September 2010

Miriam Engaged By SEOmoz As Local SEO Q&A Forum Consultant

Some happy, happy news to share today: I’ve been engaged as an associate by SEOmoz to answer Local SEO questions in their wonderful Q&A forum which is made available to SEOmoz PRO Members!

As my clients and colleagues know, I’m crazy about Local Search, and this will be a wonderful opportunity to get to hear more of the stories of local business owners who are working hard to achieve success on the web. This will help me in my own work with our company’s clients and will enable me to spend more of my time thinking and chatting about Local! I will strive to answer questions in the most helpful, friendly manner possible and am honored by the chance to work with an organization as brilliant, inspiring and fun as SEOmoz. Like many of you, I have tuned into the SEOmoz story for years with tremendous interest and heartfelt admiration. What a pleasure it is to get to contribute a small part to all of the great work they do!

I would like to extend special thanks to my friend and colleague David Mihm for recommending me for this engagement, to Lindsay Perkin Wassell of Keyphraseology for showing me the dashboard ropes, and, of course, to Rand Fishkin for welcoming me aboard. I am sincerely grateful!

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Flickr Photo Credit: Laurence OP

When The Karate Kid Gets Mad – Teaching User Review Crane Technique To Small Business Owners

The Story
A cry for help from the Google Places Help Forum:

Hello Google Team, My name is Aaron and Im a student at the White Lions of Shaolin Kung Fu Academy. Anyways I am contacting you because I was wondering what the procedure was to get false statements and slanderous comments removed from the reviews section when looking up a business. I understand reviews are there for a reason, so you can post your review of what you think about a business, for example, if you eat at a restaurant and you font like it, you can post a negative comment explaining why you didn’t like it, but I think you will agree these 2 reviews that I am concerned about are not reviews at all and the only purpose of them is to try and slander the business.

We had a student in the class who got kicked out for misconduct and now he and his girlfriend have been posting terrible and untrue statements on the google reviews tab with the intention to hurt the business with false statements.

The Offending Reviews

REVIEW 1
Time to part ways.‎‎
Rated 1.0 out of 5.0 By JEFF – Sep 8, 2010
As a mixed martial artist since age 7 and 21 years U.S. Army Special Forces (Retired), I attended White Lions for almost a year serving as an instructor for Sifu G. One of the many things that Sifu can’t teach is experience- or the concepts learned from it (Experience). Sifu has no actual combat experience. As a former dance instructor Sifu can remember forms like choreography. When one pays in advance for private lessons from Sifu, they expect to get his time, not be taught by anther instructor that learned the form a day or two before. An honorable Sifu would never gossip behind the backs of his students and his own instructors who teach classes and clean the school for free. This shows a lack of respect, and self insecurity (Not honorable actions). An honorable Sifu would also not make fun of an overweight student for hurting himself doing class exercises, as I have heard Sifu do. I look forward to excelling in CLF, but will have the added expense of flying to California to bypass White Lions to get proper training.

REVIEW 2
brainwashing/degrading‎‎
Rated 1.0 out of 5.0 By tddonkey – Sep 7, 2010
While the black belt students and instructors use encouraging and skillful ways to teach children & adults kung fu, the sifu brainwashes and does not treat his students well considering how much they pay. I took from this school a few years ago and I felt high amounts of false guilt due to the brainwashing after 3 years of not attending. The sifu tried to make me feel bad that I could not go to classes because I chose to go to college for an education away from Dallas. It drove me to counseling for a year while in college. The sifu also told my mother (yes, my mother), that my burly, rambunctious brother talked like “a gay person.” He gossips about the other students and is constantly asking students about those who don’t attend as often as them. He talked badly about my own private instructor for leaving because she dated a black-belt who left the school. His teaching was degrading and involved making fun of students’ clothing, nail polish, weight, etc. It is one thing to be a strict and respectful master, completely another to be degrading and immature. This kind of teaching should not be supported by our dollars and I highly do NOT recommend this school. But as far as the private instructors, I did learn many good lessons from them and my scoliosis and bad knees improved by practicing martial arts. If you are interested in kung fu, search somewhere else, do not attend here.


Summary
There’s nothing like a negative review to put you into a defensive position. It is totally legitimate to fear that reviews of this kind could negatively impact your business. Accusations of brainwashing, making fun of injured overweight students, students’ voices, nail polish etc….these range from the serious to the colorfully bizarre, and they certainly do not give a good impression of the martial arts school. Here we have two extremely specific and convincingly detailed negative reviews, an alleged former employee of the martial arts school and his friend calling these reviews slander (probably meaning libel) and asking to have these reviews hand-removed by Google. We’ll return to Google’s part in this at the close of this study, but in the meantime, what can the business owner (or his student) do? Let’s consider the options:


Sweep The Leg
Die-hard fans of The Karate Kid Pt. I will remember the evil sensei’s response when he felt threatened with losing the big tournament. He acted crazily, went for broke and had his student hit below the belt. Small business owners, in their moment of embarrassment and anger, are sometimes guilty of doing the same. The owner of White Lions of Shaolin Kung Fu Academy could choose to respond like this:

You’re a liar. You’re just seeking revenge because we kicked you out of the school. And by the way, your nail polish is ugly, what I said about your burly brother is true, and the fat kid who got injured was just faking it. Also, your mother is a nitwit. Our school is wonderful and we’re glad you’re gone!

“Take that, you negative reviewer!” the business owner might be saying as he publishes this response to the offender. It might feel good for a moment, but no, no, no: this is the wrong way to go. Don’t be the evil sensei. He had absolutely no class. If you’ve received a negative review and are about to respond in the heat of moment, step away from your computer. Shut it off. Take a walk on the beach and consider a second option.


What Would Mr. Miyagi Do?
As movie fans will recall, Mr. Miyagi’s first response to Daniel-san getting beat up by bullies was to go and try to talk things out with their sen-sei. In this specific scenario with White Lions of Shaolin Kung Fu Academy, it would appear that the business owner knows who the negative reviewer is.

I believe Mr. Miyagi’s first move would be to try contacting this past employee/student by phone or email in an effort to resolve the situation. This communication must have a polite, non-confrontational tone and contain an apology for the student’s dissatisfaction with the school. The owner should try to see if there is a way to mollify the student’s ill feelings and have him remove the most hurtful accusations from his review.

Should this fail, as it did in Daniel-san’s case, it is time for the business owner to develop Crane Technique. This means finding balance within, knowing you are standing in the right, and then responding to the situation in an unimpeachable manner. As Mr. Miyagi said in his Hollywood Asian-English, “If do right, no can defense.”

So, what would a Crane Technique business owner response look like to reviews as negative this? Here is my suggestion:

It is every small business owner’s bad dream, having to find a way to respond to a review like this, coming as it does out of the dark, and with no personal communication from the unhappy student or supposed employee. Accusations like this put us in a tough spot, struggling to know how to respond, when the reputation of our school is at stake. We have worked so hard to build up our good reputation over the past 15 years, but it stands to reason that we can’t please every student. It’s our goal to be fair, transparent and honest, and our first task is to acknowledge that this reviewer was really dissatisfied with his experience at our school, or he wouldn’t have felt impelled to write such a strongly-worded review. We are extremely sorry that any student would feel so unhappy about his experience with our instructors.

Our second task is to make it known that we held a meeting with all our instructors to talk about the disturbing accusations made in this review and everyone felt just terrible to think a past student or employee would be so unhappy that they would feel driven to make such remarks. If you are considering enrolling at our school, I would like to personally invite you to come down and watch some of the classes before you make up your mind about the quality of what we provide. I believe you will see our instructors teaching our students in a safe, respectful and skilled way.

Finally, I would also like to ask the reviewer that, if there was a personal problem with the school, please, phone me and let me know about it. My best chance at making amends for any bad feelings is to be able to listen, in person, to your concerns, and do my best to address them. We truly care about our students and take their needs seriously.

No Can Defense
If you’re about to respond to a negative review, please take a moment to study that sample response. I believe it accomplishes the following:

  • It expresses sorrow at the idea of customer dissatisfaction
  • It does NOT refute the weird accusations being made – it just doesn’t get into it
  • It shows that the owner is deeply concerned and also, in a difficult situation trying to respond fairly to out-of-the-blue negativity
  • It invites the public to come into the business to make up their own mind
  • It invites the reviewer to seek resolution

Here, instead of coming off as aggressive, hot-headed or angry, the business owner sounds polite, reasonable and ready to take responsibility for the reputation of his school. It creates a real contrast to the nasty picture painted by the reviewer, and most of all, it diffuses an agitated situation into a calm and rational one.

Regardless of what Google does, the business owner wins by looking like a professional and a nice guy. As the triumphant lyrics in the old movie go, “You’re the best around!” Happily for you, Google now enables an owner response function and it is your tool for making the best out of what is certainly an uncomfortable situation. When you are able to respond to a negative review like this, you really have gained balance, Daniel-san.


Pity the Ref
What about Google’s part in this? Frankly, they have my pity. Who are they supposed to believe? The detail of the accusations in the reviews makes them look legitimate, but so what – some people can write well and are capable of crafting convincing-sounding lies. If the truth is that this is a student/employee who was dismissed for misconduct and has an axe to grind, we all sympathize with the business owner, but for the life of me, I can’t see how Google is supposed to determine this. What if it’s the unhappy student who is telling the truth and the school really is guilty of acting badly? Can you tell who is right? I sure can’t.

I think it may have been lack of foresight on Google’s part that in entering the world of reviews, many people would expect them to shoulder the responsibilities of arbitration between unhappy customers and unhappy business owner. I see absolutely no possibility of Google choosing to do this. This means that you – the business owner – are on your own, and it’s up to you to rise above cowardly attacks and show that you take the high road. And, while you’re responding with such aplomb, start making a list of your really happy students who might be willing to leave a good review, thereby pushing the offending materials down the list.

Until next time, my friends, wax on, wax off!

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Many thanks to Local Search Sen-sei, Mike Blumenthal for sharing this scenario with me.

Starting An Internet Business To Make Your Comeback As An Earner

Starting an Internet Business
My gosh, you were sharp. You built the nation. Every day, you got up, put on the suit and tie and gave your all to the boss, safe in the knowledge that when the time came, far off in the future, the company would take care of you. You worked through Nixon walking out of office in disgrace, man walking on the moon in triumph, the strange days of the oil crisis and the heady excitement of a brave new computerized world, a la Silicon Valley.

Whether you entered the workforce with hopeful enthusiasm or a pain in the neck, you quickly learned that your earnings depended upon keeping the corporate machine running smoothly. Maybe you were lucky and your work had dignity, or maybe your boss was a loon and nothing but those pay checks kept your whole office from rising up and throwing him out a 10th storey window. Maybe you really enjoyed your job and the chance to put your skills to work, solving problems and getting things done. You may have been winging it the whole time, or you may have had your retirement planned out to the last nickel, but you knew that your loyalty to the company would be rewarded when it counted. Your bright, fresh mind, years of your life, and perhaps a considerable bit of your soul went into the deal.

And then it happened.

Starting your second business

Standing at attention in the office at 123 Main Street, American Town, USA, you were told that your job had left the country and would now be performed in India. Clean out your desk. Escort to the door, just in case you might do something. Or, perhaps someone made a mistake and let the janitor vacuum up your 401(k) with the office debris. Or, perhaps you survived downsizing, outsourcing and theft, only to get caught in the game of Monopoly in which the whole nation lost and the bandits disappeared over the horizon, waving their get out of jail free cards and, queerly, millions of dollars of thank-you money from the government. You came home one evening, took off your tie, sat down on the couch and asked yourself, “What the hell was all that about?”

What happened to the loyalty that was supposed to pay off? Did you really sit through all of those meetings about being a team player, a top salesman, a winner, for this? You grit your teeth through decades of office stress for what, come again? You had every reason to believe you were building the nation, but you certainly didn’t give years of your life to build this. Whether you lost your job or have sort-of retired, and decades are passing before your mind’s eye with a ponderous question mark hanging over them, you are sharing the experiences I have heard described by so many people who are now in their middle years. However you look at it, whomever you blame, this country has failed a huge number of workers who believed that diligence, strong work ethics and company loyalty would pay off in the end. Who could blame you for feeling ripped off or deciding that the whole human drama of progress was one big charade?

But there is one thing you learned in those years as an American worker that remains perfectly true. Our system still places the highest value on earners. You have only to look at your electricity bills, your car payment, and your rent or mortgage payment to see that the ability to maintain some kind of autonomy and mobility will only be possible if you earn. With the wolf at the door, some of you will fight your way back into the workforce for a second, third, forth of fifth move in your career and you will be relieved and grateful to be earning again. With half the town turning out for every job opportunity, you are lucky if you get hired. Conversely, some of you will suspect that you are failing to get every job you apply for because the decision maker thinks you are ‘old’ – that unspoken failing. Well, don’t take this judgment of your worth and potential. Just don’t take it.

All those years clocking in may have given you more than a paycheck, and this is what I’m encouraging you to think about. Whether in the office of out of it, the years you’ve got in your back pocket may represent knowledge that would be of value to others – on the web.

Perhaps what you can share is actually something you did in the work world, or perhaps it’s the hobby, area of study or specialty that you never had enough time for when you were clocking 9 to 5. More and more Americans are examining their knowledge, skills and talents and discerning whether these assets can be turned into an Internet-based business that can create a living wage or a supplemental income for them in the coming years. Don’t be taken in by the get-rich-quick articles you will find elsewhere on the web, promising something for nothing. You are certainly too smart for that. Rather, the most important thing you need to learn about starting an Internet business is this:

You’ve Got To Have A Really Great Idea.

It isn’t loyalty to a boss, not causing hassle or being a team player that earns money on the web; it is really great ideas. So, your very first task in considering how you can make a comeback as an earner on the Internet is to hit upon a viable idea. This means making lists. It means doing keyword research. It means looking to see if someone has already succeeded with your idea. It means determining how you can do something better than anyone else has.

As crowded as the Internet is these days, you will find that so many great ideas are already taken and being utilized well, so the competitive nature that was encouraged in you in the corporate America of yesteryear will serve you well today. You’ve got to be smart and you’ve got to be a competitor and you’ve got to provide something that people really value. It doesn’t matter whether you end up selling paperclips in thousands of sizes or teaching people how to yodel with virtual lessons; the bottom line will be familiar to you as supply meeting demand. Get the great idea. See if there’s a demand. Meet it. That’s the task that’s in front of you, and I won’t understate the difficulty of succeeding, but I know first-hand that success is totally possible.

our web design client
Need a little inspiration? Take a look at the terrific website of our client, George Beck of Fisher’s Laser Carvers. As George tells it on his website, he viewed his retirement from the corporate world as his chance to let something really near to his heart take center stage in life: woodworking. George’s really great idea was to use his skills to create top quality wood pieces for the public and he tells me orders are coming in so fast, he may have to hire elves to help him at Christmas this year. You can do what George Beck has, with your own area of expertise or skill. There is nothing I applaud more than that first brave step onto the web, and this is what I have made a business of helping people like you to do.

Your Comeback Checklist
Everyone’s procedure for starting an Internet business will be a little different, but here is a basic outline of questions for you to find the answers to.

1. What skills, talents, knowledge, hobbies or interests do you have?
2. Do you have something to give that people want? Start doing keyword research to find the answer.
3. Will you sell a physical or virtual product, or simply educate people?
4. Can you compete? Is there an opening you can fill, or can you best your competitors with a superior effort?
5. Will you make money by making the product, sourcing the product from elsewhere and reselling it, or by writing materials and monetizing them with something like Google AdSense, thereby making your money from advertising?
6. What is your budget? How much money can you spend on product/content development, the acquisition of hosting and a domain name and the acquisition of a professional website that will enable the public to take your venture seriously?
7. Who will be on your team? Do you plan to do it all yourself, learning the disciplines of design, search engine optimization, human usability, copywriting and marketing and putting these to work for your venture, or will you assemble experts in these fields to be a part of the team you are building?
8. Are you prepared to work at this for 1+ years before you begin seeing a profit? Like any other business, you must establish yourself and you must be capable of paying your bills while you work for the success of your new business.

Being realistic about what it will take to succeed on the Internet is essential. Every month, I hear from hopeful folks who want to take their business idea online in a professional manner but have no budget set aside for this. Doing this right will not be free, and while it will certainly cost less than opening a brick-and-mortar store or renting an office building, you must be able to make a reasonable investment. The wonderful thing about 2nd careers on the Internet is that they often offer golden opportunities to earn a living while doing something you’re actually really interested in – a scenario frequently totally absent in the corporate world – but this doesn’t mean you should treat your business like a hobby. If you’re serious about your success (if you really want to earn money), you’ve got to treat your plan seriously, and that dictates a genuine investment of your mental powers, time and money. Put on a tie if it will help. Hold a board meeting – even if the only attendees are you and your dogs. Find the great idea, get fired up and go out there and win. But this time, do it your way.

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Ready to do business on the web your way? Give us a call: (707) 981-7943. We root for independent thinkers and have helped tons of small businesses on the road to success.

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Photo Credits:
huffstutterrobertl
yourdon
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