Thursday, December 12, 2013

When Small Businesses Fail: A Story

There are few things more depressing than a vacant business. One of those things is when you bought a Groupon-type deal for one of these places a few weeks earlier.

First thing is first, apologies for rarely posting the last few months. Honestly, just wasn't feeling Small Business Marketing. I'm so pre-occupied with my full-time E-Commerce Marketing life that I come home from work and have no interest in my side gig (Small Businesses). We all feel like that sometimes; just being human.

A few weeks ago, my girlfriend and I got a "Group-On type deal" from an also-ran daily deal site (I won't name them here; you can ask if you want) for a small Hot Dog/Hamburger vendor in Springfield (once again, ask if you want to know).

Three weeks after purchasing the deal, we decided to cash in and get some lunch. We drove to the spot, saw the business sign, and parked the car. I walked up to the business and tried to open the door.

Locked.

I looked in the storefront and saw some tables, but no chairs. I looked by the register and saw nothing. No register. No menu on the wall. Nothing. It looked bare, vacant.

We left disappointed. We went to Muscle Maker Grill instead (love the BBQ Wrap).

Now, this business must have not tied up all its loose ends if this Daily Deal site was still offering their $10 for $20 worth of food deal (The Daily Deal site did refund our money). They might even be offering promotions elsewhere that they haven't closed down.

The truth is, in the 20 minutes of attempted research on the company before buying that Daily Deal, I did see the writing on the wall.

They had no website. It took a while to find a menu on the web (it was hidden on their Facebook page).

Their Facebook page had less than 80 followers and was rarely updated (Our attempt to visit their shop happened in December; their last update was May and before that, January). No Twitter. No reviews on Yelp or Google. Nothing.

It seemed like two people (likely a married couple) wanted to start a Hot Dog/Hamburger business, but had no business plan what so ever. They found a location (decent location for foot traffic, but mediocre for driving visitors), got equipment, and thought they had a business.

But they had no plan.

I guess the Daily Deal might have been a last-ditch effort to get business. They obviously weren't promoting themselves properly, and this attempt was too little, too late.

It always makes me a little bit sad to see a "For Lease" sign on a Small Business; someone put their money and effort into something that was a dream for them, but due to their inability to put money and effort into their Marketing, they failed.

Friday, September 27, 2013

The Quickest Way to Number 1

The #1 spot on Google's Search Results is the place to be if you're a Small Business. If you want to be number 1, there are a few things you're going to need to do.

Majority of the time I get inquiries regarding my services, it is about Search Engine Optimization and how quickly I can get their website to the front page of Google.

I always respond the same way: I can possibly get you to the front page, but there are no guarantees. I use a method that has proven successful in the past, but I would be lying to say if I do X, Y, and Z, that you would be on the front page in 30 days, 3 months, or 1 year.

I can't make guarantees because Google changes its algorithm regularly and I do not control that algorithm. For example, Google's recent update, Hummingbird, has a focus on "Conversational" search (think "Where can I buy a used Honda Accord?" versus "used Honda Accord"). Google has also released updates which focus on a variety of other aspects and they do not notify you in advance of a change (Hummingbird was actually added in early September 2013, but the public was not notified until September 26th).

Also, a little bit of slippage, whether it is due to laziness (which does happen to the best of us) or a lack of security (as noted in my article on the Perils of Search Engine Optimization) can cause a huge amount of frustration. You were making progress; maybe on page 3 or 4, you stopped posting, and two months later, you're off somewhere in "no man's land" (anything after page 5).

So, answer the question: What is the quickest way to Number 1 on Google?

The quickest way is also the longest way. The people who are number 1 on Google have been working on it for years. Since it pays off handsomely, they will continue to work on it until Google dies off (which won't happen for a while).

There is no quick fix to get to the front page of Google. It requires a lot of work on your part and a lack of work of your competition. You have control over the former and the latter, by nature, tends to happen on its own.

Sure, it does cost a fair amount of money to hire an outside source (like Semishock) to help audit your website and make suggestions to improve it. It is also a proven way to generate more income for your business.

If you need any confirmation, find out who the number 1 competitor on Google is for your industry and ask them if it was worth it. I bet I can guess their answer already.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Why I Left Most of my Google+ Marketing Communities

Google+ is slowly entering the "good" area of Social Networking. Unfortunately, with "Good" usually comes "bad", and that's why I left over 10 communities this week.

There is an almost definite notion in Social Networking: The higher the quantity, the lower the quality.

When MySpace catered to "emo kids" and the tech-friendly, it was a beautiful place to meet new people. The layouts were simple and the expectations were low; people just liked the site for what it was.

When Facebook was open to just people with college e-mail addresses, the site made its greatest leaps in terms of efficiency and it was a great place to catch up with people from your past.

Both sites fell flat once the mainstream found their way on the platforms.

Google+ is on the come-up, producing monthly growth of active users since its Summer 2011 launch. Now, almost at the end of 2013, it's gaining even more and more traction as businesses realize its potential in search.

Communities are another big part of it, giving people with similar interests a place to talk about those interests. I'm currently in a New York Knicks community, a Philadelphia Eagles community (a group I'm very tight with; we have Google Hangouts for every Eagles game), and a range of other niche communities as well for video games and music.

It's like a website forum, just with names and likenesses attached to comments and posts.

So, obviously, there are communities for those who like Marketing. The problem is for every one real "Marketing person", there are 5-7 people looking to "Market". There is a huge difference.

Originally I joined to follow-up on new trends in my business, since I do this for a living, but I got to the point recently that every Marketing-based community I was in was loaded with one of the following:

  1. Someone asking for free advice to help their Small Business
  2. Someone asking for free advice to jump-start an idea they had in a dream last week that could make "you and I both very rich"
  3. Someone plugging their Internet-based Marketing business
  4. Someone asking for others to join the same Multi-Level Marketing scam he/she already joined
  5. Spam accounts posting links to irrelevant content, usually leading to Multi-Level Marketing scams

Since Communities are moderated in doses, it makes it difficult to police all the garbage that is thrown on the floor. Many of the better Google+ Communities are moderated by 3-8 different people, including Social Media Professionals and Technical SEO. So, if Mod #1 and Mod #2 are busy, Mod #3, #4, or #5 can mod out Spam links and self-promotion posts, which ruin Communities.

That is why those two Communities are the only two G+ Marketing Communities I'm staying a member of.

There is no way to fix this.

Google is not going to pay people to moderate their communities. If someone is not being paid for something, they have to do it as a hobby and I doubt most people are interested in moderating a Marketing community on a Social Network platform, so odds are, I will stay off G+ Marketing Communities in the future.

I guess the lesson learned here is if you are a fan of something, join a Community. You can meet other people with similar interests and make real connections. If you're possibly/not really a fan of something, you should probably do more research before joining something and possibly ruining it for everyone else.

I know this doesn't have much to do with Small Business Marketing, but I was in a ranting mood when I wrote this and it does involve Marketing, so putting it on the Semishock blog made some sense at the time. :)

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Google Ads and The Future of Television

I love the Google. I love the NFL. Soon, I might be able to combine my two loves into one deeper, more targeted loved.

Sure, this might not have anything to do with Small Business Marketing, but I had a thought, so let me run with it.

I don't have cable service at my condo. I have Comcast High-Speed internet and the basic TV channels I get when I hook a coaxial cable to my TV (ABC, FOX, CBS, NBC, etc).

I can afford cable. I just choose not to. I can't fathom paying $50 a month extra for a bunch of channels I don't watch. I watch ESPN. Some shows on HBO/Showtime. Some shows on FX. Love me some HGTV. That's really about it.

I'm not one of those people who hates advertisements. I'm in Marketing. I love advertising. I think many of the ads are silly, but I do mark out a bit for genuinely good product/service promotion.

While I don't have TV, I admit I stream live sports and pirate TV programs. I got to see my Breaking Bad and The Walking Dead some way or another, right?

I read this morning that Google is in talks with the NFL for the right to broadcast NFL games live-streamed through YouTube. DirecTV's exclusive NFL rights with "Sunday Ticket" ends after 2014 season, so providers are lining up in bunches to make the NFL an offer to broadcast their games in an alternative way.

Google? Wants to broadcast NFL games? Live? Through YouTube? Why?

Picture this scenario.

You're a die-hard Philadelphia Eagles fan. You're watching the Eagles play the Dallas Cowgirls (Cowboys) on Sunday.

During a commercial break, you see two minutes worth of ads you cannot skip (unfortunately).

Google knows who you are. You're a 30-year old male from New Jersey. It knows your browsing history. It knows what you are interested in.

For the next two minutes, you see 30 second ads for Madden NFL 16 from EA Sports, Calvin Klein cologne, Ford's newest truck, and Silk Almond Milk (you love you some almond milk).

Back to the game.

Google wants to air NFL games so they can air targeted ads during the games

Bravo, Google.

This is where I see television going. I think the days of cable television is numbered. I believe the "pay by channel" model is going to eventually take over and Google wants to lead the way (which explains why they offer their own internet and TV package in limited areas of the US).

Google wants to take your search history and use it to get advertisers to push you targeted stuff, versus the typical demographic-based information television networks currently use to direct their advertising schedule.

While some people might be up in arms about Google taking your information to use it to sell you things, just remember the classic line: "If you're not paying for a product, you are the product."

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Using a GroupOn Deal to Get Better Reviews

The hotel I stayed at in Denver offered a GroupOn deal that was approximately 1/2 the price of a normal night. I gave them a five-star review. They played their cards correctly.

The hotel I stayed at, the Hampton Inn & Suites Downtown Denver offered a room with a King-Size bed for $99 a night through GroupOn. The regular price, checking their website, for one night is $229, so, doing the math, I save a bit over 50%.

It's a new hotel. I can only count 9 total reviews between Google+ and Yelp (all positive, except one jerk that completely bashes the place for being "dirty" when the hotel was far from it). The place is competing with a variety of different hotels in the area. It couldn't hurt to lure people in, give them the Hampton Inn experience, and make them fans, as they did with me (the picture below is from the hotel's lobby).

They don't lose money. They still gain a customer.

A vacant room means no money for the hotel. A vacant restaurant means no money for the restaurant. A vacant club means... you get the point.

The hotel sold me a room at a great price. That hotel will be there for years to come. They can afford to "lose" money on giving me a room. The hotel won't make its money back for years and years and years. Cost of doing business. It won't be profitable for a while, but it will take much longer if you have empty rooms night-in and night-out. If the room is occupied and someone gets room service or valet parking, the hotel makes a few more bucks. It all adds up in time.

Now add in the value of me giving it a five-star review. You can read that review here.

If a bunch of people that used the GroupOn deal gave it a similar, sparkling review, think of how good it makes the hotel look? Sure, there will be a few haters (like the "Dirty" guy I mentioned before), but for the most part, when your business has 100+ reviews and most are positive, people will give your business a look.

It applies to any type of business, not just chain hotels. Starting a new business, you might want to consider taking a short-term hit in order to get people to visit. If you do the math correctly, you might be able to offer a great promotion and still make a small profit, all while building your brand to local shoppers.

From there, maybe you get a few long-term customers. Maybe you don't get a single one. Still, putting money into smart marketing efforts, such as Hampton Inn's GroupOn deal, are what get businesses moving in the right direction.

How Daily Deals Improved My Denver Vacation

Vacations are usually very expensive. Thankfully, GroupOn, LivingSocial, and Amazon Local exist.

I've noted several other places on this website that I am quite the frugal fellow. I use coupons and deals where I can find them and a good deal can be what makes or breaks a decision for me. If I'm eating out, I'd rather pay $15 for $30 worth of food versus $30 for $30 worth of food, so I'm not necessarily the type to have preferences; I just want to pay as little as possible.

My girlfriend and I just got back from a trip to Denver and Boulder, Colorado (the photo below is an actual photo I took on my Samsung Galaxy S2) and we spent less than $750 each total for the 5-day trip, mostly all due to being smart shoppers.

I'm going to save you the whole breakdown. We got a good price on plane tickets, which helps a lot, but Daily Deals are what really made our trip much more affordable.

With the exception of one lunch (we went out with her aunt/uncle to a local restaurant/bar in the Cherry Creek area), all 10 of our meals (Lunches and Dinners, since we took advantage of our hotels' delicious Continental Breakfast options) were purchased with Daily Deals, mostly through GroupOn (LivingSocial didn't have many good offers for the Denver/Boulder area).

We spent about $91 (plus additional expenses like tips) for $189 worth of food. It was a win-win for both my girlfriend and I, as well as the businesses.

Sure, they didn't get full bill, but they got a customer

As noted before, I don't like spending cash-for-perceived value. If I can get something cheaper, I will and with the wide variety of restaurants out there, I have options. I'm not stuck on "Oooh... I need to eat at this place or that place." If I can find a place that sells foods I eat for a lower price, I will eat there, unless something in the reviews tells me it isn't worth saving 50% (bad food or bad environment, for example).

For the business, they got a paying customer, even if we didn't pay full-price. Markup in restaurants is usually very high. (Take a $10 8-ounce burger. The meat, at worst, cost them $1.50. The buns, toppings, and fries are minimal costs. Even if I got the burger, in theory, for $5, they made a profit.) If all of the restaurants in Denver/Boulder weren't offering a deal and we had to choose where to eat on our own, odds are we would not have eaten at any of the ten locations we ate from. By offering a deal through GroupOn, they acquired a one-time customer and made a little bit of money too.

In addition, my reviews on Google+ Local should help them get a little bit more better-paying business in the future.

I'm not the type that enjoys going out to eat. I don't like paying for foods I can make myself. Still, when on vacation, you don't have this option most of the time, so I'm happy my girlfriend and I got to eat good food (seriously, all of the food was really tasty; we lucked out) for a fairer-than-normal price.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Why I Migrated from Wordpress to Blogger

If you've been visiting the site over the past year, you might notice that it looks a lot differently now. Same URL, but it's not as pretty as it once was. That is because it isn't what it once was.

From October 2012 until July 2013, my site was hosted by NearlyFreeSpeech and was running Wordpress, the most popular, and in my opinion, the most powerful, Website Content Management System out there.

I've worked on many Wordpress websites in the past. I have recommended Wordpress to many people and will continue to do so in the future, whether or not I use it myself.

I wanted to experiment. I wanted to save money.

Before I continue, I wanted to acknowledge that you can run a Wordpress-hosted website for free. This article from WMPUorg explains the differences between Wordpress.com (the free Wordpress) and Wordpress.org (the software you host on your own server).

I was running Wordpress through NearlyFreeSpeech and it was working well. NFS is a great host for someone that doesn't get a lot of traffic, as they charge you for usage versus monthly. It's a great pricing model for Small Businesses looking to host a website.

As I got further in my Google+ residence, I realized that I could save money by using Google's website service (Blogger), yet still keep my website almost as-is. With a little bit of work, I got the images and layout to mimic the Wordpress version and now, I feel comfortable hosting my site on Blogger with the Semishock.com domain name. I backed up my Wordpress theme and install, so maybe in the future someday, if I want to go back to Wordpress, it will be much easier than starting from scratch.

Now, I'm not saying that this Blogger website is going to be as powerful as my Wordpress website. Not even close. A self-hosted Wordpress website is one of the best ways to run your website.

What I'm saying is that I, Chrystian / Semishock, didn't need that kind of power anymore. I needed a website with easy Google+ connection that allowed me to embed videos and write short, well-written (most of the time) blog articles about the issues with Small Business Marketing. Combined with my Google+ profile, I feel as if this is a much easier method for me to update the Semishock website and keep my Search Engine Optimization rolling along.

One more reason to move to Blogger

There has been a lot of talk about Google Authorship over the past year in regard to Content Marketing and Search Engine Optimization. For more information about Google Authorship, here is Google's Official Page on it and an article on Google Authorship vs Google Rank by Mark Thaphagen, an expert on the topic.

In simple terms, Google now allows you to tie all of your content across the web to your Google+ profile and name, so you have more control over the content you write. For example, the Semishock Small Business Consulting domain and brand is attached to Chrystian Tigeleiro, so everything is connected. Semishock is Chrystian, just like in real life.

No one knows the actual future of Authorship yet, but if Google is putting time and effort into it, it must be something worth paying attention to if Search Engine Optimization is your goal. This is the primary reason for moving my website from Wordpress to Blogger. Keeping everything on Google. Blogger for the website, Google+ for the Social Networking, YouTube for videos, etc. Keeping all of the content linked to Chrystian Tigeleiro.

A year from now, I hope I'm still here. Who knows? I think it's a good test to try out. Right now, as I type this, before I take the Wordpress website down, I'm on page 6 for the results for "NJ Small Business Marketing" right now. I'll likely update this post in six months with results on how the change went. Hopefully by then, there are some visible results.

If not, I just wasted 4 hours of my life, but I likely saved $15.

Hmmmmm.... don't know if that's a win or not.