Tag - Chicago

Uptime Robot - Know When Your Website Goes Down

Uptime Robot – Know When Your Website Goes Down

Web servers are not perfect and they crash. I use InMotion Hosting for my web servers and they guarantee a 99.9% uptime... it's not 100%. Yesterday InMotion was having some data center issues and I knew about it within a minute of the servers going down because of a great tool from Uptime Robot. Their free plan will ping your website every 5 minutes and you can add up to 50 websites. If you need more monitors or want them to ping your website more often, they offer very competitive pricing.

If you have a website you should use Uptime Robot. Knowing there's a problem is step one to fixing it. If you need website, graphic design or marketing services, please contact me today.

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How to Login to Gmail Using Your Domain Email Address

How to Login to Gmail Using Your Domain Email Address

I host email for the majority of my clients and forward their domain email (@yourdomain.com) to a Gmail address. The reason I do this is the convenience and functionality of Gmail. Also, most business clients have multiple email addresses and don't want to login multiple different places to check their email. Forwarding email to a Gmail address and using Gmail's 'Send Mail As' feature gives my clients the ability to send and receive their domain email from Gmail. I will write an article on that process in the future, but for now, see this article on how to do that.

Being able to sign into Gmail using your domain email address is another way to streamline the entire process. Follow these steps to allow that feature:

  1. Login to Gmail
  2. Click on your profile photo on the top right and select 'Google Account' below your name
  3. Click on the 'Personal Info' tab on the left
  4. Under 'Contact Info' click on 'Email'
  5. Click on the Advanced dropdown, then under 'Alternate Emails' select 'Add Alternate Email'
  6. Once you've added an 'Alternate Email' you will be able to sign into your Gmail account using the domain email address you entered in this field.

If you have the money to spend, another option is using GSuite, in which Google actually hosts your email and allows you to manage multiple users. GSuite costs $6/user/month for 30GB of Google Drive storage, or $12/user/month for unlimited storage. Many of my clients don't want to spend that money when they can forward their domain email to Gmail and use this login feature to get a very similar product for FREE. If you want to learn more about this topic contact me today and I'd be happy to walk you through everything.

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Signs Direct - Quality Signs at a Great Price

Signs Direct – Quality Signs at a Great Price

Today I want to share with you a great company that I use for all types of sign printing. Signs Direct is a company based in Bloomington, IL that offers yard signs, sidewalk signs, freestanding signs, lighted signs, sign hardware and much, much more. I do a lot of research before I work with a print company and I assure you that for the price you can't find a better deal. They even have stock signs for common things such as indoor and outdoor safety signs and road / parking signs.

The most common product I order from Signs Direct is their yard signs. Their production and shipping is always incredibly fast and I've always been happy with their quality. I am a bit partial because they're not only based in the US, but my home state of Illinois. If you don't live in Illinois they don't charge sales tax. If you live in Illinois... well you know.

If you need signs designed for printing through Signs Direct contact me today. I'd love to help you out.

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The Top Social Media Platforms For Your Business

The Top Social Media Platforms For Your Business

Google has been giving more and more SEO weight to companies that actively use social media. I recommend that all of my clients post on social media as often as possible, ideally once per week. While I know that's a challenge, it's becoming increasingly important to help your search engine rankings. Buffer is a great tool that allows you to post to Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn and Pinterest at the same time, from one place. I would currently consider those the top social media platforms for businesses ranked:

  1. Facebook - 2.23 billion monthly active users
  2. Instagram - 1 billion monthly active users
  3. Twitter - 335 million monthly active users
  4. LinkedIn - 294 million monthly active users
  5. Pinterest - 250 million monthly active users

In addition to these 5 social media platforms, I can't understate the importance of YouTube (1.9 billion monthly active users) and Google My Business posts. YouTube can be tough if you don't like being on camera, but even short videos carry weight. YouTube is a Google product... Google likes when you use their products. Speaking of which, within the last year Google has started allowing companies to post on their Google My Business listing. These posts show up on your Google business profile and show for one week... another indicator Google wants you to post every week. Unfortunately, there's no way to currently post to Google My Business through Buffer or similar tools, but I'm sure that will change.

Optimizing your use of hashtags and posting weekly on as many social media platforms as possible is the key to success. Posts can be as simple as a picture with a sentence, or an entire blog post. I integrate Wordpress with Buffer so you can create a blog post and automatically have it sent out to your social media platforms. That way you're getting SEO benefits from creating content on your website while also getting credit for the social media aspect.

If you would like to learn more about posting on social media, or are interested in getting pricing to have me post for you, contact me today.

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Google Local Service Ads

Google Local Services Ads – A New Google Ad Program

Google Local Services is a new ad platform by Google, not to be confused with Google AdWords. Perhaps you have already seen these ads - they appear in the same place Google AdWords would typically appear (before search results) but the one thing that makes them different is the green check mark by the ad with "GOOGLE GUARANTEED" appearing next to it. There has been a lot of confusion about the difference between Google Local Services and Google Adwords - let me explain.

In order to have a Google Local Services account, there is some vetting that has to be performed by Google. When creating an account you have to send your business license and insurance details, complete a free background check and have a verified customer write a review. This process typically takes over a month to complete. Hopefully Google will speed up this process, but this is what I've experienced recently when setting up accounts for clients.

Google Local Services charges on a per lead basis. In other words, you don't get charged when a customer clicks on your ad - you get charged when the customer calls you. This is a key differentiator between AdWords and Local Services. AdWords charges every time someone clicks on your ad and visits your website. The cost per lead with Local Services is significantly more than the cost per click with AdWords. The cost varies by industry. I've read reports that some industries charge as little as $5 per lead up to $150 per lead. Like Google AdWords, Local Services pricing is based on competition.

With Google AdWords, you target keyword searches within a service area. Google Local Services shows your ads based on the type of service you offer. You still get to select a service area to display the ads, but the options are not as detailed as Google AdWords.

At the time of this article, Google Local Services is not available for all industries and is specific to certain service areas. If your industry qualifies, I think Google Local Services is worth the investment. If you're interested in setting up a Google Local Services or Google AdWords account, I can help. Contact me today to learn more about getting an ad campaign setup for your business.

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Why Your Business NAP is so Important

Why Your Business NAP (Name, Address, Phone Number) is so Important

NAP is short for your business name, address and phone number. When Google scans various databases on the internet for your company it's absolutely crucial that these three items are EXACT and consistent. If I was on Yelp as "Brian Houdek The Web Designer" or "Brian Houdek Web Design LLC" or "Brian Houdek Web Design Inc" Google would look at that as a completely different company than "Brian Houdek Web Design". If your address is "123 Test St" it's crucial you write it exactly the same throughout the internet. "123 Test St." (dot after St.) or "123 Test Street" will be looked at as different and therefore not the same company. Finally, your phone number must remain consistent. Did your number change over the years? Do you have a local number and an 800 number? Make sure you always pick one primary phone number and always enter that phone number as the primary one.

The more LEGITIMATE databases your company information is in the better for SEO (Search Engine Optimization). These directories give your business validity in the eyes of Google. Most of them link back to your website, which is another ranking factor Google uses. As a rule of thumb, I recommend my clients use their Google My Business listing as the "master" listing, ensuring all other listings have the same information.

On the Internet there are four major data aggregators that store your business information. These are Neustar Localeze, InfoUSA, Acxiom and Factual. These data aggregators take your business information and push it out to many smaller databases on the Internet. In addition to these aggregators, there are also many big name directories your business should be in. Examples are Bing Places For Business, Apple Maps, Angie's List, Manta and many, many more.

I have multiple tools to scan these databases and see where your business information is missing or inaccurate. I can easily update this information and charge a flat fee. If you want me to run a free scan for your business contact me today.

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Happy Saint Patrick's Day

Happy Saint Patrick’s Day

Happy Saint Patrick's Day from my family to yours! According to Ancestry DNA, I'm 43% Irish but this weekend we are all Irish. Did you know Saint Patrick's Day is celebrated in more countries than any other national festival? Enjoy your corned beef and cabbage responsibly :)

Looking for a talented website and graphic designer who listens to your needs and gets your business noticed? I'm a freelance website and graphic designer who understands the difficulties of small businesses. I have helped business owners from many industries grow their business by implementing a comprehensive website and advertising strategy. Interested in learning more? Contact me today.

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What to do if your email server gets BLOCKED

What to do if your email server gets BLOCKED

Let's say you have an employee that wants to send out a promotional email to thousands of customers using their company email address. They send it out and a day or two later you start noticing that you're sending emails but they're not being delivered. Perhaps you're receiving bounce emails saying your server is blocked or clients are saying they're not receiving your emails. The reason... SPAM. If you have to send an email to a large group of people I recommend using a service like MailChimp. Anytime you send a promotional email you are REQUIRED to have an unsubscribe link so customers can remove themselves from your mailing list. If you don't include that a customer can report your email as spam and start a chain reaction that's tough to stop.

Spam is a big problem. We all get it and it's really annoying. When you're the one sending the spam the internet has many tools to make sure you never send an email again. If someone marks an email from you as spam in Gmail that doesn't necessarily mean you'll end up on a block list, but if multiple people in a short period of time mark your email as spam you can be in big trouble.

The Internet has numerous Domain Block Lists (DBL's) that keep track of spammers IP addresses and domains. Block Lists are lists of IP addresses that have been reported and listed as “known” sources of spam. There are public and private blacklists. Public blacklists are published and made available to the public—many times as a free service, sometimes for a fee. There are hundreds of well-known public blacklists.

To get off a block list, or more typically multiple block lists you have to use some tools to find out who is blocking you and why. Below are some of my favorite tools to scan your domain name/IP address to see if it's being blocked.

Depending on which block list you're on the removal process varies. It's best to first figure out who is blocking you and follow their instructions to remove you from the list. In addition to intentional spam you may end up on these lists if your server is improperly configured or even hacked. I use RBLmon to regularly check my email servers and my clients' servers to ensure I stay ahead of the issue should it ever arise.

Is your email server getting blocked? I've been through this process before and I've helped many clients get off these block lists. Contact me today and I'd be happy to help you get your email server off these block lists and keep it off.

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Google Fonts - Great Free and Open Source Fonts

Google Fonts – Great Free and Open Source Fonts

Google Fonts says their goal is to make "the web more beautiful, fast, and open through great typography." They certainly have done that and their selection of fonts continues to grow. Every Google Font is free and open source, meaning that you don't have to worry about licensing issues. At the time of this article there are 915 to choose from.

I have been using Google Fonts on my websites for years. However, even if you're not a web designer you can download the fonts to your computer and use them in any document. To the right of each font you'll see a + symbol. Once you press that Google "adds" it to your downloads (a popup menu that appears in the bottom right after adding the font). If you click on the downloads (it will say # Family Selected) you will notice a download icon on the top right. To download the entire font family with different font weights and italic styles click on "Customize". On this screen you can select the entire font family if you want. Once you have everything selected, download the fonts and install them on your computer.

Do you have a website that needs better use of fonts? Interested in learning more about Google Fonts? Contact Me today and I'd be happy to show you how Google Fonts can improve your website.

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Buffer Makes Multi-Channel Social Media Posting Easy

Buffer Makes Multi-Platform Social Media Posting Easy

It has been proven that a business who is active in social media ranks higher. It's part of Google's ranking algorithm. Another important part of Google's ranking algorithm is having fresh content on your website (ie a blog). How nice would it be to make a blog post on your website and have it automatically go to multiple social media platforms... That's what Buffer can do (with some plugins).

Buffer by itself allows you to schedule posts, analyze performance, and manage all your social media accounts in one place. Supported platforms are Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn and Pinterest. You can link to three social media platforms for free. If you want to post to them all (highly recommended) they currently charge $144/year. You can create posts within Buffer's website, schedule posts and very easily post to a single social media platform, or all at once.

The real power of Buffer is revealed when you integrate your WordPress blog with it. Wordpress to Buffer Pro is an awesome tool that allows your WordPress blog to connect to Buffer. You can choose to either send the posts to Buffer and review them there before posting, or just automatically post the article to ALL your social media platforms at once. That's what I do and I LOVE it. It saves me a ton of time.

I have implemented this solution for numerous clients and they have reaped the benefits by ranking higher. As I've mentioned before, SEO is not one or two things. It's many things that have to be followed in order to improve your ranking. This solution not only satisfies Google's need for fresh content on your website, but it also satisfies the social media aspect of SEO. If you're interested in implementing this solution on your website, contact me today.

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