Jessica Tremayne

Monday, 26 January 2009 19:00

Sustaining momentum

Sustainability isn’t about saving the planet. It’s about saving your business.

Conducting business in a sustainable manner means you can spend less and increase revenue.

While sustainability does help the planet, the incentive of reducing your business costs by half is a strong reason to pay attention. The buzz is that traditional energy and other resources will be in tight supply in the future, resulting in volatile prices. By investing in sustainable efforts now, you can help ensure your business’s long-term success.

“There’s a lot of overlap with quality and sustainability,” says Christopher Johnson, co-founder and CEO of ifPeople, a technology solutions provider that incorporated sustainability as a core business value. “High quality also means low cost; less waste means less cost. Companies have to be willing to educate themselves to make sustainable choices.”

Americans compose 5 percent of the world’s population, yet contribute almost 25 percent of the greenhouse gas pollution, which scientists believe causes global warming. If everyone used and wasted energy and other resources this way, we’d need four planet earths to keep up with the demand. Consumers are finally taking notice of this egregious waste and are looking to buy from sustainable businesses, while more and more businesses are looking to obtain products from other businesses using sustainable practices. This is a time when your business can not only streamline production but also increase revenue by drawing in new customers.

“Barack Obama was so specific about forming an energy plan, we’ll be seeing things change soon,” says T. Boone Pickens, founder and chairman of BP Capital Management. “This means businesses have to get going on where they’ll be standing when this comes in to play.”

Ninety percent of readers polled by Smart Business say being green is an important part of their corporate philosophy, yet almost half report that they’re not willing to invest in greener practices. Experts say spending money on green initiatives isn’t paying for an image; it’s a direct investment in a more economic way of running your business.

Why sustainability is important

Think of sustainability like the Internet. Fifteen years ago, when the Internet was emerging, it wasn’t pervasive, but now it’s everywhere. Eventually, sustainable business will just be called business and green building will just be known as building. Experts say that is the way it’s going to be and you have to adapt now.

If you want to know the value in sustainable management, think about the Dow Jones Sustainability Index. For almost a decade, Dow Jones has been providing sustainability indexes of businesses, which shows objective benchmarks for financial products linked to economic, environmental and social criteria. Sustainability indexes offer a performance baseline and an investment value for mutual funds, certificates, separate accounts and other investment vehicles based on the concept of sustainability. To date, the assets managed amount to approximately $6 billion.

“Imagine if U.S. automakers had invested in sustainability in the ’70s,” says Andrew Keenan, founder and marketing director, Verus Carbon Neutral, a sustainability auditing company. “We’d all be saying, ‘Toyota who?’”

The need for sustainability has already created thousands of jobs stemming from business consultants to waste managers. Experts say we’ve only scratched the surface of what sustainable practices can do for businesses. While solar and wind power commonly come to mind, sustainability includes using recycled products when building, collecting rain for watering purposes and designing your business’s landscape in a way that minimizes the need for upkeep and conserving resources.

“Most graduates are environmentally oriented,” says David Rovner, managing director, Sustainable Methods Consulting LLC. “Innovative thinkers will be looking to be employed at a company that isn’t wasteful.”

While reducing waste has its obvious benefits, reduced insurance rates are another benefit to sustainable businesses. In fact, sustainability consultants predict business insurance will be more difficult to procure as nonsustainable practices are looked at as a risk.

In a 2008 report by SAB Miller, one of the world’s largest breweries, a survey of 4,000 senior executives showed 70 percent place corporate sustainability at the top of their priority list. That still leaves more than a quarter of businesses delaying action.

What you need to know

When initiating a sustainability plan, think about who your customers are and what they want. Consider how implementing sustainable practices can lead to more business. The challenge is making decisions that are financially, socially and environmentally intelligent. While there isn’t a one-size-fits-all plan, having a sustainability expert evaluate your business is a jumping-off point.

The Global Reporting Initiative is another ally for businesses seeking a sustainable route. It’s an organization that provides a framework companies can follow to measure and report their economic sustainability performance and monitor the performance of other companies. The organization sets the principles and indicators that businesses can use to measure and report their sustainability performance. GRI is growing as an international standard for corporate sustainability reporting.

“Stakeholders are looking to invest in companies that are sustainable and exhibit corporate responsibility,” Rovner says. “Too many businesses don’t know what to do outside of recycling. It’s a problem of you don’t know what you don’t know — but the resources are out there.”

Another source for information comes from the U.S. Business Council for Sustainable Development, which was established in 2002 as a member-led, nonprofit organization that presents projects to demonstrate the business value of sustainable development. Projects featured by the council create value through economic returns and environmental and social benefits.

A sustainability consultant can help you identify what sustainable methods are available. After an assessment, you, along with department managers or those hired for the assignment, can construct an operational analysis that details your plans with set goals and deadlines. This will include your estimated ROI time frame. Make sure your sustainability plan describes how sustainability topics relate to long-term organizational strategy, risks and opportunities, including supply chain topics.

Even if you don’t implement everything in your sustainability plan today, you can reevaluate and implement more sustainability methods in the future.

Make sure you are meeting all local and national protocols while setting some of your own standards. Define sustainability issues for your business based on your industry and the department. For example, if your business uses a lot of water, utilize rainwater recycling to minimize the amount of water you must purchase.

“How many more Katrinas can we survive economically?” Keenan says. “Businesses are only looking at what’s in front of them. They’re afraid to take their eye off the ball, but they should really be looking at where the ball’s going to be.”

Friday, 26 December 2008 19:00

The power within


The days are long past that energy was so cheap you could afford to waste it. Now, financial and environmental concerns have made saving energy a priority for every business. When done right, you can expect to achieve a savings of 20 to 30 percent off your current monthly utility bill, with minimal investment.

Getting started on saving can be as simple as making employees aware that energy efficiency is a priority for your company. Employees who regularly turn off lights and computers at home don’t bring that same mindset to work. By recruiting employees to help manage your company’s energy usage, you can start to save money.

Seventy-nine percent of readers surveyed by Smart Business say they expect energy costs to continually increase over the next 12 to 18 months. Full dedication to efficiency is necessary to maximize savings because energy experts say halfhearted efforts get similar results.

“At a time when most CEOs are thinking about how to keep their doors open because of the economy, they should consider energy efficiency to help with today’s problems and prevent some for tomorrow,” says Ron Casteel, executive vice president, Sovereign Homes.

Why managing energy use is important

Energy efficiency is a prime example of what you don’t know can hurt you. Few people are aware that energy-efficient business desktop computers are available that cost about $10 a year to operate and are about 75 percent more efficient than typical PCs. Installing certain models of smart thermostats allows you to program them wirelessly through the Internet, allowing for temperature adjustments without physically being at the facility. Also, new smart electric meters translate energy wattage use into dollars and allow you to track energy use online.

“Tough times are the mother of all invention,” Casteel says. “Appoint an energy czar, make every staff meeting include an energy-saving tip and share energy costs as widely as possible, making employees take ownership of their energy use. Take all necessary steps to take advantage of energy savings.”

ENERGY STAR, an Environmental Protection Agency and U.S. Department of Energy program, along with your utility provider and local city hall can help you reduce energy waste by providing regional energy-efficiency tips, financial incentives and energy audits of facilities. ENERGY STAR endorses more than 50 types of products, which are identifiable by a label that indicates the amount of energy it will require during average use and will tell you the savings you can expect by choosing that product over products that aren’t approved by the ENERGY STAR program. Purchasing the proper equipment and carrying out good habits will reduce your energy expenses exponentially. For example, you will use 30 to 35 percent less energy using an ENERGY STAR battery charger or power adapter over conventional products.

By changing purchasing habits and being more cautious of efficient equipment operation, you’ll immediately reduce your energy bill. By purchasing ENERGY STAR-qualified products, you’ll use about half the amount of electricity that would be used without the efficient product. For example, when a computer is placed in sleep mode, it uses 75 percent less energy and a copier uses 40 percent less energy.

Most businesses use 25 percent of their energy on lighting. Compact fluorescent bulbs last longer than traditional bulbs and use 75 percent less energy. Even if it means renovating your entire lighting system, you’ll see a return on your investment in anywhere from five months to three years.

“An Ohio bill recently passed that mandates new construction to be more energy-efficient,” says Ross Parkman, senior director of utilities, energy services and sustainability, The Ohio State University. “Politicians aren’t lightening up on their approach to energy conservation. It’s better to make the decision willingly and with incentives today than forcibly tomorrow.”

What you need to know

Performing an energy audit of your business is the first step. This is often performed for free or at a minimal cost through your utility provider. In this audit, you’ll learn what areas of your business are using the most energy. You’ll then be able to work on a strategy to reduce waste.

By visiting the ENERGY STAR Web site at www.energystar.gov, you can compare your company’s energy use to similarly sized companies within your industry and region.

“Put resources such as your utility provider and ENERGY STAR in place to get beyond behaviors to drive your program,” Parkman says. “Communicating facts to employees and focusing on goals while promoting incentives will progress energy efficiency.”

After your energy audit, you’ll need to strategize a plan of action and goals, and then formally deliver the message to employees.

“It becomes more of a priority to employees when upper management sends out the energy-efficiency message as opposed to those in lower positions,” Parkman says. “You also can’t handle every detail, and assigning duties to promote the plan will make your efforts excel.”

Assigning an employee to manage energy initiatives and communicate them to the staff will help keep everyone involved and informed about the process. You may want to take things a step further and provide training to employees that can explain operating methods and procedures to reduce energy use, along with ways to monitor and report collected data. ENERGY STAR provides free online training sessions for employees and is a good place to start.

“Ease into an energy plan by forming small projects,” says Mac Roberts, president, P&D Builders Ltd. “Start by reducing energy use by 10 percent and assigning a timeline to meet that goal. Setting goals and timelines will set the tone for the mission and make employees more ambitious about the plan.”

When establishing a project timeline, consider attainable energy grants, rebates and tax breaks weighed against necessary operational changes to accomplish goals. Once you know what you need to change to be more efficient and what finances you have available, you’ll be able to better chart progress and predict the time frame for the return on your investment.

“There is a reluctance to investing in something that doesn’t show a profit in two or three years,” Casteel says. “But you don’t have to make massive investments to see energy-saving improvements. If you start a basic program, more aggressive measures will fall into place when finances permit.”

Tuesday, 25 November 2008 19:00

The road less traveled

With tough economic times taking a toll on all of us, your first instinct to rising business travel costs might be to eliminate the expense across the board.

Don’t do it.

Travel leads to growth and cutting it is counterproductive. If you’re looking to adhere to a more realistic plan, consider reevaluating your travel policy and consulting with a travel management company to save 20 to 30 percent on travel while keeping worthy trips in the budget.

Travel is the second-largest controllable cost for the average U.S. business, seated between data collection and salaries, yet most companies have little or no management of it.

While your company may have an unofficial policy instructing employees to ‘get the cheapest rate,’ a policy that isn’t managed and enforced is equivalent to not having one at all.

A Smart Business poll showed that 81 percent of respondents’ employees are responsible for making their own travel arrangements. The problem is, if your employees are utilizing online booking agencies or different vendors, your company is likely losing out in the long run. If you lump your travel needs together with selected vendors and submit requests for proposals, your annual negotiated rate will outweigh nickel-and-dime savings earned on a case-by-case basis.

Why travel management is important

If you take steps to retain a travel budget and manage it efficiently, you will most likely see a significant return on your investment.

Sixty-nine percent of companies polled in an October Association of Corporate Travel Executives survey say they will be spending less or the same on travel in 2009.

“Businesses citing lateral travel expenditures in 2009 will likely just be traveling less as the cost of travel has climbed significantly,” says Susan Gurley, executive director, Association of Corporate Travel Executives. “Even those who say they are spending more are barely keeping up with the increase.”

You’d like to think your employees have the company’s best interest in mind, but statistics show companies that place a travel manager or an outside agency in charge of travel finances stay within the confines of their budgets while employee-handled travel has a less successful return on investment.

You need to take a proactive approach to managing your travel costs if you expect to get bottom-line results for a minimum of expense.

But being smart about your budget entails more than waiting for the computerized ping alert of a reduced airline fee like one of Pavlov’s dogs. While airfare is the most costly aspect of travel, you don’t want to arbitrarily eliminate it.

“The first step is to differentiate between strategic and nonstrategic travel,” Gurley says. “Strategic travel generates revenue while nonstrategic travel is anything that results in cost, but has no substantial gain in revenue.”

In most cases, meetings with customers are justifiable, as there is a direct correlation to revenue gains. On the other hand, meeting with the head of the Omaha office may not have much effect on your bottom line this year, so consider cutting that — and other trips like it — out of the budget. Use videoconferencing or teleconferencing equipment for these internal meetings whenever possible.

Why? Because internal travel can account for about 40 percent of a business’s travel. Don’t worry, technology has come a long way since the early days of choppy robotic movements and out-ofsync voices. Look into Skype and WebEx as a couple of travel alternatives that could save you money while still keeping you in touch with your people in a more personal manner.

“We do a lot of teleconferencing,” says Nancy Johnson, regional director, HCR Manor Care. “We have more than 60,000 employees in offices/facilities nationwide. It wouldn’t be cost-effective to meet in-person, but we can host large meetings, while saving time and money because we have a well-managed process.”

What you need to know

Getting your travel budget under control starts with the assembly of an in-house team of policymakers who vow to prevent travel anarchy while clearly defining your terms and expectations. A good policy will answer why travel management is necessary, detail the value of expectations, cite the requirements and give examples of useful practices.

The team involved in policy planning should include you, a scheduler, travelers and the finance team. After the policy is made, one person should oversee its enforcement and keep up to date on travel industry policy. This could be a part-time or full-time position based on need.

“The ability to work with senior leadership is essential,” says Craig Banikowski, director of global travel management for Hilton and president of the Los Angeles Business Travel Associates. “Cost avoidance is more of the issue now than actual savings, and you’ll only achieve that by planning.”

A realistic travel budget must be based on destination costs versus a flat-rate figure that is impossible to meet in all travel locations. A rate for things like car rental, hotel and food must be figured depending on the median rates in that city.

A policy needs to be revised annually to adjust to economic and company needs, and some flexibility is required in any plan. For example, an employee’s time may be more valuable than the cost savings from putting the person on a later flight, especially if arriving later could jeopardize a meeting with a client.

Also, you want to make sure the employee’s time is used efficiently on any business trip. A policy should entail what is expected of employees during travel and ways they should make the best use of time outside of the office. Meeting with multiple clients during a conference or calling on one located en route are a couple of ideas to maximize the value of a trip.

Some businesses use online booking agencies, believing their rates will be lowest and eliminate travel management company fees, which can account for 3 percent of all travel costs. But the majority of costs — 97 percent — goes to airfare, hotel and car rental, which is the same arena in which a travel manager will save money.

While travel costs are unlikely to decrease anytime soon, getting through the initial pain may be the biggest challenge facing business.

“The cost increase is felt the hardest initially,” Gurley says. “However, increases and a poor economy have resulted in a reduction in routes traveled — about 12 percent fewer flights are available today than even a year ago. This figure will increase and companies that considered reducing travel to be cost-effective will find flying increasingly less attractive into 2009. Optimistically speaking, the economy will eventually level out, but being prepared will mean better opportunities.”

Sunday, 26 October 2008 20:00

Lost and found

If your IT guru has told you that something called search engine optimization is the way to go, but you’re still foggy about what it is or why you should care, consider this: When done right, SEO could double your return on investment and help you acquire scores of new customers.

Search engine optimization in its most basic form is simply about making your Web site appear higher up in search results from sites like Google and Yahoo.

Search engines are the starting point of almost all online activity, second only to e-mail, yet more than half of readers surveyed by Smart Business say search engine optimization isn’t part of their current marketing strategy. Search engine optimization has a rightful place in every company’s budget, yet few companies ‘get it,’ and they don’t allocate serious funds into the development of a program.

It all starts when a potential customer enters a search term into Google. Two types of search results are displayed: natural and pay-per-click.

Natural search, which are the results shown on the left side of any search page, are based on merit and validity to the keywords used. The results in the narrow column on the right are pay-per-click results.

When you optimize your site for natural search, it can take three months to see progress in your rankings. The better the optimization, the higher up your site will appear in relevant searches, increasing your chances for a sale.

Pay-per-click gets immediate results by displaying your ad when someone searches for a particular keyword that you choose, but you are charged every time someone clicks on your site. This is an advertisement and a temporary fix.

Why optimization is important

The name Google is so widely used that it’s the newest verb in the English language. Everyone knows of the search engine because it has a commanding market share (various online sources cite 60 to 70 percent on average), so the connection is easy to make: If your Web site ranks high on Google, that’s the best way to reach an audience that’s looking for your goods or services. SEO gets your name in front of consumers at a time they are looking to buy what you sell.

SEO creates compelling information on your site, makes it easy to find and spreads your name around the Internet as much as possible. In the process, your site will be placed ahead of your competition when keywords are searched related to your business.

“About 71 percent of consumers now look to search engines as the No. 1 informational source to buy,” says George Bogle, president, eNET Technologies. “With SEO, it’s not a victory unless your site ranks on page one organically. You must have confidence the firm you choose will be able to get you there.”

Competition plays a role in the difficulty in ranking high, but a series of criteria installed by Google and implemented by SEO firms help make the ranking determination.

“You may think something similar to the ‘Field of Dreams’ theory regarding your business site, ‘If we build it, they will come,’ but this isn’t true without SEO and compelling information on your home page,” says Aldie Beard, president, Find IT Engine. “We live in a microwave society that wants what they need now. If you aren’t ranking, the consumer will go elsewhere.”

The longer you wait to take action, the more difficult it will be to get your site ranked higher.

“You have to keep in compliance with demand as a business,” Beard says. “Considering how long it took some businesses just to get a Web site, it could take three more years for them to get on board with SEO, but they’ll regret not doing it sooner.”

What to look out for

Although understanding the intricate details of what makes search engine optimization work would require two Advil and a clear schedule, knowing the basics and what questions to ask will minimize the use of your mental reserves. There’s no accreditation program for SEO firms, but getting a brief education of the process will allow you to know your opportunities instead of becoming one.

First, there are different forms of SEO, none of which comes with a guarantee. There are two main types of search: local and global — and you’ll also hear the term “universal search,” which encompasses both, plus video. A business like a restaurant would probably be interested in a local search only, so would focus on keywords and phrases that include the city name.

One of the easiest ways to measure what keywords might help you rank high is Google Analytics (www.google.com/analytics). It’s a free service provided by Google that allows you to test the current value of your Web site and gives you detailed reports on what keywords are being used to find your site.

But keywords are not the only measure of success.

“Link building is the big thing now,” Beard says. “Google has about 30 ways to rate sites and link building is one that is getting weighed into the mix more than ever.”

Web site design also plays an intricate role in the process. Your site may have an impressive appearance, but spiders — software robots that “crawl” the Web indexing data — must be able to understand information on the page, or it will not be efficiently indexed, dropping your Web site’s ranking.

Mobile search is the newest type of optimization and sometimes it’s referred to as “third screen.” In the U.S., mobile marketing is largely used for local search, but foreign markets rely on mobile Web access heavily for all facets of search.

Getting the most return from your site requires a balance of compelling information, easy access and optimization that gets it to the top of the search engine rankings. Most professional firms will be able to handle all of these needs, but again, ask questions before signing anything.

Ask the SEO firm if it performs link building, which places a link to your site from other reputable sites. Also ask what techniques it uses to create incoming links to ensure they follow search engine guidelines.

Also, ask the company how it tests, measures and reports results. Think about what you want to know, such as how many people visited a page and if they made a purchase, and make sure the firm can provide that data. The SEO firm must provide updates that mean something to you. Also ask to see samples of its work and see where those clients rank.

Once you find a company you are comfortable with, think long term.

“If you are thinking of hiring an outside company, you should definitely engage in it for a year,” says David Roth, director of search marketing, Yahoo. “SEO is a long, iterative process with delayed results; you’ll want to keep the agency around so they can maximize the benefit to your company and hold them accountable for their actions.”

Like anything else, SEO gets you what you pay for and that means hours of work and a decent chunk of your marketing budget. Since a feasible figure depends on your budget, factor at least a quarter of your marketing budget for SEO.

“The good news is, once SEO is put into place, the cost of attracting a new user is practically zero,” Roth says.

Sunday, 26 October 2008 20:00

Lost and found

If your IT guru has told you that something called search engine optimization is the way to go, but you’re still foggy about what it is or why you should care, consider this: When done right, SEO could double your return on investment and help you acquire scores of new customers.

Search engine optimization in its most basic form is simply about making your Web site appear higher up in search results from sites like Google and Yahoo.

Search engines are the starting point of almost all online activity, second only to e-mail, yet more than half of readers surveyed by Smart Business say search engine optimization isn’t part of their current marketing strategy. Search engine optimization has a rightful place in every company’s budget, yet few companies ‘get it,’ and they don’t allocate serious funds into the development of a program.

It all starts when a potential customer enters a search term into Google. Two types of search results are displayed: natural and pay-per-click.

Natural search, which are the results shown on the left side of any search page, are based on merit and validity to the keywords used. The results in the narrow column on the right are pay-per-click results.

When you optimize your site for natural search, it can take three months to see progress in your rankings. The better the optimization, the higher up your site will appear in relevant searches, increasing your chances for a sale.

Pay-per-click gets immediate results by displaying your ad when someone searches for a particular keyword that you choose, but you are charged every time someone clicks on your site. This is an advertisement and a temporary fix.

Why optimization is important

The name Google is so widely used that it’s the newest verb in the English language. Everyone knows of the search engine because it has a commanding market share (various online sources cite 60 to 70 percent on average), so the connection is easy to make: If your Web site ranks high on Google, that’s the best way to reach an audience that’s looking for your goods or services. SEO gets your name in front of consumers at a time they are looking to buy what you sell.

SEO creates compelling information on your site, makes it easy to find and spreads your name around the Internet as much as possible. In the process, your site will be placed ahead of your competition when keywords are searched related to your business.

“The biggest advantage of SEO is offering more eyeballs interested in your product at a reduced cost compared to other advertising,” says David Russell, president, Red Spot Design. “With SEO, the prospective customer actually asks the search engine for information about you — you just have to provide it.”

Competition plays a role in the difficulty in ranking high, but a series of criteria installed by Google and implemented by SEO firms help make the ranking determination.

“SEO should be the first consideration for any online marketing,” says Jennifer Walsh, SEO account manager, Bayshore Solutions. “You must have an understanding of SEO to make decisions. Many times, a minimal budget is given, and necessary changes can’t be implemented. This leads to frustration by the customer and firm because the job isn’t being performed as well as it could be.”

The longer you wait to take action, the more difficult it will be to get your site ranked higher.

“SEO has grown extremely fast,” says Steven Capone, search marketing director, imc2. “Advertisers will spend more than $10 billion on search in 2008 and a predicted $20 billion by 2012. About 70 percent of online consumers click on organic listings. The opportunity cannot be ignored.”

What to look out for

Although understanding the intricate details of what makes search engine optimization work would require two Advil and a clear schedule, knowing the basics and what questions to ask will minimize the use of your mental reserves. There’s no accreditation program for SEO firms, but getting a brief education of the process will allow you to know your opportunities instead of becoming one.

First, there are different forms of SEO, none of which comes with a guarantee. There are two main types of search: local and global — and you’ll also hear the term “universal search,” which encompasses both, plus video. A business like a restaurant would probably be interested in a local search only, so would focus on keywords and phrases that include the city name.

One of the easiest ways to measure what keywords might help you rank high is Google Analytics (www.google.com/analytics). It’s a free service provided by Google that allows you to test the current value of your Web site and gives you detailed reports on what keywords are being used to find your site.

But keywords are not the only measure of success.

“Before launching a campaign, make sure the company provides valuable insights such as geographic location and advertiser competition across different behavior sets and keyword categories,” Capone says. “It’s the search engine optimization firm’s responsibility to have knowledge of consumer language and to know that consumers see search as search.”

Web site design also plays an intricate role in the process. Your site may have an impressive appearance, but spiders — software robots that “crawl” the Web indexing data — must be able to understand information on the page, or it will not be efficiently indexed, dropping your Web site’s ranking.

Mobile search is the newest type of optimization and sometimes it’s referred to as “third screen.” In the U.S., mobile marketing is largely used for local search, but foreign markets rely on mobile Web access heavily for all facets of search.

Getting the most return from your site requires a balance of compelling information, easy access and optimization that gets it to the top of the search engine rankings. Most professional firms will be able to handle all of these needs, but again, ask questions before signing anything.

Ask the SEO firm if it performs link building, which places a link to your site from other reputable sites. Also ask what techniques it uses to create incoming links to ensure they follow search engine guidelines.

Also, ask the company how it tests, measures and reports results. Think about what you want to know, such as how many people visited a page and if they made a purchase,

and make sure the firm can provide that data. The SEO firm must provide updates that mean something to you. Also ask to see samples of its work and see where those clients rank.

Once you find a company you are comfortable with, think long term.

“If you are thinking of hiring an outside company, you should definitely engage in it for a year,” says David Roth, director of search marketing, Yahoo. “SEO is a long, iterative process with delayed results; you’ll want to keep the agency around so they can maximize the benefit to your company and hold them accountable for their actions.”

Like anything else, SEO gets you what you pay for and that means hours of work and a decent chunk of your marketing budget. Since a feasible figure depends on your budget, factor at least a quarter of your marketing budget for SEO.

“The good news is, once SEO is put into place, the cost of attracting a new user is practically zero,” Roth says.

IMAGE PROVIDED BY CINCINNATISOLUTIONS.COM

Sunday, 26 October 2008 20:00

Search engine optimization

If your IT guru has told you that something

called search engine optimization is the way

to go, but you’re still foggy about what it is or

why you should care, consider this: When

done right, SEO could double your return on

investment and help you acquire scores of

new customers.

Search engine optimization in its most

basic form is simply about making your Web

site appear higher up in search results from

sites like Google and Yahoo.

Search engines are the starting point of

almost all online activity, second only to e-mail, yet more than half of readers surveyed

by Smart Business say search engine optimization isn’t part of their current marketing

strategy. Search engine optimization has a

rightful place in every company’s budget, yet

few companies ‘get it,’ and they don’t allocate

serious funds into the development of a program.

It all starts when a potential customer

enters a search term into Google. Two types

of search results are displayed: natural and

pay-per-click.

Natural search, which are the results

shown on the left side of any search page, are

based on merit and validity to the keywords

used. The results in the narrow column on

the right are pay-per-click results.

When you optimize your site for natural

search, it can take three months to see

progress in your rankings. The better the

optimization, the higher up your site will

appear in relevant searches, increasing your

chances for a sale.

Pay-per-click gets immediate results by displaying your ad when someone searches for

a particular keyword that you choose, but

you are charged every time someone clicks

on your site. This is an advertisement and a

temporary fix.

Why optimization is important

The name Google is so widely used that it’s

the newest verb in the English language.

Everyone knows of the search engine

because it has a commanding market share

(various online sources cite 60 to 70 percent

on average), so the connection is easy to

make: If your Web site ranks high on Google, that’s the best way to reach an audience that’s

looking for your goods or services. SEO gets

your name in front of consumers at a time they

are looking to buy what you sell.

SEO creates compelling information on

your site, makes it easy to find and spreads

your name around the Internet as much as

possible. In the process, your site will be

placed ahead of your competition when keywords are searched related to your business.

“For well-optimized sites, businesses can

expect to see 70 to 90 percent of their visitors

coming from search engines,” says Greg Frye,

president, Upright Communications. “This is

the obvious way to attract Web consumers

and earn revenue on and offline.”

Competition plays a role in the difficulty in

ranking high, but a series of criteria installed

by Google and implemented by SEO firms

help make the ranking determination.

“Many CEOs see search engine optimization as snake oil,” says Steve Phillips, founder,

Purple Trout LLC. “It’s still relatively new, and

they want to sit back and see where it goes

before making an investment. Some businesses have been burned in their first attempt

at SEO, likely because they didn’t choose a

reputable company and became discouraged

from attempting round two.”

The longer you wait to take action, the

more difficult it will be to get your site ranked

higher.

“I don’t see how any business can ignore

SEO, even on a local level,” Phillips says.

“The longer you wait to become involved, the

more difficult it will be to be visible to potential customers due to market saturation —

demand. So many people jump online all the

time, open Google and start searching. Heck,

I use Google to find a pizza place or to look

for a dentist. It’s amazing how many businesses haven’t considered it yet.”

What to look out for

Although understanding the intricate

details of what makes search engine optimization work would require two Advil and

a clear schedule, knowing the basics and

what questions to ask will minimize the use

of your mental reserves. There’s no accreditation program for SEO firms, but getting a brief education of the process will allow you

to know your opportunities instead of

becoming one.

First, there are different forms of SEO,

none of which comes with a guarantee.

There are two main types of search: local

and global — and you’ll also hear the term

“universal search,” which encompasses

both, plus video. A business like a restaurant would probably be interested in a local

search only, so would focus on keywords

and phrases that include the city name.

One of the easiest ways to measure what

keywords might help you rank high is Google

Analytics (www.google.com/analytics). It’s a

free service provided by Google that allows

you to test the current value of your Web site

and gives you detailed reports on what keywords are being used to find your site.

But keywords are not the only measure of

success.

“Links from other reputable sites to yours

are positive points in SEO,” Frye says. “SEO

is moving more toward including off-site optimization along with what’s done on the home

page and keyword use.”

Web site design also plays an intricate role

in the process. Your site may have an impressive appearance, but spiders — software

robots that “crawl” the Web indexing data —

must be able to understand information on

the page, or it will not be efficiently indexed,

dropping your Web site’s ranking.

Mobile search is the newest type of optimization and sometimes it’s referred to as

“third screen.” In the U.S., mobile marketing

is largely used for local search, but foreign

markets rely on mobile Web access heavily

for all facets of search.

Getting the most return from your site

requires a balance of compelling information,

easy access and optimization that gets it to

the top of the search engine rankings. Most

professional firms will be able to handle all of

these needs, but again, ask questions before

signing anything.

Ask the SEO firm if it performs link building, which places a link to your site from

other reputable sites. Also ask what techniques it uses to create incoming links to

ensure they follow search engine guidelines.

Also, ask the company how it tests, measures and reports results.

Think about what you want to know, such as how many people visited a page and if they made a purchase, and make sure the firm can

provide that data. The SEO firm must provide updates that mean

something to you. Also ask to see samples of its work and see where

those clients rank.

Once you find a company you are comfortable with, think long term.

“If you are thinking of hiring an outside company, you should definitely engage in it for a year,” says David Roth, director of search marketing, Yahoo. “SEO is a long, iterative process with delayed results;

you’ll want to keep the agency around so they can maximize the benefit to your company and hold them accountable for their actions.”

Like anything else, SEO gets you what you pay for and that means

hours of work and a decent chunk of your marketing budget. Since a

feasible figure depends on your budget, factor at least a quarter of

your marketing budget for SEO.

“The good news is, once SEO is put into place, the cost of attracting

a new user is practically zero,” Roth says.

Sunday, 26 October 2008 20:00

Lost and found

If your IT guru has told you that something called search engine optimization is the way to go, but you’re still foggy about what it is or why you should care, consider this: When done right, SEO could double your return on investment and help you acquire scores of new customers.

Search engine optimization in its most basic form is simply about making your Web site appear higher up in search results from sites like Google and Yahoo.

Search engines are the starting point of almost all online activity, second only to e-mail, yet 83 percent of readers surveyed by Smart Business say they plan to invest less into their 2009 marketing budget. Search engine optimization has a rightful place in every company’s budget, yet few companies ‘get it,’ and they don’t allocate serious funds into the development of a program.

It all starts when a potential customer enters a search term into Google. Two types of search results are displayed: natural and pay-per-click.

Natural search, which are the results shown on the left side of any search page, are based on merit and validity to the keywords used. The results in the narrow column on the right are pay-per-click results.

When you optimize your site for natural search, it can take three months to see progress in your rankings. The better the optimization, the higher up your site will appear in relevant searches, increasing your chances for a sale.

Pay-per-click gets immediate results by displaying your ad when someone searches for a particular keyword that you choose, but you are charged every time someone clicks on your site. This is an advertisement and a temporary fix.

Why optimization is important

The name Google is so widely used that it’s the newest verb in the English language. Everyone knows of the search engine because it has a commanding market share (various online sources cite 60 to 70 percent on average), so the connection is easy to make: If your Web site ranks high on Google, that’s the best way to reach an audience that’s looking for your goods or services. SEO gets your name in front of consumers at a time they are looking to buy what you sell.

SEO creates compelling information on your site, makes it easy to find and spreads your name around the Internet as much as possible. In the process, your site will be placed ahead of your competition when keywords are searched related to your business.

“SEO is the new Yellow Pages, but it’s not all alphabetical,” says James Yancey, managing director, 360i. “Consumers look at the first sites they see as the best. Making sure your site ranks high is the best way to influence people in digital space.”

Competition plays a role in the difficulty in ranking high, but a series of criteria installed by Google and implemented by SEO firms help make the ranking determination.

“Companies shy away from SEO because they don’t understand it, or they’ve had a bad experience in the past,” says William Flaiz, vice president of SEO and Web analytics, Avenue A/Razorfish “This is unfortunate because their site is suffering in the end. A professional SEO firm will be able to tell their clients what keywords generated traffic to their site, how long people stayed on the site and what pages they clicked on.”

The longer you wait to take action, the more difficult it will be to get your site ranked higher.

“Waiting to perform SEO will increase the amount you’ll need to invest in optimization to achieve the same goals as investing today,” Yancey says. “Competition for keywords and overall growth of the Internet will make it more expensive to wait and [take] longer to see results.”

What to look out for

Although understanding the intricate details of what makes search engine optimization work would require two Advil and a clear schedule, knowing the basics and what questions to ask will minimize the use of your mental reserves. There’s no accreditation program for SEO firms, but getting a brief education of the process will allow you to know your opportunities instead of becoming one.

First, there are different forms of SEO, none of which comes with a guarantee. There are two main types of search: local and global — and you’ll also hear the term “universal search,” which encompasses both, plus video. A business like a restaurant would probably be interested in a local search only, so would focus on keywords and phrases that include the city name.

One of the easiest ways to measure what keywords might help you rank high is Google Analytics (www.google.com/analytics). It’s a free service provided by Google that allows you to test the current value of your Web site and gives you detailed reports on what keywords are being used to find your site.

But keywords are not the only measure of success.

“A big barrier to success is implementation,” Flaiz says. “It’s good to know if a company will be working for you at a greater capacity than just finding keywords.”

Web site design also plays an intricate role in the process. Your site may have an impressive appearance, but spiders — software robots that “crawl” the Web indexing data — must be able to understand information on the page, or it will not be efficiently indexed, dropping your Web site’s ranking.

Mobile search is the newest type of optimization and sometimes it’s referred to as “third screen.” In the U.S., mobile marketing is largely used for local search, but foreign markets rely on mobile Web access heavily for all facets of search.

Getting the most return from your site requires a balance of compelling information, easy access and optimization that gets it to the top of the search engine rankings. Most professional firms will be able to handle all of these needs, but again, ask questions before signing anything.

Ask the SEO firm if it performs link building, which places a link to your site from other reputable sites. Also ask what techniques it uses to create incoming links to ensure they follow search engine guidelines.

Also, ask the company how it tests, measures and reports results. Think about what you want to know, such as how many people visited a page and if they made a purchase, and make sure the firm can provide that data. The SEO firm must provide updates that mean something to you. Also ask to see samples of its work and see where those clients rank.

Once you find a company you are comfortable with, think long term.

“If you are thinking of hiring an outside company, you should definitely engage in it for a year,” says David Roth, director of search marketing, Yahoo. “SEO is a long, iterative process with delayed results; you’ll want to keep the agency around so they can maximize the benefit to your company and hold them accountable for their actions.”

Like anything else, SEO gets you what you pay for and that means hours of work and a decent chunk of your marketing budget. Since a feasible figure depends on your budget, factor at least a quarter of your marketing budget for SEO.

“The good news is, once SEO is put into place, the cost of attracting a new user is practically zero,” Roth says.

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