by Talal “Trip” Albagdadi

If you run a small business you’ve probably spent some time setting up a Facebook, LinkedIn or Twitter account. Have you ever asked yourself why? Is it even worth the effort? The short answer is yes, but you need a plan and an approach that works for you and your business. What services or goods do you sell? Do they translate well to the Web? What is the best platform for your business? The Social Media brand list keeps getting longer every day and includes such sites as Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin, YouTube, Tumbler, Pinterest, StumbleUpon, Digg, reddit, Google Plus+ and MySpace. At the moment Pinterest has captured everyone’s attention but moments are fleeting and who knows who the new social media darling will be next week.

Social Media for Business

Facebook is without a doubt the biggest player in the game with over 900 million users. Twitter is a distant second with approximately 220 million users. Most of the other platforms offer some form of specialized media sharing and don’t necessary allow for as much customer engagement as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google Plus+ or MySpace. Here are five good reasons to pursue a social media marketing campaign no matter what business you are in or how many employees you have:

1. Cost: Setting up an account with most of these sites is free. How many billboards, radio ads, print ads or TV ads are free? All of these traditional marketing approaches also have a limited reach. A local TV ad in a major market may have a potential reach of several million people. A Facebook Fan Page has a potential reach of almost 1 billion people.

2. Customer Engagement: There is no easier or more cost effective way to engage your customers. You can communicate with them and they can communicate with each other. You can also build a loyal following by consistently posting information that matters to your customers. One very easy way to engage your customers quickly is to ask them for feedback through a simple Facebook poll.

3. Page Rank: When anyone searches for your business online Google uses the number of pages that link back to your site as part of the measure which determines your placement on the search engine results page or SERP. Obviously, getting on the first page is important and the more back-links you have the better. Each of your social media accounts will contain links back to your site when you set them up and you should include back-links occasionally when you post new content.

4. Branding: Branding is what gives your business staying power and you can accomplish quite a bit of branding through social media depending on the type of material or content you post. Pictures are a very easy and quick way to establish a brand and you’ll have much more freedom and fewer restrictions when working with social media than you do when posting images at your business Web site.

5. Sales: While measuring sales as a direct result of social media is not easy to do; you can get the word out quickly about new products or offers. Social media gives you the power to rapidly let your customers know about close outs and promotions. Also, if you are able to engage the right audience you’ve essentially created a list of pre-qualified leads.

It should be noted that while many of these platforms are free the time it takes to setup and maintain an account is not. That is why it is important to keep your social media plan simple by focusing on the one or two platforms that will work for your business. Maintaining a single account such as Facebook for your business can take between 4 to 8 hours a week if done properly. Twitter demands that you post regularly in order to gain followers and this can also be time consuming.

The benefits still greatly outweigh the drawbacks and social media is worth pursuing for any small businesses in need of more exposure. To be successful it’s important to keep your social media plan simple, post regularly and create meaningful content. Creating a social media calendar is also a must in order to stay ahead of your fans and followers. If you are looking for a high rate of return with a minimal investment for your business then social media is a must.

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by Talal “Trip” Albagdadi

Small businesses are the heart and soul of the U.S. economy.  According to the U.S. Small Business Administration small business account for 65% of all new jobs and employ half of all private sector employees.  Small businesses are responsible for much of the innovation and growth that occurs in the American economy.  According to CNN two out of every three new jobs in the U.S. is created through small business ventures.

In contrast, large American corporations under pressure from shareholders have put quarterly profits ahead of corporate responsibility.  Much of American manufacturing and a significant portion of the technology service industry have been outsourced to China and India.  China’s cheap labor and India’s tech-savvy workforce are well documented in Thomas Friedman’s book The World is Flat.  As the economies of China and India have matured so have wages in these countries.  Outsourcing is no longer as cost effective as it once was.  The New York Times reports that wages have increased by double-digit percentage rates in China and India over the last two years.

Skippy’s Hot Dogs

Unlike small businesses, large corporations can’t turn on a dime.  Relocating a manufacturing plant can take months or even years.  Small businesses have the flexibility to adapt quickly to changing market demands and are now proving their worth as the primary job growth engine in America today.  One major advantage small businesses have is the ability to leverage the SaaS or Software as a Service model.  Many large corporations are bound by proprietary internal database applications for tracking customers, inventory and sales.  These large companies have to maintain huge amounts of hardware and infrastructure in sustaining these tracking methods.  Small businesses now have a wealth of free cloud based tools they can access.  Through social media channels small businesses can reach out to a large audience with little investment.

Here are a few ways small businesses can make the most of the internet:

Marketing

Advertising, promotion, branding and messaging can all be accomplished through Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Youtube and Google Plus.

E-mail

G-mail is well known but About.com actually lists over nineteen different free e-mail services including such options as Zoho, iCloud, AIM and of course Yahoo.  

Sales

There is a wealth of free Client Relationship Management solutions out there including Zoho CRM, Free CRM, SaasLight, Civic CRM and vTiger.

Research

Easy to follow customer surveys can be created with tools such as Zoomerang, Survey Monkey, QuestionPro and LimeSurvey.  Web site traffic can be closely measured and monitored with Google Analytics and Quantcast.  Spyfu is an excellent tool for sizing up your online competition and SEO Book offers a nice free set of utilities that work well with Firefox.

Project Management

Most of us are familiar with Google Docs but there are plenty of Web based project management and collaboration tools out there such as Project2Manage, ProjectPier.org, Thinkature, Stixsy, Skype and Twiddla.

While many of the offerings listed above are free there is typically a charge for more advanced versions or usage of each service.  Obviously, Google falls a class of its’ own with an incredible number of free and amazing business tools all designed to keep you using their “freemium” platform.  Now more than ever before small business can make a huge splash with almost no traditional marketing.  A viral YouTube video or a popular Facebook post can be more lucrative than a TV commercial or full-page print ad.  Guerilla marketing is no longer the exception but instead it has become the rule for all businesses including larger corporations.

There are currently over 27 million small businesses operating in the U.S. and they are the primary force driving our economic recovery.  Small businesses are also pushing forth the entrepreneurial spirit that made America great in the first place.  As corporations now start to face the higher costs of labor and manufacturing in both China and India they will need to start taking a serious look at the U.S. labor force again.  They will never be able to move or adapt as quickly as American small businesses can!

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by Talal “Trip” Albagdadi

 

I used to travel quite a bit for work and my eastbound flights always had me arriving around dinner time.  Being hungry in a strange city can be daunting especially if you are trying to avoid fast food and chain restaurants.  Upon arrival at the hotel I would always pull out my phone and perform a local search with my GPS enabled.  After a few minutes of geographic investigation and Yelp research I’d walk or take a cab to a local restaurant.  The results of my mobile search were usually quite delicious.

mobile searches increase

Mobile Search Yields Ribs

According to Tech Crunch Magazine the number of searches made on smart phones and tablets will double from 10% of all searches in 2011 to 20% in 2012.  Digital Buzz estimates that Americans spend an average of 2.7 hours per day on their mobile devices.  We also tend to utilize multiple screens and watching TV while playing Words with Friends is now commonplace.  By 2014 Mobile Internet usage will overtake desktop usage.  This trend is extremely important for all businesses but especially small businesses.  Over 50% percent of mobile searches are local and related to a specific mission.  Finding local restaurants, bars or coffee shops are common mission related searches.

If your business Web presence is not optimized for local or mobile based searches you are missing out on a valuable opportunity.  This doesn’t mean you’ll have to develop an iPhone or Android application just for your small business.  However, it does mean that small businesses need to take mobile into consideration when building an online space.  Here are a few technical items to consider when optimizing for tablets and smart phones:

  1. Avoid Flash, Java and Frames as these are not fully supported
  2. Use CSS and HTML 5 as they will provide flexibility
  3. Consider creating a separate Mobile version of your Web site
  4. Don’t forget portrait and landscape viewing angles on phones
  5. Utilize existing platforms such as Yelp, Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter

If you can’t afford to update your business Web site to HTML 5 and CSS simply focus on the existing platforms out there.  All the major social networking engines offer tablet and smart phone editions of their services.  Yelp, LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter have free mobile versions of their applications that are well optimized for the small screen.  This is an economical way to take full advantage of smart phone and tablet based searches without a significant investment other than the time it takes to create each account.

Local Searches

Smart Phone Searches Increase

It should also be noted that 29% of all mobile searches are related to food or entertainment and 16% are related to auto repair or auto accessories.  If you are in either of these spaces mobile searches are extremely important in helping to drive traffic your to brick-and-mortar locations.  Local services such as contractors, dentists, plumbers, realtors and gardeners are also high on the mobile search list.

Although I no longer travel for work I have extremely fond memories of Jack’s Bar-B-Que in Nashville, Yia Yia’s Pizza in Lincoln and El Puerto Restaurant & Grill in Tampa.  I would not have found a single one of these places without a mobile search on my smart phone.  Mobile devices are changing the way the world works and the world is now moving at the speed of our fingertips.

Thank you for spending time at My Block SEO

 

 
by Talal “Trip” Albagdadi

 

The last time I went out to eat I ordered a vodka tonic before dinner.  The waitress asked if I had a vodka preference.  Having been through this many times before I told her that bottom shelf vodka was just fine.  She explained that most customers preferred Grey Goose and “if that’s out of your price range, Absolut has a citrus infused edition that goes perfectly with tonic.”  Why was she dropping names?  I wanted to be vodka infused not brand infused. Why would I care about Grey Goose or Absolut?  To put it simply, branding matters.

Grey Goose and Absolut have spent millions to define and establish themselves as premium brands.  Branding matters because it has a direct effect on the price you can charge for an item.  Kirkland Signature Vodka at Costco costs $29.99 while the same bottle of Grey Goose retails for $49.99.  Both are five-times distilled, made with 100% French wheat and use pure artesian spring water from the Massif Mountains.  By most accounts the two drinks are identical.  One costs 66% more than the other because one represents a premium brand.

Branding Matters

World Vodka Brands

Anyone starting a small business or working at a startup needs to think about what their business brand represents.  The essence of your brand will determine your target consumer, your pricing, your packaging, your aesthetic and your culture.  In other words, branding is everything.  It will provide you with direction and guidance as you work to establish your business.

Think about a white t-shirt.  If that t-shirt doesn’t represent a brand you can purchase three of them for $12.  If that t-shirt says SeanJohn on it or displays the Polo logo you can expect to pay anywhere from $25 to $45 for the same white t-shirt.  All small businesses don’t have to establish themselves as premium brands but all businesses do have to establish a brand in order to be relevant.

Branding is directly related to Search Engine Optimization (SEO) as it will affect the content as well as the design of your Web site.  The keywords you choose to emphasize will also be reflective of your brand as they need to relate to your target consumer.  If your business specializes in high end baby strollers, you’ll want to make sure your Web site is optimized for searches like “luxury baby strollers” or “high end strollers.”

If your brand is a local one, optimizing your Web site with Geo Tags and registering it with Google Maps is also helpful in boosting Web traffic.  Quite a few established brands are local in nature and cater to a very specific regional or cultural market.  Excellent examples of this would include Mardi Gras King Cakes, which are popular in Louisiana and cheese curds which could only be popular in Wisconsin.

Before you start any business consider the essence of the brand you want to establish and build your marketing plan around that brand.  Everything will fall into place more easily if you know what your business stands for and who your target customers are.  Being flexible in this regard is not a bad idea either since you learn more about what works as you grow in the marketplace.

I ended up going with the citrus infused Absolut for my vodka tonic.  I’ve always loved the Absolut bottle ads.

Thank you for spending time at My Block SEO

 

 
by Talal “Trip” Albagdadi

 

All small businesses should be making an effort to improve their page rankings as our economy of choice is now dominated by search engines.  A page rank indicates which page and where on that page your business name and Web site appear when someone performs a standard online search.  Consumers often search for very specific localized items through Google and Bing.  The closer your business is to being on the first page of a standard Google search the more Web traffic your business will get.  Even if you run a brick and mortar business with a standard storefront, additional Web traffic is essential as it leads to additional foot traffic.

One way small businesses can work to boost their Web traffic is through SEO (Search Engine Optimization) and one of the methods used to achieve a higher page rank is through the use of backlinks.  Backlinks are simply links from other Web sites back to your primary business Web site.  These backlinks are important to search engines such as Google and Bing because they affect how your site is rated.  The more backlinks or inbound links that your business site has the higher your page rank will be with all search engines.

Boosting Business with Backlinks

There are several ways to create backlinks some of which include the following:

    1. Purchase – it should be noted that there are a wide variety of online services available that will charge you to create backlinks.  Buyers should beware as there are quite a few internet scams out there when it comes to creating backlinks.  If you choose this option make sure to do your homework before you commit financially.  The major advantage here is that you don’t have to create them yourself and can focus on running your business.

 

    1. Articles – writing or outsourcing an article that features your business is a relatively inexpensive way to acquire backlinks.  Once your article is produced you would submit it to an article directory and when it is published to that directory the backlink would be created.  Some popular submission sites include ezinearticles.com, suite101.com, articlebase.com and helium.com.  There are many more and a thorough local search will yield the best choices for your type of business.

 

    1. Reciprocal – these are mutual links that you agree to create with another business or Web site.  They create a link to your site and you would then create a link to theirs.  This is also relatively inexpensive but can take some time as coordination is required as well as manual entry or edit of your business Web site and theirs. It should also be noted that reciprocal links are not given as much weight as standard “follow” links by the primary search engines.

 

  1. Link Directories – these are online directories that you submit your site to.  Some are free and some charge for the service.  This can also be time consuming as it takes time for processing and approval.  Some popular choices include dmoz.org, dir.yahoo.com, cannylink.com, mavicanet.net and gimpsy.com.

Pursuing backlinks through any of the choices above will not guarantee a higher page rank if the sites you work with are not relevant.  Quality backlinks should relate to the business you are promoting.  A construction firm should not be creating hundreds of backlinks within online yoga forums and directories as this would be considered spamming.  Quality backlinks also come from highly ranked sites.  Google has a 10 point rating system and backlink sites are often referenced based on their score.  An example of a Page Rank 10 (PR10) site would be cnn.com as it is one of the most popular sites on the Web.  Some PR9 sites would include flickr.com and wordpress.org as these are sites that receive 9 out of 10 possible points from Google.  Example PR8 sites include java.com and mapquest.com.  The higher the site’s point score, the more valuable the backlink.

Finally, the links should be “follow” links or standard anchor tags.  These are links that lead directly to your Web site.  In order to combat spam Google has created “no follow” links.  These are useless as they don’t add any value to your page rank.  Bloggers often use the “no follow” tag to deter spammers who try to post backlinks to their Web sites in their comments section.  Sometimes scammers will charge you for a “follow” link and then change the code posted to a “no follow” link after payment is made.  Again, the buyer should beware and a few minutes of background research can save time as well as money.

Follow and No Follow Links

Here’s what the code looks like for a standard “follow” link:

<a href=”http://www.arizonastreet.com/myblockseo/”>My Block SEO Blog</a>

Here’s the code for a “no follow” link:

<a href=”http://www.spamnation.com/ rel=”nofollow” “>Spam Nation</a>

For those of you who aren’t familiar with HTML simply ask your Webmaster or service provider if proper “follow” backlinks are being created.

Backlinks are only one of the many factors that search engines consider when ranking your small business Web site.  Creating meaningful and quality content at your Web site will always be the best way to generate new as well as repeat traffic.  Pursuing a higher page ranking through ethical means should be the principal approach for long-term success.  Google and other search engines will continue to help consumers find what they are looking for.  Your job as a small business owner is to make sure customers can find you when they need to.

Thank you for spending time at My Block SEO

 

 
by Talal “Trip” Albagdadi

 

Small Business GrowthWelcome to My Block SEO!  This blog will be dedicated to SEO (Search Engine Optimization) strategies that benefit small businesses.  In the coming months we will explore the basic elements of SEO and focus on which specific tools as well as practices will yield the greatest return on investment.  My goal is to help small businesses and entrepreneurs get a better grip on the simple things they can do to improve their search engine page rankings and in turn improve their bottom line.  It’s no secret that times are tough and small businesses represent the backbone of our economy.  They need all the help they can get.

Who am I?

My name is Talal Albagdadi, but most people just call me “Trip.”  I have eighteen-years of technology, branding and online marketing experience under my belt.  I’ll be working to define SEO terms and methods common to the industry in plain English.  My focus will be on helping small businesses and entrepreneurs increase their Web traffic through ethical means.   I’ll also be inviting guest bloggers to share their expert insights and opinions.  I welcome your feedback, thoughts and suggestions.

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