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It's great when the makers of the game tell you how to win. Google has just released a new Beginner's Guide for understanding SEO.

One of our clients came to us recently with a website which had some nice design elements to it but went a bit overboard with SEO optimization. Maybe to the search engines, certain titles and links made sense,, but not to a human. Here is what Google says in the introductry page of their guide:

Even though this guide's title contains the words "search engine", we'd like to say that you should base your optimization decisions first and foremost on what's best for the visitors of your site. They're the main consumers of your content and are using search engines to find your work. Focusing too hard on specific tweaks to gain ranking in the organic results of search engines may not deliver the desired results. Search engine optimization is about putting your site's best foot forward when it comes to visibility in search engines, but your ultimate consumers are your users, not search engines.

 I find this whole Old Spice Guy thing intriguing. <hr class="at-page-break">Not because I find Isaiah "'m on a horse" Mustafa so be so debonair. I am talking more about what he and Old Spice failed to accomplish - translating an engaging campaign into a successful one - from a slaes perspective.
I am sad to say that so far it seems that the answer has been a resounding NO. While Old Spice sales are up in general, the viral campaign did not move the sales needle much (according to early indications)  was really rooting for Old Spice on this one, but it seems so far that male YouTube viewers, while not wanting to smell like women's body wash, still think of Old Spice as Old Man smelling body wash.

Let's see if the course reverses. In the meantime, Old Spice Guy is on a boat, in the middle of nowhere. I hope he makes it to shore because I would like to see more of him.
To be honest, looking at numbers - especially financial numbers - makes my eyes glaze over. But alas, since we aren't big enough to have our own bookkeeper, we have to do our own invoicing and tracking (fech!).
That's why I am really glad we use Freshbooks. The small software company in Toronto delivers a great, simple to use service which helps us make the invoice process a lot easier. It is not a full featured accounting system like Quickbooks, but it is a perfect fit for consultants and freelancers who don't need to keep track of things like depreciating assets, inventory and the like.

The features that we like best include:

  • Time Tracking. Anytime one of us is working on a project, we just start the timer applet. When work is stopped, I just press a button to log the hours and select which project it was for. The system automatically calculates the rate and adds it to the project for easy invoicing.
  • Sub-contracting. You can add an additional person to the account for their part of the project. One really cool feature is that when ou combine this with the time tracking, you can have them bill you for their time and it will automatically bill the client at a different rate for the work
  • Integration with Google Checkout. You don't have to open a merchant account to accept credit cards. When your invoice gets sent through e-mail, there is an option for the client to pay by card using Google Checkout. This way they have the convenience and you get paid faster.

There is a lot more under the hood and they provide great support. They are a company really geared towards helping businesses grow and they blog towards that end.

Everything is on the web so you can access your invoices from anywhere. We send all of our invoices by email but you can buy "stamps" from them and have them send printed invoices by post if you prefer. The pricing is tiered but you can get a great plan for under $20per month.

Check them out and see why Freshbooks is a must have for entrepreneurs.
Just heard from the guys over at Marketing Over Coffee that Google is now using load time to factor into search rankings What this means in plain English is that the faster your site loads, the higher it will be listed on a Google search. The flip side is that if your site is graphics and Flash heavy, it will have a negative effect on your search rankings.

You can read more from Google's own Matt Cutts. He outlines various tools you can use to measure speed and optimize your site as well.

Another very important reason to avoid Flash sites is that the push towards mobile technology is stronger and stronger every day. This is especially if you have a local business and people need to find you from their Blackberrys, iPhones and the like.

Leave Flash for the sites that are truly meant to be interactive.
Start a simple blog type site on Wordpress, Typepad ot Weebly for crying out loud.
I had two recent occasions to hear one of my favorite marketing experts, John Jantsch. Each time, he made a point which brings to mind a common mistake being made when small biz owners are trying to use emerging channels.

Putting Tactics Before Strategy

What is our Twitter strategy? How can we use Facebook? Can you add more Flash to my website? The list of questions goes on and on but are these the relevant questions to be asking yourself?

You cannot have an effective "Twitter Strategy" if you don't know what your objectives are. It's often a waste of time to plan your next move in social media or on the web if you don't know where it fits in to your overall business strategy.

Takeaway: Figure out your strategy and determine the tools that will be most effective.

Not going live with a good functional website

Seth Godin calls it Shipping in his book, Linchpin. The act of finishing a project with an end product. There are so many business websites that are stuck in the mud. They either have:
  • A domain pointing to a parked page
  • A mock up image of what the site will look like "Coming soon"
  • A beautifully designed website where half og the links are not working.

Every now and then I come back and check and there has been no progress made. Just a functionless website.

Customers don't visit your business because you are developing a snazzy website. They come because you have communicated to them that you can fill a need that they have.

Vanessa Fox, is a former Google employee who worked on the search team. if anyone knows what makes a good website it's her. She was interviewed by Jantsch who asked her if he is actually giving good advice by telling small biz owners to just start with a Wordpress or similar platform. She answered absolutely - Google loves blogs. Yet, we throw out money (both in opportuniy costs and real costs) working forever on developing flashy sites that just annoy visitors,

The web is not a beauty pageant. Customers will not buy from you because you've spent a lot developing a pretty site. They want to know that they will get good products and service. The website should only be there to enhance the process of your customers learning about and ultimately buying what you are selling them. Good design does not get in the way of that - it enhances it.

Takeaway: Get a good, useful website up now. Once you see how customers interact with it you can take it to the next level.

You can actually see a list of low-cost quick websites that we have developed for our clients right here.

Isn't e-mail dead?

Even in this age of Twitter, Facebook and Blog Feeds, e-mail is still a power player in marketing tactics. In 2009 e-mail returned over 43 dollars for every dollar spent. As other tools continue to emerge, e-mail may lose some of its luster, but for now it is a channel that should not be overlooked.

Where to start

Here are a few things to keep in mind when starting out on the trail to implement your e-mail marketing strategy.

Don't buy names. Build you list slowly, using your current customers as a starting point as well as prospects that you have interacted with. Remember e-mail marketing is often not about the size of you list but the power of your message resonating with your audience. Don't turn every business card you receive into a recipient - only the ones who have indicated that they are interested in hearing from you.

As time goes on, your campaigns can get sophisticated enough to become much more customized for the recipients.

Who to use

The one we like best is and have chosen as our email marketing partner is MadMimi. The interface is very clean and they are laser focused at helping people create emails that don't look spammy or clunky as many tend to do. Instead, you design a theme (not a template) and take it from there. I also love the level of analytics that they provide. Founders Gary and Leah Larson have hit one out of the park with MadMimi. What really sold me was that Seth Godin and 37Signals use it too and we respect their work a whole lot.

Here are a few other services that we have used as well as some more that you might be interested in checking out.

A few that are a bit more sophisticated and pricier, but it's about the value.

All of the services we have tried provide great content to help you with your marketing.

The key is to start building your list and don't pass up the opportunity to communicate with your customers.

Webdesigner Depot has features a collection of creative biz card ideas. Here are a couple of my faves:
Want a biz card of your own? Give us a call at 718-701-1125 for an estimate.
David Garland just published his 10 predictions for 2010 based on his experience and conversations with some of the biggest experts in the marketing arena.

Here are a couple that I feel are very important the small businesses that we serve
3. Death Of The One-Way Website The corporate-speak, one-way website is dead. It has always been boring, but now it is really on its death bed. Your website is like your clothes and smile. It will be the first thing people notice when they find you and see you. Your website could be your greatest marketing asset.

What is wrong with the one-way “traditional” website?

Customers want companies to be more human. Interactive. Social. Sure, your advertising agency charged you your first born child for that fancy flash intro and cool graphics, but are people buying from you? Can they give feedback? Can they easily connect with you on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn? Is there a COMPELLING reason I should sign up for your email list?

Is your website you on the top of the mountain yelling with a huge horn (Honnnnnkkkk!) or at the bottom listening to your customers and clients?

How do you listen?

Simple. A well-designed blog pluseEncouraging comments, creating content, adding video (more on all those in a minute). Listening and caring win in 2010.

Best part?

An extremely well-designed blog optimized for search engines and easy-to-use even for the least technical amongst us costs a tiny fraction of a full fledged outdated website. Sorry web companies and agencies trying to charge an arm and a leg, you know it is true *wink*.

5. Online Video: Forget Viral Focus On Function Everyone wants to create a “viral” video. Sure, a viral video is a marketing weapon if you can do it, but the real benefit of video to marketers in 2010 is content.

As mentioned above, as a marketer and brand, you have the opportunity to publish content and market/interact with new and existing customers.

The price of video? Way down. No, you don’t need a 20 person crew and $15,000 camera.

The Flip Mino HD and Kodak Zi8 are both under $200 and painfully simple to use.

Sure, the videos have to be good, but they don’t have to be masterpieces to be effective marketing weapons. The good news is video can be used for almost ANY business big or small (with a few regulatory issues of course for our good friends in the financial sector but we still love you financial sector…sort of).

For example (I have about 3 million of these ideas but here are three):

1. If you are a grocery store, why not film the butcher talking about meats or talk about the best deals? Then, market it towards your shoppers.

2. If you are a gas station, why not film a quick special on drinks delivered by the employee-of-the-month. and send it to your best customers.

3. If you are an entrepreneur launching a product, why not show yourself using it and one of your best customers and simply tell us why it rocks and why we would want to use it.
Best practices with video are vast, but some quick advice is just be 100% honest, authentic and have some fun. Personality shines through more on video than literally anything else besides face-to-face.

Oh and did I mention that people love video? Youtube is now the #2 search engine to Google.
I really hope we do see more video. For the right kind of company it does give a great glimpse into what it would be like to work with them or buy from them. As far as viral video, you really cannot craft something to be viral as there is no way to predict how viral something will be. Just focus on creating content which shows your true face.