Mar 11, 2011

Cruise Ship Art Auctions

There is much debate surrounding cruise ship art auctions and whether or not the art sold represents a good value for the art purchaser. Some folks think that cruise ship art auctions are the spawn of the devil, and others are delighted with their experience.  Reading posts on the web about cruise ship art auctions is like reading posts on politics and religion: everyone has their own opinion.  Rather than join in the “fight”, I thought I’d share my unique perspective on these auctions.

In 2009, I completed a six month assignment aboard three ships as an art auctioneer.  I have worked as a licensed professional auctioneer and appraiser for years.  As an Auctioneer, I have crossed the U.S. from Florida to Alaska, and internationally to sixteen countries from Russia to Panama.  I have sold a variety of goods at auction: cars, real estate, jewelry, fine art, antiques, business assets, and estate property.  I am widely experienced in auction selling formats and I have "insider information" regarding cruise ship art auctions.

How To Bid At A Cruise Ship Art Auction

2.  Know what's included in your purchase.  Does it come with a frame?  Will it be shipped, or do you have to carry it off the ship?  Is there sales tax?  What about Customs charges?  When can you expect delivery?

3.  When in doubt, don't bid.  Remember, this is an auction.  You are under no compulsion to bid. Artworks have a minimum price, but no maximum price.  Prices go up as the bidding progresses.  A bid is a legal commitment to buy. If you overbid for an item, you have only yourself to blame.

4.  Understand the difference between hammer price and final price.  Hammer price is the highest bid; it is the last price offered before the auctioneer declares an item sold.  If you bid $300 for a work and the auctioneer said "sold", that would be the hammer price.  It is commonplace for auctioneers to add a surcharge called a "buyer’s premium" of 10 to 20 percent of the hammer price.  Buyer’s Premium was instituted by the major New York and London art auction houses a couple of decades ago and is now in almost general use at all types of auctions.  If the buyer’s premium was 15% and the hammer price was $300, the buyer’s premium would be $45.  If you will not carry your items off the ship with you, then a shipping charge will be added; sometimes, there may be handling fees or insurance charges.  If you  live in the state where the auction house has a facility, there may be sales tax as well.  Your formula for figuring final price in this instance is: hammer price + buyer’s premium + sales tax + shipping & handling + insurance = final price.  Bid accordingly.

5.  Understand what an appraisal is (and isn't). Typically, Certificates of Appraisal are offered with the artwork you buy a cruise ship.  There is a charge for this service.  Sometimes, a bidder gets carried away in the moment and bids more than they had planned.  This happens so often at all types of auctions that there is a name for it:  auction fever.  These folks get home, get their bills from the cruise, and get a bad case of buyer’s remorse.  When the art arrives, they take it down to their local gallery or auction house to get an "appraisal".  The buyer wants to find out if they got a good deal or not.  Nine times out of ten, the buyer will be told that the appraisal that came with the artwork is too high. Why is this?  Two reasons.  



Final Reading:  Cruise Ship Art Prices

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Cruise Ship Art Prices

Continued From:  How To Bid At A Cruise Ship Art Auction

First, it's important to realize that all items -including art work- have more than one value. An artwork can hang in a gallery and be priced at $1,000.  Then the gallery goes bankrupt and has a liquidation sale.  The $1,000 artwork sells for $150.  Retail value, liquidation value.  There is also insurance value, gift tax value, auction value, fair market value, and cash value.  The highest appraised value for anything is insurance value. Cruise ship art appraisals are based on insurance value, and this is stated clearly in the terms and conditions at the beginning of the auction.  If an item is being insured, you have to have enough coverage.  The lowest is liquidation value, sometimes called auction value.  If you took your artwork to an auctioneer for his opinion, which value do you think he will give?  Auction value, of course.  And the owner at the retail art gallery? Retail value.  Same item; six different values.  

Secondly, appraisal is a research job.  An appraiser must support his conclusions with evidence, not just opinions. The appraisals offered with cruise ship art are backed by data from hundreds of weekly auctions and gallery sales. Appraisals just backed up by an individual's opinion are thrown out of tax court every day, regardless of the credentials of the evaluator.  Have you ever seen Antiques Roadshow?  When stating a value, the Roadshow experts always say something like "I believe this item could bring $XXX at auction": auction value.  A thorough appraisal can take days.  Don't expect that an off-the-cuff opinion by your local gallery owner or auctioneer qualifies as an appraisal.  

Cruise ship art auctions are fun, and the art purchased on a cruise can give you pleasure every day that it hangs on your wall.  Don't let naysayers keep you away from what could be a wonderful experience on your cruise.

Read the Previous Posts:

Cruise Ship Art Auctions
How to Bid At A Cruise Ship Art Auction


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Mar 10, 2011

Estate Executor's To-Do List Part 2

Let's start with an overview of an Executors' responsibilities. As executor, your first duty is to initiate probate, which is the formal process of proving the Will and confirming your appointment as executor. The Clerk of your county Probate Court can provide you with the forms that are appropriate for your county. My experience with probate court clerks is that they are very helpful and responsive to your requests. Many of the forms you will need can be downloaded over the internet at your state or county website.

The details and deadlines in settling an estate will vary from state to state. In general, there are 16 items that will be on your to-do list.

They are:

1. Locate the will 

2. Apply to appear before the Probate Court 

3. Notify the beneficiaries named in the Will 

4. Determine the debts of the deceased 

5. Arrange for publication of "Notice to Creditors" and mail a notice to each known creditor 

6. Send notices of the persons death to post office, utilities, banks, and credit card companies 

7. Collect any money owed to the deceased 

8. Inventory the assets, assign values, and have appraisals done if necessary 

9. Check with the deceased's employer for unpaid salary, insurance, and other employee benefits. 

10. File for Social Security, civil service or veterans benefits 

11. File for life insurance and other benefits 

12. File federal and state tax returns 

13. Pay valid claims against the estate 

14. Distribute assets and obtain receipts from beneficiaries 

15. File papers to finalize the estate 

16. Obtain a lawyer or accountant, if necessary.

Do you need a lawyer or accountant? Technically, no. There is no law in place that says you must have an attorney, or that estate taxes must be done by an accountant. But, remember this: taxes and probate can be complicated issues. Mistakes will delay the closure of the estate and the distribution of inheritances. A good lawyer and/or accountant is an asset. Legal and accounting fees are paid by the estate. My advice is to shop around for an experienced probate attorney. Fees vary widely, so be sure to find out what the estate will be charged for legal services before making a commitment.

Additional Reading: Estate Executor's To-Do List Part 1

Estate Executor's To-Do List: Part 1

I just got off the phone with Nancy. She is feeling a bit overwhelmed. Her mother has just died, and Nancy has been appointed executor of her mothers' estate. Nancy has a full time job and a family of her own. Her mom lives in a different state. Nancy doesn't see how she will have time to be an executor, but her sense of loyalty to her mother and responsibility to her family compels her to step up to the plate and get the job done.

Nancy is in for some tough times. While still dealing with the emotional loss of her mother, she will have to empty her mothers house of forty-five years of accumulated memories. Everything in the house will have to be inventoried and values assigned. Her mothers doll collection and her fathers coin collection will have to be appraised. The inventory and appraisals will have to be submitted to the Probate Court. Property will have to be distributed to the heirs according to the Will.

Then, the entire contents of the house, the furniture, appliances, bedding, pots & pans, clothing, car, even the lawn tools will have to be sold so that the house can be readied for sale. When both the titled and non-titled property are liquidated, the debts and taxes will have to be paid to settle the estate.

My purpose here is to help executors like Nancy understand the big picture of what must be done to settle an estate. Keep in mind that I am not a lawyer or an accountant, and I am not offering legal or accounting advice. The information I am offering is based on my experience as an Estate Property Specialist. If you have questions or concerns, my recommendation is to seek legal advice. A good Estate Attorney is an asset.

Further Reading:  Estate Executor's To-Do List Part 2

Gala Fundraising Auctions

O.K., so you’re the new Fundraising Chairperson.

Hitting the goal is your assignment.  The budget has been set.  It’s up to you to lead the way.  Everyone is looking to you for leadership and fresh ideas.  What next?

Imagine your first fundraising committee meeting: 

Someone mentions telemarketing for cash contributions.  There’s no support at all for that idea.  Bake sale? The very mention of having a bake sale brings a groan from the committee.  In fact, the mention of selling anything:  candy, pizza, subs, coupon books, or what-have-you has people heading for the door.  They have all “been there” before:  the kids go selling door-to-door or sell in front of the grocery store while the parents buy from each other at work.  At the end of the day, it’s too much work for too little money.

So, what’s fun, easy, doesn’t require selling door-to-door, and can raise a lot of money? 

The most profitable grass roots fundraiser is an Auction.  Why?  Because your committee members will find asking for donations of merchandise to be easier than trying to sell something.  Plus, an evening of fun will draw a good crowd, and folks will bid higher when they know their money is going for a good cause:  your cause.  Think about it:

  • Everyone likes a night out

  • Everyone likes a good meal

  • Everyone likes to be entertained

  • Auctions are fun and exciting

Your crowd will come back next year and you can do it again

And if that’s not enough, consider that:

  • You make money from the Live auction

  • You make money from the Silent Auction

  • You make money from the raffle

  • You make money from the dinner and/or ticket sales

  • You make money from the bar (if you have one)

Most of your goods and services are donated, so you have little or no product cost.

You get money from and develop relationships with new people in your community instead of just members of your organization

Gala events attract media attention that helps your promotion

You end up a “hero”: 

You hit your fundraising goal and everyone has a good time in the process.



Finding A Reputable Estate Sale Company

How do you know if you are dealing with a reputable estate sale company?

Unfortunately, asking for references doesn't always work; no one gives a bad reference. The Better Business Bureau lists ratings for some, but not all, companies. With an auction company, most states have an occupational licensing board which can give you the status of an auctioneers license and tell you if they have any complaints on file. Checking up on a tag sale company is a lot harder, because there is no agency keeping track of complaints. One website that is helpful is http://www.ripoffreport.com. When at the site search the name of the company you wish to investigate; also type in the owners name to see what that brings up.

Hire a company with a solid internet presence

These days, it is imperative for a company to have an online network. A company that is well-connected in the online world is likely to be a company that is well-networked in the local area. It's unlikely that a company with a poor or no website will be able to use the internet to generate sales for your event.

Doing a Google search of the company's name or web address is the best way to to see how well connected they are. Go to Googles search bar (not the address bar at the top of the page, but the search bar in the center of the page) and type in the companys web address starting with www. How many search results are returned that pertain directly to the company you are investigating?.

If the company is a national franchise, disregard the results for the general franchise and only count the results where the local company is mentioned. Ranking well with the search engines doesn't necessarily mean the company will be the best one for your needs, but it is a good indicator of the professionalism of the company. Typically, companies that have lots of returned results do so because other organizations want to associate with experts in their field, so they link to the experts website. A large number of linking companies is like a "vote" for the company being linked to. A company that displays lots of Google results is usually one that is recognized as being expert in their field.

So, what's the best way to liquidate an estate?

The best type of sale for estate liquidation is to hire a licensed fiduciary to sell the estate property in one day, to the bare walls, any time of year. To achieve this would require an event that is part tag sale and part auction, run by an auctioneer. Since Tag Sale operators are generally not licensed auctioneers and auctioneers usually hate to do tag sales, that's a tough solution to implement. There are auctioneers that combine these services, however. Finding such a company will give an executor the flexibility of having a sale any time of year, the ability to sell down to the bare walls with nothing left over, and the assurance of dealing with a state licensed and bonded fiduciary.

Estate Tag Sale

Here are the "pros and cons" of selling your estate personal property via an estate tag sale:

Pros for Tag Sale On-Site

Tag sales have several advantages over an on-site auction. For those that are not familiar with tag sales, the sale is held on the premises and in the house. Companies that specialize in tag sales are less common than auction companies. At a tag sale, everything in the house is priced, much like at a yard sale. Shoppers will browse through the house, and choose the items they wish to buy. When buyers arrive at the house, they take a number, and are admitted into the house when their number is called. Tag sales usually start on Friday evening and end Sunday evening, so there is no need to provide food or bathroom facilities. Tag sales can be held rain or shine and in any season.

Cons for Tag Sale On-Site

The biggest disadvantage in hiring a tag sale company is that tag sale companies are not held to the same legal standards to which auction companies are held. Auctioneers and Realtors are bound by law to the estate by a fiduciary bond. A fiduciary relationship binds the agent by law to act at all times in the best interest of the estate. Fiduciaries are licensed by the state, must pass tests, be bonded, must hold all funds in an escrow account until distributed, and has to settle the account with the estate within a specific time frame.

Fiduciaries must also keep accurate records and follow certain protocols. Failure of a fiduciary to follow procedures can result in fines or loss of license. Tag sale companies are not held to the same legal standards, although they certainly have a moral obligation to the estate. Tag sale companies can handle the details of the sale and the distribution of the money any way they see fit.

Another problem with tag sales is that typically there is merchandise left over after the sale. Often, there is a LOT of merchandise left over. When a lot of items are left over, the executor then has a clean-out problem, because the house must be left "broom-clean" before a realtor will list the house for sale. Unlike an auction, where prices go up with each bid, tag sale shoppers want to negotiate a lower price for everything, which is not only time consuming but costs the estate money.

Tips for Tag Sale On-Site

When working with a tag sale company, read the contract thoroughly, make sure settlement deadlines are included. the operator should have a solid pricing plan, adequate staff, and a solid track record.

Auction Gallery Consignment

Here are the "pros and cons" for consigning your estate personal property to an auction gallery for liquidation:

Pros for Auction Gallery Consignment


If weather is a concern, you may want to consider consigning your items to an Auction Gallery. Consignments at an Auction Gallery are grouped according to the type of item in order to maximize turnout and get the best prices from their collectors. For example, there may be an auction dedicated to art and home decor, or musical instruments, or ceramics.

Cons for Auction Gallery Consignment

There are quite a few reasons for not consigning to an Auction Gallery. For starters, many Auction Galleries will take only the best items from the estate. Ninety percent of an estate is made up of items that are of little interest to the auctioneer, which leaves the Executor to deal with the remaining ninety percent of the estate property. Lastly, when an Auction Gallery spreads the merchandise out over several auctions, it can take months for all the items to sell, delaying the closing of the estate.

Tips for Auction Gallery Consignment


Before you consign to an Auction Gallery, ask the auctioneer how your merchandise will be distributed between auctions; get a guaranteed settlement date. You will also need a plan for disposing of all the remaining estate merchandise.

Estate Auction On-Site

Here are the "pros and cons" of having your estate sale on-site:

Benefits of an On-Site Auction:

Auctioneers are very competitive lot. It should be an easy job for an executor to find an auction company willing to take the estate liquidation job, and commissions will be competitive. A strong argument for an on-site estate auction is that when the auction is over, there will be very little clean-up. If you like, the real estate can be auctioned as well, since auctioneers are licensed to auction the real estate and other titled property. In one day, the house, car, boat, RV, and all the household goods could be sold.

Negatives for an On-Site Auction:

Auctions are driven by competitive bidding. Consequently, it is necessary to have a lot of people at your auction. Big crowds require nice weather, plenty of parking, bathrooms, food, and refreshments to keep the people from leaving. Online bidding can be included to boost attendance, but it is the local crowd that builds excitement and drives the prices up. To attract a crowd, the estate must have collectibles and other quality goods. Run-of-the-mill goods that can be purchased at the local thrift store are insufficient to attract a good auction crowd.

Suggestions for an On-Site Auction:


If your estate has many large collectibles, like antique furniture or a piano, an on-site auction may be your best choice. Summer weekends, when the weather is warm and dry, are the best times to hold an on-site estate auction. The auction company you hire should be equipped with sound equipment, canopy tents, display tables, and plenty of help for fast checkout.

Estate Liquidation Options

Executors faced with considering estate liquidation options will quickly find that it is their most time-consuming administrative task. Executors who don't perform their duties could be removed from office by the Probate Judge, so it is important that they single-mindedly pursue disposing of the estate's property so that the bills can be paid and the estate settled.

What you'll get from this series of posts:

Executors have three main estate liquidation options, and I will discuss the pros and cons of each in the next several posts.  The options are: Estate Tag Sale, Estate Auction, and Consignment.   Any company chosen to liquidate an estate should be vetted; I will tell you how to do this conscientiously, and I will also propose the best liquidation method. I assume that the twin liquidation goals of the Executor are to achieve the greatest cash benefit to the estate and to leave the house broom-clean so that it can be sold. Of course, there are ways to maximize the cash return for each type of sale, and I'll tell you what they are.

Investing ten minutes into reading these posts could save an Executor many hours of work:

Estate Auctions On-Site
Estate Tag Sales
Auction Gallery Consignment

Mar 9, 2011

Social Media Marketing For Your Business

These days, social media marketing is pervasive. Sites like Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, and LinkedIn now have membership bases that span generations and spread across the globe.  It is estimated that the membership of Facebook alone exceeds the population of the United States.  The above sites allow you to create a page for your business, as well as a personal page. They are also great because they allow you to discover new business connections.  These social networking websites are free to join and are driven by sharing information and referring friends. Properly using social media marketing with such a huge, referral-focused online population can make a huge difference to the success of a home-based business. 

How to Use Social Media Marketing Effectively

Once your business page is set up on your social sites, you can post links to your business website to announce a new product launch, a new newsletter, or a special sale.  For friends and fans who have included you on their homepage feeds, your announcement will show up on their homepage.  If you have thousands of friends and fans, that's quite a lot of free advertising.

If you blog, you can post links to your newest blog posts.  You can set up your Facebook account to automatically import your blog to your business page, and automatically post the link on all your friends and fans homepages.  You can also feature contests, guest bloggers and other events. If you have an online radio show or a YouTube channel, you can invite friends to listen or view your newest additions. You can also connect your Facebook profile with other networks like YouTube, and Twitter for a deeper connection with your social media circle that will "round out" your social media marketing efforts.

Because of the "sharing" nature of social media marketing, your friends and business contacts can share your links with others who might be interested in your offerings as well. 

Social Media Marketing Is A Two-Way Street

It's important to remember that websites like Facebook and MySpace are primarily for social purposes, not for advertising.  The ability to advertise on such sites comes as a bonus, not as a primary focus.  Become part of the social circle.  Make friends, and then comment on their posts.  Visit their profile pages and comment on their photos.  If you make friends first, people will respond to your advertising messages and read your blog posts.  Relax and get to know the people you want to reach.  When people know you and like you, they will refer you their friends. 

Now is The Time to Get Started

If you aren’t currently a member of any social networking websites, now is the time to get started.  Social sites can benefit both your personal and business life.  Each time you meet someone online, or share in a conversational thread, invite them to be your friend or follower.  By joining social networking websites, especially one that is popular and has a large number of members, you should be able to generate interest in your business, including the products or services that you sell. Who knows, but that interest generated could turn into sales; thus making your social media marketing experience more than worth it. 


Viral Marketing Success

It's said that in order to sell something to someone, they must know you, like you, and trust you.  The know-like-trust combination is time-consuming to implement as a marketing strategy.  It requires building one-on-one relationships with your customers; getting introductions to prospects, finding common ground with them, and establishing a level of trust.  This process can be considerably sped up when the quality of your goods or service is recommended from friend to friend.  Friends recommending your business to friends is called word-of-mouth marketing, and viral marketing is word-of-mouth marketing on steroids.

Social networking is what powers viral marketing. Let's say that you make custom jewelry, and you create a video of how to make a bracelet.  The video includes your contact information.  You send a link to the video to five of your prospects, who like it so each of them sends the link to five of their friends, and each of those five send the link to five of their friends.  You have quickly gone three levels deep, and leveraged your five prospects to one hundred fifty five prospects.  At ten levels deep, your sales message is presented to over twelve million people.  Of course, no viral plan works geometrically like my example, but you get the point.  The numbers can get very big very quickly, and it doesn't cost you a dime. 

Viral marketing is so successful because the potential customer is invited to look at your message instead of having your message shoved in their face.  Advertising of the "shove it in your face" kind is called interruption marketing.  Interruption marketing interrupts whatever the viewer is doing to present them with a sales message.   Television and radio commercials, website pop-up ads, and big newspaper ads are all interruption marketing.  A viral marketing strategy is exactly the opposite; it creates an online message that's novel or entertaining enough to prompt consumers to pass it on to their friends. 

Elements of a Successful Campaign

There are some basic elements of a good viral marketing campaign.  A good viral marketing campaign should include all of the following:

1.  Give something away.  It should have genuine value (info products are good) be free, and have no strings attached.

2.  It should be easily passed from one person to another, like in an email attachment.

3.  People need a good reason to pass it along; it should be funny, cool, interesting, or make them look important.

4.  Leverage the resources of other people; their websites, mailing lists, friends lists, etc. 

A good viral marketing campaign can put your business into the stratosphere in a hurry. 




Writing For Search Engines

There are many aspects to writing for search engines that affect the placement of your web page or article in organic search results.  The number of incoming links to your page, the way your pages link together, the time visitors spend on the page and the number of click-throughs are all important.  Most important of all, however, is the way you lay out your webpage.  In writing for search engines, your page should provide distinctive markers for the search engines to use in page ranking.  In this page, I will discuss how to lay out your page with the search engines in mind.

Search engines use what is know as an algorithm (a set of rules) to determine which pages on a topic are the most relevant.  Search engines will bring back results which attempt to list the most relevant pages first.  Each search engine has its own, proprietary algorithm, which is one reason each search engine brings back different results for the same search term.  Although each search engine is different, the rules listed below are pretty common, and if you pay attention to them when you are writing for search engines your page will rank better than it otherwise would.

URL Selection

Use your primary keyword in the URL of your page.  Doing so helps the search engines determine what your page is about.

Page Title Selection

Card catalogs in libraries usually provide searches according to subject, title and author.  Title searches are also primary information for a search engine, so the way you title your page when writing for search engines is crucial.  If you want searchers to find your page based on the keywords you enter, you must have the keyword in your title.  Pages that have the primary keyword in the title are considered to be more relevant that pages that don't have the keyword in the title.  

Search engines will also check to see if your primary keyword is near the top of a page, such as in the headline or in the first few paragraphs of text. The assumption is that relevant pages will use the keyword right from the beginning.  So, don't title your pages "home" or "about us"; that doesn't tell the search engines anything.

Keyword Density

Keyword density is the another factor to keep in mind when writing for search engines.  A search engine will analyze how often your keywords appear in relation to other words on your web page.  The ratio of your primary keyword to other words is called 'keyword density".  If your page uses your primary keyword frequently, your page will be considered more relevant to the topic than competing web pages with poor keyword density.  When writing for search engines, try to keep your keyword density in the one to two percent range.  

Search engines will penalize pages if they detect keyword "spamming".   Keyword spamming is when a keyword is repeated dozens of times on a page in order to increase the keyword frequency in an attempt to increase the page's search engine rank.  Keyword density can be checked with one of the many free density checkers that are available online.  Or, you can simply count your keywords and divide by the number of words in your article.









Web Content Writing

Web content writing is easy if you consider how people find information on the web.  First, they type a keyword into the search bar, and the search engine brings back results based on the keyword.  The search results display page titles and descriptions of the pages.  The searcher will  browse the titles and descriptions, and when they find a page that seems to be what they want they click on the page and open it up.  

Their first impression of the page will be the headline and general layout of the page.  If the headline addresses their interest, they will scan down the page sub-headings to confirm that the content is what they are looking for.  If all that is ok, the will read the page; if not, they will go back to the search results and open another page, or try another search term.  Web content writing must fit the pattern that people follow when they search for information.

It's clear that one must approach web content writing in a manner that will drive traffic to your site, plus you must construct your page in a fashion that will meet the needs of the search engines and your readers.  Pay particular attention to the following items:

Page Title and Description

Not only will the search engines find your page based on its title, it is the title that gets the searchers attention once the results are in.  Make sure that in your web content writing the title includes the keyword that the searcher used to find you in the first place.  Then, write a page description that hints at providing a lot more content relevant to the keyword.  The page description has to be compelling enough to cause the searcher to click on your link and keyword-specific.

Web Content Writing Should Be Easy To Read   

Your web content writing should lay out the content so that it reads left-to-right and top-to-bottom.  Make your page easy on the eyes by having a font size of at least 12, and use a basic font like Arial or Sans Serif that is common to all browsers.  Black type on a white background is easiest to read.  Make sure there is lots of open space on the page to accentuate the content.  Flashy ads and popups make pages difficult to read and should be avoided if your goal is to get your content read.  If one of your goals is readability, visit newspaper websites and look at how they do their web content writing.   

Write In Blocks Of About 100 Words

Writing text all the way down the page with no visual breaks is a terrible way to lay out web page content.  Solid blocks of text are hard on the eyes and make reading difficult.  Keep your paragraphs to about 100 words, more or less. The total word count of your article can vary, but should be no less than 200 words if you want the search engines to include it in their search results.  Pages can be as long as you need them to be to cover your topic, but remember that a web surfers attention span is short, so your web page should get to the point and then move on.  It's best if very long pages are broken down in several pages.  In web content writing, the ideal length for a page is 500-600 words, not including links.  

Write For Page Scanning

Each paragraph block on your page should have a headline that describes the paragraph.  Your web content writing should make it possible for the reader to get the "gist" of your page just by reading the page title and the headlines.  If the page title and headlines satisfy the readers interest, they will come back and read your page in greater detail.




Article Writing As A Promotional Tool

Article writing as a promotional tool has both its rabid fans and serious detractors.  Some say it can make you rich, others say it doesn't work. One thing for sure, if I wanted to explore article marketing, I wouldn't take advice from someone who couldn't get it to work for them.  If you're going to investigate article marketing, study material from someone who makes money from it.

Two Ways To Use Article Writing

The first way to use article marketing is to use your article writing to drive traffic to your website or blog.   Here's how this works: when you write an article, you submit it to article directories like Ezinearticles.com or or GoArticles.com.  When you submit your article, you include what is known as a resource box.  In the resource box, you write a short bio and list the URL of your website or blog.  You also grant permission for the directory to distribute your article at no charge to users, provided your resource box and article are printed unchanged. 

Publishers of all sorts; bloggers, webmasters, magazine and newspaper editors, regularly scan article directories looking for fresh, original content for their publications.  If they see your article and like it, they are free to copy your article, provided that they do not change anything, and give you credit for the article. Article writing in your area of expertise does three things for you: first, it establishes your credibility as an expert in your field.  To be viewed as an expert, of course, you must actually know what you are talking about and present your case clearly.  Secondly, when your article is published, the link back to your website gives you an incoming, one-way link, which helps your search engine placement.  Thirdly, the link drives traffic to your website.  

The second way to use article writing is in affiliate marketing.  In this type of marketing, one writes articles to promote a product or service.  The article includes the writers affiliate link, and if the reader clicks the link and buys the product, the writer earns a commission. 

Does Article Marketing Still Work?

Detractors of article writing say that is is no longer effective as a marketing tool.  A couple of years ago, one could write an article and post the same article all over the internet, changing not a sentence.  But, Google changed all that when they instituted their duplicate content penalty. Google discovered that their search results pages were crammed with the same content, from writers submitting the same article to multiple directories.  In an attempt to give searchers a variety of results on a topic, Google began to reject content that was duplicated elsewhere on the internet.

Whenever Google changes something, the market groans and then reacts.  Suddenly, software developers came up with ways around the duplicate content penalty.  They created software which would search the web and bring together bits and pieces of articles on a particular topic (summarizers & aggregators).  Then, they developed software that would replace a certain percentage of words in the article with synonyms (spinners).  Suddenly, article writing became automated.  Would-be article marketers embraced the new technologies, and began using spinners to turn one well-written article into dozens or hundreds of poorly-written articles which could all be submitted to directories.

The effect of aggregated and spun articles on searchers could have been predicted: the information presented was, in many cases, absolutely worthless.  But, consider this: articles that are well-written, timely, and keyword-oriented can show up on the first page of Google within hours.  Why?  Because people are looking for the information.  Article writing still works well for those who give thoughtful consideration to their articles, assemble them correctly, and distribute them effectively.




Email Marketing Success

Email marketing is reported to be the second most-used online marketing tool, second only to search marketing.  According to Internet World stats, more than 360 million people use the internet every day.  More than half of those people use their email account daily, which means that every day almost two hundred million people open their email.  With numbers as huge as those, it's clear to see why email marketing is so successful.  Marketing is a numbers game; the more people who see your sales message, the more sales you will make.

Advantages of Email Marketing

Email marketing has some distinct advantages over traditional direct mail marketing.  It's easier to determine the return on investment for an email campaign, because it is possible to track a customer's  click-throughs to complete the purchase.  Also, once the set-up is complete and a list is obtained, it is significantly less expensive to send email than snail mail.  Consequently, large email marketing campaigns are more profitable than traditional direct mail campaigns.

Disadvantages of Email Marketing

Email marketing is not without it's problems, though.  A lot of the mail goes undelivered, and even more of it goes unopened.  The US Postal Service has delivery success of over 90%, whereas delivery success with email is around 56%.  Of the 56%, almost one-third of it is rejected or filtered.  Also, large emailing campaigns are subject to anti-spamming laws in the US and elsewhere, and penalties are stiff.  In the US, spammer are subject to fines of up to $11,000 per violation.  In Europe, it is prohibited to use email addresses for marketing purposes.

How to Run a Safe and Effective Email Marketing Campaign

Start by building your own opt-in subscriber list. In an opt-in subscriber list, subscribers give you permission to mail to them.  You offer them an incentive or a premium to join your list, and when they join you send them the premium; usually, a free report or information of some kind.  Mail to your list no more than twice a week, no less than once a month.  You want to keep your brand and information in front of your subscribers often enough that they remember you, but not so often that they get annoyed and opt-out of your mailings. If you're having a sale or special event of some sort, or course send a mailing to your list, but don't go over the twice a week limit; you'll risk losing your customers.

Automate the Email Process

Building a database of  subscriber email address, sending each one their sign-up premium and two emails a week can be quite time-consuming, especially for large lists.  The best way to build and market to your mailing list to set up an autoresponder account.  An autoresponder account will automatically place your sign-ups into a database, send out your sign-up premium, and mail each name on your list your offers on a pre-determined schedule.  An autoresponder account frees you up to to perform the daily tasks of running and promoting your business, and automates the mundane mailing process. There are many autoresponder companies available; two of the most popular are Aweber and GetResponse.




Video Marketing Basics

Keeping up with trends in internet marketing can be challenging.  One of the recent bandwagons that many people are jumping on is video marketing.  Video is everywhere, and for good reason.  Written messages do not carry the persuasive weight of a well-produced video.  Delivering your message content in more than one medium satisfies the different learning styles that people have.  Not everyone learns well through reading; some people learn better by hearing a message, some by seeing pictures of the message process.  The combination of video marketing with the written and spoken word is powerful indeed.

Note my statement above: "well-produced video".  Some that try video marketing would be better off to leave video alone.  Just because one has the ability to make a video, doesn't mean that one should make a video.  Video that is poorly scripted, has poor sound quality, and numerous background distractions is best left alone.  In 2010, we're all accustomed to high-quality video and audio and most of us have a low tolerance for crappy productions.  We'll switch off a video as quickly as we'll change the channel on our televisions.

Having said that, let me say that you don't have to be a genius to employ video marketing..  Many website videos come directly from YouTube, and are embedded in the web page.  Once once knows what they are going to write about, it only takes about an hour or so per page to browse through the YouTube offerings on the subject, and chose the ones that add something to the discussion.  For someone who is interested in learning more about one of these page topics, browsing the videos on these pages will save them hours of searching for information.  Also, having these videos on the page along with the written content will keep some visitors on the page longer, which will help in the page ranking and SEO.

For those interested in trying video marketing, you don't need to spend thousands of dollars or have a degree in film production.  The easiest way to create video is to use YouTubes 'Quick Capture' feature. To use this feature, simply attach a webcam to your PC, and click the 'Quick Capture' button on your YouTube profile page. Your video will be shot without the need for expensive equipment or video editing software. This format is the perfect way to shoot videos quickly, and to build a relationship with your viewers.  Instant video marketing!       

Once you have your video, don't settle for publishing just on YouTube.  Expand your video marketing by publishing on as many video sites as you can, and link them all back to your site.  That way, your one-way, inbound links will increase and your search engine rankings may improve.  You can quickly easily (and for free) distribute your videos to the top 15 video sites by using a service called Tube Mogul.  If your video gets traffic on the video sites, you will get a corresponding increase in traffic to your own website.






Search Engine Optimization (SEO) For Newbies

There's no greater disappointment than spending weeks or months building your business website only to have it languish in the search results.  Let's face it: very few web surfers will look past page one of the search results.  They may look as far as page three if they can't find what they're looking for, but after page three the overwhelming majority of surfers will change their search keywords and search again.  If you are a business whose keywords bring up thousands of search results, how can you get to Google page one without spending a fortune?  Through search engine optimization.

Achieving good natural page placement in search results (aka "organic search results") is done through helping the search engines identify what your page is about.   By using specific markers and keywords as you lay out your page and write your content, the search engines are able to determine not only what your page is about, but the value of your page relative to other pages using the same keywords.  The web pages that win the search engine optimization game are the ones that will achieve the best page placement.

Five Basic Elements of SEO

Entire books have been written about search engine optimization or SEO, and there is a huge industry of consultants earning a living from helping websites perform better.  Opinions differ widely about what works and what doesn't.  I won't get involved in those arguments.  What I will do is list and define some basic elements which should be considered as you build your website.

URL and Title Tag

Every page of your site is designated by a Uniform Resource Locator (URL).  The URL is how web surfers find your page.  Ideally, the page URL should reflect what the page is about; include your keyword if you can.  Also, your page should have a title tag that tells the search engines what the page is about.  Titles like "Home" and "About Us" don't tell anything.

Meta Tags and Keywords

Most good sitebuilders will ask you to identify the meta-tags and keywords for your page.  Include all keywords that are relevant to the page.  The keywords should reflect the content of the page. Use your keywords as you write the page content, but don't over-use them.  Google frowns on pages which are "keyword-stuffed". For search engine optimization, keep your relevant keywords to under two percent density. There are free keyword density checkers online. Use them to check you keyword density before your publish your page.

Original Content

If you want to be found, write original content. Show me a thousand pages all equal in SEO factors, and the one with the best original content will be the one to rise to the top.  It's a shame that there are so many sites with excellent search engine optimization and crappy, aggregated and spun content.  Searchers come for good information; give it to them.

Site Elements

Ease of navigation, web site designs, images, videos, shopping carts, and other elements all have an impact on how the search engines rate your website.

Links

The number of links you have between the pages and elements of your website have a bearing on your search engine optimization.  Also, the number of links coming into your site (know as one-way links) will have a positive impact on how the search engines rank your site.

If you want your website to be found, search engine optimization should be embraced, and updated and improved regularly.




Create A Blog For Your Business

There is an alternative to a traditional, static website that small businesses can employ to promote their business:  you can create a blog.  The word "blog" is short for "web log".  A web log is similar to a diary; it is updated on a regular basis with opinions and information provided by the author.  Blogs differ significantly from static websites, in that the typical heirarchical website structure does not exist. Rather, the content of the blog is organized by the date of the entry and the topic of the entry.  

Blogs are popular with readers and with search engines, because the content is freshly updated. Like a website, blogs can contain Adsense and Affiliate ads, space for readers comments, and the ability for readers to sign up for automatic updates by subscribing to the blog.  Many home-based-businesses choose to create a blog instead of a website; many have both a blog and a website, or a blog attached to their website.   

One of the strongest reasons to create a blog is that they are much easier to set up than a website, and the can be free.  Free blogs must share revenue with their host, but for a home-based-business that is just starting out, the ease of setup and use more than offsets any revenue sacrificed.

Choosing a Blogging Platform

Currently, five blogging platforms dominate amongst internet bloggers.  They are (in no particular order) WordPress, Blogger, TypePad, LiveJournal, and OurStory.  Which platform you choose to create a blog will depend upon what your priorities are in terms of ease of use versus customization.  Ideally, you want to find a platform that provides you with a good balance between a user-friendly interface and a flexible framework that will enable you to create a blog that looks and feels unique.   There is no such thing as a blogging platform that is objectively the best platform, because every blogger has unique needs.  If you are new to blogs and to internet technology, you might want to sacrifice the ability to create custom backgrounds in favor of finding a platform that will make it easy for you to create a blog. 

Keep It Simple, Salesman

Many websites go overboard with graphics, flash elements, pop-up ads, and countless other distractions that annoy readers and cause them to click away from the site.  Remember, people surf the internet primarily for information to solve their problems.  Create a blog (or website) that is reader-friendly.  Keep the design simple; don't be tempted to add flashy color schemes and distracting elements.  One of the best ways to determine what your site should look like to to find the top sites in your niche, and see what they look like.  If you have an e-commerce store, look around at Amazon.com.  If you have an auction site, have a look at eBay.  If you have an articles or review based site that is primarily text, look at news sites like the New York Times or MSNBC or CNN.  Don't try to re-invent the wheel; keep it simple, salesman.

Choosing which blogging platform to use is one of the most important decisions that you can make when you create a blog. The right platform can make blogging a breeze, and the wrong platform can make blogging a chore.  There is no such thing as the perfect platform for everybody, so instead of looking for the "best" platform, look for the best platform for your specific criteria.  Keep the design simple and readable, and keep the content fresh and updated regularly.









Web Page Layout Fundamentals

Good web page layout is a combination of common sense and good planning. Your site should be attractive, easy to use and provide the user with the information they want.  There are three primary elements that go into making a site user-friendly: site navigation, quality of content, and element arrangement.  Entire books can be written on each of these subjects; my intent here is provide a few of the basics as a starting point.

Site Navigation

Site navigation should be simple and intuitive. Each area of your website should be reachable within three clicks from anywhere else on your site. Studies have shown if a visitor cannot access the information they want within three clicks, they will leave the site; this is called the 3-click rule. If you use anything other than simple text links, be sure to test your navigation in all the major browsers; Internet Explorer, Firefox, Netscape, Opera, and Safari.  Periodically test all site links to be certain that they still work. Nothing chases a visitor off faster than broken links. There are several free online services that will periodically check your links.

Quality of Content 

You want the visitor to see you as a knowledgeable information source and expert in your field. Poor grammar and spelling will immediately reduce your credibility. Remember that people use the internet to find information. Whether you are selling your own product or recommending someone else’s products, you must first provide valuable information to the visitor or they will click away and find a website that gives them what they what they want. As is often said, "Content is King".  Be original; don't use private label rights (PLR) content or rely on article spinners to churn out a cheap imitation of someone else's content.  If you don't have something original to add, whether it is new information or a new perspective or clarification of an issue, don't bother posting the content. No one will read it and Google will likely mark it as duplicate content and kill the page. 

Web Page Layout

Since your visitor has come to your site for information rather than entertainment, your web page layout should focus on the content. Display the content in columns so that it can be read in its entirety  without having to jump around the page.  Using lots of empty space makes content stand out. If you use a colored background behind your text, make sure you specify your link colors so that they will be readable regardless of what browser your visitor uses.

Remember that web surfers are impatient; if your page takes longer than 10 seconds to load, your visitor may click away.  So, if you use a lot of pictures or graphics, use an editing program to minimum the file size without sacrificing visual quality.  Be sure to use the ALT tags when loading your graphics so that visitors who have their images turned off will know what the picture is supposed to be.  If you use flash movies, video clips, or audio clips, use streaming media because it reduces download time. Give your visitor the ability to stop the multimedia file if they so choose.




Turnkey Websites: Pros and Cons

For entrepreneurs who don't have the time or inclination to build a website from scratch, turnkey websites are a viable option.  There are two ways to proceed if you are interested in a ready-to-go website: buying an existing, profitable site, or establishing a turnkey affiliate site.

Buying A Ready-made Website

Whether you are buying an established, profit-making website or a newly developed concept site, it is important to treat the transaction as if you are buying an existing business.  Follow all the protocols for buying a business: hire an attorney, and perform due diligence on the company.  Don't just bid on a website at an auction; you don't want to find out after you have invested a lot of time and money that you don't really have clear title to the site/business or rights to the content.  Nothing would be more maddening than to build your site to a respectable Google Page Rank only to have your site and your profits yanked by a former owner. Be careful when buying existing turnkey websites.

It's best if you use an escrow agent to handle the transfer of money.  Make sure that you have everything transferred into your name and are able to operate the site before the seller gets your money.  

Two of the most popular sites for buying and selling ready-made turnkey websites are Flippa http://www.flippa.com and Sitepoint http://www.marketplace.sitepoint.com/  .  Before you jump right into bidding/buying, spend  six to eight weeks looking around to get a feel for how transactions are done.

Turnkey Affiliate Websites

Turnkey affiliate websites are pre-made fully functional websites. You can get a site that focuses on selling products and comes complete with shopping cart functionality, a site that is focused on selling affiliate products, where you just have to plug in your affiliate ID's to get started, or a site that is ready for Google Adsense ads which comes complete with site content.  Everything you need to run one of these turnkey websites, including email and autoresponders, is included.  Typically, where products are involved the company providing the site handles all the orders and shipping; you just promote the site and collect commissions on the sales.

It is to the advantage of the company offering the affiliate turnkey websites to have as many affiliates as possible.  Advertising is one of a businesses largest expenses, and it is often cheaper for a company to sign up many affiliates and let the affiliate pay for advertising and promotion.  

Of course, promoting a cloned site effectively is where the difficulty lies.  If there are hundreds (thousands?) of similar turnkey websites on the web, then there is nothing to differentiate your site from all the others.  If this is the case, it is important to pay attention to some SEO basics. Frankly, many people who opt for a turnkey affiliate website are looking for easy money and think all they have to do is sit back and wait for the money to start rolling in.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  If turnkey websites are to be profitable, you should have a keyword-focused domain name, work hard at link building, and perhaps invest some money in Pay-Per-Click advertising.










Web Hosting Considerations

Your new website will reside on someone else's servers; another company will "host" your website.  This is your web hosting company. New home-based businesses setting up a website for the first time should look for web hosting that is simple and easy to use and can expand as the business grows.  In order to make a wise decision about your hosting company, there are some basic terms and site requirements that you should know.  These are explained below.

No Free Lunch

Web hosting companies, like every other type of business, have to cover their expenses and make a profit.  Consequently, when you see the word "free" attached to a web hosting ad, understand that there is no such thing as "free"; someone is going to pay for it.  Hosting companies that offer you free space for your website are gong to sell space on your site to other companies, or require you to place banner ads or Google adsense ads on your site.  Free web hosts who do not require you to place ads on your site are not necessarily good news, either.  Such sites are usually new and trying to build a client base, so they offer "free" services and then can't pay their bills.  Such companies go out of business at an alarming rate.  

Paid Hosting Services

I can tell you from experience that there is no relationship at all between what a company charges for their service and the quality of service they provide.  Paying a high price for web hosting does not guarantee good service, and paying $5/month does not guarantee lousy service.  Before you pay for hosting services, do an internet search for the company under consideration and look for complaints.  In the Google search bar, type complaints: (your hosting company).  Read the posts; they will be enlightening.  Be aware, however, that most web hosting companies will have complaints of some sort, because the are so many non-technical people trying to build websites. Ultimately, you will want to settle for a company that has good customer support, a reasonable price, a good sitebuilder, and supports the type of files you want to have on your site. 

Be Wary Of Resellers

Not all web hosting companies own their own web servers; some of them simply re-sell hosting services for a larger company.  GoDaddy, a large hosting company, has a small army of resellers on the web.  Many resellers don't know the first thing about the product they are reselling, so if you need technical support they will forward your request to the actual hosting company.  This is not always the case, though; some resellers are technically savvy and excel at customer service. Just be careful and investigate a reseller thoroughly before signing up for their service.  

How Much Space Do You Really Need?

Less than you might think.  Most sites use less than 5MB of web space.  The variables are how many pictures your pages use, whether you need sound files, video clips, or other large files. When choosing a web hosting company, determine if they impose a maximum size on your files.  Also, determine what kind of files they allow; some hosting companies do not allow certain kinds of files.  The most up-to-date hosting companies now support FTP, PHP, Perl, SSI, .htaccess, telnet, SSH, MySQL, and crontabs.  If you are paying a premium price for hosting, make sure you have all of these.  Also, if you will be selling products via your site, you will need a shopping cart; if you will be keeping a customer list you should have an autoresponder and email accounts.  

Another consideration is bandwidth allotment, which is more a function of how much traffic you expect to get rather that the size of you files. Make sure that you can increase your bandwidth allotment if your site starts to pull down a lot of traffic (you should be so lucky).




Mar 8, 2011

The Best Credit Card Processor For On-the-Road Selling

Finding the best credit card processor for a small business can be difficult.  On a dark, clear night, look up into the sky and imagine trying to count all the stars.  You could spend the rest of your life doing so, and never finish the job.  It's said that there are over one hundred billion stars in our galaxy.  Now stretch your imagination around this number: Credit and debit card transaction in the US last year were about 1.76 trillion dollars; that's over one hundred thousand times the number of stars in the sky.  Over 20 billion times last year, Americans whipped out their plastic to complete a transaction. Add the technologies of online bill paying, electronic checks and one-swipe card readers to the old methods of cash and paper checks, and it is clear that any business today must accept many different payment forms in order to operate effectively.  Finding the best credit card processor for your particular business can be challenging.  Bricks-and-mortar retailers and service businesses spend a lot of money on card processing equipment and processing fees.  In addition, most credit card processing companies require a business to sign a four year contract. These contracts are nasty business: they allow the credit card processor access to the business checking account so that monthly fees can be automatically deducted and merchandise returns can be backed out.  In addition, most processing companies require the owner to sign a personal guarantee, and if the new business folds after one year, the owner is on the hook for all of the lease and equipment charges for another three years.  If business owners would spend some time trying to find the best credit card processor for their business, they could save themselves a lot of aggravation.   You can avoid signing a long-term contract and leasing expensive terminals by using PayPal as your credit card processing company.  By choosing Paypal, you will also avoid an account set-up fee and early termination penalties. Paypal is the least expensive way to get started accepting credit cards, and perhaps the best credit card processor for a small business. Paypal offers a virtual terminal that you can access anywhere there is an internet connection; that means there is no equipment lease needed. With Paypal, you pay a monthly fee of $30, plus 30 cents per transaction.  There is also a "percentage of the sale" fee which varies from 3.1% to 2.4 %. .  Although these fees are slightly higher than you might pay to a traditional card processing company, when you consider that there is no long term commitment to  rental equipment, Paypal is cheaper in the long run and perhaps your best credit card processor.    Paypal can be used to process orders you take over the phone, by fax, in the field, and online, which is what the best credit card processor should do.  If you do a lot of mobile shows like Antique Shows, your customers can pay right on the spot with a mobile card reader attached to your smartphone. Paypal can move money in and out of your business checking account just like a traditional processor, or, if you prefer, can hold your money in your Paypal account.  You can access your Paypal account with a Paypal debit card, and Paypal credit cards are available.  All in all, Paypal is the best way for a new business to start accepting credit and debit card payments and undoubtedly the best credit card processor for a mobile small business.


Choosing The Best Domain Name

Choosing the best domain name is an important part of setting up your business, so take some time to research it and select wisely.  A catchy domain name will be easier to remember than your telephone number and will result in fewer lost sales.  Like a good business name, your domain name should tell people what it is you do. A business name or domain name like "Target-Enterprises.com" says nothing about your business.  A name like Target-Archery-Supplies not only tells people what your business does, it helps you be found by the search engines. 

So, begin your search for the best domain name by writing down the name of your business. Remember that short names are easier to remember.  For example, salemtv.com, stv.com, salemtelevision.com.  Next, list the services or products your business provides, and make a list of domain names based on those services; for example: tvrepair.com, tvsales.com, or bigscreentv.com.

If you have a personal service business, your own name is probably the best domain name. This not only helps people remember your name and find your website, it builds your personal brand and your personal internet footprint.

A spelling mistake in a domain name can be disastrous for a website.  If you've misspelled the domain name, the only people that will find it are the ones who also misspell the name the same way.  Check your spelling with a dictionary, and be very careful about your spelling when you register the name.

Once you have decided on your favorite names, do a Google search on each of them to see which might be your best domain name.   If your chosen name is taken, see what variations are currently being used and what might be available to you.  One thing you want to avoid is choosing a name that is so close to a competitors name that your customers end up on your competitors website.  You can search the availability of your domain names on sites that register domain names, like godaddy.com.  Type in the name, and they will tell you if the name is available or not.  Godaddy will even suggest alternative names and organizational suffixes, like .org or .net.  In general, though, you want to stick with a .com domain name because that is the suffix that people remember.

If your best domain name is taken but not in use (registered, but no website is found when you type in the address) then go the the "whois" database at whois.com and enter the domain name.  The result returned will list who the owner of the name is along with their contact information.  Sometimes, owners register names that they decide not to use, and they may be willing to sell you the name.  

Domain names are being registered at an alarming rate.  Once you have found that a name you are happy with is available, register it as soon as possible for as long as possible.  If you are concerned that a competitor may register your name with a different suffix, then register alternative suffixes as well to keep your competition away from your name.  

While you are registering your best domain name, be sure to get new email accounts that are directly tied to the name of your business and your domain name; having them helps to promote your business.

Lastly, it is beneficial to register your best domain name with the company that will do your hosting.  It makes life simpler if you don't have to mess around with transferring or re-pointing your Domain Name Server (DNS).







Keyword Research Essentials

There are only 3 steps in any online marketing campaign:  Keywords, Strategy, and Execution.  It doesn't matter if you have a website, a blog, a social network, mobile marketing, or whatever the next big thing is; it all comes down to these three things.  If you are going to effectively promote your business, you must learn keyword research essentials.

Learning keyword research essentials should be the first item on your agenda.  Before you commit to a business or buy a domain name, you need to find competitive keywords and investigate your competition.  Otherwise, you will build a nice website that no one will find, and your investment will be wasted.

How Are Keywords Important?

A keyword is an identifier that enables a web searcher to find your website.  Every website identifies itself by keywords.  If you want a snow shovel with an ergonomic handle, when you go to Google and search using the keyword snow shovel, every website that has identified themselves with the term snow shovel will show up.  If there are 10,000 websites, you may have to search quite a while for the shovel you want.  If, however you search for the specific term ergonomic snow shovels in Boston, you will get those sites first.  Webmasters who have paid attention to their keyword research essentials have identified themselves with that search term and their site will show up first. 

If you were the merchant selling snow shovels, you would have difficulty competing for first page position with 10,000 other merchants selling snow shovels.  But if your competition didn't think to identify themselves with the keyword ergonomic snow shovels, you would have an advantage.  So, the important keyword research essentials are to identify yourself with as many variables as you can (or very specific, whichever)

Keyword research essentials state that you strive to use the words that people actually use when they are searching.  For example, if you are selling home-made jewelry and you decide that your main keywords will be "home made jewelry", you won't get any traffic to your site if the internet users you are trying to target generally search with the keywords "hand-made jewelry".

How Do I Find Good Keywords?

  The Google keyword tool can provide you with keyword ideas and alternatives, and it is free.  Start by entering the keywords which you think are appropriate, and analyze the results that are returned.  Pay attention to the number of global and local searches that are performed, as well as the competition level.  Ideally, you want the highest number of searches and the lowest level of competition.  

When you have chosen a list of keywords, test each keyword set by performing a Google search.  Pay attention to the websites that come up on page one; that's where you want to be.  Have a look behind the scenes at the keywords the top websites are using.  to do this, right click on you mouse, and choose the menu item "page source".  The page displayed is the html code for the web page, and if you look around you will see the word "keywords" followed by a list of keywords used for that page.  If there are keywords you haven't thought of, add those to your list.  After all, they worked for the top websites, didn't they?  These site are "on top" because they paid attention to keyword research essentials.