Tag - Chicago

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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Background Image Generator By SiteOrigin

Background Image Generator by SiteOrigin

Small repeating images that create a background pattern are something I use in every website I design. Background Image Generator by SiteOrigin is my favorite tool for creating these patterns. They give users the ability to use ANY hex color (There are 16,777,216 hex colors) to change the color of their simple background patterns. Their customizable background images come from another great website, Subtle Patterns. They have hundreds to choose from. You can also add filters, change the intensity of the pattern and add noise to the background image. The patterns are well optimized so they load fast on websites.

There are other background image generators out there, but none with the great features Background Image Generator provides. It's also free so you can't beat that! Check out my portfolio to see the many different patterns I've used on clients websites or contact me today to learn more.

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Bulk Resize Photos - My Favorite Resizing Tool

Bulk Resize Photos – My Favorite Resizing Tool

Often times I have to resize a TON of images for image galleries and they have to have some consistency. Ideally, I try to keep the image width consistent. Bulk Resize Photos makes the process so much easier than it used to be. They claim to be able to process 150 photos in under 60 seconds and I can attest... it's fast! Their website makes it extremely easy to set the parameters for resizing your photos with a sufficient amount of options (Scale, Longest Side, Width, Height, Exact Size or even add a watermark). Before you know it all your photos are the same size and downloaded to your computer. Too easy...

I have clients with hundreds of photos in their gallery and Bulk Resize Photos has saved me a tremendous amount of time. If you're interested in creating a beautiful image gallery with consistently sized photos, contact me today.

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DepositPhotos - My Preferred Stock Photo Website

DepositPhotos – My Preferred Stock Photo Website

Professional stock photos are great for websites, blogs, social media or graphic design projects. Stock photo providers allow you to purchase a license to use their photos commercially. The cost of stock photos varies greatly but over the years my favorite has been DepositPhotos. On their website, they have over 100 million stock photos (and vector files).

I pay DepositPhotos $25/month for up to 25 downloads per month. This is under their Flexible Plan. Unused downloads rollover, which is great. The minimum package you can purchase is 10 images for $49. To put things in perspective Getty Images charges $500 for one image.

There are times DepositPhotos does not have an image I need. In that case, I usually visit Photodune (pay per image $5 - $10 ea), 123RF (Similar price structure), Adobe Stock (expensive) or Shutterstock (expensive).

At the end of the day, over 100 million great stock photos to choose from is sufficient for my needs. Their quality is great and I've never had any issues with them. If you're looking for great stock photos I recommend you check out DepositPhotos.

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Mailchimp - The Best Email Marketing Platform

Mailchimp – The Best Email Marketing Platform

If you're considering email marketing, Mailchimp is the king. The best part of Mailchimp is that for most customers it's free. You can have up to 2,000 subscribers and send 12,000 emails per month before you have to pay a dime. Their platform has a great user interface, isn't terribly difficult to use and has many advanced features which make it quite powerful.

Email Marketing Considerations and SPAM

Before starting a Mailchimp campaign I ALWAYS stress to my customers that there are very strict rules with Email Marketing. Spam is a HUGE problem. Over the years there have been more and more restrictions on email due to spammers. The NUMBER ONE rule is NEVER add ANYONE to your email list without their permission. This rule can't be broken.

Every email sent with Mailchimp is required to have an unsubscribe link at the bottom of it. While unsubscribing the user is asked why, and one of the options is that they never asked for the email in the first place. Get a few of those and your account gets suspended. After writing an email to Mailchimp explaining you made a mistake and will play by the rules might buy you some time, but if they continue to see users report they never signed up for your list, your account gets banned.

How to Properly Use Mailchimp

Only add people to your mailing list with their permission. It's pretty simple. You can add a form to your website (like I have in my footer), a link in your email signature or get people to signup in person. I always recommend navigating to Mailchimp's Opt-In settings and enabling "Double Opt-In". When you enable this feature each person added to the list will receive an email asking if they want to join the list. It's an extra step for the customer, but it prevents issues down the road.

Want to Setup a Mailchimp Account?

I have setup Mailchimp accounts for many customers and have experience building email lists and templates. If you're interested in getting a list setup but need some assistance, contact me today.

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