A Starter Guide to Web Development Part 4

website development services hampton va
website development services hampton va

By this point in our series, I have hopefully drilled in the importance of a strong visual presence. Now we are ready to discuss how that first impression image can seamlessly merge with the important information you need your site visitors to see.

Home Is Where the Customer Is

Think about some of the websites you frequent, for instance an online banking site. Right off the bat, the content you need is instantly accessible right on the homepage. You don’t have to click around or go through menus to log in to your accounts or see new promotions because that site is built with ease of use in mind.
Regardless of your industry and the variations that come with each business, there will be pieces of content you want to feature. This may include small intro sentences (also known as lead-ins) to your primary services, hours of operation, contact information, promotions, etc. It’s extremely important as a business to know your target audience and try to anticipate what they will be looking for as a new visitor. By limiting customer stress and providing them with a smooth user experience, you’re much more likely to keep them on your site.

The fact of the matter is that web users, especially those viewing from mobile devices, are quite impatient these days. It’s vital to communicate quickly and understand that most people want exactly what they need exactly when they ask for it. The short attention span of modern web visitors has made heavy text content on the homepage a thing of the past, as they don’t want to read through paragraph after paragraph. A good thought is to stay on the image heavy side, allowing your graphics, videos and call to action opportunities speak volumes. This is not to say you shouldn’t have text, it should just be only vital information scaled down to easy to read sizes.

Stay tuned for my next and final part of the series where we will go over the rest of the website content and I’ll give my opinions and thoughts on what pages all sites will need.

Increasing Facebook Reach: Ads or Boosts?

business facebook ad posting 2015
business facebook ad posting 2015

Is the Free Ride Over?

As many of us predicted for quite a long time, and then knew for quite a long time, organic (unpaid) reach on Facebook business pages is dwindling away. This leads many business owners to a great deal of frustration. Many are feeling that what used to be the best free source for spreading brand awareness has more or less become another paid advertising platform.

That's not all it is though! There are still many tremendous benefits to having a great business page, keeping it up, and investing in its growth. For those out there who do not already have a giant audience, this will most likely mean spending a little more time and money.

There are two main ways of reaching a larger audience on Facebook. You can implement ads on the site, or you can promote posts. This may leave you asking, "Which is right for my business?"

Let's Start With the Good Ol' Facebook Ads

Facebook allows you to pay to place ads which are displayed to an audience you choose through targeting. They offer demographics like age, gender, location, and even specific interests. Once you've chosen your target audience, Facebook will give you an estimate of people that your ad could potentially reach. Don't be mistaken, though...This is not the number of clicks you'll get. That depends largely on the budget that you set, and the quality and content of your ad itself. After all, a million people could see your ad but if it's not enticing, there's no guarantee that a single person will click it.

With an enormous pool of users to target, and a cost-per-click that is drastically lower than many other Pay-Per-Click ad venues like Google Adwords, Facebook ads can be a great tool for content marketing and expanding your reach.

On to Promoted Posts


If the first question you find yourself asking is, "Why would I pay to show people a post when people will already see it?" then you've got a little catching up to do! Before fall of 2012, when you made a post on your page, it would be served up to all of the people who liked your page. Unfortunately since then, there has been cut after cut after cut to the numbers of likers that actually see your posts in their newsfeeds. Facebook has confirmed that ultimately (at some undisclosed time), page posts will receive no organic views. This means whenever you post on your page, the only people who will see it are people who specifically find and click on your page, and then look at your page's timeline. That is, unless you promote posts.

This is done by making a post as usual, and then clicking the "boost" button after you've posted it. You'll then have options to set a budget. You can also decide if you want your post to be served up to people who already like the page, or if you'd like to target a new audience. Once your post has been boosted, Facebook will put your post into the newsfeeds of the audience you select. Your budget will be the biggest factor in determining how many people are reached.

Both methods have advantages and disadvantages, much like any other form of paid marketing. The simple fact remains, however, that social media is quickly becoming a pay-to-play world for the businesses that have enjoyed free reach for so long.

Retail Promotions In-Store and Online

combining retail storefront and online marketing
combining retail storefront and online marketing

10 Retail Promotion Ideas to Increase Your Sales without “Discounting”

These are ideas helpful on both an e-commerce site and a brick & mortar store:

1. Hand out a FREE sample of product with a special "2 for 1" offer - this enables your customer to get firsthand experience of your product AND the "2 for 1" offer maximizes your average transaction value

2. Hold joint promotions with other businesses. You can offer their products as FREE gifts when customers purchase at your shop and vice-versa.

3. Free gift with purchase - you could offer a FREE T-shirt valued at $25 with every $50 purchase. The value to the customer is $25 but your hard cost is a fraction of that amount so it's perceived to be more beneficial than a discount is (in the eyes of your customer) and it's much healthier on your bottom line than offering a $25 discount.

4. FREE gift for cash payments or PayPal over $xx ... instead of paying the bank merchant fees you're rewarding your customers instead. It's costing you no more, however it encourages your customers to buy from you and therefore will increase your sales volume.

5. Package your products together. Cosmetics companies are famous for this. Package some of your poorer selling products together with your most popular lines and promote them as some sort of package. Packaged products make customers feel they're getting a good deal for buying in bulk, it maximizes your average transaction value, and it helps you move slow selling items.

6. Bounce backs - it's a fact that a customer is most warm to your products and services right at the time of purchase so make a special offer to them right when they buy - something that compliments the product they've just bought.

7. Package your knowledge - create introductory reports and newsletters and package them in with their product purchase.

8. Cross-selling checklist - this is a great way to maximize the average transaction value of each sale. Either run through a checklist with the customer (i.e.  "creating a gift basket" checklist listing the items they'll need) OR create it into a special "how to" guide that includes instructions and enables them to check off all the items they need. This helps customer a favor ensure they don't forget an important item while increasing your sales.

9. FREE after sales service - cleaning or maintenance of purchased product.

10. FREE design (valued at $200) - this service quite often involves your time only so it has a high perceived value but a low hard cost.

A Starter Guide to Web Development Part 3

wordpress website design tips
wordpress website design tips

We're to my favorite portion of this series, design! You know who you are, what you do, and you've laid claim to your place on the internet. Now it's time to really get creative and decide the visual message of your brand.

Step 1 - Logo!

A strong and professional logo is the number one item in my opinion to starting a successful online presence, and will be the starting point to your website's look and feel. I've talked extensively on this topic previously, so if you'd like please feel free to read my post on logo design for more information.

Step 2 - Get Inspired

When designing a brand new site for a client, I always ask the same question first; What other sites do you like? Hear me out on this one, because there is a fine line between inspiration and becoming a carbon copy of another company's vision. Taking a look at other sites can help you decide what elements and general styles you may want included on your own.

Are you looking for a visual heavy design, focusing on large format photos or sliders or a more simple corporate look, focusing on client ease of use and text content? Are you interested in a design that will incorporate your social media feeds in a immediate and easy to see format? Thinking in terms of your specific industry can be a big help in the process too, as it's common to see different styles between a contractor and a photographer.

For example, Weaver's Wildlife Control in Hampton, Virginia is a great example of a more visual and artistic direction, while $400 Divorce in Newport News, Virginia go for the clean and simplistic style fitting of an attorney.

Sometimes seeing these elements in action can answer what will work for you. Your designer can bring your ideas to life, but at the end of the day, only you can know what image you want to portray to your clients and customers.

That's all for this month! Stay tuned for my next post where we will discuss your homepage design and general webpage structure.

A Logical Perception about Online Customer Reviews

online business reviews management services
online business reviews management services

Online Customer Reviews Will Be More Relevant Over Time

As a web design and marketing company, we constantly hear about online customer reviews becoming more of a standard part of any Internet marketing strategy in relation to search engine index rankings (also known as SERP’s). However, what seems to make sense for it being a top priority factor in rating a business now, I think there are still legitimacy and validation issues that logically need to be addressed before it becomes more of a reality.
I've been developing and marketing websites since 1994 and the common sense behaviors’ concerning the human nature side of the Internet has never been hard to figure out. What has been amazing to see is how the technical side has changed to meet them. In the past, you could be the worst product or service company in the world but if you had a crack SEO company promoting you online, you could still be at the all-important first page – first position ranking for whatever it is you do. The way the Internet is evolving today, it makes sense that people’s posted opinions, feedback and reviews about your product or service is going to be the major determining factor on how well you index in the future. A phrase I've used more than once is, “It’s becoming more about what others say about you than what you say about yourself”.

All of the pieces for this to happen have fallen into place. We now have fairly universal high bandwidth Internet access that improves by the day; then we have Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and varying other well established social media entities; and finally the advent of total mobile freedom with tablets and smartphones - and now has us pushing towards smart watches and eye wear.

It has rapidly transformed the behavior of all of us. As a habit now, my face is now stuck in my Samsung S3 for pretty much everything from getting local and national news from apps, checking my email, texts, calendar, task list and weather; listening to my favorite music with Pandora or music files; finding my way around with maps/GPS; avoiding police speed traps with Waze; and watching Youtube, Netflix and online TV shows through its browser.
I am using it to find places to eat, shop, be entertained and for things to buy. And, yes… I don’t trust anyone I have not done business with before and I do want to see customer reviews about their product and services as a deciding factor to purchase.

I don’t have to tell you all this. I know you’re doing the same.

Why Online Customer Reviews Are Still Not Rampant

This is a blog. I want to make clear that I am writing my opinion based on what I am seeing and researching that makes sense. There are all kinds of online stats that support the fact that reading customer reviews are very important to the Internet user*. Anonymous reviews have become obsolete where they were common in the past. It left too much liability open for foul play.

The major drawbacks for customer review entities is preventing fake or malicious negative review campaigns and controlling illegitimate positive reviews. Examples are a competitor or “disgruntled” customer or former employee posting a negative review campaign against you online or hiring someone to sit and post a multitude of positive “ghost” or fake customer reviews.

There are legal ramifications with all of this, of course. Numerous high dollar lawsuits have already been filed - and won - against consumers or individuals by businesses and vice-versa and I’m sure there are other scenarios that haven’t even been thought of that will arise out of this over time. It makes sense for them to approach this patiently.

Thus, legitimate reviewers are currently controlled by requiring them to register themselves before submitting their review. In the real world, this involves time to perform and the reviewer not knowing what deluge of sales phone calls or spam emails are going to come of said registration– something people are still not keen on the idea of.

Verifying individuals through their social network profiles when they want to post a review is probably the logical answer in the future. However, I think this probably touches on the Internet privacy issues that people are legitimately concerned about.

I think everyone realizes Facebook and Google probably could tell us more about us than we know about ourselves based on our voluntary “signing in” and allowing them to track who we connect to, what we buy and what we are interested or involved in. I’m not so sure people are ready for that data to be blatantly exploited.

There is also talk of them being able to verify you and take it to another level of personalizing it so just viewing your profile will also prominently display every review you have ever posted; that even reviews from others for the same product or service will all tie in to also be viewed; or using your circle of friends and your collective habits for verification and other purposes that I can’t even imagine – but sure others have.

In addressing the fake reviews issue, Yelp has been trying several ways to combat this including the mention of IP tracking from a 2012 article. I can’t find solid evidence that Google and Yelp have actually implemented a filter to this extent. It makes sense that multiple reviews for an entity from the same IP address is an indicator of fake review submitting and can be prevented and penalized. If it is not in place yet, I would suspect it would be at any time.

How Has Mobile Changed All Of This?

Business directory and customer review sites have been online since the beginning of the Internet. Again, understanding the human nature aspect of the Internet, many out there have figured out that good local information was going to be a major factor for the Internet at some point. Many of these sites have come and gone over the years but I feel now the survivors are coming of age with some of their placement in search returns and the info they provide for mobile users. Best common sense scenario to use is being in an unfamiliar town and wanting to look up hotels, restaurants and things to do with reviews from others to help make decisions. Whatever online entity figures out best how to easily display accurate trustworthy information results and reviews will end up being the winner of this game. So far Google and Facebook appear to be leading the pack.

Start Your Customer Review Submission Habit Now

So what I am telling you is all indications are that all Internet marketing entities are touting the importance of getting your customers to submit reviews of their experience with your service or product. We are pushing our clients to start offering an incentive to any customer that takes the time to submit positive reviews to the most relevant review entities out there. Each submission can be a 15 minute task and you may be asking for several to be posted.

The review sites carrying the most clout today are Google+, Yelp, Bing, Manta, MerchantCircle, YP.Com and Insider Pages. Insider Pages may be the least known of these, but does a good job of disseminating their reviews to other review sites. There are other industry specific review sites to be listed in such as Houzz.Com and AngiesList.Com if you are a residential home improvement or service related business. You most definitely want to be in regional business listing and review sites typically run by your area newspaper, as well.

We are starting by making it easy for our client’s customers to directly submit a review from their existing company website. We are putting a widget in our client’s websites that have direct links to register and submit a review to whatever number of review sites that apply.

You only need to be proactive in making sure to offer an incentive for the customer to submit the review. Offer a gift certificate to a restaurant when the customer has demonstrated that they have submitted the reviews.

I would stress that if they only submitted to one – it would be Google+. Google+ is integrating reviews as part of your search results and Google Business listing. They are also taking these reviews more into account concerning indexing as things become more refined.

You also need to develop a strategy of checking review sites on a frequent basis to respond to negative reviews that may appear. All of them offer a means for the business owner to try and rectify or answer to a negative situation.
I would recommend getting customer reviews legitimately. Stay away from customer review contractors that are probably overseas entities or sitting down at your computer and submitting fake reviews yourself. This will do more harm than good if IP tracking is being used. Best practice is your customer doing this from their own computer and would strive for trying to get 3-6 separate reviews a month.

The goal with pushing your customers to give reviews is to demonstrate an active pursuit of feedback - especially if there is a consistent frequency of people submitting over time; responding to negative reviews professionally; getting more content online related to your business for indexing purposes; and the more positive varying reviews you have over different directory sites the better as reference back to your website.

Why Yelp Is Fighting Fake Reviews with Public Shaming  – October 23, 2012
5 Predictions About the Growing Power of Online Customer Reviews - August 28, 2014
Local Consumer Review Survey 2014 – July 1, 2014
Why Online Customer Reviews Will be More Important in 2014

Content Creation vs. Storytelling

webpage content creation services norfolk va
webpage content creation services norfolk va

Why Aren't People Interacting with My Social Media Posts?

Good Writing and Good Storytelling are Not One in the Same

Why aren't they sharing my pictures? What does Company X have that my company is lacking? If you find yourself asking these questions, you're far from alone. A lot of businesses in the Hampton Roads areas that we meet with face the same questions. Mastering the art of turning an ordinary bit of information into an interesting story is not always as straightforward as it sounds. In this day and age, you're not only competing within your own industry for business, but competing with other industries, causes, and individuals for the attention of a large, shared audience. So what's the answer?

Stop Stating Cold, Hard Facts

I'm not saying to lie, or even to fudge the truth. What I mean is that too many companies create content simply by stating facts and maybe attaching a relevant picture to those facts. They then wonder why people aren't interacting. You have to put yourself into the shoes of an average Joe. Not an average person in your industry, not an average person in sales, marketing, or management of any industry... But an average Joe that may or may not have any knowledge of your specific industry. One of the most common areas where content creators struggle with this concept is in professional services (doctors, lawyers, etc.). It can be very difficult to glamorize content that is, in and of itself, very straightforward. The trick is to focus not on the information, but on how it might apply to our good ol' average Joe.

Don't Write...Tell a Story

If you focus too heavily on structure and accuracy, it's easy to lose the story. The best piece of advice I can offer for getting started with content creation is just to let the pen (or your fingers on the keyboard) flow. In the very early stages, it's perfectly okay to not have an exact direction. Think of a big, general subject, and just start writing. Think of it as a brainstorming session. Leave the graphs and charts out, though. In the infancy of your content creation, rigid structure can steal your story-telling thunder. When you begin this free-flowing brainstorming session, be sure to choose a topic that you know and care about. As you write, you will often find a direction naturally.Make it Relate-able

Now that you've got a direction for your content, STOP! Okay, don't stop altogether, but don't get ahead of yourself. This is where a lot of content-creation takes a turn for the booorrrrriiiinnnnnggggg. Many of us who work all day, every day in our respective fields can be tempted to spew nothing but facts and statistics, because this is how we measure our own efficacy. Your average reader will often be more interested in the following than they will in the writer's measures of personal success.

a) Entertainment
This is one of the best ways to encourage engagement. People deal with enough negativity every day. Pushing your content in a lighthearted, amusing direction will almost always up readership and engagement.

b) Help or Encouragement
Problems, problems, everywhere. People want solutions! More than that, they want solutions that they can understand and achieve. Are you a home restoration expert? Give people some awesome DIY tips and hacks! Are you a doctor? Offer encouraging success stories about people turning their health and lives around for the better. We know you're an expert at what you do. You don't have to blind people with the science behind what makes you an expert. Instead, use that expertise to help people in small ways. This is not only good for interaction, but it's great for trust and client relationship-building. If your content is useful to your audience, then it is also valuable to them.

c) Be Relate-able ("I'm NOT alone in this!")
This is arguably the most important facet of good, quality content creation. Technical terms and industry-specific jargon is all well and good when it comes to communicating ideas with colleagues, but what good is it to the consumer? This is truly where story-telling comes into play. You can take your idea that you got in your brainstorming session, and focus down it into a story (real or hypothetical). Concentrate on showing the audience how the person in your story could easily be them!

To Sum it All Up...

Writing true, relevant, correct content is important. So important, that people often sacrifice the social aspect in order to clearly attain those qualities. Don't be a part of that content-writing crowd. At the end of your piece of content...Whether it's a blog, a short post, or an image description...Think to yourself, "If I came across this in my news feed, would I stop and interact?"

Local Marketing on the Internet

local internet marketing services hampton va
local internet marketing services hampton va

What Makes Sense For the Future of Local Marketing on the Internet?

I've spent the last few months really digging into what Panda, Penguin, Hummingbird - and whatever other Google-inspired animal kingdom program means in its quest to take over the world. At this point, I would have to say Google certainly controls the Internet world. The ripple effects over the last year from these programs has shaken up what the traditional small business SEO industry used to know about marketing their clients on the Internet.

Despite all the technology and coding behind this, what Google is doing makes sense to me. Google’s bottom line mission is to generate the best search results possible to retain and increase their global audience. That, in turn, sustains and increases its Adwords revenues. Simple as that. As the Internet matures, it will continue to take advantage of whatever tools out there to accomplish this. Thus, we are seeing a logical alignment of site load speed, the quality of a site's content, what others are saying about you online, and how consistent backlinks and citations are as all major factors for Internet local marketing in 2015.

Content Will Always Remain Supreme...

Local marketing of a business website used to be a matter of paying attention to details for content following what I keep calling it - logic. The original premise of search engine indexers was to “logically” run through a website picking up keywords and phrases then plugging those numbers into an algorithm that generated the best search results. In the not too distant past, SEO marketers simply had to be a bit creative in employing a number of varying techniques to get these words packed in anywhere they could without damaging the integrity of the actual read of the content. Of course, there has always been more detail to it than this but overall it was a matter of paying attention to the details and following SEO best practices.

However, content is now being looked at differently. It’s always been about content and it still is. Where search engine indexers started out being very rudimentary, over time they have improved to steadily take into account keyword “stuffing” and other means employed to get that first page first position everyone seeks. Google is finally doing a good job of weeding out sites that are simply at the top because somebody put the most effort into cramming content everywhere it can and employing other slightly to blatantly back-handed techniques to get them there.

I like to say that Google’s updates to its indexer over the last 8 months have advanced to the point of defying logic in the areas of being able to more decipher “naturally written” content. These updates also penalize many of the accepted former “white-hat” techniques all of us SEO marketers used to use to market our clients. Now, instead of trying to pack a long list of desired keyword phrase content into a limited amount of webpages, it is looking for a pattern of continual pertinent subject matter content spread out naturally throughout a site.

I feel the only really effective recommended means to do this now is to implement a blog program and maintain it. With this blog program you'll want to pay attention to how it is crafted, or wordsmith’ d, by putting continual thought into keeping on subject using primary keyword phrases and geo-references "naturally" throughout the article. For example, talking about this subject of "local internet marketing" in conjunction with using a geo-reference in the article. An example would be:

“We recently performed a complete internet local marketing campaign for a HVAC company in Newport News. Something we found interesting about marketing this client was…”

Not only did I use a good example for this article, with this being a blog post we just helped our own indexing for "local marketing" and "Newport News" - one of the regional cities we service and want to index better in. The phrase and geo-reference reads naturally and is not repeated excessively or "forced".

What Others Say About You...

With the solidification of social media and customer review sites within the fabric of the web, it makes common sense that Google would also index what is being said by the public about a company’s products and services as part of its ranking criteria. Why not tap into this information to generate the most reputable businesses at the top of a search return based on positive or negative reviews? At this moment, it is not a large factor in ranking, however there is too much talk about it becoming so. As more people use the Internet to express their level of satisfaction with a company's product or service, I can guarantee that this will become critical probably within weeks or months of this post.

Review sites are also within the realm of generating backlinks or "citation" links back to your business website. In the big picture, it is critical to have a very consistent name, address and phone (NAP) format to better identify your particular business to increase what is known as your domain authority. The extreme consistency of this format solidifies your particular business as unique in Google's eyes and not to be confused with any other similar business type or name as yours that may be out there. The more of these consistent citations linking back to you the better. Domain authority criteria is also becoming a larger Google ranking factor.

Adapting To The Changes

So, quite frankly, it seems Google is now encouraging - more like forcing - the Internet to work for its reward. In the past we could post a website with some basics of detail and best practices employed and expect a reasonably effective result in traffic to the site. Now, it takes that foundation - which still applies strongly - and forces pro-activity in generating reviews and adding continual quality content to the site. This, in conjunction with a creative and consistent social media presence.

Businesses that take the time and/or expense to adapt to and follow these new guidelines will be rewarded. Those that don’t, I'm afraid will be left behind.

A Starter Guide to Web Development Part 2

search engine optimization checklist

In our last post, we discussed the initial steps we always recommend when starting a new website. At this point, you should have a clear vision of your company, your goals, and your budget. Let's cut to the chase and dive back in!

Getting Technical

Step 3 – Determine Your Hosting and Domain Management Criteria

I never claimed all aspects of web development were glamorous, however these technical aspects are crucial for building a solid foundation. For the purpose of this particular step, I'll be referring mostly to brand new sites. If you have an existing site, you've already got your hosting and domain. Some tips may be valuable to you anyway, especially if you're considering major upgrades or branding changes.

Think of your domain as your name and address online, while your hosting is the home for all your belongings (files). You'll need a domain name in conjunction with hosting to own your own slice of the internet pie.

While I would love to say it's as simple as jumping on the first company that offers these services, it is not. I'll never drop names, but some of your big box hosting companies offer some pretty sub-par services that don't always play well with all applications or can give your site a slow loading speed. It's always best to do your research on the differences in packages, rates, and reliability before choosing. If you're ever stuck or things get complicated, your web developer can offer insight and recommendations as to what you'll need to fulfill the website plan you've decided on. Of course, I know of a great hosting and domain management company located right here in Hampton Roads – your friend Graphic Memory!

Choosing the perfect domain name is another big step. Your web address can carry weight in your search engine optimization (SEO) and is also what you will essentially be using as your first impression. I will always recommend keeping it short, catchy and to the point. One of my many favorites is a local Newport News and Williamsburg company, http://poweredbyparks.com It's got a ring to it that people will remember, and includes a portion of the company's official name plus a potential search keyword. Ease of use and a clear vision of your company is the name of the game, literally! Try to avoid unnecessary dashes or other punctuation, as it's harder for the people you're going to want to share your site with to remember. The same goes for your domain extension, which is the .com or .net portion of your address. We're all pretty used to using .com across the board, so unless you're an nonprofit organization (.org) or educational institution (.edu) it's best to stick with old faithful. For example, 'bestconstructioncompany.com' is a superior choice to 'best-construction-company.net'

A factor to consider, is with the multitude of websites out there, a lot of the good names are taken. Don't be discouraged, try to get creative! If you're a local specific company, try adding your city or state to the end of your name. It can only add to your SEO presence, and keeps you in line with my above recommendations for simplicity. You can easily see what names are available to purchase without committing by using the 'Check Availability' feature on any domain registration website, such as eNom.

That's all for this month, stay tuned for my next post when we will start having fun with design and branding!

Hashtag – You’re it!

why hashtag mark your content
why hashtag mark your content

What’s the Deal with #hashtags?

Why do people and businesses load up their posts with these random words, phrases, acronyms, and so on? Well, it all started a long time ago…Back before Google and Bing became the genius search monsters that they now are. Before hashtagging was, well…a thing. Tags were used not only to categorize websites and content, but as a sort of SEO (search engine optimization) boost. The tags on a site would help it rank higher in search engine results. Think of tags along similar lines of search keywords. The search engines would crawl the tags on sites to determine the relevance to the search query. These days, search engines crawl all of the text on (and in) a site, which has made these tags and categories a lot less important to SEO.

Wikipedia[1] tells us that what we now refer to as the hashtag first appeared on Internet Relay Chat (IRC) which was created back in 1988. It was an internet chat system where users would chat through specific channels (topics) which where notated by the pound sign, immediately followed by the topic. For example, to join a group of people chatting about football, the user would type /join #football into their IRC platform.

[1] Internet Relay Chat - Wikipedia

Why Did Hashtags Become a Must-have for Social Media Success?

I’m glad you asked! As using tags for SEO became less and less impactful, they actually became a very useful way to optimize social media posts and blogs. Tags became a way for a user to search a specific topic or category within a website or social media platform. The first modern-day application of the hashtag appeared on Twitter in 2007. User Chris Messina tweeted the following, not knowing that he would kick off an international standard practice for nearly all social media platforms:

“how do you feel about using # (pound) for groups. As in #barcamp [msg]?”
—Chris Messina, (@factoryjoe), August 23, 2007

It caught on, big time. Twitter took nearly two years to respond by turning #hashtags into clickable links that users could follow in order to see posts made under the same hashtag by any public user. It didn’t take long for other platforms like Facebook and Google+ to pick up on the trend.

How Does this Affect You and Your Business?

First, it provides a great way to group and organize your content. This not only helps for your own reference, but it helps fans find older content that might be relevant to a particular issue they’re experiencing. Next, it’s a brilliant way to find new readers and reach an audience that you otherwise may never have been able to tap into. Not everybody may follow you, but if you diversify your content and your hashtags to match, you stand a great chance of reaching tons of niche audience members that could potentially follow you, or even become a client or customer.

In Hampton, we deal with a lot of small business. Hashtags have proven to be a great way to not only reach the entire Hampton Roads region, but a way to expand our reach to audiences across Virginia, the east coast, and the entire United States! They’re especially helpful for niche businesses that could use some healthy interaction from people who are truly interested in said niche.

So get out there, pay attention to trending hashtags, and do it! BUT…Don’t overdo it. Loading up your post with more hashtags than content is a quick way to make people lose interest or chalk you up as a spammer. Stick with a couple/few relevant and popular hashtags. Let us know how it works for you!

Business Email for Dummies

business email for dummies
business email for dummies

Business Email Can be Confusing....

In this day and age where texting and shortcode are the norm, it can be difficult to maintain proper business email etiquette. Although there are schools of thought in regards to the necessity of proper grammar and content composition within an email, I do maintain there are some guidelines to be followed to keep a business tone in communication. Here are some pointers as to how I try to keep on point with my emails to business associates.

Addressing Your Email
  • The TO: field should display only the recipient's display name: There is never a need to address an email to Marcia Ricketson <marketing@graphicmemory.com>. If you know the recipient well, your address book should have them filed by display name. If you do not know them, the email address only should be entered into this field.
  • Use the CC field correctly: If a recipient is to act on a message, they belong in the TO: field. Using the CC field can be confusing since the recipients might not know who is supposed to act on the message. It should be used only as an FYI to the CC recipients.
  • Do not use CC/BCC fields for mass mailings: Contacts can be exposed in this way and you could possibly breach their privacy. Use mail merge or an email distribution software.
  • Use short, descriptive subjects: This will help if you ever need to find the email again. If previous email threads are used to open a new email thread, change the subject line of the new one to avoid confusion.
Composing a Business Email
  • Greeting the receiver of your email: Use the proper salutation depending upon how familiar you are with the recipient. Utilize a combination of formal and informal to match the relationship you have:
    • Dear Dr. John Doe
    • Good Morning Dr. Doe
    • Good Morning John
    • Hi John
    • Hey dude (doubtful this would be appropriate, but hey, it's a combination)
Composing a Business Email (CONT...)
  • Write concise emails: Do not make an email longer than it needs to be. Short and concise emails are more effective than long-winded ones. If an email is too long, recipients will only skim over the content. Use bullets when appropriate.
  • Do not use all capitals:  Capitals come across as AGGRESSIVE and the recipient can be intimidated by it, even if that is not the intention.
  • Do not use texting abbreviations: OMG and LOL social acronyms and not appropriate for business communication.
Completing the Email
  • Include email signature: Check if the company is adding email signatures centrally at the server level or whether you should add your own. Avoid adding personal touches, inspiring quotes are for personal messages, not for business emails.
  • Include message thread: It is better to include the message thread so that the recipient can browse through the history of the conversation without having to search through their inbox.
  • Use spell check and proofread: Embarrassing spelling errors can easily be avoided. Simply by rereading an email before it is sent out will help you reduce errors and improve the effectiveness of your message.
Sending Business Emails
  • Do not send large attachments via email: Instead, try to include a link to a downloadable document. Attachments over 10 MB are very likely to be blocked in transit.
  • Only mark emails important if they really are: Over usage of the high importance option will obtain the adverse effect.
  • Do not use the delivery or read receipt option: The recipient will probably remove themselves from the email if they are agitated by the request.
Replying To an Email
  • Send a complete response: When you respond to an email with questions, re-read the original email to make sure that you have answered all questions. When you send a partial response it will only lead to confusion, as well as additional emails.
  • Use the Reply All function only when needed: Make sure everyone who was sent the original email needs to see your response. On the flip side, make sure you DO use it when everyone should see your answer.
Keeping Track of Email
  • Read in order: read the oldest email first, even if you are not going to act upon it. That will ensure you do not miss a separate email pertaining to the current topic.
  • Mark as Unread: email you open, but are unable to finish reading
  • Leave in your Inbox: email requiring action you do not have time to complete
  • File into a subject folder: email you read and act upon but may need to refer to in the future
  • Delete: any repeat emails containing the exact thread - keep only the latest version to make sure you are responding to the correct portion of the thread.
  • Respond: to ALL email requesting a response or asking a question in a timely manner, EVEN IF it is just to let the sender know you are unable to address the issue immediately.