November 2008

A Great New Client Site And A Chance For Us To Do It All!

Web site design for small business by Solas Web Design

My favorite projects are the ones where we get to do it all, bring all our skills into play for a smart, appreciative and motivated client. We are very proud to announce the launch of a terrific new website for our client, Jon Quast of Quast Automotive Auto Repair Garage in Hayward, WI.

If you need auto repairs in Hayward, this is the guy to go to. Jon Quast seriously knows his stuff and is the most caring, studious, inquisitive auto mechanic I’ve ever spoken to. He’s a problem-solver and feels a real responsibility for the safety and performance of his customers’ cars. He’s very serious about serving his neighbors well. And, he isn’t just repairing their transmissions and doing engine work; Quast Automotive’s website features a blog and a very meaty informational page about improving your car’s gas mileage.

With gas prices being what they are these days, any driver should learn what they can about getting the best possible gas mileage and Jon Quast has made it his mission to use his website to teach people about this subject which is a consuming passion for him. While building QuastAutoRepair.com, I learned a ton of information about easy things you can do to get better MPGs, as well as investments you can make in technologies like HAFC/PICC that are capable of giving even SUVs 100 miles per gallon! In short, I learned quite a bit from this knowledgeable small business owner and his wisdom about gas mileage has the ability to extend the usefulness of his new website beyond simply doing local auto repairs to instructing a national audience on a subject of very timely interest.

Our Efforts
This project began with a completely blank canvas and excellent opportunities for us to put our skills to work for the business. We accomplished the following for Quast Automotive:

Website Design
Quast Automotive works on all kinds of cars, but their special claim to fame is as Hayward, Wisconsin’s local European car specialist and we wanted to reflect that Euro-styling in the website design. As a kid, I was enthralled with a European card game called Milles Bourne in which you competed to win a car race by laying down mileage cars, avoiding hazards and beating your opponents to the finish line. This game had awesome fonts and graphics, and in creating the design for QuastAutoRepair.com, I drew some inspiration from the elegant, appealing European design of that classic game. Web designers take cues from all kinds of unexpected quarters and I thought this presentation would really suit this company. The logo, fonts and color palette of the site are simple and professional and should reflect the solidity of the service this local business offers.

Copywriting and Editing
In creating the copy for Quast Automotive, I was presented with a sheaf of notes from the owner. My task was to turn all of these pieces of information into polished, finished copy that would speak directly to the customer and call him to desired actions. The site copy is optimized for key local and service related terms and should make the customer feel truly informed about what this small business offers to the public. We wanted a pleasant, professional, inclusive tone in the copy that will introduce all visitors to the staff at the auto repair garage and inspire them to pick up that phone and make an appointment.

SEO and Local Search Optimization
All elements of the site have been optimized for the terms most relevant to Jon Quast’s business and his customers. This is one of those truly local projects, designed to serve the community, but the inclusion of the Improve Your Gas Mileage page + a terrific little WordPress blog will enable the business owner to gradually expand the subjects his website focuses on, widening his opportunities for high search engine rankings.

If you’ve been hanging about the SEOigloo blog for the past couple of months, you know that we also went to bat with the major mapping entities for this client, trying to get his incorrectly placed business relocated on the various maps. We’ve made some good progress and have to play a waiting game for some of the changes we need to see happen so that Quast Automotive’s neighborhood is being accurately reflected by the mapping folks. In the meantime, the client has claimed his local listing with Google and Yahoo and made a correct Google MyMaps to help point the way to his door. He can now move on to get further listings and citations from appropriate venues to augment his company’s authority as a trusted Hayward automotive repair garage.

We’ve created a testimonials section on the site, including a link to the company’s Google Reviews destination, requesting that satisfied customers consider leaving a review of the business, and we’ve taught the client about the importance of good reviews to his local visibility.

Jon Quast is a hands-on kind of business owner, and we are confident that he is going to continue his study of how search engines work. He is already getting into video and intends to begin publishing a series of cool videos on getting better gas mileage. He’ll be promoting his website offline in Hayward and making the most of the opportunities for promotion offered by the enthusiastic online auto repair community.

The Pleasure of Getting To Do It All
This project was really appealing to us because it gave us the chance to design, write, optimize and consult – pretty much everything we specialize in for the small business. When you are given a free hand by the business owner, your skills can truly shine through and we were committed to ensuring that Quast Automotive’s website is of a quality that reflects the top-notch services provided by the business. This company does their very best for their customers and we wanted to do no less for them. This is a client we’re feeling terrific about adding to our portfolio and certainly one of 2008’s most satisfying projects for us.

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Do You Need A Website Designed For Your Small Business?

Let Solas Web Design take care of you like we’ve taken care of Quast Automotive. We can design your website, write for you, edit your copy, optimize your website for a national or local audience, build you a blog and consult with you about the opportunities the web has in store for the promotion of your small business. Let Us Do It All For You!

Small Business Website Redesign, Before And After

Some clients are a pleasure to work with from day one. They are focused, professional, cordial and eager to make the most of the expertise a consultant can provide. They are committed to learning new things as they set about creating a web-based business and they want to understand how to make the most of the opportunities the Internet provides.

This certainly describes our new clients, Jim and Rebecca van Vegten, who had made a decision to pursue their dream of running a family-based business in order to improve the overall quality of their family life. Jim has worked for years as a contractor, and when he turned his hands to crafting smaller wood products for the home, his skill was quickly apparent. The couple determined they would begin offering Jim’s handmade home decor items and created their business: Gathering Wood.

The van Vegten’s made an initial investment in having a website built for their new business, but after awhile, they began to read about SEO and to wonder if their site was really the best it could be. This is when they came to us and placed an order for the website review service we provide called THE LONG EMAIL. We reviewed GatheringWood.com’s on-page optimization, design, user-friendliness and website copy and created a long to-do list for them for the improvement of their website. This is how Gathering Wood’s website looked when we first saw it:

GatheringWood.com before

After receiving our report, the van Vegtens concluded that they would like to bring us on to accomplish all the tasks we had outlined for them and we were delighted to get under contract with such a fine family business.

Our Goals

1. The website needed on-page SEO from title tags to headers, from meta descriptions to alt tags. After performing keyword research, we were able to hit upon some useful and relevant terms for Gathering Wood’s products and services.

2. We needed to take the copy from its minimal state to a richer, more customer-oriented, sales-focused level. In addition to expanding and polishing the copy on the static pages of the site, we created a blog so that the van Vegten’s can continue to expand the information they are providing. They can write about their company news, give woodworking tips and demos, maybe even make videos of Jim handcrafting his beautiful wooden home decor items.

3. Speaking of beautiful, the quality of Gathering Wood’s handcrafted serving trays and inspirational wall art definitely deserved a visual design that would reflect the elegance and professionalism of the company’s offerings. We carefully chose a color palette that would let the tones of their wooden gifts really glow. We even went outside and gathered up some golden fall leaves to add a memorable note to the design. And, of course, all of the structural basics like a really useful menu, good site footer, sitemap, etc, needed to be created to make browsing the site as easy as possible for visitors.

Gathering Wood Now!

GatheringWood.com's new website

The van Vegten’s are very excited about their appealing new website design, and we are very satisfied with the outcome of this enjoyable project.

On the horizon, the family can continue to add new products to their website as Jim & Rebecca dream them up, and when the business makes a projected move to a new location, we’ll be hoping to optimize the site for Local Search.

I must say, we get a real thrill any time we get to participate in a project that provides Made-In-The-USA product options to the shopping public. The heirloom quality of the van Vegten’s wood home decor pieces provides visitors with a chance to acquire pieces of real value for the home, while at the same time supporting the domestic economy. That’s a win-win situation, in our book, and we’re looking forward to continuing to work with this great small business in future as the continue to grow, learn and pursue their family dream.

SMBs Say Yuck To Yelp’s Telemarketers

Many thanks to my friend, Donna Swain, for pointing out the continuing story of Yelp’s confusing pitch to Small Business Owners, as featured in Sonoma County’s Press Democrat.

Back in August 2008, Greg Sterling brought my attention to the controversy surrounding Yelp’s negative review policy when a business owner claimed he was falsely led to believe that he could pay money to Yelp to have his negative reviews moved to the bottom of his profile. I blogged about this and the business owner featured in the CBS news coverage of this story showed up to leave a comment here at the SEOigloo, to explain what had happened to him:

Yelp’s sales reps use negative postings as a “lead source” to call the owner and attempt to sell Business Owner Accounts. I received a phone call from a sales rep named Summer who stated that negative reviews could be moved to the bottom of the page and possibly removed in the future if I purchased a Business Owner Account.

Having begun paying Yelp $350/month, the business owner was dismayed to discover that, not only could he not make his negative review recede into the background, but Yelp removed his positive reviews and continued to let the negative ones flow in. Yelp responded to the business owner’s furor and confusion by saying that the IP addresses of his positive reviews were ‘suspect’ and the story just continued to get murkier from there on out.

My esteemed friend, David Mihm, commented on my coverage of this subject by saying:

I think given all the flak Yelp is taking, it’s going to make dramatic steps to improve its review / reviewspam system. It would be too easy to continue to get negative publicity and lose customers otherwise…

Unfortunately, there don’t seem to be any David Mihms working at Yelp, and as today’s Press Democrat piece details:

Condra Easley, co-owner of Patisserie Angelica in Sebastopol, said she was told that for $300 a month she could rearrange the reviews about her pastry shop so the bad ones would drop to the bottom.

“If you went with them, then you could put your favorite reviews on top,” Easley said. “Now that I know that people can pay to switch things around, I’ll go to the bottom to read reviews.”

But it is not true. Businesses cannot pay to rearrange reviews, according to Yelp’s Web site. If Easley had paid the $300 a month, she would not have been able to rearrange the reviews…

An aggressive telemarketing campaign has evidently been launched in Sonoma County, and while it looks like Yelp has lowered their price by $50, their pitch is continuing to bewilder business owners. Are the telemarketers being trained to intentionally mislead the people they call, promising control over a business profile for a handsome fee, fully aware that as soon as the SMB tries to shove their negative reviews out of sight, that promised power will be denied them? Or, are the telemarketers woefully ignorant of Yelp’s policies and are promising the moon to people in order to get a signature on the dotted line? Either way, no one has taken David Mihm’s good advice of getting this nonsense cleaned up by creating a clear, transparent Yelp policy that is strictly adhered to in all company communications with business owners and the general public.

You might have thought that the negative coverage during the summer would have been enough for Yelp to get real about this, but they’ve obviously failed to do so and the end result is a lengthening queue of angry local business owners who could have been happy customers. An ironic outcome of Yelp’s confusing tactics is that at least one business owner who has been promised total control of their listings has come away with this conclusion:

“Now that I know that people can pay to switch things around, I’ll go to the bottom to read reviews.”

While Yelp is certainly not the only review-oriented site that has been accused of misleading business owners, this is the second time in the course of a couple of months that this story has made headlines and with trust and public reputation hanging in the balance, Yelp needs to re-examine its tactics which, intentionally or not, are leading to genuine bad feelings in local business communities.

Reporting Incorrect Emergency Data To Google – Following Up

***IMPORTANT UPDATE:

Google is no longer allowing emergency service providers to contact them directly regarding misrepresented business contact information. To read about and comment on this important change in Google’s policy, come to this post.

I’d like to follow up regarding the post I wrote last week about my experience using Google local listings during a medical emergency.

I was pleasantly surprised to receive an email from Maps Guide Jen regarding the 4 incorrect medical listings I encountered in the 10-Pack/One Box while seeking medical aid. It was good of her to write to me, and I’m thankful for that. Google is looking into the matter, and in the meantime, Jen showed me something I hadn’t seen before. I’m wondering if any of you have noticed the link referenced in Jen’s email:

Hi Miriam,

Thank you again for providing those search results. We’ve traced the information back to some of our third-party data providers, and are pursuing investigations into the best way to correct the listings. I’ll follow up with you as soon as this is done.

I understand that the main concern expressed is that the repercussions for incorrect information on hospital listings is much greater than that of non-emergency service businesses. We completely agree with this. In fact, we allow hospital and medical service listings to be edited partly for the reasons that you’ve expressed (outdated or misdirected information). Community edits for these listings come under great scrutiny. Our contact options in the help center http://maps.google.com/support/bin/request.py?contact_type=contact_policy allows users to tell us specifically when emergency service, shelter, and other hospital data is incorrect, and we aim to resolve these within 48 hours. While it’s not possible for us to go through every single hospital listing in our index, we do our best to ensure the accuracy of major listings.

We’re always working on new ways to connect in with and hear the voices of all our business owners. Driven, solution-oriented feedback like yours really helps us in knowing what improvements will make the biggest impact for you, SEOs and other business owners. Please let me know if you have any other suggestions or questions!

Take care,
Jen

Sure enough, there is a link right on the page Jen directed me to that reads:

I see incorrect business information for emergency services, hospitals or shelters

I had never seen this before. Had you?

I am concerned that most folks will not know that this link exists, or that it is a way for people to hopefully get a faster response from Google in the case of incorrect emergency/medical provider data. Owing to my recent experience, I’m in that frame of mind where one realizes, “If it happened to me, it’s probably happening to lots of people.” And, in very strange case of coincidence, reader Dana Lookadoo of Pixel Position left a comment on my blog relating her extremely similar experience a year ago, in her own city, when her husband’s appendix ruptured:

Since my husband knew the area better than me, he drove there, no map needed. However, he was in the hospital 2.5 days. I was now on my own. I relied on Google Local’s maps to guide me. The map gave the wrong street name. I drove in circles across a freeway and back multiple times. I walked into the hospital frustrated at Google.

I’m doubting that Dana knew of the link on the Google contact page, and I continue to feel concern about this.

As it seems pretty clear that Google plans to continue depending upon the public to correct errors in their LBC database, I made a suggestion in my response to Jen’s email, based upon the fact that Google does have this feature in place to facilitate reporting this specific class of errors. Why not have a little icon like a red cross or something in 10-pack, One Box or Maps listings of emergency/medical providers accompanied by a link reading REPORT INCORRECT DATA. It can’t take the place of Google committing to ensure that their data is correct by contacting hospitals, doctors, police stations, firehouses, etc., but something like this might take us one step closer to creating public awareness that Google’s data on emergency services providers may not be correct, and that if it is incorrect, the public can easily bring this to Google’s notice.

I continue to feel that this is a critical situation, where pubic safety is at stake, and I’m glad that Google is trying to figure out what to do about it. I don’t envy them their job. They have taken on a huge responsibility – maybe one that they didn’t fully understand when they pulled Local into their Universal SERPs. I must say, it feels wrong to me that accuracy for Google’s data is being placed on the shoulders of the public, without the public understanding that. Yet, if this is the route Google is determined to pursue, then I would say that every effort should be made to make the reporting system as prominent and accessible as possible.

What do you think? I’d like to know.

Getting Local Stuff Done – Great Clients Make It Easier

When you’ve got a great client, going through the basic steps of Local Search optimization/marketing is really pretty easy. This week, in our continuing pursuit of a strong local presence for our client, we walked the gentleman through claiming and improving his Google LBC listing. The phone verification went off without a hitch and I was pleased to see the information almost instantly updated in Quast Automotive’s auto repair garage Maps listing.

Armed with the confidence gained from claiming his listing in Google’s LBC, Jon Quast was ready to go take on his Yahoo Local listing for his auto repair garage on his own. Looks like we have a little cleaning up his categories to do there, but he did a great job and is taking a keen interest in the various opportunities there are out there for improving his local visibility.

Yahoo had totally lost Jon’s business listing for a few weeks there. We have no idea why it disappeared. Now that Jon has gone and added the business back in, it’s appearing again, though the map continues to be way off. I’ll be giving Yahoo a call in the coming week.

On the MapQuest front, I wrote to VP Mark Law this afternoon to let him know that, just as was predicted, the incorrect location of my client’s business was attended to in just a week or so from the date I reported the problem. Fast and great. We have only one small problem. The business is still not quite in the right place. We’re getting closer with the new MapQuest map, but the image below shows that we’re still not quite there yet.

mapquest map of Quast Automotive Hayward WI

I’m hoping we can get this straightened out soon, though I know that getting the missing roads to appear is going to take many months, according to my sources.

All of this work could be a headache with an impatient client, but we’ve lucked out and gotten a patient and professional one who understands that this process is going to take some time. I think it was really important that we correctly set the client’s expectations with this from the start. We’ve been starting to teach the client about user reviews and citations and he’s excited. Seeing the opportunities instead of the hassles is making all the difference in this project, and there’s a really good feeling on both our sides about the upcoming launch of Quast Automotive’s website.

I’ve learned over the years that the clients you choose to work with set the tone of so much of your life during the whole time you are under contract with them. Most of the time, we’ve chosen very well and been fortunate to do business with exceptional and committed business owners. We’re having a lot of fun with this project.

We’ll continue to document our efforts with Local Search, its problems and benefits.

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