Monday, September 9, 2013

Problems with Vista SP1 to SP2?

Problem: Microsoft Windows Vista Service Pack 1(SP1) computer won't install updates. (i.e. Vista Service Pack 2 (SP2))

Issue: Computers that came with a restore partition instead of the operating system on DVD came with a cloned version of the operating system that online authentication may not recognize. Updates will not install. Internet Explorer will not upgrade, etc.

Solution: Locate a copy of the operating system on DVD either from a friend or via online resources like eBay. The DVD doesn't necessarily need to be from your computer's manufacturer but does need to be your version of windows (32 bit or 64 bit) SP1 or SP2. Follow these steps Warning: you will lose your files and data so backup step is imperative:

  1. Back up your data and your desktop settings. A good place to start is by using the Windows Migration tool. 
  2. Download all the drivers for your computer from your computer manufacturers website. The HP 9700 that we used as an example had a nice website that listed all the drivers.  Be sure to put the drivers on a CD or USB drive. Windows comes with some drivers but will probably not be the most up to date and may not have all that you need. Take a look at everything in your device manager and locate the installation discs for your other items like printers. 
  3. Use the found DVD to reinstall your operating syste m. Once installed, go to Control Panel/Window Authentication and re-authenticate your copy of Windows with the key off of your computer (not the key from the DVD package if you're borrowing the DVD).
  4. Make sure you can install updates. Please note: Install the SP2 first as it includes a lot of smaller updates. We ran into a problem with the next bunch of updates. The computer stalled and went into a loop at installing 3 of 3 updates. Since safe mode didn't work, we put the DVD back into the computer and ran a repair. The only thing that worked was restoring to the previous clean boot point. After that head over to: and run a Mr. Fixit from Microsoft then rerun the updates.
  5. Run your Windows Migration to reinstall back up files made in step 1.
Lesson Learned: Next time you go to purchase a computer, insist on the operating system on DVD. The partitions may seem like a money saving, green way to provide a back up to your operating system. But as demonstrated time and time again, the back up is not the complete copy of the operating system needed to fix or repair the computer when something goes wrong. Problems arise when a cloned partition is authenticated through Microsoft. This leaves systems unable to install security updates, making it easy for hackers to enter your computer and get information like your bank account numbers and log on.  In addition, when we experienced problems such as the step 3 above, the fix could not have been performed without the DVD. Don't leave the computer store without that DVD!

Friday, September 6, 2013

Different Views

Ever wonder what your site looks like on an iPad or particular smart phone? Wonder no more; just head over to Screenfly and enter the URL of the page you're curious about.  Your site will come up in a simulator window.

You can test among several devices---desktop, mobile phones, tablets, and television and also go retro to see how your site measures up for those visitors who maybe using vintage equipment to view your site. You can even choose a custom setting for when that dedicated customer lets you know that there is something not quite right when the site is viewed at a particular custom resolution.

Even the most expensive sites and even high end tech sites don't always look perfect on every device. You should consider who your target customer is and what device most of your customers might be using.  Most of the time a happy balance between usability and aesthetics for as many devices and resolutions as possible will ensure a great experience for every visitor to your site. And it's great to have this kind of tool available so you can easily see how your site measures up.

Monday, August 26, 2013

We've Added Wordpress!

In May, Blue Heron Moon Web Consulting worked probono on a site that was using WordPress to get the word out on a local festival honoring the work of Cole Porter. It was the first work we did using the WordPress format and the fact that time and resources were crunched (we were only a week away from the festival) just proved to me that the WordPress format is a great tool to add to website development and management.

In fact, when I did a recently scheduled update of the Blue Heron Moon Web Consulting Website I used WordPress and a group of helpful plugins that handle everything from design to SEO. WordPress doesn't shorten the time spent on website development. Nor does it make things easier to do for the typical small business owner "do it yourself-er."

What it does is offer a package and a great number of gadgets to make your website more customizable to your needs. Pick a static site or one that is more dynamic. Add a search engine optimization plugin that combs your verbiage, suggests keyword tweaks, and even gives you a readability factor. Choose from one of many sliders or choose from one of many themes.

Adding and controlling media such as pictures and video may require a bit of tweaking. And you may need to point your site to more user friendly, and Search Engine friendly URL's.

All in all, a WordPress site will fill the needs for any small business with simple site requirements. We'll be happy to install a WordPress site for you or tweak what you have; contact us today!                    

Monday, July 1, 2013

Warning to Job Hunters

If you're one of the many searching for a position these days this post is for you. There are sites that advertise free job board software where an individual can throw up a job board and then solicit postings from companies in need of workers for a fee. Usually to look legit  the poster will post bogus jobs. These jobs often use legit companies but at locations that don't exist.  This tactic of posting jobs that don't exist is also used by the big headhunter corporations like Accountemps to recruit and draw talent into there pool.

Not only do these bogus listings detract from a job searcher's time but they also sucker a job seeker into handing out personal information on a network that is certainly without a modicum of security and can be a source for spam and malware.  

Here's and example of a fraudulently posted job:

This listing is for a position with a company that actually exists, but that does not exist in East Chicago, IN. This location is not listed at the legitimate website:

And, not only doesn't the location exist, this company has its own job listings on the website and this job in East Chicago isn't listed there either. To make matters worse, the fraudulent job board poster has copied verbatim from this legitimate website a posting of a job in Illinois. This makes the fraudulent posting seem even more real. 

So how do you protect yourself? It is better to go directly to a company website and research jobs there. Be sure that anywhere you enter personal information is secured. And when in doubt call the company and ask about that East Chicago location. And good luck on your job search. 

Need help setting up personal information on the web? Contact us.  

Monday, June 24, 2013

Are Times Harder for Small Business?

When Constant Contact asked small business owners if it was more difficult to run a small business now compared to five years ago 59% said yes. Most cited the economy and keeping up with technology the main challenges that face businesses today.

But online tools were cited as pluses to head off the competition that comes from direct sources as well as big business. The online tools were cited as not only leveling off the playing field between big and small businesses but also were considered more affordable tools to get the word out there to customers than yesterday's marketing sources.

And while more businesses are using email and social media to market to prospective customers, 23% state it's difficult to keep up with technology. These businesses are at risk of losing to the competition. Many of today's customers look to the personal contact that they receive through social media and online marketing. Building those kinds of relationships and being available to customers takes time away from the ordinary day to day business of the swamped small business owner.

That's when a web consultant can step in and manage your online media marketing. Posting on a regular basis to social media, responding to your customers requests and inquiries, and handling newsletter campaigns increases your customer base and sales and costs less than yesterday's marketing initiatives.

And with the new marketing tools 58% of small business owners say that their businesses will be thriving 5 years from now---optimism that can't be beat.

Source: Constant Contact Survey

Monday, June 17, 2013

5 Ways to Annoy your Website Visitors

Have you ever left a site that had exactly what you were searching for but couldn't deal with the website antics themselves? Hopefully a good web consultant will let the customer gently know that certain web design offerings detract from the products and services that the customer wants to get out there. I recently had to complain to Amazon about their website. I couldn't shop their offerings because of distractions in the sidebars. Even the big guys need to focus on the real reason for the website and that is to sell and give information on products, not demonstrating a mastery of web bells and whistles. Here are a few things to avoid when you're looking at web design:

  1. Ads that drop in and around. I recently came on a site that surrounded me with advertisements. The ads dropped down from the top of the screen and surrounded me from the left and right sidebars. The ads then followed me as I scrolled down the screen. I immediately left the site. This website reminded me of those physical stores where you are surrounded by sales people talking in each of your ears only this one has the added component of someone dropping down from the ceiling.
  2. Flashing that doesn't stop. Vegas neon works fine in Vegas but really detracts from a positive web site experience. If you feel that your side bar must flash then include a timer so that the flash doesn't  continue for the entire time that the customer is on your site. Certain people with disabilities are unable to withstand some of the flashing lights. You probably would like these people to be your customers too. Is the Vegas style even appropriate to your services and products?
  3. Music that auto plays---or worse yet auto plays and doesn't have an off option. I've seen sites that offer business products with auto music. Imagine being in a quiet office and the boss asks you to price paper. Would you really spend much time on a site that blares the Rolling Stones at you as you browse?
  4. Drop down menus that don't work. With recent programming enhancements there has been a rash of websites that have lightning fast menus. Barely have you moved your cursor when you find yourself on a new page with little knowledge of how you got there. Web people may find these lightning fast menus efficient with their nimble web ready fingers and super up to date equipment. But most customers don't fall into the web expert category. Solicit feedback from your customers and redesign accordingly.
  5. Those fading fonts. Designs are constantly evolving and one of the trends is toward lighter fonts. Keep in mind that the population is aging. Also remember that there are people out there in your potential customer population that are color blind. Fonts need to be readable by everyone that views your site. Include verbiage so that even the blind can be potential customers.
Your website should reflect what happens in your physical business (or if you had a physical business). You want to greet customers to your site, allow them time to browse, and offer plenty of information to make choices. And don't forget to be there for them when they have questions or want to buy. Just as you wouldn't install a disco ball in your physical store to show off your construction skills, you shouldn't add needless bells and whistles to show off web construction skills. Sometimes less is so much more---more in sales and that is what it is all about.  

What annoys you when browsing?

Monday, June 10, 2013

Search Engine Optimization

Even if you opt to put up a website yourself, you should consider hiring a professional for Search Engine Optimization. SEO is lengthy process that requires constant diligence otherwise you'll soon find your business getting buried in competitors.

The more venues you have up and active on the internet, the more the opportunity to appear on a customer's search,. So take every opportunity that you have available to put your name out there. Take advantage of Facebook postings, Pinterest, Blogs, latch onto Manta, Yellowbook, and other sites in addition to your own website. This allows customers to see your name from these sites.

Unfortunately all this work doesn't guarantee that you'll come out front in the race to the top. Your site map will need to be developed and submitted in the the format that the search engines require (normally XML). Specific product pages for some sites should be submitted separately on an ongoing basis  The net is a constantly moving target and unless you are diligent and have the time you're likely to be reduced to page 2 or 3 of  a search---a less than optimal situation.

There are, of course, many other ways you can get your business name near the top of the search engines. Simply posting your website and other pages and submitting your sitemap won't get your information out to potential customers though. We can help. Contact us.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Need Web Help? Just Ask.

Cole Porter Festival Website designed by Blue Heron Moon Web Consulting
It seems that everyone is struggling to make ends meet these days. And, more than ever before, people are striking out on their own after being unable to find a job in the area.

This has created two types of opportunities---one for people who need to get their name out there so that they can drum up some business, and the other for companies and individuals who need services at the same time they struggle to make ends meet.

If you're considering doing a website or social media on your own but wondering how to fit it into your ever time stressed business, why not consider hiring an independent web consultant?

Joining your customers in the online community can increase your sales in as little as 6 months. Contact us to see just how we can help you attain your online marketing goals.  

Monday, May 20, 2013

Keeping Prospects Engaged over the Long Haul

According to, Chilton Research shows that many consumers take quite a while to make a large purchase---as much as 60% take seven months or longer to punch that buy button. Staying ahead of the competition by engaging and keeping with your prospect is even more important. An innovative internet marketing plan can position your company to do just that.

  • Start with a website that provides information on the product that the prospective customer can add to a wishlist, watch videos, find specs, and see all the great things your product can do. This provides something that can be shared with other decision makers in the family. At the same time, though, you need to link to something even more dynamic and that would be:
  • Engaging and active social media that not only offers tips, samples, sales information, but legitimate praises from your Facebook fans. This is a sure way of keeping connected to your prospect. Since your potential customer has already identified a need for your product, at this point you're staying ahead of the competition with your online community. This is a great way to celebrate what your business does best and proves just how responsive and inclusive your business community is.
  • Ask your potential customer for an email address and permission to sign up for your newsletter at the time of first contact. Fill the newsletter with reasons that the purchase shouldn't be put off. Share tips, personal stories, events, and links on your business---push information out to your customer and stay ahead. 
 With an online strategy connecting with a prospect over the long term yields the results. And the online strategy keeps that customer with your business community even after the sale is completed.        

Monday, May 13, 2013

Perfectly Sized Facebook Cover Photo's

Facebook cover photos need to be resized to 851px x 315px. Taking a relatively square photo down to a rectangle that remains attractive is simple---get out your tools!

A photo editing software is needed. I use an old version of Corel Paint Shop Pro and/or the latest version of PhotoScape that is absolutely free on the web.

The next thing you need is a good photo that you can cut in half---because that is basically how much you'll lop off to get the 851px x 315px dimensions. I like to choose a photo that has some close up interest or a nice landscape that can stand a good cropping.

The first step is to reduce the width to 851px---easily done in photoscape using the resize/width setting under the edit tab. Then choose the Crop tab in the lower menu and crop freely to 315px height. Move the crop box around until you get the perfect area of your photo. Then all there is to it is to save and upload.

Voila! Perfect Facebook Cover Photo!

Monday, May 6, 2013

Navigating the Shipping Options

With the threat of the UPS strike behind us and the increased costs of the new contract surely to be passed on to customers, it may be time to review your shipping options on your website, eBay store, Etsy store, Amazon, or Paypal options. Each place you can buy postage will more than likely have different rates for each of the major shipping companies.

Among the rewards of growing an eBay store to preferred seller status is a bigger discount on shipping through USPS. This discount may not be passed on if you use one of the other options; UPS or FedEx. And you are always at risk of losing your discount at the whim of a buyer who misunderstands your store policies.

Comparing the options for a website can be an enormously daunting task and it is better to go with one vendor for convenience as each vendor will require special programming with an app that must be approved and tested through the chosen vendor. Here are a few links to help you on your quest through the options:

Monday, April 29, 2013

Your Online Strategy

Every now and then it's great to rethink, reconsider, and regroup your online marketing plan. Things may be going along according to plan, but could you be getting more out of your plan? There are many reasons to go online with your business. Perhaps it's only to get your name out there. Maybe you're a start up and feel that since your competition has a website your business also needs one.

But beyond the decision of connecting social media and a website with your physical business there should be an overall marketing plan. Consider the future of your business. Are you capable of online sales or do you even want to plan in that direction? Should your business focus only on the local customer base and remain smaller to focus on what you've been successful at or are you ready to move off in a completely new direction? Answers to these questions should provide a direction for your website, SEO, and what is posted to social media.

Online marketing is cheap, efficient and can be focused as narrowly or as dispersed as you'd like it to be. A plan that is well thought out and concise can move your business forward into the future.

Monday, April 22, 2013

It's About Staying Connected

Making it in today's economical environment is all about relationships. Marketing doesn't end at the sale any longer. Keeping customers close throughout the life of your product through training, events, and support insures a happy customer will bring in more like minded customers and return to you for product replacement. How do you do that?

By staying connected. Websites, Social Media, and blogs are a great way to keep customers in the loop. These all provide a platform for education, communication, and innovation. When a customer succeeds in the use of something you sell, recommends your product, or innovates outside of the box you have an avenue that can reward that customer. And there is nothing like a public pat on the back to bring a flock of people to see who and what created the kudos.

Today's marketing doesn't stop at point of sale.  And more than ever before today's marketing has sale potential. By staying connected even potential problems can be turned into potential sales opportunities. And businesses who commit to communicating and responsiveness capture the market with additional sales and returning customers.

Not sure where to begin? Contact us today for a total online marketing plan.    

Monday, April 15, 2013

On Your Guard

A recent article on Ars Technica highlights how easy it is to high jack and/or interfere with the content that you post on the net. This time it was the internet providers posting ads as they passed on the requested URL's. The ads interfered with the information on the requested sites sometimes covering whole paragraphs  and covering up the paid advertisements of the website.

And when initially confronted with this issue by customers, the internet providers stated that the ads were being added to keep costs down for customers as opposed to lining company coffers.

But when reminded of the copyrights of the altered websites the internet providers thought better and discontinued the practice.

Internet sites and postings require constant vigilance---especially when even the trusted providers provide the hacks.   

Monday, April 8, 2013

Less is More, as Usual

After you discover that you can rotating banners, sounds, and bouncing balls to your website every newbie to web design is tempted to add all the bells and whistles that they are capable of adding. I know I was.

Unfortunately these are the very things that annoy potential customers right off of a site. The other day I was contacted by a newbie with a link back to the newbie's website. I followed the link and found a site that moved in all directions. Landing on the home page I was greeted by an item seemingly falling from the sky and its accompanying sound. The colors of the site were dark. Some of the paragraph boxes were dark with grey fonts making it difficult to read. The call to action was lacking. And I was distracted by a graphic of the earth that continued to glow. Each page that was clicked resulted in the same item that falls from the sky with accompanying sound---page after page after page.

And the one thing I was looking for was not posted on the site----who was this person was who was contacting me? Just about anyone can post a website on the Internet. Domain names are reasonably priced. But fewer people will post their personal information, letting potential customers in on who they are and what experience they might have to offer so that a customer can make even a preliminary decision on a first contact. If that information isn't there I doubt if you'll be making many sales unless you're selling a universal product so cheaply that people will take a chance on you.

No amount of SEO or Flash displays or sounds will save you from a poorly designed website. The bones of any site need to be in place. What does your company do? Who is your company? What do customers say about you? Why should someone choose your company over a competitor? And don't make a potential contact search around for the call to action button. Make your navigation clear and logical.

And try out your site on as many devices, browsers (old and new), and resolutions as you possibly can. Even templates provided by the major web hosting companies are not foolproof 100% of the time.

And leave the bells and whistles to a minimum. Videos and sounds should be controlled by the end user. Sounds really shouldn't be used unless you're selling those sounds.  And grey fonts hardly ever work well with a black background. Make things as simple as possible. Use clear and concise language. Customers are interested in you---not stock information and the same pictures that are used on all your competitor's sites. Making yourself and your site stand out should create a lot of first contact opportunities.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Using Google Calendar for Event Communication

If you're a business that would like to communicate events, seminars, and sales easily from your website you may want to give Google Calendar a try. Anyone who has a Google account has a calendar. I use my Google calendar to bring in other calendars in total or by event. There's even a sync API that imports directly into Outlook so everything on every device is up to date.

It's easy to include a Google calendar on your website with the available imbed code and they've even included an RSS feed for your customers who prefer news via a news feed. Each time you add something to your calendar it automatically appears on your website and gets generated to your RSS feed. You can create different calendars and share your calendars all differently---perhaps you'd like to have a calendar available for staff only or a select group of customers.

Once embedded on your website your calendar can be viewed by customers in monthly, weekly, or agenda formats. Printing in monthly format is cumbersome if your event titles are wordy---the calendar is best when the event title is one or two catchy words and includes a supplemental description when the user desires more information. In the agenda format the descriptions themselves can be printed.

You can include attachments from Google Docs with any event. For example, if you're having a monthly staff meeting and want to include an agenda, you first create your Google Doc agenda and then attach it to the event you create in your calendar. Docs can include pictures if need be---it's a great tool.

This is all provided free---the only caveat is that Google has been notorious for dropping well liked features that it offers free, like the recently dumped Google Reader, which might leave people scrambling for replacements that may or may not be as good. But if you're willing to take that risk---this may be  the best possible way to communicate your business events with staff and customers alike.    

Monday, March 25, 2013

Google Reader Waves Bye Bye

Google announced last week that they were going to be discontinuing their Google Reader in coming months. I use the reader daily to do research and monitor growing trends in marketing on the web so the news left me scrambling for an alternative.  I found Feedly, an RSS reader that interfaces well with Google Reader as it pulled in my many feeds and allowed me to categorize them easier than it had been in Google Reader. The interface is nice and fresh and customizable  too.

But some of the blogs I follow didn't look quite the same in the new reader and oversized pictures didn't load quite so fast. Whether it's a newsletter, website photo, or blog, it's important to resize photo's. Digital cameras take really big pictures by default---as big as 3600 px or larger----you could create a billboard with that many pixels.

Determining how many pixels you need to leave in your picture for maximum load speed without sacrificing quality can depend on several things. Generally  for a thumbnail sized photo you need to reduce your photo to 100 px or even 50 px. But the photo you're reducing needs to be clear and in focus to begin with. For an email or newsletter that contains more than a couple of graphics each picture should be limited to at the most 500 px with 250 px or less being optimum. Website or blog photos can look great, load great at around 500 px---no bigger than 900 px.

If you're loading onto a site like eBay that has no pixel maximum, you may have trouble loading pictures If you reduce the size to below 1000 px you'll have less problems. Etsy's maximum is under 1000px---and I've found that a good policy.

Then consider Facebook--- A cover picture needs to be 851px x 315px---which requires a lot of cropping in 1/2. Your profile picture though needs to be a square of 180x180px. Pictures posted to your timeline need to be 403px to properly fit one column and look nice when posted to your page.

And what to use to reduce your photos? One program that has the versatility to resize in batches is the open source Photoscape. This program is great for simple photo editing also. And it's currently free.


Monday, March 18, 2013

Sales through Social Marketing

It is possible to garner sales and new customers through your Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest pages. But it requires diligence, patience, and dedication. Simply posting a page and a couple of posts and then recruiting your friends to like your page is not usually enough to garner what you need for sales.

A formula of a couple of posts per week; a mixture of information, freebies, and business news to keep things mixed up and constant monitoring is the recipe to create an environment that eventually has new customers and sales coming in.

Too much activity can be detrimental to your goals too---keep posts interesting and different and limited to 2-3 per week.While researching how small businesses use social media to generate activity I came across an antique store that had over 5400 page likes. This store, out in the middle of Indiana cornfields, about 100 miles from any good sized city, garnered my attention. The Facebook page posted in 2011 generates interest through posting events and new products on the page and makes the company larger than life.

The page was exciting enough to tempt me to travel the 200 miles round trip to find out just how the company matched up to the excitement generated by the Facebook page. And what I uncovered, was what I had suspected all along---with the right formula of social media marketing even a small business can look much larger than life on the Internet. I was actually a bit disappointed by the physical location and the business itself but the Facebook page did its job---it got a customer in to the business to have a look.              

Monday, March 11, 2013

Another Computer Repair

The Internet is replete with people who have various models of Sony's Vaio Computers with bad power ports. This model seems to have an inordinate amount of breakdown in this area and it's really too bad because it can be an otherwise good computer. My computer's (VPCF12AFM) power port failed under warranty, was returned to Best Buy where a poor repair was performed and it failed again when it was out of warranty. Compared to the under warranty repair that took a full month to complete, the process of swapping the part out myself was less trouble.  

Changing the port after it cracks is not a difficult job if you have the right part. The part is available on eBay. The port comes with the port at one end and a plug that connects to the motherboard at the other. If you are a DYI'er, you do not want to get the port by itself as a separate component because that will require soldering---a difficult process if you're not a pro.

Be careful not to order the cheapest part because, in this case, cheap can get you something that literally falls apart in your hands. When you receive the part before you open up the computer, make sure that the part is well put together with no solder joints showing and is tightly and compactly wrapped. Also, my port needed wires coming out of the side---there are ports for sale with wires coming out the back; making it nearly impossible to maneuver the port  into place properly. There is very little room in the space allowed for the port. A tightly, well wrapped port will insure that you can maneuver the port into place without the wires coming undone. Ports are running $8+; buy the more expensive one.

To change out follow these steps:

  • The inside of the computer is a sandwich. The top layer contains the keyboard, speakers, and various buttons----and the power port. 
  • The bottom layer contains the hard drive and memory chips.
  • The middle layer contains the motherboard. 
  • Remove the hard drive
  • Remove the memory chips
  • Remove all the screws from the underside of the computer. There were 3 sizes of screws in my computer. Keep track of where the three sizes come from.  
  • Turn the computer over, open it up and remove the cover above the keyboard. This simply snaps off---no screws.
  • You can remove the keyboard; again no screws just tabs.
  • The power port is under the cover above the keyboard that was removed in the previous step. A wire running from the power port runs into the middle layer of the computer and there is a tiny plug that fits into the motherboard. 
  • It is possible to unplug the old power port and plug the new one in without dismantling the computer further. It requires patience---and if you have large hands, maybe borrow someone's smaller hands.
  • Be sure that the port is securely in place and securely plugged in. Also, since the fan is in the general area, make sure the wire is run in the place it came out of and will not interfere with the fan. Plug the power jack (but don't plug the computer into electric) into the port to insure that everything fits.    
  • Reverse the process above to put the computer back together.
Before you do any work make sure that your files are backed up and be careful of static electricity that will fry computers. This isn't the easiest job to do but it really isn't all that bad and, as long as you have a good, well built part this job should only take 4-6 hours to perform.      


Monday, March 4, 2013

On Printers

A few years ago I purchased an HP Photosmart Premium 309C printer. I was looking for something that would print spectacular photographs, brochures, handle two sided printing, business cards, and knock out resumes.

Not a good decision. My first printer was returned to HP. It printed one inspirational photo and then decided everything else should be covered with a blue tinge. The second printer was sent by HP directly to my home after a myriad of phone calls to somewhere in India and massive frustration due to speaking to people who don't care to learn the English language in order to deliver even a mediocre amount of customer service.

The second printer never kept a wireless connection for more than one print job, did atrocious brochures, mediocre photographs, and resumes with random lines through them even with multiple attempts to align print heads and through the many, many costly print cartridges. Since the wireless was simply an added bonus that I really hadn't been looking for in the purchase, I used the printer wired. But even wired, every print job was a struggle, something that I looked to with dread. It finally puked one day in the middle of a shipping label. I tried to troubleshoot with HP's website and instead of an answer got a request to participate in a survey to tell HP how they were doing. I did complete the survey with little expectation of anything further---stating that I had been an HP customer for over 30 years---loved their early 250C computers that were real workhorses, economical to print, and, with the exception of the print drivers that would sometimes get overwhelmed, were really decent printers. I also stated that after all that time I was parting company with HP because of poor product and poor service. HP apparently didn't care---I got no response back.

I then went down to the local Walmart and made what has become the best purchase of a printer since that 250c that worked so well ---and for the cost of an HP cartridge pack. The model I bought was a Canon MG21---clear printing, trouble free, loads it's drivers in Vista or Windows 7 without issue and in about 15 minutes time takes care of everything for you. Every time I go to print, instead of dread, I experience the joy that comes with knowing that I purchased a superior product at the best possible cost. The cartridges cost a bit more but last 3-4 times longer than that hungry HP.

It's a shame that my brand loyalty made me suffer through that last HP but I'm suffering no longer. And it's a shame that HP puts out such awful products and service these days.    

Monday, February 25, 2013

Mix it up

Half hearted online content yields half hearted results. A great web site with great content is only one step in the process in today's world. A complete marketing plan could include:

  • A blog with expert content, tips of your trade, and news of your business' sales and events. Be sure to link back to your own website when appropriate. This gives your web site some additional status in the search engines and provides another way potential customers to gain more information about your products and services. Be sure to link back to sites over the internet that provide additional information too---give credit where credit is due. Be careful not to copy content though or all your hard work may not be recognized by search engines looking for duplicate content.
  • Social Media is an easy way to get your business up and running. But be careful. This requires a commitment or it will leave potential customers wondering if you are still in business. Plan on making a minimum of one post per week on a Facebook page which you can then transfer into a Tweet on Twitter. Less than that and you may as well not do social media. And the content has to be a mix of sales and business information, free tips and offers, and personal information making your business someplace that people want to spend time with. Give your customers what they want and they'll come back again and again, and pass you on to their friends too.          
  •  Put it all together on your website with links that include all your social media and your blog. Automate all as much as possible and don't forget a regular newsletter too. 
Web marketing pays off with sales and customers but it takes time and commitment to build a web presence. Static web sites and social media pages can be a detriment, not an asset to your business. We can help your business get started with your marketing plan. Contact us today.

Monday, February 18, 2013

New Data Available via Facebook

Facebook is again tweaking the way information can be presented to users. The new feature called Graph Search serves up demographics in very specific ways. For example, if you sell a specific product, you can ask the question "People who like {your competition}. You can then whittle down the demographics any way you want; by age, gender, place of business, etc.

This feature is not available to the general public yet (still in beta environment.) It also presents some contrary social issues. But as the information is already available to the technical savvy with plenty of time on their hands, it will probably become one of the informational marketing tools available to business.  

Monday, February 11, 2013

Coding for SEO

It's easy to get busy and rush through a web template if you're a small business do it yourself-er. And, especially if your site is image intensive, you may fail to key the alt information into each image. If you miss this key set of information, you're missing an important way for search engines to point interested customers to your page.

Search engines run through all the text on your site. An image with no text will be ignored. An image with accurate alt text will not only be friendly to customers who are blind or provide information when pictures don't load properly, but will be read by search engines, the same as any other text. That alt text will then be used by the Search Engine to bring you the customers.

In a way, the alt text is even more important than that image. Don't miss it.  

Monday, February 4, 2013

Facebook Beating up on Small Business

Most customers of small businesses with Facebook pages get increased satisfaction and participation in that small business. A sense of community is created as announcements are made, events created, solutions communicated, information exchanged. This is outside any marketing initiatives that the small business may create.

So it is inconceivable that Facebook doesn't understand that an entity that generates 50% of the GDP is a force to be courted not locked out.

But locked out is what Facebook is essentially doing to small business that use their format to communicate with customers. In December Facebook started making changes to the timelines. Many users now have two types of news feeds---the regular News Feed that everyone is used to and a new feed called the Pages Feed.  Apparently the big money advertisers like Amazon and others get to remain on the regular News Feed. All others get moved to the Pages Feed that many users probably aren't even aware of since the only indication that the feed exists at all is a tiny orange flag in the left hand menu of their feed.

Back in December I contacted Facebook because I noticed some of my favorite local businesses had fallen off my feed. Facebook informed me that even though they have a customer service link it wasn't meant for mere mortals like me or the small businesses that may be on their system.

Eventually I found my Pages Feed and found most of my small local business friends returning to my regular News Feed anyway. But many local businesses have been frustrated by this Facebook faux pas.  And Facebook should know better. There is a trend to shop local in this country. Facebook is only a tool and when a tool becomes a half a bubble off people tend to go looking for other tools that are more reliable.

Many small business have opened up twitter accounts and asked their customers to follow them there. And there is always Pinterest---grabbing an ever greater share of the social media time and interest.

For me---I feel offended that I missed out on the bargain cupcakes at one of my favorite local small businesses....    

Monday, January 28, 2013

Shipping USPS---New Changes

Effective today Postal rates go up. And there are many other changes that make life more complicated for online retailers and sellers. Today if you go to the USPS site to buy postage you will no longer be able to purchase Parcel Post. In fact Parcel Post no longer exists. Instead the USPS has 2 items to choose from; one is Standard Post---an option only available at the Post Office---you can not buy this product online. This option is for the small business shipper. Small shipper is defined as anything less than 50 piece per shipment.

For a 50 piece or more per shipment you can choose Parcel Select. This option is available today on the website, however, Parcel Select is still being worked out on the eBay website leaving those customers little option except to use another service like UPS ground. If you've got your own shop and want to offer USPS select you'll need to contact the postal service. And from some reports information varies from Post Office to Post Office---even their own staff is confused and uninformed of the rules. The USPS Website provides limited information too. There are no links to assist businesses to come on board with Parcel Select. It's almost as if the USPS  doesn't want that business and is advertising for UPS.

A quick comparison of rates shows that UPS may be a better solution too. I used Amazon's handy postage calculator to do a comparison of shipping packages of different rates and sizes from Northwest Indiana to Virginia this morning and this is how rates compared:

So it looks like it pays to ship packages 10 lbs and over UPS. Add the free insurance that you receive on some UPS shipments and it looks as if even if you can go the Parcel Select route it really isn't worth the trouble. It's a great time to rethink your shipping especially if you've been using Parcel Post---an option no longer conveniently available.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Facebook joins the Search Engines

The other day while maintaining Search Engine Optimization for a client I was pleasantly surprised when, at the top of the search page, there appeared an appropriate entry from the client's Facebook page. The Facebook page had been built a bit less than a year ago, and since, had been seeing a steady level of activity from customers. We have kept interest alive through posts that are a mix of research, information, and business information---deals and sales. Customers who are engaged enough to post a question receive answers back---it's become another avenue for customers to join the business.

And now all that hard work this client has invested will pay off as the Facebook page joins other posts from the company website to give relevant information, not only to a select group of customers, but out to the entire web, hopefully gaining new customers.

Getting your business out onto the web and gaining new customers and making sales is a process much like building in brick and mortar. Each post that is made is part of getting your information out there, building trust about how great your business is, and developing a following of customers that will keep coming back to you for their needs over and over again.      

Monday, January 14, 2013

Search Engine Optimization

Search Engine Optimization isn't a do it now---leave it alone item in managing a website. SEO requires constant vigilance. Leave it alone and you'll soon become buried under your competition's links. As you add new pages and/or products to your site, announce sales, or as your site is updated in other ways, SEO needs to be performed every step of the way. And the more active your site is---constantly evolving with updated information,  the more likely you'll come up on top of that search.

After you update or create a page wait a couple of days and perform a search of  how well you do. Be sure to include a few search engines---don't just assume that because you use Bing or Google that your customers do. If the results are not exactly what you expected it's time to get tweaking the SEO with the webmaster tools that most search engines provide you with.

As you tweak be sure to do it honestly. Searches that are irrelevant or not correct, keywords that are out of place may cause your site to be rejected or bypassed by a search engine.

With time and diligence you'll soon find that your site will be coming up on top. Need help? Contact us.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Check that Facebook Page

My favorite businesses fell off my own news feed over the holiday season. Facebook, forever tweaking their pages and systems apparently was trying something new.

After emailing Facebook through their "Get help from us link" and being told that they didn't respond to individual concerns, I noticed I have a "Pages link" on the left hand column of my Facebook page. The news that got thrown to this page was mainly from small business pages that I had subscribed to---the big guys like Amazon were still shooting to my news feed. Once I clicked on the Pages Link and added Pages to my favorites, I'm seeing the small businesses in my feed again.

I hope that this isn't part of a growing trend by Facebook to freeze out the little guy. Forcing out small businesses will not only hurt local communities, but will lesson user experience. It sure lessened mine.