What Google Thinks Of Your Site

How Google views your site does matter if you want to succeed online because Google has become the dominant search engine on the web. It now has over 60% of the U.S. search engine market. In other countries around the world that percentage rises to 80% or more. In addition, the Google Brand Name has solidly permeated the popular psyche and any top rankings within Google will bring much weight and prestige along with all that traffic.

If you’re a webmaster, you will already know how vital Google is to the success of your site, especially if you rely upon organic keyword rankings for your traffic. This free organic traffic from Google is highly desired by webmasters because it is extremely targeted and delivers high conversion rates.

In trying to reach the highest rankings possible, I (like most webmasters) have to be constantly aware of what Google thinks of my site and content. As a webmaster and marketer I have always geared my onlíne marketing towards Google. I have spent years building my keyword rankings within Google; if you take out the fact that it has nearly driven me insane, it has mostly been a positive experience.

This experience has also shown me it is indeed important for anyone to know how Google views and rates your site or content. The more knowledge you have, the better able you will be to tackle any obstacles and challenges that will come your way.

And like most webmasters, I try to find out as much about Google as is humanly possible, but Google doesn’t give up its secrets easily. In fact, many webmasters would argue the only true opinion Google has of your site is shown in their SERPs – if your keywords/pages are ranked in the number one spots in Google’s “Search Engine Results Pages” then Google must think your site or content deserves to be there.

However, there are other ways of finding out how Google is viewing your content. Below are several Google webmaster tools and things you can do to discover just how Google views your site or pages. They will give you a better picture of what Google thinks about your site.

One handy tool that will show you what Google thinks your pages consist of is located here: http://adwords.google.com/select/KeywordToolExternal

Just type in your URL and tick off website content and you will get a listing of the major keywords Google has for your content. If your targeted keyword or keywords are not listed, then you have to do some re-writing.

If you want to find out how many backlinks your site has in Google, just open up Google Search and type in:

link:yourURL

and it will show you the number of backlinks you have.

Since Google doesn’t give you all your existing backlinks, many webmasters also use Yahoo! to find a more exact number of links your site has on the web.

Just open Yahoo! and type in: linkdomain:yourURL

Now whether Google is using or considering all these backlinks is the big question? Finding the exact number of backlinks you have in Google has always been a problem because Google is not giving you the exact number or at least this is the general opinion of most SEO experts.

Another way I monitor my links in Google is to place quotation marks around my site name or my name “bizwaremagic” or “titus hoskins” and do a search in Google. This gives me the pages containing references to me or my site. This is usually 50,000 to 100,000 pages, I have also noticed my online income usually correlates as this number goes up or down.

Obviously, it is very important for you to know what content the search engines have indexed from your site. You can also check to see how your links are displayed and to see if any titles or descriptions are missing from your pages. You can see how many of your pages are indexed in Google by using the site command.

Just type into Google Search:

site:yourURL

A little while back, having your pages indexed in Google’s Supplemental Index caused webmasters much stress as it seemed Google was judging these pages as “second class” pages. Since then, Google no longer uses the Supplementary Label in grading pages but that doesn’t mean a supplementary index doesn’t exist; just that Google has promised to crawl and consider these pages as well in any search query.

From my own experiences, I have receíved more traffic when my site was at PR4 than I receíved when it was at PR6. What’s important is getting high rankings for your targeted keywords… if you get top spots, it doesn’t matter if your main index page (site) is PR4 or PR6, you’ll still get the same amount of traffic. In other words, don’t become too fixated on PageRank because Google in many cases is not letting you see the true PR of a webpage.

I would like to add one point to the whole PageRank issue and that has to do with perception. If you’re running an online business, then having a PR8 site does matter for it will bring in more business and customers (especially if you’re in the SEO industry) mainly because of the “perceived value” of your site or business.

What Google thinks does matter! In other words, what Google thinks of your site can play a major role in your success. Mainly because, like it or hate it, Google has become the supreme authority on the web and what they say, counts. Therefore, you should always be paying special attention to just what Google is saying about your site and acting upon that knowledge accordingly.

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A True Internet Model for E-Commerce Fulfillment

The old-school approach to order fulfillment doesn’t fly for many Internet retailers. Warehousing, packing, shipping and return-order processing are labor-intensive and time-consuming. This has led to a growing trend among online sellers –the use of Web technologies to automate order fulfillment.

I’m talking about e-commerce fulfillment providers (EFPs). They take the “friction” out of order fulfillment. In a typical scenario, a consumer will buy merchandise at a Web site. This triggers an order that is sent electronically to an EFP who processes the order. A shipper such as FedEx or UPS is then automatically notified. Upon shipment of the order, an automated notification is sent to the consumer and to the merchant. There is almost no human intervention. In other words, it’s a true Internet fulfillment model.

From a strategic perspective, one of the most important benefits of this model is that the retailer doesn’t have to make a capital investment in infrastructure Rackspace is the expert when it comes to delivering Windows and Linux hosting solutions. Click here to learn more.. Yugster.com is an example. The Web site has grown by nearly 500 percent in the last year and is similar to other e-commerce sites, such as Woot.com and 1SaleaDay.com. In the past, such rapid growth for an e-commerce operation would have required an enormous investment in processes, systems, personnel and physical space. Aside from the obvious fact that it’s not easy to raise capital, such an investment could be risky because there’s no guarantee the business will continue to grow. By eliminating the need for a capital investment, EFPs remove a significant barrier to entry for would-be online retailers.

Of course, EFPs do more than ship orders. With advances in Web technologies, EFPs can add value in numerous ways. For example, EFPs can assist with automated inventory management by sending alerts to merchants when inventory levels drop below certain thresholds. Restocking can be done without an employee doing a physical count. This means online retailers can market and sell their products without having to physically handle the merchandise. And even though the EFP holds the inventory, the retailer still manages and monitors everything through a Web-based dashboard. The retailer has access to historical reports as well as real-time visibility into order status, shipment tracking, inventory quantities, and item-level sales data.
Level Playing Field

EFPs are doing for fulfillment what Google Latest News about Google has done for advertising Learn how you can enhance your email marketing program today. Free Trial – Click Here.. They are taking cost out of the equation. Google has allowed companies to reach targeted audiences for just pennies per ad click. It’s a highly automated process that can fit into nearly any business model. Likewise, EFPs are taking cost out of order fulfillment. The cost of the EFP is covered by shipping and handling charges that consumers pay. And just as Google has nearly perfected online advertising, and has certainly improved advertising efficiency by orders of magnitude, EFPs are built from the ground up to make order fulfillment as efficient as possible. It would be nearly impossible for a retailer to match an EFP’s level of efficiency with an in-house fulfillment operation.

EFPs can support a variety of business models. These include pure-play e-commerce Web sites, multichannel retailers who sell through third-party Web sites such as Amazon, eBay, Overstock and Yahoo, and even merchants who sell through TV infomercials and brick-and-mortar stores. EFPs fulfill orders for all of these sales models. They can provide continuously updated reports that allow retailers to track the sales volume of each channel.

There are several EFPs. Yugster.com uses Webgistix. Amazon is actually the largest EFP, although most people think of Amazon only as a retailer. These two companies take different approaches to fulfillment services. Webgistix offers a customizable solution that is integrated with a retailer’s order-entry system. Amazon offers a self-serve solution that allows retailers to plug into Amazon’s fulfillment infrastructure. Other EFPs, such as WeFulfillIt, are also emerging as demand for these services continues to rise sharply.

The fact is that using an EFP can be a game changer. It makes online retailers more scalable by essentially providing unlimited capacity on demand. Retailers can ship 100 orders one day and 1,000 orders the next day. EFPs can be invaluable whether an entrepreneur is just trying to get a company off the ground, or expand their operations, or protect their profit margins by reducing manpower and overhead. With an EFP, retailers don’t have to lease warehouse space, hire shipping/receiving clerks, or buy shipping supplies and equipment.

And, as every retailer knows, customer satisfaction is critical. This is yet another area where EFPs provide an important benefit. The speed and accuracy of order fulfillment is usually guaranteed by the EFP, which is what a business person should expect when hiring a company that only does order fulfillment. Most merchants are good at sourcing and marketing retail merchandise. They want to focus on that and keep getting better at it. They don’t want to divert resources and time to order fulfillment.

Many Internet retailers are seeing the positive impacts that EFPs can have on their businesses. It would be smart for any online retailer to consider adopting this fulfillment model. It works. It’s easy. And it’ll benefit the retailer’s customers and its bottom line.

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Landing Pages: Mix 'Em Up, See What Works Best!

The job of the modern Web site is more important and more difficult than ever, especially when it comes to a multichannel sales strategy. Visitors arrive at your Web site through a variety of online channels: pay-per-click (PPC) and organic search, e-mail. Once there, they need to fulfill the objective of acting upon a promotion, or buying a specific product.

If their entry leaves them cold because they don’t see anything relevant to what drove them there, they’re most likely to leave, having wasted their time and your marketing dollars. Landing pages are an effective technique to help visitors cross the channel between the marketing message that brought them to the site and the site functionality for them to take action like making a purchase or submitting a lead.

A Web site landing page is simply a page that keeps the momentum going from the referring channel’s message. A common attribute might be the pay-per-click search terms that brought them to the site, or a specific e-mail offer that was clicked on.

In fact, targeted landing pages with keyword search terms appear more relevant to visitors who have come via a specific search engine query. As a result, fewer “bounces” occur. A bounce is a visitor who hits the landing page, stays for a few seconds, then hits the back button to return to the search engine page — effectively a totally wasted paid click. Customized landing pages reduce this risk.

For example, an e-mail offer for a discounted travel package would bring the visitor directly to a landing page that reassuringly describes the offer in more detail and provides links to check availability and book the trip. It sounds simple enough, but put yourself in the visitor’s shoes and do a few Web searches of your own. You’ll be surprised at how many merchants still aren’t using landing pages.

Creating a successful landing page isn’t difficult, and you can easily experiment and learn as you go. First, decide on which page you’ll use as the landing page for a specific campaign. You may very well have an existing Web page that you can use (one that’s more specific than your homepage), but if you don’t, consider publishing a new landing page. If that’s the case, keep in mind these 7 best practices:

* Write a clear, concise, and compelling headline and offer copy that speaks to your audience’s problem. For example: “Bank fees got you down? Check out our no-fee guarantee!”
* Include an image along with the offer for visual appeal.
* Reduce or eliminate navigation to keep visitors focused on the goal and reduce distraction.
* Keep the look and feel of your primary Web site so consumers will immediately recognize your brand.
* Don’t forget a compelling call to action that should tie in to the offer. For example, the copy for the no-fee banking offer above could have a call-to-action such as “Apply Now,” or “Sign-Up in 90 Seconds.”
* Minimize data collection as much as possible to decrease abandonment. If you must collect additional information, try moving those fields to a form on a second page; the effect is that by the time visitors click through to this second page, they’ve already built some momentum in the conversion process and are less likely to bail out.
* Whenever asking for personal information, include privacy and security statements to help establish trust.

Landing pages for lead-generation sites typically should focus on a single, specific goal: getting the user to register or submit a lead. These types of landing pages should have a minimum of unrelated navigation or content, and should present only relevant, reassuring messages that encourage visitors to immediately and efficiently take the next step in the registration process. There are many similarities to direct mail. Every piece of literature, every page, every image and every word in a direct mail piece serves a very specific purpose — there’s no waste. Everything is focused on getting the recipient to respond. The same goes with lead-generation landing pages.

Also, remember that you’ll need to include the landing page’s URL in the hyperlink of the message on the referring channel. For example, PPC search, e-mail, and print hyperlinks should all point to your specific landing page.

Once you’ve adopted landing pages as part of your marketing toolbox, you should set your sights on optimizing them for greatest effectiveness. Direct marketers have used A/B split testing for decades to find out which competing ad or sales letter works best, and you can do the same with landing pages.

For example, does putting your product’s price on the landing page drive more sales than if you required the visitor to click onto a subsequent page before showing price? Using A/B testing, or more sophisticated multivariate testing, you can determine exactly which combination of alternate offers, headlines, copy, images and calls-to-action are most persuasive to visitors.

Beyond A/B and multivariate testing, you can also use behavioral targeting techniques to present visitors with landing pages that are customized based on whether the visitor is new vs. returning, time of day or day of week, and so on. Using behavioral targeting along with testing, you can easily optimize offers and other factors that will drive higher conversions and increased loyalty. For example:

* Leverage and test multiple landing page strategies to learn which is most effective on a segment-by-segment basis.
* Dramatically increase leads and conversions generated by PPC traffic, without increasing your SEM budget.
* Identify search terms and keywords that will yield the best quality traffic, then target those segments with specific, highly optimized offers and correlating landing pages.

Landing pages are an important component that should be in every web marketer’s toolbox. Try out the techniques outlined in this article to produce landing pages for your visitors. By optimizing landing pages through the steps of testing and targeting, you’ll not only increase the effectiveness of your Web marketing dollars, but you’ll gain unique and valuable insights into what persuades your visitors to take action.

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Three Hot Trends to Watch Out For

Since the new year is right around the corner, bloggers and marketers alike are posting their predictions as if a psychics convention has come to town. So in keeping with that tradition, I’d like to post a few of my own. But unlike those who post their predictions in point form, I won’t make a specific líst but rather share with you some of my thoughts.

(Near the end, however, this post will culminate in what I believe will be three major trends to watch out for and dive into, if you want to make some serious money in 2008 and beyond.)

First off, let me state that you may or may not agree with me on these. But something is definitely going on right now that points to these three trends. All the clues are pretty evident, and you’ve probably seen some of these yourself.

What I’m talking about is…

… Internet marketing is correcting itself.

When the stock market tumbles, short of a full-on crash, they call it a “correction.” Sometimes it happens precipitously. Other times, it takes place over a period of time.

Likewise, I believe that Internet marketing, right now, is going through a similar correction. It may not be as precipitous as the stock market, but it’s indeed quite significant.

To explain what I mean, let me back up a bit.

If you’ve read Geoffrey Moore’s “Crossing The Chasm”, then you understand the product adoption curve. (In marketing and academic circles, they call it the “Diffusion Process.”)

In plain English, it means that new markets go through a certain adoption process that looks very much like a bell curve.

At first, new products are consumed by the innovators and early adopters (i.e., niche and early markets). They’re the type of people who buy new things the moment they come out.

Then, they are consumed by the majority (i.e., mainstream markets, at the top of the bell curve, where products get widely adopted by the majority of people).

Finally, the laggards make up the late markets. They usually wait until everyone else has tried the products, which are no longer new.

According to Moore, between the niches and the mainstream, there’s a gap. A chasm, as he calls it, especially with technology. It’s where things seem to slow down once a product has saturated the early markets.

But then, after a while, something happens.

The product, if and when it crosses the chasm, enters the mainstream (often called the “middle” or just the “majority”), and becomes widespread.

This is where the bulk of the market lies (about 68% of the market pie, according to studies). And often, it happens fast. Very fast. (For example, Moore’s follow-up book, “Inside the Tornado,” explains this in detail.)

What does this mean in terms of Internet marketing?

It means that the geeks (e.g., the risk-takers, innovators, Internet enthusiasts, and the like) are the first ones to penetrate the Internet market. They set many precedents that shape the way we do business, whether it’s through a new method, software, business model, or teaching.

(That’s why we often call them “gurus.”)

We’ve seen this happen. Top marketers have entered the market, sold many a product, and made massive amounts of money. But now, things are starting to change. We’re hitting – if not crossing – the chasm.

One obvious piece of evidence is the recent flurry of “death of” reports. Whether they’re meant to promote something or not is a moot point.

Clayton Makepeace listed his own predictions recently , and I not only agree with them wholeheartedly but also view them as part of this crossing of the chasm. To me, the most salient point is that only 18% of the world’s population is online – but it’s growing at a rapid rate, particularly in Asia.

If you don’t believe me (or even Clayton), watch this video:

http://www.ted.com/index.php/talks/view/id/92

It’s a presentation by a statistical researcher about income distribution around the globe, and how quickly some countries are growing in terms of wealth and gross national product, once the Internet enters them.

In short, the video shows that the Internet, while still in its infancy, is growing at a rapid rate, and that there is hyper-growth occurring right now in Asian and middle-Pacific countries, such as Singapore, India, and of course, China.

Let me put that aside for just a moment, and share with you a few observations. (I will tie all of this together very shortly, I promise.)

Here’s a question:

Haven’t you noticed lately how Internet marketing seminars are changing?

I mean, for many years seminars were not only filled to the rim but also filled with the usual suspects who seem to congregate there all the time.

I remember going to seminar after seminar, and seeing the same faces over and over again. The same million-dollar marketers. The same “big names.” The same expert speakers. And very few newbies or unknowns.

But in 2007, a shift started to happen. Some of those faces are not showing up at seminars anymore. The number of old-timers seems to be shrinking, while new faces are making their appearances for the first time.

With each passing seminar, it seems, the audience is slowly being replaced with new marketers and total newbies – people who are completely new to Internet marketing and even to the Internet in general.

More and more veteran marketers are retiring. Some are leaving the Internet marketing field altogether. Many are no longer attending seminars, speaking at them, or teaching Internet marketing at all.

Is it because the Internet marketing industry is dying or jumping the shark?

Not at all. Quite the contrary, in fact. While some Internet marketers have moved on, many of them have simply refocused their businesses on those three major markets I was referring to earlier.

To give you a hint, let me tell you a true story…

At the last seminar my wife and I attended, I was surprised to see that the vast majority of attendees was completely new. The event was still packed to the rim (and even bigger than before). But many of them admitted to us that this was the first seminar they’ve ever attended.

In fact, they were so new that, at a previous seminar where my wife and I spoke, we were both surprised by the kinds of questions they asked us.

After speaking on stage and walking towards the back of the room, Sylvie and I were asked questions like, “What is an autoresponder?” Or, “How do you create a text file?” (No joke!)

And it didn’t just happen once or twice. It happened many, many times. And it happened at almost every single seminar we’ve attended or spoke at in 2007.

Now, what does all this mean?

It means several things: Internet marketing is shifting. We are seeing more and more people entering it for the first time. We are seeing less of the successful, seasoned marketers who have made their wealth and moved on.

In other words, what we’re seeing is a shift to people who are completely green, entering the world of Internet marketing, and launching a business online for the very first time – with very limited knowledge about it to boot.

And many of the existing, top marketers we have learned from in the last few years have either retired or decided to go after… well… the “majority!” That is, they are going offline.

Yes, offline.

And that, my friends, is the golden key.

More importantly, we’re seeing – and we’ll see more of – the Asian market, too, entering the Internet marketing sphere.

The more Asian citizens gain access to the web, the more Internet marketing will change, too, to reflect this shift. China, Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, and others are definitely going to be forces to be reckoned with.

We’re seeing this already.

(Sylvie and I are speaking in Singapore next spring, by the way. Some of these events pack as many as 3,000 people.)

Bottom line, these shifts represent not only a major correction affecting the world of Internet marketing, but also show the three major markets to watch out for in the coming year:

The newbie market; The offline market; The Asian market. And that’s my prediction for the new year and beyond. Watch out for these markets. Enter them. Serve them. Or get out of the way.

That said, I do have a few technology-related predictions. (A blog post on new year’s predictions wouldn’t be complete without them, eh?)

Some of the ones I made last year did come true – and we’ll see more and more of them in 2008 as well.

For example, online video will become ubiquitous. The web will become increasingly “widgetized.” People will demand for more simplification. And interactivity will become vastly more popular and sophisticated.

But what about some of the major technology companies?

Well, I hate to make those kinds of predictions because Internet marketing is as volatile as the stock market. But I agree that some major acquisitions are in store for the coming year. My guess? Any one of the following…

AOL by Yahoo!;

Yahoo! by Microsoft; Technorati or SixApart (makers of MovableType and TypePad) by Microsoft or Yahoo! (likely to compete in the blogging space against none other than giants WordPress and Google’s Blogger); Or Facebook – maybe by Microsoft, Yahoo!, or someone else. Speaking of Facebook, whether or not it does get acquired, it’s going to see the same kind of decline in popularity in 2008 that MySpace saw in 2007.

In fact, when my kids got me onto Facebook earlier this year, and I refused at first because I told them I already had a MySpace account, in a pretentious tone they replied, “But Dad, MySpace is soooo last year!”

I think Facebook will face the same fate, I fear. Anyway, there you have it.

Until next time, thank you for your support this year. I appreciate you and wish you a peaceful, healthy, profitable, happy, and prosperous new year!

By Michel Fortin (c) 2008… Go Guardian eCommerce.

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Promoting New Web Sites

A few weeks ago I wrote about building your website from the ground up. This article did not dive into great detail on any specific topics, but rather touched on the key points you will want to address. In this article I will place most of the focus on the promotíon aspect of this previous article. Image of bullhorn saying ‘Promoting Your New Website’

While at times new websites can experience organic search rankings in a matter of months, for the most part, it can take well over a year before you start to see any progress, and that is if you start promoting right away!

SEO
If your new website has not been properly optimized for the search engines, then this is a necessary first step you must take. Ensure that your new site has integrated the appropriate keywords into all the fundamental areas of the site. Without this critical step of optimizing your site, in many cases no level of promotíon will help you get those search rankings.

Note: Extreme numbers of inbound links can sometimes cause an un-optimized site to rank, but an optimized website will seriously reduce the number of links needed, and its associated cost. This varies from industry to industry, but is true as a general rule.

Ideally the optimization of your site occurred during the planning and building stages, but if it did not be sure to get this completed as soon as possible.

Press Releases
The first thing you should do when your site goes live is issue a press release. Be sure to include a link back to your website, preferably with your target phrase hyperlinked as well. Submit this press release to an aggregator such as PRWeb. This will help get the word out that your site is live, draw some attention from the public, and also get you that first valuable link to your website.

Search Engine Submission
These days search engines will find your site on their own, and submitting to them is not necessary. If you feel you must submit your site to the engines, submit it only once and shortly after the site goes live.

In order to help the search engines fully spider your new site, the best thing you can do in terms of submissions, is to create and submit an XML sitemap. Submit this sitemap to your Google Webmaster Tools account, and also be sure to include a call to it within your robots.txt file by adding the following line including a complete path to your sitemap:

Sitemap: http://www.domain.com/sitemap.xml

There are many tools out there to help you build your xml sitemap. Google has placed a líst of some of these tools on their “Third Party Programs” page.

Directory Submission
Back in August I wrote about using Directory Submission to help build links. The general gist of it is to be sure that there is a high level of relevance in the directories you submit your site to, especially if it is a paid directory. Currently DMOZ still has a high level of value as it is seen as a strong authority at Google. Make the attempt to have your site listed here in the most relevant category possible.

Link Building
There are a number of ways you can work to grow your back links. In July I wrote about 13 ways to help build links. Links are one of those strategic tools that won’t ever be a bad investment. Today they play a significant role in search rankings for most industries, especially in Google. While the future will almost undoubtedly still see search value in links, even if that value declines, or disappears entirely, quality links can still help drive traffic as well, and a strong base of inbound links can deliver you customers well into the future.

Explore the different ways to build links to your site. A steady progressive rise in inbound links will help Google look positively in your direction. Do not be afraid of reciprocal links either. If you are trading with highly relevant websites to your industry, then you should have nothing to be afraid of.

Social Media
Promotíon largely consists of building links and becoming recognized by the search engines, but in order to help you build those links, getting your name and brand out there can really do wonders. By increasing awareness of your site and product, the public will often help create the buzz you need, and often, this can result in fresh links to your website.

To help get your site in the eyes of as many people as possible, take a look into Social Media and consider creating profiles on some of the popular platforms. This can include creating a YouTube account and uploading instructional, informational, or interesting product videos. You can set up a Facebook page, and work to build a community around your product. Create a profile page on Squidoo, MySpace, and Flickr, amongst many others.

These pages often act as backlinks to your site, and also help spread awareness. Be sure to keep your social endeavors updated regularly or any viewership you have will dwindle as people lose interest. If you are able to build a strong following, this can result in many individuals linking to your site and spreading the word, resulting in long term benefits for you and your site.

Your use of social media does not have to be exactly about your company. For instance, let’s say you sell cars. Your use of the social platform, while it may note your business, can focus on other car info including trivia, news, photos, etc. The key is to keep it relevant, not identical – you are not looking to create a mirror of your site.

Article Writing
Write articles about the subject of your website and submit them to various services such as EzineArticles. Consider also writing for your blog to help grow your site content. By writing and distributing relevant articles you can create a nice cushion of relevant incoming links. By writing articles that closely match the topic of your site, and including a link back to relevant content within your site, you can help out not only with search engine rankings, but by creating an extra traffic stream for your site.

Pay Per Click
While Pay Per Click (PPC) will not give you many long standing benefits, it can help you to start making sales immediately which in turn can give you the funds needed to promote your site via other means. If you need that immediate traffic, this is one way to get it, but at a cost, and as soon as you stop paying, your traffic stops, so it is far from a reliable long term means. In some industries however, it can pay off, so it is definitely worth considering.

Summary
In general, reference your website everywhere possible. Get links from every relevant source you can think of, issue a press release, and get your site lísted in the key directories for your industry. The more eyes you can put your URL in front of and the more relevant sites you can get to link back to yours, the sooner you will start to see progress in the search engines.

For many industries it can literally take years to get those coveted first page results – in some industries it may be near impossible, but if you want a chance, you need to start promoting that new site of yours immediately.

Scott Van Achte, Senior SEO at StepForth Web Marketing Inc.
Go Guardian eCommerce!

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Four Steps To A Web Site Brand

Do you have a plan? Most companies spend a considerable amount of time, energy, and money planning what to do and how to do it.

Let’s say you need a website, so you develop a plan, present it to a bunch of website designers, and get quotes or proposals. You’re not going to get caught with your pants down like the last time by some nerdy geek, you know the skinny kid with the scraggly beard, whose techno-babble gave you a headache, or the bizarre young lady dressed in gothic chic with the black lipstick and tattoo to match – yikes, no thanks, not this time, this time you got a plan.

You read all the blogs on website design, you know all the ins-and-outs of search engine optimization, and Google Adwords. No one is going to pull a fast one on you. You know your business, your market, and your needs. Or do you?

How much do you really know about how real people interact with your website? How much do you really know about what we call Human Motivational Optimization? All the stats, logs, and number crunching analysis that forms the basis of many website development plans does not truly give you the visceral understanding of how to connect to an audience, and isn’t that what you want your website to do?

So maybe your plan is the wrong plan; it’s like planning a trip to Home Depot to buy a cabbage; it just doesn’t make sense. So how about a plan that does make sense, something simple, understandable, easy to implement, that is if you hire the right people to do it. But before we tell you the four steps to creating your very own Website Branding Plan, let’s talk about Don LaFontaine.

Chances are you don’t know who the late Don LaFontaine was, but you’ve heard his voice many, many times. Don was the most famous and influential voice behind thousands of movie and television trailers. He had a distinctive deep, gravely voice, and a writing style that reinvented the entire movie trailer format. But why should you care? Simple. Movie trailers are the ultimate elevator pitch, a short memorable performance that compels you to action, kind of like what a mission statement is suppose to do, but I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s start at the beginning, or rather, the end.

Branding Starts With Thinking Backwards: Most people like to start a project at the beginning and work their way through until they reach the end. Makes sense, or does it? If you don’t start with where you want to end-up, it’s unlikely you’ll ever get where you want to go. Remember our cabbage? Planning a shopping to trip to Home Depot because they got cool stuff, doesn’t help if what you want is a cabbage.

Branding is no different. If you don’t start with how you want your audience to think about you, they will probably never think about you at all. So now that we got that straight let’s start our plan where it makes sense, the end.

The 4 Step Web-Branding Plan…

1 – The Slogan:

Your slogan, you know the thing that sits underneath your logo, that simple little phrase somebody in your office came up with that makes you sound important, stuff like “the cool air conditioning company.” Most small and medium size companies don’t think too hard about this little marketing gem, and as a result they either have something really cheesy, or some meaningless platitude that has no memorable meaning at all, like “the best people for the best job.”

Just because you’re small and don’t have millions of dollars to spend on television ads promoting your pithy little motto, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have one. That catchphrase is who you are, and how you want people to remember you, short, memorable, and to the point. I remember my sons arguing over some complicated bit of business when one of them in frustration finally said, “Enough already. Give it to me in one word or less!” a demand to articulate what was important without all the peripheral issues; a lesson all businesses should pay attention to.

2 – The Story Line (Logline):

To my mind, mission statements are a totally dysfunctional marketing element, misused and abused by a bean-counter attitude, born out of trying to squeeze every last drop of information into a statement that won’t offend anybody. A wise man once said, “If what you’re saying doesn’t offend somebody, maybe you’re not saying anything” and most mission statements that are full of meaningless platitudes and toned-down amendments, fall into the category of not saying anything, at least, anything worth hearing.

Okay so let’s forget about mission statements, after all this isn’t the military, and we’re not planning the next Desert Storm. Instead let’s think loglines, or what you can think of as your brand story line.

You know those short statements you find in TV Guide, or your weekend television insert, prompting you to watch the next episode of ‘House,’ or ‘Desperate Bimbos.’ They are a short form text version of a trailer, intended to get you to watch the movie or television show. For our purposes, we want people to go to our website, and stay-tuned long enough to get our core marketing message, and not walk out half way through the presentation. So, how do we do that?

The Six Elements of Effective Web Trailers: In order for us to come up with a compelling statement that prompts people to view our website presentation, we need to refer back to our old pal Don LaFontaine. What if Don LaFontaine wrote our website trailer. How would he do it?

Don had a very distinctive style that you’ve heard a thousand times for a thousand different movies, but they all followed a similar format. Each trailer needs to cover six distinct elements, who, what, where, how, why, and when. All the things businesses should be presenting in their elevator pitch, but with one extra ingredient, personality.

Here’s the format used in many movie trailers: “In a place (where), one man (who) brings stability to chaos (what), in an epic tale that will both amaze and inspire (why)! Coming soon (when) to a theatre near you.” Sound familiar?

Let’s take our air conditioning example, you remember, “the cool air conditioning company.” Let’s say our fictitious company is called Kool Air Conditioning, their website trailer might sound something like this:

“In a town where summer heat melts the cool of the coolest homeowners, one air conditioning company comes to the rescue. When the mercury rises to eye-popping, mind numbing numbers, the men from Kool spring into action, bringing relief to the sweltering masses. The Kool Guys will amaze you with their prompt service and installation know-how. The heat is on. It’s coming sooner than you think; it’s coming this summer to your town, your neighborhood; your house. Kool, the cool air conditioning company.”

Over-the-top? Maybe, but we’ve covered all the bases, we know who (Kool), what (air conditioning), when (this summer), where (your house), why (the heat) and how (prompt service and installation know-how). Now that’s a mission statement; one with a little style, panache, and personality; one that will get you remembered and prompt your audience to action.

3 – The Personality:

Movies like businesses all fall into certain genres or categories. There’s the action movie format that’s suitable for sports related businesses, the chick flick style that’s ideal for cosmetic or fashion industry businesses, and the family comedy format suitable for entertainment and recreation based companies, and of course the kids movie version perfect for any business selling things for children. The point is that every company and website has to have a personality.

Many hardnosed business executives scoff at the idea of spending money on such seemingly trivial marketing concepts as company personality, but ignoring your website persona, is a big mistake. You can either invest a little in developing, creating, managing, and promoting this personality or you can let the marketplace decide for itself, o
r worse, find you completely redundant and irrelevant.

4 – The Delivery:

You may be asking yourself, this sounds good on paper, but can it really be done, and can it be done for my business, on my website? The answer is damn straight it can. Like most things in life, and in business, it’s not grasping the concept tha’s so hard, it’s implementing it.

With a little investment and a willingness to take some chances, you can be the market leader. But if you thought you could simply take your newly created movie trailer style website elevator pitch and slap it onto your website in text form, you would be mistaken. How you deliver the message is as important, and in many cases more important, than what you say.

Whether you sell lipstick, licorice, or lingerie, you probably have lots of competition, so how you deliver your message is what’s going to make the difference.

You want your website presentation to motivate people to email or phone. You want to deliver a compelling performance that is more than a sales pitch, a presentation that uses voice, visuals, words, and music to create a website personality, a lasting impression; one that is going to allow you to stand out from the crowd and give you a competitive advantage.

Nothing will convince better than seeing an actual example, and guess what, we just happen to be able to provide you with one: check out SonicPersonality.com and see what an effective website presentation sounds like. If nothing else, you may get a chuckle or two.

By Jerry Bader (c) 2009

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Internet Marketing Strategy For Tough Times

As we enter into what many enlightened souls are calling the most dire economic times since the Great Depression, online marketers need all the help they can get – regardless of the source. You have probably heard of Google; but chances are almost 100% certain, you have never heard of me. Lucky you!

Actually, the only thing you need to know about me is that I am a full-time online affiliate marketer and I make a very comfortable living from the web. Last year (2008), was my best year online so far, which left me scratching my head and saying what recession?

But that may be something of a false positive, as I will never know how much I could have made if the economic times had been good instead of bad. Plus, judging from my own limited experience, selling and marketing online may not have been hit as hard as those businesses in the real world in 2008, since consumers are doing everything to save a penny and shopping online has become a much cheaper alternative for many.

As we enter into these uncertain times, online marketers and webmasters need all the help they can get. Recently, Google mailed a small booklet to its Adsense users; in it Google gives “6 Top Tactics For Tough Times.” It is obviously referring to its Adwords PPC (Pay Per Click) program and clients but Google’s advice can be applied to your general online marketíng.

These tactics include: (quoting directly from the Google mail-out)

1. Focus your ads on low prices and savíngs.
2. Use Value-related keywords.
3. Ensure your ad groups are targeted and relevant.
4. Don’t waste money on irrelevant clicks.
5. Make it easy for customers to buy.
6. Focus your money on your high-performers. (End Quote)

Sound advice and I especially like the idea of focusing your marketing on low prices and savíngs mainly because people want bargains in tight economic times. I also like the fact that you must make it easy for your customers to buy… something as simple as putting your “order/buy link” above the fold can improve your conversions.

Also, targeting value-related keywords, is a very effective marketing tactic. Relating your keywords to “discounts, bargains, cheap, inexpensive, lowest prices…” will help improve your sales. So too, is catering to phrases that suggest the searcher is in a buying mind-set: gifts, presents, gift ideas, wedding gifts… shoppers searching those words are ready to buy.

Plus, focusing your time and money on your high-performers is solid advice. Sometimes succeeding online is simply finding a market niche that works/performs – then running with it. Once you have found the keywords and products that perform well with your site or sites – focus the majority of your time and energy developing those niche markets.

Now here are some of my most effective marketing tactics that have worked for me and tactics I will be relying on in the coming years – even in these hard times.

Make Keywords Your #1 Goal: This is the single most important factor for my own online success. You have to make keywords and ranking high for them in all the search engines your main objective if you’re marketing online. Might sound obvious, but many beginning marketers don’t truly understand how important getting top rankings for your chosen keywords will be in your online success.

Target less competitive long tail (multi-worded) keywords to get started and slowly work your way up to more popular keywords. Center your marketing around getting those first page listings (Top Five) for your keywords. Achieve this goal, (especially in Google) and it will be almost impossible for you not to succeed and make a profit with your online marketing even in bad times.

Autoresponders, Líst Building & Online Relationships: Keeping in contact with potential buyers is mission critical. You must use autoresponders to send follow-up messages to build trustful relationships with your potential customers.

So building a large contact líst is essential. That’s why the social networks such as Twitter, Facebook, MySpace can be very effective marketing tools for building this online contact and trust. Truth be told, all these social networks are, more or less, just glorified autoresponders and líst builders!

Your Unique Selling Position: You must give potential customers some very good reasons for them to buy from you or your links. Offering special bonuses and discounts works wonders for your sales. Some of my most successful pages simply consist of coupons and discounts offered by different companies. If buyers can save $100’s OFF by buying thru your links, they will.

Always remember, besides looking for the best deal or bargain, consumers are also looking for a quality product. If you’re into affiliate marketing, only pick top quality products to promote. Picking top brand names also makes it easier to make sales. So too is only promoting popular online merchants like Amazon which can be an effective marketing strategy. Most importantly, always remember consumers are also looking for INFORMATION on the products they are considering buying, give them helpful information and you will succeed.

Go With The Flow: If you’re marketing online, you have to follow what’s working for you. Most times you will try countless ideas or tactics – once you have found a process or system that works, really work it or scale it up. Making your first dollar is the hardest, but once you do something that earns you that dollar, just repeat that “something” a thousand times.

Tracking what works is very important so keep a close eye on your site’s traffic logs to find where your customers are coming from. Something like Google Analytics is simply priceless for “fine-tuning” your site and your internet marketing. It will tell you what’s working and what’s not.

Target Recurring or Residual Income: One of my most effective marketing strategies is to promote and sell products and services that give you a recurring or residual income. Make one sale and get paíd for years or for the life of that referred client. Concentrate on services like web-hosting, telephone, marketing programs… once customers sign up to these services, they will likely keep them for years. I am still earning income from sales I made five years ago.

Building a large residual income could be the key to surviving in tough economic times. This will be income which will carry you or your business over the rough patches since it is based upon past performance and not on your current selling situation.

Automate Everything: The real beauty of marketing online and using computers… you can automate just about every process in your marketing system. Make it a point of automating everything you do… use autoresponders to follow-up with potential buyers, use automatic check-outs, automatic reporting… just set-up your whole internet marketing system that runs itself with little or no supervision from you. This will free up your time to concentrate all your efforts on marketing/promoting your site or product. Besides, nothing beats coming back from a vacatíon and finding out you have earned the cost of your vacatíon and then some – all the while you were lying in the sun and miles away from any computer.

Find The Top Online Marketers: If you’re just starting with internet marketing, you need to find the top successful marketers and “model” what they’re doing. This is relatively a new industry and you have to seek out the experts and pioneers who have set the groundwork. When I first started marketing online, I was quite fortunate to come into contact with some web marketing heavy-weights such as Marlon Sanders, Ken Evoy, Neil Shearing… and SEO experts like Brad Callen and Aaron Wall.

Make Google Your Friend: Whether you love or hate Google doesn’t matter, you just have to make it your number one ally in your online marketíng. Google has just about conquered the worl
d-wide search market, Yahoo and MSN are still important, but Google is the deal-breaker when you’re selling stuff online. Consumers have enormous respect for Google, a number one listing for a lucrative keyword simply means money in the bank.

I have found using Google Search, Google Adwords, and Google Adsense have played a more than significant role in the success of my own online sites and marketing. Google tools such as Google Analytics, Google Alerts, Webmaster Tools… all have been invaluable and an enormous help in achieving my “web-based” lifestyle and livelihood. Of course, Google has also driven me around the bend more times than I can count, but no one is perfect. Besides, when it’s all said and done, anyone marketing on the web must truly embrace Google if they want to reach their highest level possible.

Titus Hoskins (c) 2009

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Top Ten Search Engine Myths

We’ve all done it at some point in our professional lives. We search a keyword that describes our business only to scratch our head as to how our competitor’s website shows up on the top of the líst instead of ours. If you’ve gone one step further and read about Search Engine Optimization, then surely you have come across the conflicting information online.

One article tells you to do one thing while another tells you to do the opposite. Which one should you believe?

This gray area of what you should or should not do is much like the modern day “Bat Cave.” If you are lucky enough to stumble upon it, chances are you don’t quite know how you got there and if you had to go back one day you would probably just find yourself lost in the woods.

So what should you believe? The general rule is to combine what you read or heard with what you have experienced and somewhere in there lies the truth. To get you started, let’s debunk some of the more commonly used myths floating around.

1) Use a Keyword Rich Domain Name: It is widely believed that if you include your keywords in your domain name like www.professional-website-design-in-nj.com it will greatly improve your rankings. This is not true. It is best to choose a domain name that is short, easy to remember and if possible includes your company name.

2) Google Partnership: If you are ever approached by a company claiming to have a partnership with Google, run in the opposite direction. There is no such thing as a “preferred” relationship with Google and in fact on Google’s website it even states: Beware of SEOs that claim to guarantee rankings, allege a “special relationship” with Google, or advertise a “priority submit” to Google.

3) Meta Keyword Tag: It used to be that the Meta Keyword Tag was given a lot of weight in the early days of Search Engine Optimization, but people abused it and now it does very little. You may still want to include your keywords here, but know that it will not do much and in fact most search engines won’t even check it.

4) Bold or Italicized Text: Adding emphasis to certain keywords like using bold or italics can make your text easier to scan for the reader if done properly, but has little to no effect on your search engine ranking.

5) Content Length: There is no search engine rule stating that your content needs to be a specific number of words in order to get indexed. Any recommended length is more to assist the reader in understanding what you do than to aid the search engines.

6) Duplicate Content: Posting specific content like an article or blog entry on your site and then on another site will not get you penalized. In the search results, Google will recognize that the content is the same and only choose one of the pages to display, but it will not hurt your overall search engine ranking.

7) Avoid Flash: Any text that you place in Flash will not be readable by a search engine, but this doesn’t mean you have to avoid flash altogether. You can still very successfully incorporate Flash into your site through rotating pictures or a header on the page. Just don’t have an all Flash site or use a Flash intro if you are interested in increasing your search engine rankings.

8) Pay-Per-Click: Some say that using Pay-Per-Click will help your organic listing while others say it will hurt. Both are false. The fact is that Google has gone to great lengths to separate the two departments of organic and paid listings to a point where the two departments don’t communicate or even sit at the same table for lunch.

9) Update the Site Frequently: Updating your site often is a good idea if you have something new to say. Just don’t change around a few words to accommodate the search engines as that won’t help your listing at all. Regularly adding legitimate content like articles, press releases and blog entries will help though.

10) Doorway Pages: Many companies will sell this idea of increasing your ranking by creating hundreds of one page sites loaded with keywords that link to you from various domains. This is considered spamming the search engine and is not recommended. If you properly optimize your site and focus on the correct way to get listed, you will improve your ranking much quicker than these doorway pages ever could.

Of course there are many other myths out there confusing the general public about what works and what doesn’t work. Some of them are spread by people who don’t really know the truth and others are spread by SEO companies in an attempt to make search engine optimization confusing… mission accomplished!

Regardless of where the myths come from, if you or the SEO Company you hire use common sense and do things the right way, you will have no trouble finding the proverbial Bat Cave and when you get there please tell them that I want my utility belt back!

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Bounce Rates Count

Of late there has been a lot of discussion about bounce rates and whether or not the search engines count these in their algorithms. As far back as late 2007, there were reports that webmasters were seeing a difference in their rankings for major keywords within a few weeks of drastically changing their bounce rates. However, none of the tests and reports seem to be complete enough or repeatable enough to constitute proof.

As a result, there are plenty of naysayers who believe that such things as bounce rates are not now and probably won’t ever be part of the search engine algorithms.
I am of the opposite view; bounce rates will certainly be part of the search engine algorithms and probably already are.

What I would like to do here is share with you some of the common naysayer objections and refute all but one of them. But first, for those who are scratching their heads about what bounce means, we are referring to people leaving a website. A bouncy website is the opposite of a sticky website, one where people stay a long time.

Objection 1: There is no definition of “bounce rate”.
Response: This is the flimsiest of arguments. A bounce is when someone leaves a website, going back where they came from.

Objection 2: I don’t like how Google Analytics defines a bounce.
Response: Sadly, Google doesn’t ask me for advice, either. But cheer up, the bounce rate in Google Analytics might not be the same as they use in their algorithm, just as the little green bar is not necessarily the PageRank they use in their algorithm.

Objection 3: Many sites don’t have Google Analytics turned on, so Google would have very incomplete data.
Response (scratching my head in confusion): What does Google Analytics have to do with anything? This is about Google (or Yahoo, or MSN, or Ask, or some other) tracking their own traffic and how their own users move about and – most importantly – how their users return to their website.

Objection 4: What is the threshold for a bounce? After 5 seconds? After 10 seconds? After 15 seconds? This is a mess! (This is often part of the how-do-we-define-a-bounce debate.)
Response: A bounce is a bounce, whether it takes a person one second or one hour to bounce back, it is a bounce. How the search engines choose to treat bounces with varying lag times is another matter. Let’s be clear; they won’t tell you, just as they won’t tell you how many links on a page they index, how many they follow and how many they count in their ranking algorithms. Furthermore, it is a moving target. Just like every other algorithm input, bounce rates and bounce lag times will not be treated in the exact same way one day to the next.

Objection 5: What if people quickly click on an external link and leave my site? They found the site useful because they found a useful link on it, but they bounced.
Response: That is not a bounce, that’s a referral. A bounce is when someone hits the back button.

Objection 6: What if the user quickly closes the window?
Response: That could be any number of things, but it is not a bounce. Who can guess how the search engines might treat that, or even if they treat it at all. However, it need not be considered a bounce unless the search engines believe it should be.

Objection 7: Doesn’t a bounce mean the person has found what they want? Can’t a bounce sometimes be good?
Response: Sometimes, perhaps, but rarely. After 5 seconds, a person has no time to read a page. After 30 seconds, they might have found something useful. So lag times matter. More importantly, the search engines can determine what a person does next. If a person returns to the search results and clicks on another link, that is a sign they did not find what they want. If they return to the search results and conduct a similar search, that might also be a sign they did not find what they want. If they return to the search results and conduct an unrelated search, that might be a sign that they found what they want. Search engines can weigh various bounces in light of the user’s next action.

Objection 8: For some searches, people look for multiple sources, such as comparing prices, comparing products, seeking varying opinions, etc. Too many sites would be penalized if all those bounces were to be counted in the rankings.
Response: This is an example of false logic. If someone clicks on one website, then bounces, clicks on another website, then bounces, clicks on another website then bounces…all the high-ranking websites for that particular search query would be equally affected. Nobody would suffer a ranking disadvantage because rankings are relative.

Objection 9: Can’t I just set up a bot to visit all my top competitors and leave their site after varying numbers of seconds to make it appear that their sites are all bouncy.
Response: Yes, you can. And you can get very creative. I have even heard of couriers in China travelling from one Internet café to another to click on a particular site as a means of increasing its rankings. I have no answer for this, other than that the search engines will have to control for this, just as they have found ways to control for automated link-building.

So have no fear. Good websites that provide what their visitors want or who help them find what they want will prosper. Sticky SEO looks at conversions and stickiness as integral elements to SEO. Cheap sites that do a lot of link-building – bouncy SEO – counting on large volumes of traffic to offset poor conversion rates, will suffer – because the search engines will stop sending them that traffic. It’s just a matter of time. Or perhaps it has already started.

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The Fact And Fiction Of Online Shipping Costs

You search, you find, you click “buy.” Your e-commerce quest is nearly complete. You get to that checkout screen, and you think it’s all good. Then the shipping charges get tacked onto your total, and you’re left thinking that US$9.95 deal didn’t end up being such a bargain after all.

Then there are those times when you need to make sure your package gets to its destination before the holidays — a day late makes it a wasted effort. So you fork over the few extra dollars to guarantee the delivery date — but did you really need to do that?

Countless online shoppers are asking themselves whether paying a premium for express shipping and handling fees is really necessary. After all, there have been many times when they’ve ordered an item for the “week-to-10-day” delivery and received it within three business days without paying the premium.

So what gives? You might think the retailer is charging extra for a service you don’t need, and that it’s all a sales ploy to hit unsuspecting consumers with extra charges just to beef up profit margins.

However, shipping and handling is a growing expense for retailers, and in these trying economic times especially, it’s hitting their bottom lines more than ever.

“We work with many major retailers and can tell you that the vast majority lose money on shipping, especially during the holidays,” Fiona Dias, executive vice president of partner strategy and marketing for GSI Commerce, a specialist in online business services More about business services, said.

The reason retailers are willing to take the hit on shipping and handling is that shipping costs represent the single biggest deterrent for consumers shopping online, Dias explained. “They pretty much have to offer free shipping or add constraints — such as a minimum purchase amount.”

With the tumbling stock market last fall, retailers actually “took a bath on shipping,” she added. “Then [the] Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays were more compressed. [To encourage purchases,] retailers were either offering express delivery for free or subsidizing it greatly.”

Today’s price-sensitive consumers, for their part, are being extra careful when assessing shipping costs for an online purchase, confirmed Kevin Brown, director of marketing for Newgistics, a transportation system provider.

“They didn’t think anything about shipping and handling costs. Today, a lot more that used to want next-day delivery now realize that five days is fine. They’ve decided they paid a premium for something they didn’t really need.”

These perceptions about gouging consumers on shipping and handling may have come from other retail channels, such as infomercials, where unsuspecting shoppers have sometimes been hit hard with hidden costs after placing that order for those too-good-to-be-true deals.

The online flower delivery business, for example, is another industry that may have gotten a bad rep when it comes to charging express premiums, Aron Benon, CEO of HonestFlorist.com, said. “A lot of ‘practices’ weren’t up to where they should be,” he explained “There were florists that charged extra for express delivery. That’s ridiculous [in some cases], because delivery could usually be made within four hours anyway. Some have made a lot of money in shipping and handling.”

Today, the only premium that should be paid is for a guaranteed delivery time, according to Benon. “You can assume it will get there in reasonable time, but a premium will get you that guarantee if you need it.”

If there is confusion among consumers about shipping costs, it’s more around setting expectations, Dias said. “The No. 1 call center complaint is the ‘where’s my order’ inquiry.” That’s one of the main reasons why retailers will tend to overestimate the standard shipping times. “It’s better to under-promise and over-deliver,” she said. “If you say it will take a week and the package comes in four days, then you have a happy customer. If you say it will be four days and it’s longer, a disappointed shopper is complaining to your call center.”

As far as express shipping is concerned, the extra costs are necessary since retailers need to use more expensive delivery services versus the U.S. Postal Service More about USPS.

“It’s less about the labor and more about the carrier,”” Dias said. “Sending through the US Postal Service is cheap. But once you get to UPS or Fedex, there is a lot more involved.”

Given the fluctuations in fuel prices and the like, retailers have had to absorb those transportation costs, Brown added. “You’re not seeing those rate increases being passed on to the consumer, which means costs are going up on the retail side. There’s a point consumers won’t go beyond, and shipping fees is one.” There are a number of things online retailers can do to avoid problems and keep customer expectations in line.

One is to provide clear messaging on your site about shipping options, associated costs and delivery times. During holidays, spell out deadline dates for orders to avoid disappointment.

Second, do not put items on the site that aren’t in stock. “I’m not a big fan of back orders,” Dias said. “If it’s not in inventory, let people know before they get to the shopping cart.”

Third is to have a system in place to fulfill orders in a timely fashion. Where deliveries may have to cover lots of ground, partner with someone that offers regional warehousing services. On-site pickup at a store is an option that has proven very successful for retailers like Sears and Nordstrom, Dias said.

Providing visibility into shipments on the move can also ease consumers’ minds and reduce the load on call centers. “It can cost $4 to $5 per call for a customer service engagement,” Brown explained. “If consumers can track a shipment themselves, that can help reduce that cost.”

For shoppers who are simply unhappy about shipping and handling fees, Avivah Litan, senior analyst for Gartner who offered the following advice: “Remember, it’s a free world. If you don’t like shipping terms on a site, shop somewhere you do.”

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