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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 »

By Marshall Kirby, Public Policy Analyst

Do you own a business based in the rural economy?  If you do, there have been two really great articles recently.  Whether you own/operate a farm, shop, or a service related to business in small towns across the country, you have probably recognized that you are the driver of economic growth and employment for your town or county.

This article details some trends and forecasts to expect in the coming months of 2011.  A couple key points from the article include the following. Farmers’ roles in society are quickly changing.  People are becoming more interested in knowing where their produce and meat is coming from and are paying attention to how it is grown/raised.  This can pay dividends for farmers seeking to connect to more customers and new supply chains.  Additionally, there has also been more attention paid to local businesses in rural areas, which can lead to growth and expansion opportunities.  On a related note, with tourist projections for 2011 being very promising, operators of businesses in small towns should pay more attention to attracting out of town visitors.  Additionally, the article mentions that this means that rural businesses need to begin to spend more time using social networking and other forms of advertising as small towns are catching up on the use of Google and other review sites to find and review businesses.

What else can we expect?  Well there is some troubling news ahead for businesses in rural areas.  With budget shortfalls affecting so many states, counties, and towns, individuals and business owners in rural areas may begin to feel the effects of budget cuts trickle down to them.  The article warns business owners to be aware that the budget shortfalls could mean that school consolidations and closing of post offices lay in store for many small towns.  Also, the article mentions the Health Care Reform law passed last year.  Some new things will be kicking in which will affect small businesses, including a 35% tax credit available to small businesses offering health insurance to its employees.  Very important to rural areas, there will also be an increased payment structure to rural medical centers and doctors, which will help to keep pace with increased demands for service. Read the rest of this entry »

Susan Armstrong and her husband, Ray, run a $1.5 million (sales) roofing and construction company in Pinckney, Mich. After 23 years in business the couple relies on a patchwork of bank lines and credit cards, with interest rates from 12% to 15%. When the housing market crashed in 2008, the Armstrongs began looking for a loan, backed by the Small Business Administration, which would allow them to consolidate at a lower rate.

Two months ago Ray Armstrong entered his contact information on a website that looked like it was affiliated with the SBA. The next day he was contacted by a representative from a South Jordan, Utah outfit called Funding Universe. The rep said that for $99 Funding Universe would assess the Armstrongs’ financial situation and connect them with one of the company’s consultants. After reviewing the initial workup the consultant said he would pair the Armstrongs–for an additional fee of $2,600–with an appropriate lender and prepare their loan application. “He said that we were in a very good position to get this loan, and it shouldn’t be a problem,” says Susan Armstrong. “They told me everything I wanted to hear.”

After putting the fee on one of her credit cards, Armstrong says she came across scores of complaints from Funding Universe clients who claimed the company was a scam. Alarmed, she tried to cancel her order the next day. After a week of back and forth on the phone, the consultant told her she could get a 75% refund. She says she hasn’t heard from the company since. “I just want my money back,” she says. 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 »

by Marshall Kirby, Public Policy Analyst

By and large, Americans utilize credit for a sizable percentage of all transactions.  Whether it is mortgages, auto loans, student loans, personal loans, or credit cards, financing purchases is a simple fact of the current economy in the United States.  There has been a lot of news during the recession about bank bailouts under TARP, high foreclosure and default rates, individuals and families immersed in credit card debt, and lack of credit available to businesses.  Legislation has been passed regarding credit cards for consumers and the Obama Administration has attempted to extend lines of credit to businesses through the Small Business Administration and has urged banks to lend to qualified businesses.  Despite the pleas and lines of credit available to businesses and entrepreneurs, it still has not been adequate to address the needs of business owners and managers to finance their growth and operations.

Enter credit cards.  Despite the credit card reform act which was enacted in 2009, credit card companies appear to be expanding their efforts to extend lines of credit to businesses.  Credit card companies under the CARD Act (Credit Card Accountability, Responsibility, and Disclosure) were forced to give relief to consumer card holders from excessive fines, fees, and interest rate hikes.  As a result, many card companies have reduced consumer credit lines and have enacted more stringent lending practices which have lowered overall access to credit.  However, there has been no legislative equivalent to the CARD Act for business credit cards.  In fact, in October 2010, the Federal Reserve announced that neither they nor the Federal government will attempt to enact the same protections for business credit cards. 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 »

as posted here:

Words are powerful things and Facebook status updates can prove to be equally powerful tools for those of us who use social media to promote our businesses. Because a major focus of social media-related marketing is on creating content that attracts attention and encourages readers to share with their own networks, our choice of words becomes paramount.

A couple of months ago I wrote an article based on a white paper entitled, “The Anatomy of a Facebook Post: Study on Post Performance by Type, Day of Week, and Time of Day.” That 18-page report, published by Vitrue, an Atlanta-based social management company, outlined the best ways to reach an audience on a social media site, the best time of day to post an item on Facebook and the best day of the week to be most effective with your Facebook audience.

Among other things, that study claims marketers have three content options on Facebook — text, image and video. And, it says, photos trump video and both trump text. The white paper also found that Friday is the best day to post and Sunday is the worst; and that morning posts get more traffic than evening posts. Read the rest of this entry »

Although we offer several financing solutions through our Chamber, sometimes you are going to need a little more.  However, in this tight market, venture capitalists are being careful, so perhaps some of the options in this article will help . . . (orginally posted here):

by Dileep Rao, PhD

Your small company isn’t sexy enough to entice venture capital nor does your collateral give skittish banks enough comfort. Bootstrapping aside, here are five often overlooked alternative sources of funding in this tough environment.

Local Development

This hodgepodge includes a host of intermediaries under the auspices of the Small Business Administration. Gaining prominence are Community Development Financial Institutions (previously known as Community Development Corporations); these entities have more resources to throw around thanks to sponsorship in recent years by the U.S. Treasury. Development programs tend to offer larger loans at lower rates than banks do, though you’ll be expected to create jobs (or at least maintain them) in the community.

Asset-Based Financing

A great source of working capital for companies that market to other businesses and to governments–but beware Read the rest of this entry »

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