your peers and help them to achieve their goals. If your intention is personal advancement or promotions, be open about searching for people who will support your efforts.

If you define and share your goals, you will either find supporters or other individuals with similar goals. At the same time, be cognizant and supportive of the goals of those around you. Be prepared to listen intently and understand the aspirations of coworkers and customers. You person who listens the most is heard loudest.

RELIABLE

First, establish a reputation for being reliable. Regardless of your position, title or tenure, the foundation of your reputation should be reliability. If you are the leader, manager, director, clerk, associate or representative, maintain a dedicated focus on being consistently reliable. It is equally important to be a reliable customer as it is to be a reliable vendor or supplier. No matter how powerful or seemingly unimportant you may perceive your responsibilities, there are other people who rely on you. Be consistently reliable for the people you report to, to the people who look up to you, the people that you support and to the people who support you.

Even if some people respect you, revere you or fear you, you will have no value to anyone if you are not reliable. Do not forget this basic foundation in the search for power or prestige. You may be respected for your capability, but what good is it if you can not be counted on as a reliable individual? This is based on your ability to perform consistently and to be supportive of others.

RESPECTED

You do not have to be the president or a brain surgeon to be respected. Take a look at the positions and the people that you respect most in your life. Then look to see what these people have in common. School teachers and police officers are respected for their individual sacrifice and dedication to their profession in the service of others. Respect can be earned by great achievements through consistent effort, self-sacrifice and being someone that other people can count on, being reliable. A leader or a coach does not earn respect for the position, but rather by what they do with the authority and responsibility of the position. A coworker may earn respect by diligence, effort or self-sacrifice. Winning the lottery may achieve instant wealth, but it does not earn instant respect.

What can you do to earn respect? You might be respected for your talent, for your character or for your perseverance. Respect may be earned by the way that you use your experience, knowledge or previous achievements. If you want to be respected and do not know how to begin, start by being reliable.

REVERED or FEARED

For centuries there has been a debate regarding the benefits of being revered or being feared. One dimensional leaders often choose one of these attributes for their reputation and dedicate their ambitions toward a single goal, to be revered or to be feared. Machiavelli described the importance of being feared, and many dictators who embraced this approach were eventually rewarded with revolution. On the other hand, individuals who take extreme measures to be liked or revered may run the risk of being taken advantage of, and thereby losing much more than respect.

In the balance of leadership, individuals are more likely to make perform or make sacrifice for something and somebody that they believe in. When performance and sacrifice is demanded through fear, the output is reluctant and can not be sustained. From a personal perspective, are you more likely to repeat a task and improve your personal performance when doing something that you enjoy, or for someone that you want to please? Are you more or less likely to expend extra effort consistently for a job or a person that you resent?

Good decisions are made when clear purpose and goals are established and shared. The predominance of fear impairs good decisions, or even worse, may precipitate a culture that lacks any decisions for fear of being ostracized. Avoiding a decision is the same as making a decision to allow unmanaged consequences.

It is possible to be both revered and feared. By virtue of being respected as a reliable individual, you will become both revered and feared. Some individuals will appreciate consistency, predictability, direction and reliability. By the same token, if you are consistent with your own personal goals and values, you may be feared by other individuals. If your values are self-serving, you will be revered by a small group of like-minded individuals and feared by many. If your values are self-sacrificing toward the greater good, then you will find yourself revered by many and feared by the self-serving. In any case, consistency of purpose and character will create circumstances that cultivate opportunities to be revered, feared or both. This depth of character is far superior to a hollow one dimensional approach of choosing to be only revered or feared.

What does all this mean? Stop worrying about your reputation and concentrate on doing those things that reputations are built on. Listen intently to others. Be willing to make sacrifices for others. Be consistently reliable, and be true to yourself. Do your job with the same principles and passions that you live your life, and your reputation will take care of itself. By coincidence, if you can achieve this dedicated diligence to your values, you will discover an inverse relationship that your reputation will grow as your care less about it.

Words of Wisdom

"Conscience and reputation are two things. Conscience is due to yourself, reputation to your neighbor." - Saint Augustine

"You can't build a reputation on what you are going to do." - Henry Ford

"Regard your good name as the richest jewel you can possibly be possessed of - for credit is like fire; when once you have kindled it you may easily preserve it, but if you once extinguish it, you will find it an arduous task to rekindle it again. The way to gain a good reputation is to endeavor to be what you desire to appear." - Socrates

"There are two modes of establishing our reputation: to be praised by honest men, and to be abused by rogues. It is best, however, to secure the former, because it will invariably be accompanied by the latter." - Charles Caleb Colton

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Saturday, March 29, 2008

Personalized Search - All's Well or Orwell?

by: Scott Buresh

You go to Google and enter your search term. Big Brother, the totalitarian character from George Orwell's novel 1984, watches with detached interest. You see, to Big Brother, you are only a number - but he'd like to know as much about you as he can. Knowing you allows Big Brother to do many things - both good and evil.

Alright, enough of the "Big Brother" comparison - it's been done many times before (and done many times better). However, there is an important central point to be made about personalized search. Google is now (and has been for some time) collecting data on individual users, and they are assuming that users will trust them with this data to "Do No Evil," as their famous slogan goes. Only time will tell whether the trust is well-placed, or if people are willing to trust search engines with this type of data at all.

The basic principle behind personalized search is simple. When you go to Google and type in a search query, Google stores the data. As you return to the engine, a profile of your search habits is built up over time. With this information, Google can understand more about your interests and serve up more relevant search results.

For instance, let's say that you have shown an interest in the topic of sport fishing in your search queries, while your neighbor has shown an interest in musical instruments in his search queries. Over time, as these preferences are made clear to the engine, your personalized search results for the term "bass" will largely be comprised of results that cover the fish while your neighbor's results for "bass" will be comprised of results that primarily cover the musical instrument.

At present, you need to have signed up for a Google service for your results to be personalized. Such services include Gmail, AdWords, Google Toolbar, and many others. By default, as long as you are signed in to one of these programs, your personal search data will be collected. The term "at present" is used because Google certainly could implement personalized search on any user of the engine, regardless of whether he or she has a Google account. Google already places a cookie, or unique identifier, on the machine of anyone who types in a search query on Google - it would not be hard for them to use that information, rather than the Google account, to collect individual user data and personalize results. It is quite possible that Google is testing the waters of personalized search with people who have opted in to one of its services and will expand the system to all users if there is limited uproar or government intervention.

For search engine optimization firms, the major shift brought about by personalized search will be in how they report on Google ranking data to clients. When collecting this data, they will have to run from a "clean" machine - that is, one that has no Google programs or cookies on it. The baseline results that are reported to the client will essentially be a snapshot of what a search engine user would see if they had no Google software installed. The good news is that Google account holders who have shown an interest in certain products and services will likely have results more favorable to the client than the baseline results indicate since personalized search assures that their search histories will be reviewed and the results likely skewed toward the client's industry. The bad news is that the search engine optimization firm will be hard-pressed to demonstrate this - not to mention that the results that the client using a Google program has on its own personal machines will almost certainly not match up with the results that the firm is reporting (although the client machines should have better results, for the same reasons cited above).

Some people find the practice of storing information for personalized search purposes disturbing; others find the end result to be useful (still others find themselves experiencing an odd combination of both reactions). In defense of the engines, it is not as if they are building a dossier on individuals - again, you are only a number to them. However, the potential for misuse of the data is fairly high.

There are many advertising firms out there already that go through the cookies on your machine to figure out which ads will have the best effect on you. If you've ever been on a website and seen a banner ad that is directly related to something you have been doing research on lately, it is most likely not a coincidence. The ad platform simply browsed through the cookies on your machine to find out what topic held your interest, and dropped in a related ad once it determined what that topic was. Search engines have been buying firms with this technology lately; notable recent purchases include that of DoubleClick by Google and aQuantive by Microsoft. There seems to be little doubt that your search history will be combined with existing ad-serving technology to deliver even more relevant ads. Whether this constitutes misuse seems to be debatable - some people seem to have no problem with it, while it makes many others fairly uneasy.

Privacy issues that arise from personalized search are also a big question. The EU recently announced that it is probing into how long Google stores user information (this probe was subsequently extended to include all search engines). AOL recently committed a serious blunder when it released search data from 500,000 of its users, and it was discovered that it was fairly easy to identify many people by the search terms that they use (anybody ever "ego surf" - that is, type your own name into a search engine to see what comes up? If so, you wouldn't be hard to spot). In addition, since the IP address of the computer creating the query is also reportedly tracked, a court order forcing the engine and the ISP (Internet Service Provider) to provide specific search data on individuals is a distinct possibility - the technology required to deliver upon such a demand is already in use.

Unless the government intervenes, the question will probably be decided by personal preference. As it becomes more common knowledge that Google (and other engines) store this type of data to enable personalized search, many users will take measures to block its use.

Are the search engines that collect this data "Doing No Evil?" The answer, I believe, will depend on each individual's definition of evil. In the meantime, don't be surprised when you type in a search query, and the engine seems to be reading your mind. It isn't, really - it's merely parsing through your memories. (C) Medium Blue 2007

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