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Google+ and Google Places — What the heck?

The Google Quagmire Google PlacesAre you as confused as I am by Google Plus and Google Places?

I think the whole quagmire is an issue for me because one of the things we do at Mountain Marketing Group is set up and manage social media accounts for our clients. So I have to face the issue numerous times each day.

The rest of the social media platforms we routinely handle are relatively easy to locate and manage.

But if you look for Google+ or Google Pages at Google.com, you will find an effective search engine, but not a place to list your business location or an account from which to share items of interest. So why can’t I just go to Google+.com and sign up a client account? Why does Google make everything so blasted difficult?

The answer is, of course, very simple. Google owns the Internet and basically everything on it. So they don’t have to play by the rules. You may, in fact, be surprised to learn everything that Google owns. The browser I use to surf is a Google product…Chrome. The most used search engine, by far, is Google’s. The second most used search engine after Google is YouTube…also owned by Google. In fact, if you’re interested, here is the link to all of the Google-owned Internet properties.

When all is said and done, I can’t really complain about how much Alphabet (the newly named parent company that owns Google) has control over because everything Google powers works. That’s why everyone in tech is constantly chasing the media giant. Google is to the Internet what apple is to devices. And I’m not just saying that in a desperate hope to bump up SEO on my website.

Like millions of others, my first venture in cyberspace was with an account on AOL and Internet Explorer as a browser–long before I even knew what a browser was. And if everything had worked perfectly with those platforms, I doubt I ever would have migrated to Gmail and Chrome. But necessity is the mother of invention. I looked for solutions to America Online and Internet Explorer problems, which is how I discovered Google’s solutions. Of course, AOL is busy reminding folks that they were with us in the beginning. And IE (now called Microsoft Edge) is desperately trying to re-brand itself to regain ground. But why struggle with buggy software and programs when Google is as easy as clicking a button.

Sorry for the diatribe. The reason I wrote this post is to explain the reasons you need Google+ and Google Places accounts, directions for setting up each account, and suggestions for how you should be using them if you want to grow your business. So, here we go.

Why you need Google+ and Google Places Accounts

For all of the above reasons and more, Google matters. So don’t make the costly mistake of writing off their products. Although few people understand the distinction of search results returned when they randomly use Google to search the Internet, there are several different categories.

  • The top and right margins are reserved for Ad Words…otherwise known as Pay Per Click. When you click on sponsored results, the advertiser pays Google as little as pennies to hundreds of dollars per click, depending on the competition for the particular search term.
  • The next listing is Google Places. If you can somehow overcome the inconvenience of answering a verification call or returning the Google Places postcard they mail to you at your physical location, your efforts will be rewarded by a star and website link on all-important Google Maps.
  • The final category of search result listings are organic, natural results. No one is paying for them. So this is where social media strategy is critical. The only way to show up in organic (unpaid) results is to produce lots of valuable content on a regular basis relative to your keywords. One of the easiest avenues for posting this type of content is by using Google’s social tool…Google+. After all, since Google owns it, they know right where to find it so they can direct traffic to it.

How to Set up Google+ and Google Places

The following is a simple tutorial which explains how to set up both of these vital Google accounts. Each is important for any small business owner who wants to compete in 2015.

Google+

This account will enable you to post and share articles and videos of interest with anyone who is in your “circles.”

  1. Go to plus.google.com and find “Create An Account” located at the top right of the screen.
  2. Provide a few pieces of information, including your name, birth date and current email address.
  3. Next, you’ll be prompted to add a profile photo to accompany your Google Account.

Google Places

This account will rank your business near the top of search results with a pin next to your physical location.

  1. Enter “Google My Business” into your search engine.
  2. Complete the profile.
  3. Be ready to answer an automated call to verify your business location or wait for a postcard to be sent within one to two weeks.

The bottom line is that it may take awhile to set up Google accounts. In fact, to secure a verified listing on Google Places, you will need to either sit by the phone in your physical office location waiting or a Google computer to call or you will need to wait for snail mail to deliver a postcard. So the investment of time and effort required to create these accounts is a lot higher than for other forms of social media. But rest assured, it is well worth the effort — if your goal is to make sure your website is easy to find on the Internet. And let’s face it. Is it really that difficult to pick up your phone or return a postcard? Suck it up, Buttercup.

How to use Google+ and Google Places to grow your business

Kathy Bowling is CEO of Mountain Marketing Group, a boutique social media and website development agency based in Fontana, California, and serving the San Gabriel Valley, Inland Empire and greater LA basin. We develop and manage responsive websites and strategic social media campaigns designed to secure lead generation and sales conversion. At Mountain Marketing Group, we help our clients reach new heights. To find out why your website isn’t on the map, give us a call (909) 336-3333 or book an appointment today.

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Lose the Focus!

I recently spoke with a wedding photographer who realizes that her website is old and outdated. She contacted me to find out whether my team could handle making changes to it.

The answer? “Yes and no.” “Yes, we could. No, we would rather not.”

An image of a tow truck.

Want some free website advice? Lose the Focus!

Why? Because my programmer, like myself, has been in business since the days of MS DOS, floppy discs and the Macintosh. However, he no longer uses any of those tools because the computer world (like everything else) has advanced to 2015. All of those platforms (and millions more) are outdated. The new way to build websites eliminates the need for software like Dreamweaver and custom coding in favor of the affordable, SEO-compatible, easy-to-use website platform called WordPress.

In the world of WordPress, changes are uncomplicated. Functionality is tied to plugins, which are easy to install and very affordable, if not free. And search engines such as Google, Yahoo and Bing love WordPress. So the SEO robots that crawl through sites to rank them skip right past the antiquated ones. They don’t want to bother with old sites, so they figure users won’t either. For this reason, they fail to point Internet traffic to them. In fact, one of the best ways to guarantee your website will never get any traffic is to leave it on an old website platform.

Think of it like this. (If you still drive a 2000 Ford Focus, I apologize. I have nothing against the brand. I’m just using it as an example.) If the transmission, A/C, and engine start to fail and the seats are torn and the paint is chipped, would you take it to a mechanic and ask him to spend whatever it takes to give it an overhaul? Or would you consider the value of the car, which Kelly Blue Book says is about $500, and start shopping for another vehicle? Making changes to websites built on outdated platforms is throwing good money after bad.

And if you built your website circa 2008, I have good news for you. Creating a new one on WordPress is very affordable and fast. It will actually cost you much less to build something on WordPress than it would to hand-code changes to your antique site. And when it comes time to make changes to it, you will have the luxury of being able to choose whether to handle the edits yourself or calling your website team to make them for you…in much less time than comparable changes to a non-WordPress site!

website under construction signSo if your website is built on anything other than WordPress, give Mountain Marketing Group a call (909) 336-3333. We will be happy to review your existing site and advise you about how to improve it with the ultimate goal of improving your bottom line!

The New Rules for Websites

I started Mountain Marketing Group in 2008. With several years of experience in the marketing departments at the City of Glendora, Azusa Pacific University and St. Bernardine Medical Center, and with a degree in communication with a minor in business administration, I tackled advertising the way most of my peers did, at the time. We focused most of our energy on print materials and created online brochures we referred to as websites.

Closeup shot of laptop with digitaltablet and smartphone on desk. Responsive design web page on their screen. Modern devices on desk at office.

Does your website respond to the device it’s being viewed on or does it shrink up so the text is illegible?

The process was time-consuming and complicated:

  1. I would work with a graphic designer to come up with several options for an original website.
  2. Our photographer would show up onsite for an entire day, to take professional shots for use on the website.
  3. We would take large, colorful storyboards to the client. And, once a final design was chosen, our programmer would work tirelessly to convert the design to HTML code.
  4. After the website was finished, we would work feverishly to decode the mystery of Search Engine Optimization (SEO). Our programmer would carefully bury meta tags and use keyword software to make sure our client’s site landed on page one of applicable Google searches.
  5. Months of work and thousands of dollars later, we produced a static, attractive website that required lots of notice and additional funding in the unlikely event that something ever needed to be altered.
  6. Eventually, clients decided they wanted to be able to make changes to the websites themselves, so we started building Content Management System interfaces, which provided limited client-access to portions of the website.

Times have changed! 

What's Your Online Marketing StrategyOver the past several years, Google has switched absolutely everything up:

  • Half of the people who will visit your company’s website will do so using a mobile device. So the time for unresponsive, miniaturized websites has past. In fact, due to Mobile-geddon, Google will penalize the search engine ranking for your website if your site is not designed to be viewed on a Smartphone or tablet.
  • We work directly with programmers from the onset of every project.
  • SEO is built into the front-end instead of being added on after the fact.
  • Dreamweaver is a thing of the past.
  • Websites are not meant to be static. They need to be interactive and dynamic — the polar opposite of a static site.
  • WordPress has become the gold standard for website construction, because it is a content management system, which is easy to edit (with a little practice and time invested in watching free YouTube tutorials).
  • Original, applicable, valuable content must be offered via social media sites, tied to the website, on a regular basis, if there is any hope of gaining and/maintaining a foothold in SEO.
  • As a result of all of these changes, the cost to produce a website is greatly reduced, but upkeep is imperative.
  • Not unlike living organisms, websites require care and attention on an ongoing basis. They can’t be constructed and then abandoned like artificial flowers.
Helping You Reach New Heights

Helping You Reach New Heights

At Mountain Marketing Group, we use social media to drive traffic to our clients’ websites, with the goal of increasing the bottom line. But, unlike a typical website design service, we are expert marketers who consider websites to be one of many tools in an electronic arsenal. We work strategically with our clients, to come up with a plan that uses websites, blogs, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram and Google+, that fits their budget and produces results. So call today (909) 336-3333 if you would like us to help you reach new heights.

Bowling for Business: Top 11 Marketing Tips for 2011

How to Market Your Business in 2011

This column first appeared on RIMOFTHEWORLD.net on December 20, 2010.

I have to admit my personal New Year’s resolutions for 2011 are the same as they were in 2010—lose weight; save money; be a better wife, mother, daughter, grandmother, neighbor and friend. I long for the day when I achieve my nebulous goals so I can draft a fresh, new list.

When it comes to business, I find it easier to establish innovative objectives. So please allow me a departure from my usual column-format to share what I believe to be the top 11 marketing strategies for the New Year:

1. Public Relations

Admittedly, I might be prejudiced, since this is my field. But I maintain the single most important tool in any entrepreneurial chest is public relations. After all, PR is about projecting a positive image, so it is universally applicable.

But how should you approach PR in 2011? Perhaps counter-intuitively, to market in the modern era, you need to return to an old business stand-by: the press release. Retooled as a Social Media Release, this approach remains the single most effective way to boost Search Engine Optimization. Because you can select keywords for each release and post to an online newsroom, Social Media Releases are far superior to the standard press release model.

2. Email Marketing

Although some pundits predicted that social media marketing would replace the use of this time-tested tool, don’t expect email marketing to go away. It is still the best way to reach your target market. In 2011, make sure you’re using the new tools provided through most email marketing companies, such as surveys, bounce-reports and social media tie-ins.

3. Social Media

For those of you who were waiting for the demise of social media, it’s time to give up the ghost. We’re living in a brave new world where Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn are as much a part of the landscape as business cards and email addresses. So, if you have somehow managed to avoid setting up a social media account for your business up til now, do so in 2011.

4. Videos

My family and I finally caved in and purchased the new TiVo Premiere. I am blown away by our newfound ability to watch YouTube videos on our living room television set. We no longer have to crowd around a PC to access music videos, podcasts and MP3 files. The drawback to this type of technology is that the inferior quality of amateur videos now stands in sharp contrast to professionally-produced commercials and short films. So hire a professional to write, direct and post videos that have the potential to go viral.

5. Promotional Marketing Items

Everyone loves gifts…even you. So don’t underestimate the value of providing people with nifty trinkets that show you care while promoting your brand. Unless you’re rolling in the dough, think simple and cheap. Favors can be very inexpensive—something as simple as pen with your logo on it, a pin or sticker, or an individually wrapped chocolate. For just a few pennies per item, you will make a great impression.

6. Branding

Don’t stop at giveaways. Use every available opportunity to build your brand online and in the real world. Make sure your logo and slogan appear on everything from your email signature to the sign outside of your shop.

7. Website Strategies

If you haven’t already done so, convert your website so it no longer functions merely as an electronic brochure. Shoot for an update that encourages website visitors to interact instead of passively peruse.

8. Direct Marketing- Knock on More Doors in the New Year

The shine is off the penny for teleconferencing and Go-to-Meetings. Since, by now, most businessmen and women understand how to navigate the world of the webinar, to stand out in 2011, you will need to abandon all things electronic and at least offer to give your clients some face-time.

9. Support your Community

This topic is so important that it actually merits its own column. So we’ll cover it more in detail in time. But suffice to say it is imperative you support the businesses located adjacent to your own. Buy local and encourage others to do so. Join the Chamber of Commerce. Volunteer to serve in leadership positions wherever you are able.

10. Do Pro-Bono Work

Again, this is critical. So we’ll discuss the topic more in future posts. Demonstrate your personal commitment to support causes that matter. Pro-bono work shows that you care about more than your own bottom line.

11. Have Fun

Try not to take yourself too seriously. Try to remember why you went into business for yourself in the first place. If you aren’t having any fun, it will show in your product or service. And if you take steps to make changes in 2011, you might be able to come up with a new list of business resolutions for 2012. Happy New Year!

Until next time, I’ll be Bowling for Business.

Bowling for Business: Info on the Go

Provide info-on-the-go to potential and current cilents and customers.

This column first appeared on RIMOFTHEWORLD.net on August 16, 2010 and in the Biz Press on August 18, 2010.

After borrowing my sister-in-law’s mobile phone in 1988, I was convinced that cell phone technology would never gain much of a following. As attractive and portable as a cinder block, it came with a 42-page instruction manual that was as user-friendly as the directions for programming the clock on an early-model VCR.

I noticed a sharp contrast while hosting a garage sale last weekend. Several customers walked up and down the makeshift aisles while feverishly tapping on tiny touch screens. When I asked one girl what she was doing, she said she was checking eBay to compare prices. It’s a brave new world.

Today, well over 250 million people in the United States use cell phones on a regular basis, which puts the mobile saturation rate at 82.4 percent. I have constant and immediate access to such statistics courtesy of the Information Superhighway delivered directly to my trusty Blackberry Smartphone.

Gone are the days of painstakingly searching for answers in reference books at the local library. If you have a question, just key it into your PC, laptop or handheld device and the answer will appear within seconds. Unlike a browser such as Internet Explorer and Mozilla Firefox, which power keyword-based Internet searches, Q & A sites like ChaCha are designed to answer very specific questions via Internet and/or text message.

One mobile question & answer website I often reference is ChaCha. My kids use the word as a verb, as in “I cha-cha’d” this or that, which might sound strange. But so once did “googling.”

ChaCha was founded in 2006 by a disgruntled Jet Blue flight attendant who purportedly cussed out a passenger, cracked open a beer and activated the emergency slide to make his escape. When he launched ChaCha, the site joined the ranks of popular Q & A platforms such as Yahoo! Answers, WikiAnswers and Ask.com.

These sites are significant for small business and non-profit managers because they offer cost-effective vehicles for interactive target-marketing. Let me explain. If someone wants to know why bug bites itch, they can enter the question on Ask.com. Immediately, organic (unpaid) search results appear in response. Then, immediately thereafter, related, paid text advertisements show up by companies including Terminix and BedSBug.net. And relevant, colorful banner advertisements appear at right. The smartest Internet advertising strategy includes all three.

For Free—

Build SEO so your website ranks high in organic searches. The most effective way to do this is to set up and regularly post to social media websites such as a blog, Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook. Resist the urge to use your social media sites to do direct sales. Instead, provide relevant, frequent content to your target market, so the name of your organization will appear when potential customers, clients or donors ask questions related to your field. In this way, you earn your position as a noted expert.

On a Limited Budget—

Pay for text advertisements that appear underneath natural results. The great thing about this type of marketing is that you only pay when someone clicks thru to your website. Ad rates for sponsored results are usually set by silent auction. The more competition there is for any given phrase, the higher the price. If you want to investigate this option, check out several Q & A sites, since rates vary greatly. Some sites to compare:

  • AnswerBag
  • Askville
  • LinkedIn Answers (Business-Focused)
  • Lycos
  • Minti (Parenting)
  • Point Ask
  • Trulia (Real Estate Research)
  • Yedda

The Sky’s the Limit—

Develop colorful banner ads so visitors can click-thru to your website. The term “banner” comes from the general shape for such advertisements, which is a short, wide strip that is usually placed at the top of a webpage. In his book, How to Grow Your Business on the Internet, Vince Emery says that a click-thru rate of 1 percent is normal, while 10 percent is outstanding.

Although display ads are considerably more expensive than either text-based or social media positioning to gain Search Engine Optimization, no one can argue the appeal of sharp graphics and a clever turn of phrase. But then again, Internet advertising probably won’t ever really catch on.

Until next time, I’ll be Bowling for Business.

Bowling for Business: SEO—The Bot Stops Here

SEO: So easy, even a baby could do it!

This column first appeared on RIMOFTHEWORLD.net on February 15, 2010

When our daughters were young, we made sure our home was childproof. We plugged the outlets with plastic covers, latched cabinets and bundled electrical cords. We placed a menacing plastic gate at the top of the stairs which pinched our fingers when we opened it and tripped us when we tried to step over it.

As the girls grew, baby-proofing became less necessary. Seventeen-year-old Lauren hardly ever tries to lick the outlets. Thirteen-year-old Kaitlin no longer lives to pull pots & pans out of cupboards so she can play with them on the kitchen floor. And 20-year-old Brianna is busy baby-proofing her own house for our 10-month-old granddaughter, Avery.

When they visit, I realize that our home is no longer child safe. An expert crawler, Avery heads straight for full trash cans, fireplace tools and dog toys. So I spend a lot of time trying to redirect traffic. I dissuade her from sucking on splintery kindling, heavy ceramic coasters and prickly decorative pine cones by making it easy for her to find more suitable targets. In other words, I optimize my granddaughter’s search.

We do a similar thing for clients of Mountain Marketing Group. By optimizing their websites, we help dictate Internet traffic patterns.

Wikipedia defines Search Engine Optimization (SEO) as the process of improving the volume or quality of traffic to a website from search engines via “natural” or unpaid (“organic” or “algorithmic”) search results as opposed to search engine marketing (SEM) which deals with paid inclusion. Typically, the earlier (or higher) a site appears in the search results list, the more visitors it will receive from the search engine.

In other words, if you want potential customers or donors to spend time on your website, you need to make it easy for them to find it. The best way to do this is to find a way to get your site to return top results in the top three search engines, Google, Yahoo and Bing. Internet Bots, also known as Web Crawlers or Spiders (A frustrated science fiction writer must have coined these terms), continuously monitor Internet content to match it with search entries. Several SEO strategies can help land you at the top of the list.

For Free—

If you want to boost traffic to your website, make sure you include plenty of backlinks, which are inbound links coming from other relevant websites back to your own. Early on, link farmers artificially drove search engine traffic by creating worthless links to unrelated sites. Since Internet robots now recognize, disqualify and even ban sites that link like this, the best way to create legitimate backlinks is to:

  • List your website on Free Directories, like the one available on RIMOFTHEWORLD.net.
  • Comment on Forums and Blogs. But shy away from software that generates links. Google is very much aware of spamming techniques like these. If they catch you using them, you run the risk of being de-indexed.
  • Provide RSS Feeds to websites that interest you. (When your RSS feed gets published by the other site, you will get a legitimate inbound link to your site.)

On a Limited Budget—

One cost-effective way to improve SEO is to use keyword research tools to discover untapped market niches, get inspiration for new products and create compelling content that distinguishes your site from the pack. Once you find out what your target market is looking for, be sure to include it on your website…not just in tags, to get traffic to your site, but in rich, valuable content.

This might sound like common sense, but you might be surprised at the search engine tactics some desperate people try. If your product is lemonade, don’t add “USA Women’s Hockey,” to your website even if it is the hottest Google search term (as of 3 p.m. on Sunday, February 14, 2010). Deliver what your keywords promise.

The Sky’s the Limit—

Keep the content fresh. If the information on your site is stagnant, you will return lower results than if you change the copy and images on a regular basis.

The easiest way to do this is to hire someone to build a customized Content Management System (CMS) website, which is simple to add to, edit and manage. Keeping content dynamic using a CMS site without HTML knowledge is straightforward because CMS sites convert HTML programming code into WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get), which may not be easy enough for a baby to configure. But, take it from me. If a doting grandmother can handle it, so could you.

Until next week, I’ll be Bowling for Business.

Bowling for Business: The Internet Imperative

Using the Internet to Advertise is Imperative

This column first appeared on RimoftheWorld.net on August 31, 2009

My first experience as an entrepreneur dates back to 1974, when my best friend, Lori, and I opened a lemonade stand. Typical, I know. But our approach was not. You see; we lived on a pretty quiet street in Englewood, Colorado. After our first two days in business, we realized that the only regular traffic was the mailman and my father.

Not content to wait for customers to come to us, on day three, Lori and I took a more aggressive approach. We decided to sell lemonade door-to-door. You might be surprised at the relative success of our new strategy. Since this was 35 years ago, admittedly a much simpler time, not only did most people answer the door and take pity on us by forking over 10 cents a glass, most of them probably actually drank the beverages they purchased.

Ever since, I’ve been a staunch proponent for assertively pursuing market share. I guess that’s why I went into advertising. It’s also probably the reason I was so quick to jump on the Internet bandwagon. No matter whether Al Gore helped invent it or not, I believe Cyberspace to be the single most important invention for business since the coffee break.

While it was once necessary to set up a physical shop in order to be taken seriously in business, the “must have for business” in 2009 is an Internet presence. Not yet convinced? Consider the following:

According to the World Internet Usage Statistics website—

  • 251,735,500 Americans (73.9% of the population) have access to the Internet.

According to a report released by Nielsen Research

  • Among Internet users in the United States, 94% have shopped online.
  • Globally, 875 million people have made at least one online purchase.
  • Two-thirds of the world Internet population participates in social networking or blogging sites.

According to an article posted in the April 2009 issue of NZ Business—

  • Today more than two thirds of new business enquiries begin online.

Remarkably, at our Lake Arrowhead marketing and public relations’ agency, Mountain Marketing Group, we still spend a considerable amount of time trying to convince our clients that their business success is closely tied to the presence they allow us to help them establish online. And Lake Arrowhead is no Mayberry RFD.

I think the reluctance to embark on an Internet marketing campaign is tied to fear.

  • Several wonder about the potential Return on Investment.
  • Some worry that they will lose touch with their existing customer-base if they start courting buyers online.
  • Many are intimidated by the sheer number of electronic advertising and social networking platforms that are available.
  • A few are still waiting, maybe even hoping, that the Internet craze will pass.

With this column, I hope to alleviate these fears by shedding light on how easy, effective, and necessary it is for business owners and non-profit directors to get busy online. Not just for beginners, we’ll also highlight industry tips and trends designed to improve Internet performance for seasoned Internet pros.

This week, let me assure you that, like it or not, the Internet is here to stay. So why not embrace it? Learn about it? Exploit it? If the thought of setting up your own website is daunting, consider taking advantage of the plethora of free platforms waiting for you to enter a unique username and password. Even if you’ve hosted your own interactive website for years, these sites offer valuable back link opportunities, which drive Search Engine Optimization. We’ll cover back links and SEO in the weeks ahead.

Far less time-consuming to create than an original website or even a blog, these free directory listings help define your organization’s online persona because they are credible, established accounts. So even new businesses and non-profits included on them are immune from what’s known as the Google Sandbox, an otherwise unavoidable waiting period every new site must endure before Meta Crawlers recognize their existence on the Internet.

There are dozens of available free, directory sites. But these are the ones I recommend:

Google Directory

MerchantCircle

Rim of the World

Wikipedia AboutUs.org

Yellow Pages.com

Invest a little time online today to list your company, business service or non-profit in the free directories, above. As some unaccredited author once wrote, “A journey of a thousand sites begins with a single click.”

Until next week, I’ll be Bowling for Business