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make-sure-your-seo-is-wearing-a-white-hat.jpgThe New York Times piled some fairly harmful media attention on JC Penney over the weekend by questioning how the behemoth U.S. retailer was able to consistently turn up first in line on Google’s search results for a large number of seemingly unrelated keywords. From “bedding” to “blue jeans,” the JC Penney name popped up as the top spot inGoogle, which prompted the Times investigation.

What the newspaper suggested was that Penney’s was employing “black hat” search engine optimization techniques, which I and others — including Google — consider cheating.

I’d be willing to wager that one red flag prompting closer inspection was a Times Google search for the term “Samsonite carry-on luggage” which ranked Penney’s website ahead of Samsonite’s own home page. How on earth is that possible? The newspaper’s research also turned up links to Penney’s women’s dresses on sites that primarily focused on dogs, disease, diamond-bit drills, online games, travel and snoring.

So how did Penney’s accomplish such prime search engine results? In the case of Google, its search engines judge the importance of a website partially by the number of links that come into the site, as well as the quality of those links. In other words, if your motorcycle repair shop has six links coming into it and your competition has 60, the competing business should — quite logically — rank higher in Google’s search results for the search word “motorcycle.” Read the rest of this entry »

It’s been the biggest problem of the recession — small business owners aren’t doing much hiring. That started to turn around last year, but a new Wells Fargo/Gallup Small Business Index poll shows there is now big pent-up demand for workers.

In the study, more than half of entrepreneurs said they hired new workers last year. But more tellingly, among those who added staff, 42 percent reported hiring fewer workers than they really needed.

What does it mean? It appears we’re at an inflection point.

Business is picking up as the recession frost finally thaws, but owners are still scared to make a hiring commitment. Asked to list all their reasons for not hiring, nearly 80 percent of respondents said they feared sales wouldn’t justify more hiring. Another issue: 70 percent said they’ve got cash-flow or payroll problems.

Really fascinating note for the unemployed: 62 percent of the owners surveyed said they couldn’t find qualified people to fill positions. More than half were worried about healthcare costs, too. Read the rest of this entry »

subway1.jpgEverybody knows Subway is a successful franchise chain. But did you know last year it cracked 33,000 units and should shortly hit 34,000? The fresh-sandwich chain passed McDonald’s to take the top fast-food franchise crown — the Golden Arches have just 32,000 restaurants. This may seem like a big-business story at first, but Subway and McDonald’s have made their brand one locally owned franchisee at a time. The chains are essentially huge conglomerations of mom-and-pop restaurants.

The tale of how Subway overtook the longstanding leader in their sector has many lessons for small business owners everywhere. Here are some of the factors that let Subway move ahead:

1. Tell a great story. When Subway found the original Biggest Loser, then-student Jared, the company had the sense to jump on the story and keep it growing. Subway could have just had a motto along the lines of “our food is lower fat and healthier than our competitors,” but it wouldn’t have been nearly as compelling as ”Hey, look at me — I ate exclusively at Subway and lost tons of weight!”

This could have been a one-season marketing arc, but instead Subway kept it growing and fed Jared fans a steady stream of new information for many years. The corporate website still has a whole tab about Jared that goes back to his very first commercial. Read the rest of this entry »

By Marshall Kirby, Policy Analyst

As a citizen, the debate over budget cuts and the fiscal crisis has permeated throughout the media.  The one thing all sides agree on is that something will need to be done to shore up America’s fiscal position sooner rather than later.  It seems hard to believe that a decade ago discussion of the US deficit raised little concern even from well respected “deficit hawks.”  However, over the last ten years, our country has consistently spent far more than it received in revenues.  This has led us to the point where even those analysts who believed that America’s fiscal position was strong have now raised their eyebrows with regard to our country’s long term budget sustainability and solvency.

Right now, Republicans and Democrats both acknowledge the situation and the need to produce meaningful budget cuts.  However, Republicans have seized momentum from the political wind and have put forth a budget in the House of Representatives which puts through deeper cuts in non-defense discretionary spending than the President’s own budget.  Both the Administration’s budget and the one put forth in the House have received a lot of criticism with a mix of praise.  Deficit hawks and Tea Party supporters have praised the House budget, and less hawkish analysts also concerned with education and infrastructure have been sympathetic towards President Obama’s.

I’d venture a guess based on polling numbers from various news agencies and organizations that the average American is fairly concerned with America’s and their own state’s deficit problems.  At the same time most are more deeply concerned about the economy, growth, and employment.  Coming out this week in the Washington Post (article can be viewed here) was a report by Mark Zandi, an economist at Moody’s which has predicted that if the House budget were to become our nation’s budget 700,000 jobs Read the rest of this entry »

By Marshall Kirby, Public Policy Analyst

There has been a lot of media attention paid to the plight of cities in the Midwest, Rust Belt, and other areas which have experienced the economic hardships which come with deindustrialization.  The recession has hit these areas hard, and has increased the hardships faced by their residents with increased unemployment, lower wages and incomes, higher poverty rates, and increased reliance on public assistance programs.

However, there has not been a lot of attention paid to the Sunbelt – or the region of the country which was supposedly where jobs and economic growth were most stable.  However, in many cities and counties across the Sunbelt, which stretches across the southern US from east to west, the poverty rate has jumped faster and more significantly than any other region.  The Sunbelt is not alone as areas which were experiencing rapid growth like the Mountain west and the Pacific Northwest have experienced similar trends.  While poor inner cities in the Midwest like Detroit and those in the Northeast like Buffalo and Newark still have higher poverty rates, the trend is definitely noticeable and trickling out into once booming suburbs in the south and west.

Some explanations of this phenomenon can be seen as specific to the particulars of this recession.  For instance, those who have studied this note several concurrent and related problems with areas in the Sunbelt and the west.  Both areas have seen a significant fall in property values, and the current economic climate has impacted suburban areas due to fewer opportunities available to them (compared to major cities).  The major trend is that these areas developed and grew from the housing bubble, which fueled not only the construction industry in these regions, but also service sectors. Read the rest of this entry »

facebook-like.jpgThere you are, busily marketing your business or brand through social networking and suddenly you’re experiencing a rash of unsubscribes, unfans, unlikes or unfollows on your email, Facebook or Twitter accounts. What’s going on here? It’s like that old Righteous Brothers hit, “You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling.” Only this time around it’s not a mid-60s teenager who’s hurting — it’s you!

ExactTarget, an Indianapolis-based interactive marketing services provider, has released “The Social Break-up,” a report exploring why consumers terminate their relationship with businesses and brands through these three major social media channels: Facebook, Twitter and email marketing. Much like a romantic relationship, social network bonding begins with an initial attraction, whereby the consumer becomes a subscriber, fan or follower. But what is it that prompts that same enamored person to unsubscribe, eliminate their “Like” status or just ignore communications from your business completely?

In the case of email marketing, the trigger that prompts 54 percent of consumers to unsubscribe is when the offending company bombards a subscriber’s email with too many marketing messages. Another 49 percent opt out when your content is boring. Becoming overwhelmed by email in general accounts for 47 percent, and those who say the content was never relevant from the beginning makes up 25 percent of unsubscribers. Read the rest of this entry »

Establishing a presence on Facebook is as important for your business as setting up a website was, say, five years ago. The problem is, just like launching a website, setting up your company’s Facebook business page is not exactly intuitive.

Of course, the basic steps of setting up a Facebook business page are, well, basic. You just register your page, invite friends and customers or clients to “Like” your page and secure your unique page username or short address — that is, Facebook’s web address, slash your company’s name (e.g. http://www.Facebook.com/yourcompanyname). But there’s a lot more to creating an enticing business page than just slapping your logo on it, adding a few coupons and hoping customers and potential clients will stumble across it.

To go beyond the basics, brands, corporations — and even celebrities — have been chomping at the bit for Facebook’s recommendations on consultants who can help enhance or create a more engaging Facebook business page — replete with contests, customer questionnaires or even adding on Facebook-integrated social features to their own websites. Read the rest of this entry »

posted at Chamber of Commerce.com:

An idea proposed in last year’s State of the Union address, the Small Business Lending Fundproposed by President Obama in early 2010 is finally getting off the ground. The number of loans being given to small businesses has been on the decline since 2008, leaving tens of billions out of reach for businesses around the country. But the Small Business Lend Fund looks to remedy this downshift, with $30 billion being injected into community banks to jumpstart the small business lending scene that’s been in a slump for quite some time.

Response from banks has been strong, which is good news for businesses looking for loans. That said, however, the new fund may not be as effective as Congress initially hoped. Certain Congressional reports implied that banks would lend $10 for every one dollar in received capital, resulting in $300 billion worth of loans. These figures seem rather optimistic and there’s doubt that demand is that high for such loans.

The success of the fund depends heavily on the responsibility of banks, and soon enough we’ll discover whether or not they’ve learned their lessons in regards to distributing poor loans. Banks eligible for the Small Business Lending Fund must have less than $10 billion in assets, and it’s estimated that over 100 banks have already applied. The application deadline for the fund is March 31st, so there’s still time for more banks to get on board. Read the rest of this entry »

The following article was published by Entrepreneur.com and attempts to rank U.S. Presidents according to how they helped the typical small business owner.  The list is certainly not definitive, nor is there a consensus on the rankings, but what do you thin about the top 5?  As an example counter-point, many scholars today say that FDR’s policies prolonged the Great Depression, which certainly would not have helped the entrepreneur.

Presidents Day is a holiday for Americans to honor the nation’s past and present leaders. But which presidents should small-business owners pay homage to?

The gulfs between the interests of small businesses often can be vast — a measure that helps one business can often hurt another. Some business experts would add that presidents themselves have only a marginal — if any — impact on the climate for small businesses. Congress, some say, typically has taken the lead role. And just about every president would say that they were pro-small business during their tenure in office.

Despite their wide-ranging job duties — from tamping down terrorism to reunifying the country — some presidents have managed to put small business and encouraging entrepreneurship front and center. To find out which U.S. presidents did the most for small business, Entrepreneur.com asked three people who have studied the subject: Doug Wead, a presidential historian, bestselling author and advisor to two presidents; Zoltan Acs, Read the rest of this entry »

Last month, a housing fair in San Juan, Puerto Rico, drew an estimated 34,000 visitors, of whom 2,700 were pre-qualified on the spot for home loans by mortgage companies exhibiting at the event.

A resurgence in home-buyer interest is, in no small measure, attributable to what has been billed as the most far-reaching housing stimulus that’s been offered so far by any state in or territory of the United States.

That program—which Puerto Rico’s Gov. Luis Fortuno signed on Sept. 2 and is scheduled to run through next June—produced remarkable results in the last four months of 2010, when the sales of 1,108 new homes and 3,259 existing homes were closed, representing an 18% increase over the same period the year before, according to the island’s Department of Economic Development and Commerce. The dollar value of those closings rose by nearly 35% to $868.3 million.

Even with those increases, however, unit sales in Puerto Rico grew by only 4.22% for all of 2010, which indicates just how low its housing market had sunk before this stimulus package kicked into full gear. Read the rest of this entry »

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