The Easy Way to Get to the Top of Google

Image by Jeff McNeill
Image by Jeff McNeill

One of the absolutely most popular questions we get asked by CityMax.com customers is “how do I get on Google?”

Search Engine Optimization, or SEO, is a complex game and sometimes it can take a while to get search engines like Google to notice you. It’s a delicate balance of targeting the right keywords, having the right content, using the right elements to build your website, and having the right sites link back to you – you can see how it can be challenging.

While SEO is definitely something you should focus on and ranking naturally through search engines is a fantastic goal, there’s a faster way to do it – it’s called advertising.

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5 Tips for Naming Your Small Business

Starting a small business website is stressful enough – you have to worry about a business plan, funding, suppliers, your market, marketing and all the rest. But unless you have a great name that fits what you are doing, it won’t matter how large your margins are.

Your business name is the core of your brand. Is it memorable? Does it have personality? Does it explain the service/product you are providing?

Entrepreneurs not only have to worry about having a catchy name, but its search engine optimizability, potential misspellings, and embarrassing alternate meanings. (You probably don’t want to make our list of the 50 Worst and Most Embarrassing Domain Names Ever Purchased!)

Here are five basic guiding principles as you start to figure out how to make this all-important decision:

1) Do a search for the name you have in mind – is it available or already being used? Can you legally use this name in your state/province?

2) Is it unique, short and/or easy to remember? Does it describe or indicate what your business does?

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Are You Missing Out on Extra Profit?

money1As a business owner, you’re probably familiar with the term “upsell.” It’s when you take the opportunity to offer extra products or services after a customer is already committed to a purchase. A great example is the age-old McDonald’s classic: “Would you like fries with that?”

The impressive truth about upselling is that you can add a HUGE amount of revenue with simple suggestions or recommendations.

Upselling is easily done in person. After all, when you’re watching a customer peruse items in your store it’s easy to see what catches his or her attention. But what can you do when your small business is an online ecommerce store?

Here are three ways to add a few extra dollars to each order:

1. Offer Gift Wrap & Cards
Many people would love to spend a buck or two extra to avoid the hassle of wrapping a gift. This especially appeals to those who want to ship a gift directly to the recipient, without being a go-between.

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How to Fit Tough Keywords into Your Small Business Website

puzzleWhen you’re trying to optimize your small business website for keywords, you sometimes end up with phrases that just don’t fit in to the flow of the page.

Strange word combinations, odd plurality and missing articles can make writing for exact keyword phrases a pretty difficult task, but it doesn’t have to be impossible – you just need to start thinking of it like a puzzle.

Here are a few suggestions for fitting in those challenging keywords:

1.    Break them up
Although punctuation means a lot to me and you, search engines aren’t that fussy about it. If you’re having trouble fitting the words of a keyword phrase in one sentence, break it up into two separate sentences.

Keyword phrase: San Francisco Real Estate

Looking for a new home in San Francisco? Real Estate can be hard to come by without enlisting the help of an expert.

2.    Use bulleted lists
Not only can bulleted lists be used to simplify information for your visitor, but they can also help you use keywords less awkwardly.

Keyword Phrase: Dog Training Articles

Looking for more information? See the following:

  • “Max’s Guide to Dog TrainingArticles about teaching your dog the basics.
  • “Penelope’s Puppies: All about dog trainingArticles for owners of puppies under the age of 6 months.
  • “Jane and her Litter” Everything you need to know about dog training.

Articles can help you get a lot of the information you need as a new dog owner.

3.    Quotes
Some keywords just can’t sound natural when written from the third person perspective. In that case, try including them in a quote.

Keyword Phrase: Make my own wine

See what our customers have to say about our services!

“I wanted to make my own wine, but didn’t want to spend a fortune. Grapestompers was affordable AND my wine is fantastic!”

Fitting keywords into your small business website is often a challenge, and these are just a few ways you can do it. Try to be creative and flexible without sacrificing readability – it’s important to remember that your visitor is just as important as the search engines, so be careful not to ruin their experience for the sake of fitting in your keywords.

[image by liza31337]

Website of the Month: Southern Missouri Mule Outfitter & Equine Supply

2010-04-08-somomule2Welcome back our Website of the Month! This month’s spotlight is on Ken Levine from Southern Missouri Mule Outfitter & Equine Supply (Somomule.com).

Ken retired as a federal law enforcement agent in 2007 to focus on his love – outfitting mules. As a trained ferrier (horseshoeing) his hobby quickly became a business after he set up his website using CityMax.com.

Somomule.com is a retail sales outfitter for horses and mules, selling pack equipment, tents and even Amish tack for backcountry pack saddles.

“It was very easy to figure out, and I don’t have any HTML knowledge,” said Ken. “In two and a half years we went from zero to making six figures a year from the business. My wife quit her bank job and we have more time to run our farm now.”

Ken’s site currently receives around 5,000 unique visitors per month. He offers this advice to aspiring entrepreneurs: “You need to be dedicated to your business idea and be organized – be on top of everything. From shipping to selling, this has been a labor of love with thousands of hours going in.”

You can tell the man truly enjoys what he does! Congratulations again to Ken and Somomule.com, our March Website of the Month.

The Google “Proof”: Entrepreneurs Make the World a Happy Place

Key to every successful business website is having the right product to sell at the right moment in time. A good source of intelligence about what is hot and what is not is Google Trends.

For those that don’t know, Google Trends provides a tremendous amount of data about people, products, or concepts. Want to know what is going to be the hot seller? Ask Google. As noted in this blog, “search volume data (how much people are searching for a keyword or term at a point in time) is a great measure of how interested people are in a particular topic over any given time period.”

At CityMax.com, we use Google Trends for a couple of different things, including search engine optimization and PPC research. However, in looking at Google Trends the other day, we noticed an interesting correlation that “scientifically” proves what we’ve been maintaining for the past 10 years: Entrepreneurs Make the World a Happier Place.

Well scientifically proven may be a bit of a stretch, but we thought we would share our observations:

Our search started with the concept of “happy” (see below for the trend report since 2004). The concept of “happy” ebbs and flows around the holidays, in large part to “Happy New Year” and “Happy Holidays” no doubt. But what piqued our curiosity was the relative volume of news mentions at the end of 2007 and the start of 2008… mentions that have been increasing relatively constantly since that time.

happy2

This chart surprised us a little. After all, aren’t we still in the midst of a recession? Isn’t it all a doom-and-gloom, the sky is falling, run for the hills, depressing kind of world that we live in right now? Why is ‘happy’ trending upwards?

Take a look at the keyword concept “recession” to see both the massive spike in the volume of search surrounding the concept as well as the mentions in news. Yep… the recession is in full swing (though interestingly it is on a downward trend).

recession2

Given this increase in “happy” in the midst of a recession, we asked ourselves, “What makes us happy?” Responses came from across the company: customers, success stories, getting a product out the door, selling. In other words, what makes us happy is winning.

So we ran the “win” and “lose” search concepts through Google Trends and here are the results:

win-lose2

Six years ago, “win” was searched for with much greater regularity than “lose”. In fact, “lose” has recently overtaken “win” for the first time in Google Trend history. But the same uptick occurs for news mentions, correlating to the increase in happy. We guess it stands to reason, that news mentions about winners might happen to mention that the winners are happy.

So was this the answer, or was there something deeper? We dug into things further with a few search concepts that are dear to our hearts: the life of the entrepreneur.

CityMax.com of course is passionate about entrepreneurism as evident by our homepreneur contests, our entrepreneur spirit days, and our website builder that speaks to early-stage entrepreneurs.

We started with a simple search for “small business” (see below). And there was our first “ah-ha”, the same uptick at the end of 2007 and start of 2008. What was interesting is that this uptick also corresponds well to the searches around “recession” and recessionary concepts. Captain Obvious might state that if people are worried about the economy and losing jobs, they might very well consider starting a small business of their own.

3small-business2

What happens when you search for the concept “entrepreneur” and “self employed” within Google Trends? You see the same spike in mentions in the news and you see a rolling average increase in the total number of searches.

entrepreneur2

self-employed2

So, in our opinion, this proves what most entrepreneurs and small businesses know intrinsically: when you are an entrepreneur and running your own business, happiness is often a result.

Do you agree? Are entrepreneurs happier than most? Let us know in the comments below.

Written by John Lyotier, VP of Marketing at CityMax.com and avid reader of stats, charts, and graphs.

3 Easy Ways to Optimize Your Small Business Website for Local Search

2010-03-02-localsearchIs the location of your small business important to your customers? If so, your online marketing efforts need to include optimization of your website for local search.

Not sure what local search is? A great example is Google Local. When you do a search for a local business on Google (i.e. “dog walker Seattle”), on the search results page you’ll see a list of local businesses beside a little map. They are businesses that have been submitted to Google Local who are relevant to your search.

Here are some great ways to optimize your site for local search:

1.    Submit to Local Search Engines
We already mentioned Google Local, but there are many more and some may be more popular in your area than others. Consider the following:

2.    Include Your Contact Information on Every Page
This is easier than it sounds. Just create a site-wide footer for your pages and include your address.
CityMax.com User Tip: Create your page footer by going to ‘Edit Site’ > ‘Page Footer’.

3.    Use Geo-Descriptive Keywords
When researching your keywords, make sure to see what people are searching locally, then use those keywords on your website. Make sure to include them in your title and description tags.

When you make a website that’s optimized for local search, it’s easier to get your business to the top of the search engines – simply based on your location! As a bonus suggestion, consider getting a localized domain name to compliment your existing one.

How Much is Trust Worth for Your Small Business?

When a potential customer visits your small business website for the first time, there are several factors that can help them from along the sale conversion process… but one factor you won’t make the sale without is trust.

In an era of corporate scandal and betrayal, trust has quickly become a rare commodity. A recent international study showed that business leaders (CEOs) are considered less trustworthy than even government officials, and trailing them are the oft-maligned media outlets. The prevalence of new scams has consumers worried about pulling out their credit cards and purchasing online.

How do you convince your customer that you aren’t just there to make a quick buck?

Increase trust and reassure your customers with these 5 steps:

1. Let Them Know Who You Are
Create an “About Us” page that describes your story. A little bit of personality goes a long way – people like to buy from people! Add appropriate photos of yourself or your team, and your physical store if you have one. Here is a great example of a business that uses their “About Us” page to let consumers know they probably won’t be disappearing anytime soon.

2. Display Awards, Trade Association Badges and Security Certificates
If your business has garnered any recognition or if you are a member of any respected trade association, proudly show the emblems or logos on every page. Display third party security seals and use security certificates to lessen fears and increase conversions.

3. Testimonials
In the same way customers want to know who you are, they also want to know who is buying from you. Don’t be afraid of reaching out to happy customers who have sung your praises and asking for their permission to reproduce their comments (you can even offer a bonus). Some sites will even post pictures of their customers.

4. Risk-Free Trial
Build consumer confidence by offering a “no-risk” purchase. Research has shown that (risk) free offers increase sales – think of it as a security blanket. Invite new customers to “examine it, try it, use it for a full 30 days without risk”. If you are guaranteeing customer satisfaction scream it from the rooftops! This is a great asset in your unique selling proposition that you don’t want to hide.

5. Make Contact Easy
People don’t want to buy from someone who will disappear – you want potential customers firing questions your way, before and after the sale. Make sure your phone number and email address are prominently displayed on all marketing materials, as well as in your email signature. Have a “contact us” footer at the bottom of each page.

Remember, trustworthiness directly relates to your bottom line. This is why “mom and pop” stores often experience great success with their direct, straightforward approach. Start using these five easy tactics today to increase your trust and sales!

How Do You Choose the Right Product for Your Small Business? We Try to Figure it Out…

e3-logoLast week, we introduced you to the new online business being launched by CityMax.com staff – also known as the E3 venture (Employee Entrepreneur Experience). We determined the company bylaws and discussed what kind of business had the best chance to grow.

This week, we looked at a variety of products to sell, from event tickets to tennis rackets, and finally voted them down to the top three. After a bit of discussion, we may have reached a decision. Check out our criteria below – what would you have voted for?

1. High-end Pens

  • We determined that these were easy to sell in bulk quantities, with a 2-3% markup for each pen
  • High online search volume for custom pens, as well as the top manufacturers
  • Very easy to ship
  • However, due to our lack of any existing relationship with a supplier this product earned few votes in the final evaluation

2. Car Wax

  • An extremely expensive product that generates repeat customers
  • High online search volume indicating great demand
  • Easy to ship
  • Market is largest in the USA
  • High margins
  • Better sold in high volume
  • Easily branded
  • Manufacturing – possibly homemade, which would mean not scalable and a low production rate
  • It is a product our staff feel they can get behind
  • Potentially a strong product, if supplier issues are clarified

3. Baseball Bats

  • One of our members has developed a potential relationship with a supplier
  • High online search volume
  • Great market opportunity for Little League teams, semi-pros, beer league teams, trophies
  • Free drop-shipping
  • Easy to out-source production
  • Small order sizes possible – no inventory back up
  • Fully customizable: baseball bats can be branded easily
  • High agreement among board members (CityMax.com staff)

After some debate, the E3 group reached a consensus – custom baseball bats appear to be our best option. Up next week: we research market opportunities and our competition to see if our business model is viable.

Stay tuned…

The CityMax.com team is starting a new small business. Will we succeed?

e3-logoIf you’re familiar with CityMax.com, you already know we’ve got entrepreneur fever. Our website builder is the heart of thousands of successful businesses (just take a look at our amazing Homepreneur finalists), and we’ve been around for over 10 years. But so what, you might ask?

Well, two weeks ago we decided to put our money where our collective mouth is. We decided to start an online venture.

Why?  To show that anyone can do it, and hopefully learn a few things along the way.

Every CityMax.com team member will help run our new small business. Each week, the entire company (all 34 of us) will meet as a board and vote to determine our next course of action – from our operational name, to the look of our website, to marketing. And you’ll get to follow along right here!

Week 1: We drafted and approved our company bylaws. Boring but essential, and very democratic.

Last week: We began talking about what kind of business we should start. To figure out the “right product”, the team started floating ideas against a boatload of questions that any new business owner should ask:

  • Is it easily shipped? (The best products are those that can be packaged or shipped affordably and safely)
  • Is it scalable? How are you going to manage increased shipping/sales if you go from 1 sale daily to 400?
  • Does it encourage repeat customers?
  • Do you have a secure product supply? A long-term relationship with key suppliers?
  • Can product delivery/production be outsourced?
  • Is it easy to access/local?
  • Does it have high margins per item (actual dollars, not percentage)? What is the likelihood of making money on every sale, factoring order size, shipping costs, etc.
  • Is the product line brandable?
  • Are people searching for what you are selling?
  • Do you believe in what you are selling?

Now that we’ve got a few guiding factors to help us decide our business model, it’s time to brainstorm and see what we come up with. Next week – we choose our product and begin competitive market research. Stay tuned!