Cascade e-Commerce Solutions, Inc.

Remediating Search Engine Rankings

In the early years of the internet, businesses that had simple websites with a lot of text benefited from a phenomenon known as “grandfathering.” These businesses listed their websites in search engines and weren’t charged anything because the search engines were trying to compile the biggest, most relevant database. This was before search engines charged for inclusion or pay per click. If the businesses were in well-defined niches, their websites had high rankings for several phrases related to their business and web-generated business was good! Then, in 1995, those businesses that had ranked highly in natural search for several years saw their rankings drop significantly (from first page to 16th page or below.) This was because the search engines’ algorithms evolved continuously, while the businesses websites did not keep up with international standards. Today businesses that don’t keep up with coding developments intended to make web pages load more quickly and efficiently on both PCs and mobile devices and/or that don’t maintain the text and images to keep current can expect to see their search engine ranking positions (SERPs) drop. Gone are the days that you can build a website and then ignore it for years. Optimizing an older website to meet current, international standards typically involves over a dozen tasks. There is simply a list of tasks that take about three weeks to complete. These tasks include: 1. Conducting research to identify which phrases will get the most web traffic 2. Writing text that is easier for the search engines and humans to read 3. Eliminating code that slows down search engine robots 4. Adding structural elements that help people and search engine robots get through the site faster 5. Deleting any inappropriate strategies that may have been in place before optimization Businesses that have experienced dropped rankings represent about half of our new clients for the search engine optimization services. We call this work ranking remediation because it involves working to remedy dropped rankings so that web-generated business levels are restored. Restoring dropped rankings takes less time than securing rankings for sites that are new or have never been well-ranked. A business that has dropped in ranking knows the value of their search engine position because they rely on web-generated sales. This makes them highly motivated to assist in the process. Short turnaround time and high client motivation make ranking remediation an especially fun type of project for us at CeSI. If your business’ website is in need of ranking remediation, contact Cascade e-Commerce Solutions at 206-244-9092 or [email protected]

White Hat Versus Black Hat SEO

Clients often ask me, “Does Google try to make it difficult for SEO specialists to do their work?” What I tell them is I don’t believe Google does anything to make it difficult for White Hat SEO specialists like me. A White Hat SEO specialist is someone who chooses to follow Google’s recommendations. However, they make it very difficult for SEO specialists who use Black Hat techniques. People who use Black Hat techniques are those who look for ways to get lots of traffic quickly, even if it isn’t the right traffic. They are also looking for short term gains through temporary loopholes, rather than long term growth for their clients. In addition, they want to “automate” all the processes involved in securing high rankings. I believe you can’t automate the key processes involved in developing good content for a website, such as text and photos. You must take the time to get to know the business, to know what makes them unique and best in their niche. You must become part of their marketing team and work hard to get into the head of their ideal customer. Google has a large team of programmers that is always in the process of creating new algorithms to filter out websites that are utilizing strategies that violate Google’s Webmaster Quality Guidelines. These guidelines have been the same for years, and so there really is no excuse for SEO specialists to not follow them. They can’t say they didn’t know. You can’t trick Google and you shouldn’t want to. On more than one occasion, we have helped a small business client get a refund from a major SEO company because the company used a strategy that was specifically stated as a violation in Google’s guidelines. Employment of this strategy caused the business to have the worst level of web traffic and sales in 35 years. Their SEO company literally tanked the website in the search results, and they tried to say they didn’t know it was wrong. They used the fact that Google didn’t catch up to them for several months as an excuse. In a meeting with them and the client, we pulled out Google’s quality guidelines and other Google public documentation and they knew the game was up. They allowed the client to cancel their service and gave them a refund. Over the years, our clients have outperformed their competition in search rankings and new sales from online marketing because we’ve helped prevent them from doing spammy things. Google spells out in their quality guidelines that they will penalize those spammy things. While there have been short episodes during which our clients’ competitors were securing higher rankings by using spammy strategies, their reputation ends up so ruined that they had to let go of their domain names and completely rebuild their websites. Once the reputation of a domain name has been damaged, it takes a human at Google to remove the penalty. Google won’t do that unless you humbly admit you’ve made a mistake, you call out the specific details of the violation, you provide evidence that you’ve remedied the violation,, and you promise never to let it happen again. Even then, Google is under no obligation to tell the business that their website has been penalized or to lift the penalty. We’ve had several clients come to us after another SEO company has done something spammy and caused their website to be penalized. We are happy that we have been successful in getting penalties removed for these clients’ websites. These clients then go on to become some of our best clients because they have learned the value of following quality guidelines and they support our efforts to do so. While I know that Google is in the search business to make money, I believe that their quality guidelines are in the best interest of internet users and of businesses that market through the internet. Other SEO experts might try to call me overly optimistic and naïve. However, I can point to over 20 years in the industry, and my adherence to quality guidelines has always benefited my clients and my small business. Even when I’m pressured to follow the latest loophole, I stand firm and ask my clients to wait out the latest Black Hat strategy. I’m proud of the success of those clients that have done this time and time again. They’ve survived downturns in the economy and the short-term loss in rankings that happened when competitors were temporarily leading in search rankings due to Black Hat SEO strategies. We love seeing that our clients are getting the right results for consistently doing the right thing over the long run. It’s rewarding to see that the good guys win!

You Still Don’t Have a Mobile Site? Prepare to Be Ignored

As a Social Media Marketing Specialist and Content Developer, I can tell you that my boyfriend understands about half of what I do on a daily basis. He’s an engineer, so writing and marketing are not his specialties. Because both of us are in our 20s, we tend to assume that every company has already jumped on the digital marketing band-wagon. Every time we have to find something, for example somewhere to eat dinner, we only make the decision off of what we find on the internet. Now, you can have your opinions about how the internet plays such an important role in young peoples’ decision making, but that’s not going to change the fact that it does. When I talk to my boyfriend about my latest projects at work, he used to have a hard time believing that my clients really need that much help with their online presence. However, recently, his 20-something year-old perspective was changed when he was doing research on his move across the country. He was looking for a company to ship his car and found that almost every company available had no real online, mobile-friendly presence. And since he is in his 20s, that meant that he doesn’t consider any shipping company to be viable and worthy of his money. He now knows that many companies think that they can still get by doing business the old way, even though we live in the digital age and make all our decisions with that in mind. What those businesses don’t know is that that just makes them look shady to us 20-something year olds, so we’ll just find another business that does have a good website. Some companies may say that that’s all fine and dandy, and that they’ll just choose to rely more on the business of older people because they think those people will have more money to spend anyways. They should be prepared though, because 20+ year-olds are making bigger purchases than many business owners realize and those decisions are not only for their own service needs, but also for the needs of their family members. Young people are currently buying houses and cars, moving, and seeking out services for their older and younger family members. Businesses that ignore how young people choose services won’t see any of their money, unless they step-up their digital game.

Here’s How to Affordably Start Marketing

Starting a new business and have a limited budget? Here’s how to affordably start marketing. As an internet marketing specialist who has been in the business for over 20 years, I have been asked by many people how they should start marketing their new business while taking their start-up level budget into consideration. In response, I ask the new business owner to share with me:
  • the name of their business and how the history of that name
  • a description of its services and products
  • a description of its ideal client or customer
  • its intended geographic reach
  • a statement of what will make the business unique in its market niche
If the business owner can’t answer these questions succinctly, then I respond by encouraging them to meet with a local Small Business Development Center (SBDC.) The SBDC will help them learn how to categorize and market their business.  If the business owner can answer these questions, then I ask whether they have developed a logo, company colors, or any other brand identity pieces. If they don’t have these, then I recommend that we start with these with the goal of developing a logo and business cards that will help the business owner make traditional, in-person connections. Next I recommend the following marketing strategies:
  • Keyword research to identify the phrases that people might use to find the business online
  • Content development to include keyword-rich text
  • A mobile friendly, quick-to-load website 
  • Optimized pages in local maps and review sites such as Google My Business (Maps), Yelp, etc.
  • Online reputation monitoring and coordination
  • Email marketing
  • Pay per click marketing
  • Social media marketing (selection of specific strategies such as LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, etc. depending on ideal customer demographics)
I offer a one hour complimentary consultation to help businesses develop a prioritized outline of possible marketing strategies. To schedule your complimentary consultation, please call me at 206.244.9092 or email [email protected]

Setting Your Price

Originally by Elizabeth Paulsen on May 26, 2009, updated 1/22/2020.   I enjoy mentoring new businesses. One of the most common questions I hear from new business owners is “How should I set my price?” This is what I tell them.  Know your competitors’ prices. Gather as much information as possible about your competitors’ prices and why they are charging those prices. Make certain that for each price you know the specific products and services that are included.  Know your lowest possible price. List all your costs for each service/product. Possible costs include supplies, staffing, shipping, overhead, and follow on services. Then, for each service/product, add your minimum margin (the money your business needs to make above the costs for that item to be viable.) Compare your competitors’ prices to your lowest possible prices. It helps to build a table of each service/product and list your prices in one column and the prices of competitors in other columns. Then, study the options below and select the option that works best for your business.

Lowest Price Option

Consider being the lowest price competitor when:
  1. You know for certain that you can sustain the price for a long time.
  2. You know that your competition can’t come near your prices because their overhead and other costs are higher and they don’t have the funding to offer your price or lower.
  3. You know that another competitor can’t enter the market and offer a lower price.
Don’t aim to be the lowest price competitor when:
  1. Prospects who are shopping for your services/products may think yours are substandard in quality because prices are associated with quality in your industry.
  2. There is a competitor who has the funding to drop below your lowest possible price. A competitor who has adequate funding can drop their prices just long enough to get your customers to switch. This will make you raise your price or force you out of business. 
It is important to note that customers who shop for the lowest price are fickle. As soon as your price is no longer the lowest, they’ll feel fully justified in moving on. Don’t count on them loving your services/products so much that they will stay loyal to your brand.

Highest Price Option

Consider being the highest price competitor when:
  1. You have at least one success story that you can share. If you have done the same work for a previous client and can tell a prospect that you significantly contributed to that client’s success, you can command a high price.
  2. You know that you and your services/products are worth it. Prospects can sense confidence. They’ll believe you’re the best if you believe it.
  3. There are enough prospects for you to sustain your business.
  4. You can sustain the level of service and quality that your price promises.
Don’t aim to be the highest price competitor when:
  1. There are too few prospects to buy your services/products. You could become too dependent on those few.
  2. You’re not confident that you are better than your competitors and you have no story to tell of past success.
  3. You don’t yet know how to sustain being the best for a long period of time.

Middle Price Option

Consider being a middle priced competitor when:
  1. You want the greatest flexibility in pricing.
  2. You don’t have a great success story to tell right from the beginning.
  3. You have no desire to make huge waves amongst your competitors right from the start. 
Don’t aim to be middle priced option when your business model is really better suited to either lowest or highest price.

Pricing to the Level of Responsibility

There is a practice that I call “pricing to the level of responsibility.” This practice involves charging higher-end prices. This practice is good for a business to implement.  When a business is implementing this practice and is charging a higher price for their product/service, prospects will believe that the business must be the best because it charges a higher price. The logic is that if a business has the courage to charge that much, then there must be a reason, so they deserve the business. This logic can carry on into a contract. A prospect might believe that because they are paying a company that much money, they might as well use all of its services/products and listen to its representatives. By doing so, they believe they aren’t wasting all the money they’re spending. They are also giving the majority of control to the company, which means that projects can be completed in a timely manner without hiccups caused by overhead. This practice should never be leveraged simply to secure a high price. The customer would see through that and become offended.  This practice is very helpful in cases in which the customer needs to have a strong commitment to the project. Pricing to the level of responsibility encourages both the customer and the vendor to work together as a team, which will lead to a successful result. When a business defines its pricing, it can confidently communicate with prospects and customers. Clarity around pricing helps set a positive tone for the business/customer relationship. The earlier a new business can set its pricing, the faster it can become successful. For more information contact Elizabeth Paulsen at [email protected]

Why We Build Websites in WordPress

According to a W3Techs survey, 35% of the world’s websites use WordPress.1 This is more than 12 times as much as the second most popular content management system, Joomla, and 22 times as much as popular competing website creation tools Squarespace and Wix.2 This same survey also shows that WordPress is still the fastest-growing content management system on the web, so it does not look as if it is going away any time soon.

This is not due to having the best codebase; WordPress is notorious among programmers for its outdated reliance on globals and its unintuitive loop system. These make it easier for different pieces of code to conflict with each other. WordPress is also known for its limited plugin system, which is inefficient when compared to more modern approaches, such as Composer.

There are many competitors with cleaner code than WordPress, such as SilverStripe or Symfony. However, none of them have the complete, intuitive UI WordPress has that makes it easy to use for both programmers and clients. As the programmer who co-founded Stack Overflow and Discourse said, “the UI is the application.”3 Having a system that is easy to use for clients or less-technically-proficient people is important for balancing division of labor and keeping development cost fair. Often, clients cannot afford every change they need done to be completed directly by a programmer, so it is more economical to use a UI for simple changes. That way clients can save the money to use the programmer later on for more technical issues, like speed or security. The purpose for technology, after all, is to save people time.

For technology, popularity can be an advantage by itself, especially for open source software. It means there are more eyes watching it and more minds thinking about it. No matter how clean a piece of software is, it will always cause users obscure errors. Dealing with these errors is much easier when there is a large community of people who have likely run into the same errors and can give answers and solutions.

The same concept applies for plugins and themes. WordPress’ popularity gives it a greater variety of plugins that can serve many more needs than less popular environments. Also, you will be less likely to fall victim to hacking if you stick to popular plugins that are supported by professional organizations with good reputations. Whereas obscure plugins, thanks to their obscurity, can hide exploits for years without anyone finding them.

Because WordPress is popular, it is that much easier to find developers with years of experience working in it. While we love working with our clients for as long as we can, we understand that sometimes clients need change. Sometimes clients become so big that they need a developer dedicated fully to their company and need to take their work in-house. It would be much harder to find a developer who could easily catch up to where the old developer left off if they had to work in a lesser-known content management system. When we take on a client who already has a website, it is usually much easier to update and improve it if it is already in WordPress, than if it was made in an older, lesser-known system.

To give an example of the extra attention WordPress gets from large, professional organizations, Google themselves are dedicating an engineering team to help make WordPress faster.4

Unlike site builders like SquareSpace or Wix, WordPress still gives developers complete control over the website. This makes it easier to apply security and speed optimizations site builders that SquareSpace or Wix do not allow. Site builders like these are closed systems locked behind a paid service, which can give peace of mind to non-developers because the service handles security issues. However, since these websites are generated, they are usually not well made. These websites have redundant code and resources that take longer to load, which can hurt SEO because search engines prefer faster websites. They also do not allow advanced security features like security headers and content security policies, which can better protect websites from hacks, such as cross-site scripting hijacks.5

In contrast, WordPress is open source software you host yourself, so you can change just about anything you want. This means that the unsavory elements of WordPress can be patched up. Do you prefer the flexibility and efficiency of Composer in Symfony? You can implement Composer inside your WordPress theme and get most of the same benefits. Meanwhile, WordPress’ wonky loop systems and awkward, wordy methods for adding stylesheets can be hidden behind clean, object-oriented interfaces.

With greater control over clients’ websites, Cascade e-Commerce Solutions Inc. can make them more personalized to fit the specific needs of the clients in both design and functionality—websites that go beyond cookie-cutter templates. CeSI websites are unique, professional, and accessible.

For examples of some WordPress websites we have made, explore the following case studies:

References:

  1. ^ “W3Techs – World Wide Web Technology Surveys”. W3Techs. 2019-12-01. Retrieved 2020-01-10.
  2. ^ “Usage of content management systems”. W3Techs. 2019-12-01. Retrieved 2020-01-10.
  3. ^ Atwood, J (2005-08-24). “The User Interface Is The Application”. Coding Horrors. Retrieved 2020-01-10.
  4. ^ Robbins, M. (2018-02-05). “The need for speed: Google dedicates engineering team to accelerate development of WordPress ecosystem”. Search Engine Land. Retrieved 2020-01-10.
  5. ^ “Cross-site Scripting (XSS)”. Open Web Application Security Project (OWASP). 2018-06-05. Retrieved 2020-01-10.

Which Digital Marketing Medium When

It’s been over ten years since I originally wrote the article below (May 26, 2019) under the title “Which Medium When.” Yet, most of it still applies in December 2019. In italics are notes I have added since initial publication. Although I make a living by helping businesses attract new customers and sales online, I don’t quickly jump on every new social media platform. This is because I’ve learned from experience that:
  • some platforms are huge time wasters that provide very little meaningful communication
  • others don’t last long enough to be proven as effective social networking or marketing systems
  • others change format so often that no one wants to keep up with the latest version of the system (over engineering-itis)
Therefore, I read reviews about the new systems, ask people about their experiences, and test each system for sufficient evidence that it is worth spending time to learn yet another system. As a result of this process, I have chosen to set up LinkedIn accounts to keep connected with business associates. I also have set up a Twitter profile to follow a business associate’s tweets and found that other business associates were looking for me on Twitter. Then I began to set up Facebook pages – one for personal use and others for client businesses. So has this helped business? Yes and no. It has:
  • increased the number of incoming links and visitors to websites that I manage
  • helped me keep updated on who’s doing what where
  • helped renew and strengthen business relationships
However, it has not brought significant volumes of new clients or sales yet. Therefore, when a prospective client asks me whether he/she should invest in social media, I say, “Only if your website, blog, and email communications are already optimized and producing new customers and more sales. Websites, blogs, and email marketing are still very effective strategies and the new social communication systems do not replace them, they simply augment them.”

Recommended Order of Electronic Marketing Initiatives for Emerging and Small Businesses Based on ROI

As for which order to implement traditional web and newer web marketing strategies, it does depend somewhat on the market niche and the business’ marketing budget. However, the typical succession is
  1. responsive design, quick to load, mobile-friendly website with on page and in site natural search optimization strategies implemented (website may or may not include a blog)
  2. off page optimization of the website (i.e. keyword rich links from other well-optimized, geographically or topically on target websites including local map search sites, online directories and other industry-related web pages)
  3. pay per click marketing
  4. email marketing
  5. article marketing,(Switch 3 and 5 if you are focusing on greatest ROI.)
  6. social marketing (selection of specific strategies such as LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram, SnapChat, Pinterest, and Etsy depends on market niche and ideal customer demographics)
To help businesses develop a prioritized outline of possible marketing mediums, I offer a one hour complimentary consultation. To schedule your complimentary consultation, please call me at 206.244.9092 or email [email protected]. (We have always and still do offer this so feel free to reach out!)

Tips for Preparing to Sell Your Business

Preparing to sell your business can be both exciting and scary. Considering that many business owners have worked hard to build, grow and maintain their businesses, it can feel very uncertain handing off years of hard work. For others, it can be freeing. But, I think we can all agree that if you try to sell a business without a proper plan in place things can get very chaotic, very quickly! Here are a few tips we believe will make the process go a bit more smoothly! Focus on your BEST products and services. It’s really easy to get to a place where your business is trying to do and sell everything…or the wrong thing. This is something worth paying attention to, especially when you’re looking to sell in the near future. Your business will be more successful in selling its products and services if they are high quality. You can only make these things high quality by giving the proper time, attention and focus to things that you and your team are skilled in. Focus on the things your business has a knack for and stop doing those things that your business is not the best in the world at doing. What are the products or services do you offer that your customers RAVE about? Focus on those things. Be sure to have the RIGHT people doing the RIGHT work. When your business has the right people in the right positions, your business can be transitioned to a new owner very quickly. Often buyers see this as a turn-key business, meaning that all the new owner will need to do is complete the paperwork for the buy and take the key to the office door and open it. Tighten up your financial processes to assure that you’re increasing in profitability. In order to entice a buyer, it is necessary that your financials are up to date and demonstrate that all bills (including taxes) have been paid on time and that there has been strong growth for at least the past five years. A new buyer wants evidence that the business will continue to turn a profit well into the future. Hire a professional to help you in the process. A professional can help 1.assess the health of the business and document its salability, 2. package, confidentially promote and sell the business, the business owners and key staff prepare to successfully transition for the sale and new ownership. Working with the right consultant helps assure that the business will continue to flourish well beyond the sell date and of course this benefits the business’ customers/clients, employees and their families, the community where the business is based as well as the prior owner and new owner and their families — a true WIN for all.

Is Your Business Improving?

While some business owners look to their financials to determine whether their business is doing better, many small business owners also look to the following indicators. They know business is better when:
  1. Management isn’t panicked when some high maintenance customers go elsewhere.
  2. Management begins to test new services and markets.
  3. Pay raises and/or year-end bonuses are extended to staff.
  4. More staff is hired.
  5. Equipment and facilities are upgraded.
  6. Logo, business cards, website and other marketing materials are updated.
  7. The business supports a fundraising event.
  8. The business sponsors a youth sports team.
  9. The owner takes a vacation for the first time in years.
  10. Some tasks are done “just for fun”.
Furthermore, the truly wise business owner will engage in the above activities even before business is really better. This is because the wise business owner knows from experience that acting on the belief that something is better actually helps things move in the direction of getting better, just as priming a pump helps the water to flow more quickly and steadily.

20 Ways to Keep Google from Listing Your Web Pages in Search Results

In twenty years of optimizing websites for the search engines, I’ve often been called in to remedy business websites that have had disastrous results in the search engines. In each case a prior webmaster or search engine optimization (SEO) service provider had employed abusive and/or neglectful strategies. 20 of these abuses and neglectful practices are listed below. 1. The first thing on the home page is a link to another business’ website. 2. The website has no original text (all text is copied from other websites). 3. The website is built in clunky code that makes page loading too slow. 4. Important text is built into graphics, Adobe Acrobat PDF files and/or Flash files which search engine robots can’t read. 5. The web pages include hidden text (text that is in the same color as the web page background color). 6. The web pages include hidden links (such as links from unseen graphics). 7. The web pages are built in a dynamic platform and employ a linking strategy that results in endless loops in which the same text content reappears with different web addresses (duplicate content). 8. Web page names include lots of code language such as “&” (ampersands), “?” (question marks) and “=” (equals signs). 9. The web pages have no metatags. 10. The same exact metatags are used on every page in the website. 11. Keyword phrases are based on guessing what people search for rather than on actual search data. 12. The website’s text hasn’t been updated in years. 13. The website’s code doesn’t meet current international standards. 14. The navigation links are different on every page. 15. There is no sitemap (page that lists links to all the website’s pages). 16. The navigation takes visitors forward to lots of dead ends (pdf files and graphics with no navigation links that take people back to the website). 17. The website includes many links to missing pages and graphics (broken links). 18. The domain name changed and the webmaster failed to set up proper redirects. 19. The web language changed and the webmaster failed to set up proper redirects. 20. A competitor’s website has optimized its website for the business’ name and trademarked names without any challenge to the legality of this action. In many cases, the business’ leadership didn’t even know that abusive and/or neglectful strategies had been employed. If you suspect that your business’ website may suffer from inappropriate or outdated strategies, please feel free to contact us at [email protected] or 206-244-9092.