iMarket Solutions Blog : Archive for December, 2010

Can Google Read Websites Built in Tables?

Wednesday, December 22nd, 2010

Google can read tables, and sometimes it does, but it would prefer not to.

“Tables” refers to a group of HTML commands that are used to set up a grid on a webpage, and then to specify where and how text and images should be displayed on the grid. In the early days of the web, tables were the tool of choice for laying out web pages.

For many years now, though, good websites have been built using a much more efficient layout system called CSS (Cascading Style Sheets). Essentially, Cascading Style Sheets are a master template that “cascades” through every page of a website, standardizing the colors, fonts, and layout for the entire site. (Tables still are used for showing actual tabular data, like comparison charts, but everything else is left to CSS.)

There are four important benefits to CSS:

  • CSS makes a website completely consistent – which makes it look really sharp and clean and professional.
  • CSS makes it much easier to adjust the look and feel of a website – you only have to make changes once in the master CSS template, instead of having to change each page of the site individually. (Those of us who were around for the very early days of the web remember how excruciating this was!)
  • CSS makes a website load much faster – the browser only has to read and interpret the layout instructions once and execute them for the entire site, instead of reading and executing them separately for each page.
  • CSS makes it much easier for Google to find and catalogue the actual text content of each page. If a website is built using tables, there are a lot of HTML commands at the beginning of every page to structure the layout, and then there are more HTML commands interspersed throughout the text to make sure that everything appears in the right spot. To figure out what your website is about, Google has to wade through all this bulky HTML – but Google has millions of websites to visit and probably won’t take the time.

Google’s mission is simple: to give people what they’re looking for on the web. It wants to list websites that are up-to-date, easy and pleasant to use, and that provide users with the information they need. A website built in tables is much less likely to have a good Google ranking because it’s old-fashioned, slow and tedious to use, and has content that’s hard for Google’s “spiders” to read and evaluate.

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How to Encourage People to Connect to You on Social Media – a.k.a. Let Me Bribe You to Become My Friend

Wednesday, December 15th, 2010

Some people, especially satisfied and loyal customers, will become your Facebook Fans simply because you ask them to. But many people are starting to become a little jaded and wary when it comes to online contacts. They have suffered too many spam attacks and received too many urgent fundraising emails, and they want to be sure that it’s worth their while before they give away their online contact information.

A recent Dilbert cartoon showed Dilbert bribing a woman in his office to become his Facebook Friend, making her a “Frienditute”. As long as you do good work and treat your customers well, Frienditution won’t be necessary, but when you ask people to become your Fan or Follower, you will probably need to follow it up with a value proposition of some kind. This basic proposition should be part of your “please become our Fan on Facebook” speech that you’ve trained all your employees to give.

Your Facebook/Twitter value proposition can be simple and doesn’t have to cost more than your usual advertising:

  • You’ll offer tips to help people save money and avoid expensive repairs (this only costs the time it takes to write and post the tips on Facebook or Twitter)
  • You’ll offer Facebook- or Twitter-only specials (you probably offer specials periodically anyway – this is just a different place to publish them)

If you’re finding that your basic value proposition isn’t sufficient to overcome people’s reserve, you can offer people specific rewards for signing up, such as:

  • A coupon that they’ll get immediately when they “Like” your Facebook page or sign up to follow you on Twitter. The better this coupon is, the more Fans/Followers you’re likely to get.
  • A year’s membership in your service plan. (This will not only be a great enticement to “Like” your Facebook page; it will also build repeat business by showing customers the value of your plan.)

Of course, whenever you offer coupons or specials, especially big-ticket ones, you want to offer them for a product or service you want to get people excited about/hooked on anyway.

You can also offer people something that has absolutely nothing to do with HVAC, plumbing, or electrical services. This will be appealing to the many people who hire you because they are not actually interested in the mechanical aspects of their homes – and who may not get that excited about coupons for services.

For example:

  • You can team up with another local business to offer coupons or gift cards. (A great choice is to work with a business that sells products that appeal to women, since women are often the decision-makers when it comes to services for the home. What woman will be able to resist a coupon to a local spa?)
  • You can enter your new Facebook Fans/Twitter Followers into a drawing for something really exciting. For example, one of our clients has a drawing every month to give major league baseball tickets to one of their new Facebook Fans. This is a great choice, even for female customers – a lot of women are sports fans, and those who are not will feel like heroes when they present the tickets to friends or family members.

One caution: you should only offer major coupons or other big-ticket items as incentives if you have a well-developed plan for your Facebook Page – that is, only if you already have an outside provider or have designated someone on your staff to be responsible for updating your Page regularly. Otherwise, you may be wasting your marketing dollars developing a channel you won’t use.

But here’s a Facebook/Twitter development strategy that is always worthwhile, even if you never use Facebook or Twitter again: connect your social media efforts to local charities. For example, a local bank in our area is donating $5 to the local animal shelter for every person who becomes a Fan of their Facebook Page. Another organization in our community is giving a pair of warm winter gloves filled with candy to needy kids for every new Fan. Both campaigns got free front-page mention in our city’s newspaper, including the actual URLs where people could go to sign up.

This is a win on so many levels!

  • You help a charity you care about
  • You build up a Fan and Follower base
  • You’ll attract people who may not know much about you but who care about the charity – and then you’ll be able to use your social media posts to win them over as customers
  • You’ll enhance your reputation in the community
  • You may get free publicity in your local paper (especially if you send out a press release)
  • You’ll get great word-of-mouth publicity – all the people who work for/care about the charity in question will talk it up to their friends and neighbors
  • You’ll do all this for the cost of a donation that you would probably have made anyway

We can’t recommend this strategy enough. Be creative, have fun, and do some good this holiday season!

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iMarket Featured in Contractor Magazine’s Coverage of QSC CONNECT 2010

Wednesday, December 8th, 2010

iMarket got some great press in the December 2010 issue of Contractor Magazine, a leading trade publication for mechanical contractors. We were featured in an article (“CONNECT 2010 Gives Contractors Insights into Business Planning, Social Media”) about the recent QSC CONNECT 2010 conference, where iMarket’s sessions on web design, online marketing, and social media contributed to an intensive few days of seminars and networking.

Contractor Magazine’s coverage focused particularly on the issues of social media and blogging, which are relatively new marketing channels – and which therefore can be challenging to the layperson. Contractor Magazine reported that the iMarket sessions helped contractors make sense of the brave new world of online marketing by highlighting the essentials: regular, frequent updates to website content, blog posts, and social media sites. Social media, iMarket presenters explained, is a great way to get more “mileage” out of website content by re-using it in a different channel. It’s also a fantastic source of free (!) leads. However, the article emphasized iMarket President Nadia Romeo’s warning that content posted to social media sites must be be sincere and personal, rather than “advertorial” or slickly sales-oriented.

Contractor Magazine reported that contractors at CONNECT 2010 were excited about the possibilities offered by blogs and social media, and that some who had blogs they’d allowed to lie dormant were inspired to start posting new content every week.

Contractor Magazine is a leading trade publication for mechanical contractors in the plumbing, heating, piping, and fire protection industries. Launched in 1954, it has grown to a monthly circulation of 50,000.
The online version of the article can be found at http://contractormag.com/news/connect-2010-1234/.

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Launch of iMarket Solutions Noted on Contractor Magazine’s “Technology One-Stop” Webpage

Wednesday, December 8th, 2010

Contractor Magazine’s online “Technology One-Stop” page featured a short article on the development and launch of iMarket Solutions: “iMarket Solutions Offers Websites, Online Marketing for Service Businesses”. The article highlighted the complementary expertise of iMarket’s three founders: industry consultant Gary Elekes, HVAC sales executive Nadia Romeo, and online marketing expert Andrew Allen. It outlined iMarket’s online marketing strategy, which emphasizes local search as the most cost-effective online marketing channel for most contracting businesses. The article also noted that iMarket offers a wide range of services designed to make online marketing accessible and affordable for service companies of all sizes.

Check out the article at: http://contractormag.com/technology/iMarket-solutions-1234/

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How do I get Friends, Fans, and Followers?

Wednesday, December 1st, 2010

It’s simple. Ask.

And, keep in mind the old German saying: Fragen kostet nichts. It doesn’t cost anything to ask. It doesn’t cost anything to ask people to be your Facebook Fans. Or at least, it doesn’t have to cost very much.

Now, of course, because you’re a business, you’re not looking for Facebook Friends – those are for your personal profile. What you’re after is Fans (people who “Like” your Facebook Page) and, if you have a Twitter account, Followers for it.

There are all kinds of elaborate, even high-tech, strategies for increasing your Fans and Followers. We’ll talk about them next week, and you can implement some of them if you want. But start with the low-hanging fruit: use your existing channels of communication.

There are lots of ways your business already communicates with customers and prospects, such as:

  • Your company website
  • Yellow Pages advertising
  • Other print advertising (newspapers, etc)
  • Broadcast media (TV, radio)
  • Print or email newsletters
  • Sales brochures and business cards
  • Bills/invoices
  • Door hangers
  • Refrigerator magnets
  • The sides of your company trucks
  • Your dispatchers and techs, who talk to your customers every day…

You get the idea.

Use all these communication channels to let people know that your business is on Facebook and/or Twitter, and then simply ask people to connect with you.

Here’s how:

  • Add Facebook and/or Twitter icons to your email newsletters and to every page of your website, and ask your customers to become your Fans and Followers. Customers who are already online only need to click a few times to seal the deal. This is the most opportune time to make the request, because you’re asking them to do something easy. (Want some suggestions for how to do this? See the bottom right of our homepage, or scroll down to the bottom of this post. You can download Facebook and Twitter icons from the Help section of each website. Note that when you use the icons, you may not change the way they look.)
  • Get your own “vanity URL” for your Facebook Page (a personalized web address that contains the name of your business, i.e. http://www.facebook.com/cocacola). Then, publish your Facebook address everywhere you publish your company name – in all of the media listed above. Let people know that you’re out there on Facebook. When the moment is right, be more explicit about what you want – specifically ask people to visit your Facebook page and “Like” it.
  • A great moment for asking customers to connect to your Facebook page is right after they’ve indicated to you that they are happy with the work you’ve done. Say, “We’re glad you’re satisfied! The best way to thank us is to go online and become a Fan of our Facebook Page and tell your Friends about us.”

All these methods are easy and cheap. You make a simple addition to your website; when you use up your current supply of sales materials and invoice forms, you add your Facebook and Twitter information to them for the next print run; when you record your next TV or radio ad, you include your social media contact information in the script. Probably the most expensive change will be to paint your Facebook URL on the side of your trucks.

And of course your conversations with your customers are absolutely free – and those are by far the most effective way to increase your Friends, Fans, and Followers. So if you do nothing else, make sure you teach all your employees how to give your “please become a Fan of our Facebook page” spiel.

Of course, as the parent of any small child knows, sometimes asking is more effective when followed by an incentive. Next week we’ll talk about how to use incentives to increase your Friends, Fans, and Followers.



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