Month: April 2008

A Primer In Search Engine Optimization, Part 2

If you have followed the advice I gave you in part one then by now your page should be set up correctly to fully take advantage of the targeted keywords that we chose. After all of the effort you put into making your page ready, you may be surprised to learn that your onpage optimization is actually only a very small part of getting a high page ranking in Google and other search engines.

So here comes the hard, yet critical, part. You must get other pages to link to you and they must be relevant pages to your page. Once again you will do a search for your keywords and go to the top sites listed. It is also quite helpful at this point to use Google Toolbar so that you can see the page rank of the sites you are visiting. You want to get sites with a decent page rank to agree to link to your site. This may prove difficult with higher ranked sites but should be attempted anyway because the potential reward is great. Not only will you reap visitors from their sites but having relevant high ranked sites linking to your site will boost your own Google page rank significantly. How well you accomplish this step can mean the difference between a wildly successful website and one that is lost in obscurity.

So what is the best way to request a link from another site? I’ve found that a polite and professionally worded email sometimes goes further than polite and personal. But you need to find what works for you. Be prepared to have to include a link to their website in almost every case. If you do manage to get someone to link to your website without providing a reciprocal link then so much the better for you because one way links are more valuable for page rank than reciprocal links.

A note about AdWords: I said in part one that we were only going to be using AdWords’ keyword tool. However, if your website is selling a product you may very well find it necessary to pay for text ads. Crafting ads that produce high click through rates is a science unto itself and outside of the realm of this particularly blog post. If you are not selling a product it is usually a waste of money to pay for advertising. The one exception to this rule is if the ads that are showing on your site have a much higher payout than what you spend to advertise your site elsewhere. Even then it is risky and you would typically want to look at the range of receiving 8 to 10 times per click more than you are spending per click. The reason for this is that every time someone clicks on an ad to come to your site, that is guaranteed money you are spending but you have no guarantee that they are going to click on an ad once they are on your site. I should note that statistically people who click on text ads to get to a page are more likely to click on another ad to navigate away from a site. Still this is risky business and should only bet attempted on a trial basis and not with a “set it and forget it” mindset.

There are entire books dedicated to the subject of search engine optimization and I’m sure that there are a few nuggets of good information to be had in them that I have not covered here. If you do follow the instructions in both posts on the subject however then for most people there should be little need to purchase additional resources. I hope this was helpful for the fledgling web entrepreneurs out there.

A Primer In Search Engine Optimization, Part 1

For many people today that hope to work from home, starting an online business looks like the way to do it and for good reason. The continued growth of internet commerce and the extremely small investment compared to other business endeavors is what drives people to try this route. Someone once approached me about making a website for them for a reasonable fee. As it turned out, the website that they wanted me to make was a website to sell a product about making websites. The irony in the room was rank and the guy obviously knew nothing about running a successful website and so i walked away from the deal without taking any money from him.

As for me, I’ve been making websites for many years now to varying degrees of success (more often than not failure). Something that I never really understood until recently was Search Engine Optimization. I would make a website, choose a bunch of keywords that I thought made sense for the website and then just hope that people started showing up. There was no consistency with my results from this method and I never understood why until I started investigating how the pros do it. It all comes down to search engine optimization and just in case anyone out there is in the same boat that I was for many years, I’m going to dispel some of the mystery for you.

Okay first things first. This can and probably should be done before you even make a website. Once you have a rough idea of what your website content will be you need to spend some time researching what keywords would work best for you. There are many tools out there that cost money and some are worth the money but one of the best tools available for keyword suggestions is actually Google Adwords. Adwords is what advertisers use to create ad campaigns for those text ads that are littered all over websites. This website included, I’ll just wait a minute while you click on a couple of them to familiarize yourself with how they work…Okay then, we are not actually going to be creating ads to pay for, we are simply going to use the free keyword suggestion tool that is part of Adwords.

Now choose three keywords that you feel describe your website pretty accurately and plug them into the keyword suggestion tool. Most likely what you will see is that the top several keywords that come up have a lot of search traffic and a lot of advertiser competition as well. Aim your sites a bit lower. Find keywords that still fit your website but have less competition. You’ll have a much easier time getting ranked near the top of the search engines when you aren’t go up against the big guys, at least until you are one of the big guys.

Once you have your keywords picked out it is usually a good idea to actually search them in Google and find what the top sites are under those searches. By not going with the top keywords for a website I recently did I had nicely positioned myself against some pretty crummy websites. This would be like taking candy from a baby.

Now it’s time to actually make your website work for you with these keywords. The title of your main page should be the three keywords you chose and nothing else. If you are using text for your main title on the page itself, it should be placed within <> tags and should include your top keyword. All three keywords should be mentioned on the page at least once. If you are using graphics on your page make sure you include the “alt” tag inside the <> tag. The “alt” text should includes your keywords but also one or two extra words so it just doesn’t look like search engine spam. Placing your top keyword at the bottom of the page next to the copyright isn’t a bad idea either.

That’s it for part one. Part two will cover more in depth ways of driving traffic to your site and increasing page rank.

Know Your Customers

I don’t change my own oil. Oil changes are so low cost that I don’t feel that its worth my time to do my self. Also I don’t feel like having to dispose of the old oil. Most of the time I simply go to Wal-Mart for an oil change and grab some groceries while I’m there and each time the mechanic asks me if I want my wiper blades changed and my air filter changed as well. He asks me this without even looking at the car. I have to wonder how many people agree to this addon service every time when they probably only need it once a year. Both of these items are generally very easy to check and change yourself for less money anyway.

The point of this little story is that when you are starting your own business you have a choice of how you want to approach your customer. You can either try to learn as much about their needs as possible and make recommendations built on that knowledge and trust or you can simply dump as many goods and services on them as possible, relying on customer ignorance to drive your sales for you. I personally don’t have much respect for the latter method, and it’s one that Wal-Mart uses a lot (i.e. larger grocery packages are often the worse buy at Wal-Mart ). Being the largest retailer in the world though they must be doing something right and it wouldn’t hurt to pay attention to their methods at least to some degree.

So how can you know your customer? Well if you are running an online business there are a few tools available to you. One is Google Analytics which has great tracking and reporting options that can show you how your website’s visitors interact with your site and which areas they find more interesting than others. Also having a customer feedback form is a great way to get all kinds of information from your customers. Offering some kind of discount coupon for taking the time to fill out the form is well worth the small profit margin you will lose from coupon redemption. Though they are a much less targeted form of feedback, online polls offer the customer a way to give quick feedback on a specific question and often have high response rates for this very reason.

Once you understand the needs of your customer base you can more easily target them to try and drive more sales through your online business.

Helpful Self-Help Books

I recently asked myself a question: If self-help books actually help people then why are there so many of them? I believe that there are two main reasons why there is a never ending stream of self-help books dealing with finance, fitness, relationships, spirituality and so on. The first reason is that what these books actually are is one person’s personal experience with something that worked for them and depending on the reader’s circumstances and/or personality the advice given might not produce any favorable results. The authors of these books of course claim that anyone can be successful in exactly the same way they were.

The second reason I think that self-help books are often ineffectual is that the reader simply does not follow through with the good advice being given. Self-help books are often littered with various simple exercises to try and get the reader to put into practice the things that are being discussed. I know for myself personally I tend to read non-fiction books in the same way that I would read fiction books, straight through. I often make mental notes along the way and tell myself that I will go back to that exercise later and then never do.

So I encourage you to slow down when reading self-help books and actually do the things that they advocate. You may be surprised at the results. What if that book you’re reading actually changed your life for the better? What if you put into practice everything that the book you are reading is advocating? Supposing that the book you are reading is of any value then your life would be richer because of it and you could stop spending all that money on self-help books and actually go out and live life. Now that I’ve preached at you, it’s time I actually go practice it.

Ask And Ye Shall Receive

I can’t count the number of times that I’ve had customers ask me to give them my employee discount. I find this request to be quite rude for a number of reasons. One being that it implies that there is some level of kinship between myself and the customer when in fact their request has pretty much ensured that there will be no such thing. The second reason is that for me to take my employee discount and give it to whomever I please would be completely unethical. It’s called an employee discount for a reason. At my previous job where I slaved away for more than five years they didn’t give us employee discounts so the response to this request was a simple one, “Sorry, I don’t get a discount.'” I guess there are a few good things about working for a company that doesn’t value their employees at all.

But there are times in life when simply asking to get something cheaper or for free can be quite beneficial and easy to obtain. Before I go any further I should quantify this by saying that I am not advocating haggling or berating business owners or employees to try and get something for nothing. People who do that are generally lowlifes and not to be associated with. But what is possible is to simply ask for something for free. Try it out and see what happens. You might very well get turned down but the results might also surprise you. Ninety percent of this blog is written on a bluetooth keyboard that is paired with my Motorola q9m phone from Verizon. Verizon wanted me to pay $200 for the phone even with a two year contract. I simply asked to get it for free because at the time was giving it away for free. They put me on hold for 15 minutes but in the end readily agreed to give it to me for free, no hassle at all. Recently my wife decided that she wanted to try and get into the business of breeding fish. The only really way to test the market is to actually have fish to sell and not wanting to spend a fortune on an untested business idea, we went on craigslist and simply asked for free aquariums and equipment. We said that that they could be dirty and not even hold water. Two days later we had everything we needed to start our little business (minus the fish) and it didn’t cost us anything.

I have no problem paying a fair price for things but I also have no problem getting things for free. Don’t be afraid to ask but don’t be rude to the people you are asking either. That won’t get you anywhere.

Spring Planting

Well the time has finally come for us to do our spring planting and it’s not a moment too soon. I think we started our plants indoors a week or two earlier than we should have. They’ve gotten quite large in their little peat pellets. Our lasagna gardening that I had mentioned in a previous post doesn’t appear to be working quite as planned. We’ve got weeds poking up in several places. I think that this is mostly due to us not doing it properly more than a problem with the basic premise of the idea. It appears that most of the weeds are simply poking up through gaps in the cardboard. We probably should have overlapped it a bit.

On a better note our peach tree appears to be poised to give us a quite a few peaches this years. Sadly our raspberry crop looks like it will be a bit smaller due to recent construction around the house. Here’s a tip for expanding your yield of raspberries exponentially: If you’ve ever made raspberry jelly then you know that after you are done you have thousands of seeds leftover. Raspberries have a knack for growing pretty easily wherever birds normally deposit the seeds. You however can easily take your seeds and cast them wherever you please.

Playing With Time Optimization

Something that I keep running into in financial books and self-help books and also on a few websites is the idea of limiting the amount of time you spend checking email each day. Specifically the book I’m reading at this moment suggests limiting time spent on email to twice a day and then cut back to once a day if possible. So this morning at work I decided I was going to give it a shot. I don’t know if I’ve ever specifically stated on here what industry I work in but I work as a logistics manager in retail. Lately I’ve been finding that the amount of work expected from me is piling up and I lose the first couple of hours each morning just dealing with the “have-to” items of each day.

So this morning when I went into work I didn’t even check the store email at all. Recently the district manager has been chastising store managers for spending too much time in the office reading emails (that she sends out) and my boss typically relays anything specifically pertinent to my job by printing out the emails and putting it in my inbox. So I decided that I won’t waste my time anymore. I also decided to eliminate some extra work I was putting on my self each morning. They were small programs that I had started running that I felt helped the store out but were ultimately not my responsibility to be tackling.

By eliminating just these two areas I was able to cut about 20 minutes out of my morning workload. Ultimately I want to be getting my work done as efficiently as possible so I can then devote more of my brain power to thinking about things that I actually care about. And no, retail is definitely not something I care about. It’s just a job, a way of providing for my family until I can find some other means. It doesn’t matter that I’m actually pretty good at what I do and at most aspects of retail, that’s just further evidence that I’m smart enough to be doing something more worthwhile with my life.

So today I’ve seen some early successes of this plan at work. Now the real trick will be applying these principals at home. It’s one thing to willingly ignore corporate emails but I actually care about the content of my personal emails. It’s going to require more discipline I’m sure but I’m hopeful for positive results.

Evildoers of the Internet

I’ve written a post on this topic once before but apparently it needs reiterating because somehow most of America missed the message. Last year Internet scammers took in more than $247 million dollars.

I want to be self-employed, I want to work at home, I want to have more time to spend with my family but these scam companies that promise you the world will never give you anything and in almost every case take something from you. Several months ago I decided to research the “work from home” arena on the Internet. I spent about 5 hours one day browsing and digging and trying to discern something legitimate in this industry. After all of my searching the best that I could come up with was that 99% are harmful and the other 1% are a waste of your time at best. The most insidious of these websites are the ones that claim to be debunkers of the fraudulent sites and then they usually recommend “the one trustworthy site they’ve found”, which in the end is just another scam site.

It probably doesn’t need to be said but if something is too good to be true it almost always is. The part about the Internet fraud industry that angers me the most I think is that the people who are most susceptible to this kind of thing are generally those who are down on their luck or feel desperately stuck in a soul crushing job and by losing money to these scammers they have only tied themselves to their current job a little more.

Surely, I thought to myself of all these opportunities a couple of them must actually be legitimate. Lies, all lies.

If you truly want to be financially sound, if you truly want to work from home then please stay away from these “opportunities” at all costs.

Bowing to the Oil gods

As I become increasingly interested in the idea of self-sufficiency I am taking an ever closer look at where my money goes. I came to a startling realization today when I realized just how much of my money ends up in the hands of the oil companies.

Between what it costs me to heat my house and what I spend on gas throughout the year I am probably spending about 20% of my yearly income on oil! And that is just what I spend directly on it, that’s not even beginning to scratch the surface of indirect costs from other goods and services.

Like millions of others I am definitely feeling the need to begin to look elsewhere for energy. Nevermind the fact that the US has more than enough of its own oil but we can’t have it because the politicians are afraid of the environmentalists.

There are a few other options out there that I am researching. I’ll let you know what I find out.

Finding Your Inner-MacGyver

I admit it, I’m a big fan of MacGyver. I grew up watching the reruns on cable and recently purchased the first two seasons on dvd. I always appreciated his resourcefulness in the face of danger. Well when it comes to self-sufficiency hopefully you can find a little bit of MacGyver inside yourself. Sure you may not be outwitting East Germans or “state of the art” computer systems from the mid-eighties but I’m sure there are plenty of things in your daily life that you could be tackling yourself if you tried.

Just this morning  the metal frame around one of the lenses on my glasses broke. I went to the store and ordered new glasses but I won’t have them for a week. So I decided to try soldering them back together. I’ve never sodered anything in my life but for some reason I have a cheap solder gun and some electrical solder. I was able to successfully put my glasses together with what is at least a temporary fix. This little MacGyverism didn’t save me any money but it did save me some inconvenience.