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  • 800-272-0887
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Amazon – from books to groceries – and now plumbing?!?

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Twenty years ago no one would have imagined Amazon as the Sears of the internet.  Today Amazon sells everything from Protein Powder to Phones and Tattoo Kits to Toilet Seats.  Here they grow again into the home services market.  Amazon may not yet be ready to offer an in-home Dog Shampoo service but currently plumbing is just one of several offerings in their new Home and Business Services department.

Amazon: The Middleman

In this case Amazon became the digital middleman, brokering services and handling the financial transactions with the consumer.  Now anyone with plumbing skills and certifications can start their own business without the need to accept credit cards.  With Amazon superior shopping cart and amazing review engine, a home services offering would not only disrupt traditional plumbing and HVAC businesses but take a bite of out review sites such as Yelp and Angie’s List.

The Amazon Tax

Amazon takes a 15-20% premium to broker services.   A big ask when the majority of home service businesses spend 5% and the recommended spend is 10%.  This makes fixed budgets for Pay-per-Click advertising, website hosting, and SEO much more appealing.

If you are interested in getting in the game you can visit:

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Its HTTPS Time

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In 1990, MC Hammer declared it to be “Hammer Time”. Fast forward to July 2018, and Google has commemorated this by dropping the HTTPS Hammer within the Chrome Browser.

Over the last several months, we have been recommending to upgrade to HTTPS if this had not already happened. The reason for this is that Google has been hinting for several months that within the Chrome browser non HTTPS sites would be marked as ‘not secure’.

At the time of this announcement, it was clear that making this update was important even if this was several months in the horizon. This month, Google has made good on this promise and has transitioned to marking sites that are not upgraded to HTTPS as not secure within the Chrome Browser.

Even if your site has not yet been upgraded to HTTPS, there is still hope. The process for getting your site upgraded to HTTPS is a quick and easy one and this is something we are glad to assist you with. If you have any questions or would like our assistance on this, give us a call and we can get this taken care of for you.

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content SEO

Content Strategy Critical for SEO Health

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In the Emperor’s New Clothes, two tailors promise the emperor a new suit of clothes that they claim are invisible to people who are unfit, when in reality no clothes are made. Everyone, including the emperor, see the emperor naked and believe that they are unfit as the clothes are invisible to them. These sneaky tailors appear to have made a career change from making clothes to the SEO industry where much of the work being done is said to be invisible.

If the Emperor did his Homework

If the emperor had an adviser showing him the way, the This Emperor's SEO is Nakedtailors would have been exposed. In the same way we would love to be your adviser providing you a second opinion on your SEO strategies to make sure your SEO provider doesn’t leave you embarrassed and naked.

How can you tell if your SEO is leaving you naked? Just like your clothes must be made from linen and thread, the SEO work should include a content strategy on your website (Onsite) and marketing activities  out on the internet.  SEO services exclusively focused in just one of the two primary SEO categories are bound to leave you naked.

The Onsite work involves items such as blog articles, service descriptions, reviews and keeping your site up to date with fresh content, this is a focus on Content Strategy. Offsite marketing is the work you do to connect with your target market and local community including your digital presence such as your social media presence and maintaining business listing in business directories such as Google My Business and Yelp. These two categories together form a healthy SEO Plan.

We have had way too many conversations with clients where they reveal they have “an SEO guy” but it is obvious that their website has not been updated for months, and in some cases years. In this situation, the best case scenario is that they are only doing half of their job which raises the question of what are they doing offsite?

This makes me wonder about the quality of what they are doing offsite. Are they hurting your business by engaging in harmful SEO practices such as building low quality links? Are they damaging your reputation by writing fake reviews? Are they commenting on meaningless and irrelevant posts on Facebook?

You may be thinking to yourself “thank you for your concern but our SEO Company has been active on our site”. Even in this “best case scenario” things should be reviewed closely. We have seen many cases where keywords are overly used on the website.

Keyword Stuffing

Embarrassed Emperor realized he needs a Content StrategyWhile you may think it’s a good thing to have a specific keyword appear as frequently as possible, Google disagrees! They even have a phrase for it, “Keyword Stuffing”, and taken to the extreme, your website content can look like it was written by a 4-year old.

Unlike the stuffing you have on Thanksgiving, you and your potential customers will find keyword flavored stuffing to be unfulfilling. For website visitors, keyword stuffing leads to a robotic and mediocre website experience. For your SEO rankings, this can push you lower in the rankings and decrease traffic volume!

In Football, you need to play well on both sides of the ball. If you have a great offense but can’t stop the other team from scoring or vice versa, then you will lose. In SEO, going all in on Offsite without thinking about Onsite SEO (or vice versa) is not a winning strategy. In today’s world, you need an onsite content strategy that creates a balance between SEO, engaging content and measures how you stack up against the competition.

This is what Onsite SEO should be in theory but typical has not been in practice. Offsite SEO should be focused on building your reputation. While technology has substantially changed over the years, many methods of building your reputation (i.e. community engagement, public speaking, customer appreciation, support local little league team) still hold strong today and can play a pivotal role in getting attention to your brand name (and website)

Our Founder & Chief Data Scientist, Bob Dumouchel has written a detailed piece on the pitfalls of overly simplistic SEO and shares what he has learned from his research on how to apply an effective Content Strategy.

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Morality Tests and Marketing

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The year was 1994, Friends was invading tv screens everywhere while Forrest Gump and The Lion King were making millions at the box office, most importantly I was 18 and looking for a new job.

My friend had encouraged me to apply for a job at a retail box store in Fresno and on the surface this looked like a great opportunity.  After I applied, I was invited for an interview and finally someone from HR handed me what looked like a test. She explained “This is a morality test.  Just answer each question truthfully. We will contact you the following day with the results.”

I knew in my heart that this would be an easy test, as I was a humble sheltered kid raised in the country. The idea of doing anything immoral was repulsive to me.  I opened the booklet and dove in:

Test: “If you caught a fellow employee stealing a pair of jeans, would you report them to your manager? (Circle Yes or No)”

I circled yes of course.

Test: “If you caught a fellow employee stealing an ink pen, would you report them to your manager? (Circle Yes or No)” – I circled No – People walk away with pens all time and at least for myself it was always an accident.

Test: “If you just realized that you shortchanged a customer $5, would you chase them down?” – YES

Test: “If you just realized that you shortchanged a customer $0.05, would you chase them down?” – No, of course not.

I went home, sitting and waiting by the phone to learn the results of the morality test (this was before the internet & smartphones after all) and as expected, the HR team member called me the next day but my enthusiasm was deflated

“I’m sorry but we cannot offer you the position due to the results we found in your morality test.”

I failed the morality test!?!

I was crushed and quickly called my friend.   “How did you pass?” I asked.

“Oh, you can’t tell the truth on those things, you should only provide the answer they want to hear.”

I then had an epiphany about the unintended consequences of the morality test. It was in this moment I realized that this test is not helping the store hire honest people and instead leading them to hire a bunch of liars!

Similar to this, we find unintended consequences in sales strategies all the time, especially with discounts and coupons. Putting a deal in your sales strategy often creates a short term increase, but at what cost?  

  • Are you insulting your value (best) customers?
  • Are you attracting price-only customers?
  • Are you shifting future buyers into the current period and killing future full-margin sales?
  • Are you training your customers to delay future purchases waiting for the next deal?

We recently worked with a client that is coupon-centric and as a test they removed all the coupons from the market. The short term impact was a drop in sales. In the longer term margins went up and the volume metric went down. At the end of test the client was more profitable with lower unit volume. So the client was making more and doing less but could not stop focusing on the volume loss and went back to their comfort zone of coupons. We recommended that they stay the course.

Customers that come to your business for a pricing deal or discount will leave for the same reason. Also, if a competitor reacts to your deal this strategy can creates a pricing death spiral and pricing advantage is the most fleeting of all. So be careful when you pull the pin on this strategy.

In reflecting on this story, I did some searching and found an online quiz that had some similarities to the assessment I took so many years ago.

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Google wants HTTPS everywhere

HTTPS Everywhere

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Since 2014, Google has been advocating for “HTTPS Everywhere” which means that they want all internet browsing to be secure. Changes in new version of Chrome will be labels as “not secure”.  The message that shows in the address bar will look like this:

chrome website not secure

This is beneficial for users by providing a convenient notification of which sites are safe to give sensitive information too. In the last few years there have been big profile data breaches like Equifax and Target to name a couple. Even more recently, Facebook has been caught up in a scandal where sensitive information was used for political advertising purposes.

The time couldn’t be more ripe for Google to go forward in pressuring for its HTTPS Everywhere initiative. Google has not called out any particular company out by name but you can be sure that these news stories are fresh enough that when they talk about a secure internet users are going to be behind this initiative.


As a business, switching to HTTPS as soon as possible will help you gain advantage on competitors who are slow to adopt and will give your users more trust when they use your website.

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The Honey Bear

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When Expectations Collide

When I was in college a local church put together a weekend retreat – for 3 days and 2 nights we were paired up and would even spend the night with volunteer host family.  There were great activities of fun and fellowship and engaging speakers each evening.  On our first night our hosts had to leave early the next morning so they showed around and welcomed us to the use of their kitchen in their absence.

As we were fixing ourselves cereal, only plain Cheerios were available and I needed some sugar.  No matter how hard I looked I couldn’t find the sugar; but I did find the honey-bear.  I poured on a liberal amount of honey, sat down in front of my college-mate,  and with a smile on my face I took a huge scoop of honey covered Cheerios!

Immediately I gagged and spit the cereal out!  My college-mate was quite alarmed and between spits and gags I choked out one word “Soap!” – The honey-bear was filled with yellow colored dish-soap! The honey-bear was certainly a cute accent near the kitchen sink but turned out to be my nightmare.

I’ve had my share of honey-bear experiences;  I would buy a service or package with one set of expectations only to face a very different reality.  Many businesses today, even with the best of intentions, continue to make honey-bear experiences for their customers.  At SMS, we design Sales Experiences Worth Talking About.  From Sales Automation and Drip Campaigns to Interactive Ads and Social Media Posts our focus is creating a meaningful relationship and building a bridge of trust.

I would love to hear about your Honey-Bear stories.

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Location, Location, Location

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Google’s landing page today looks nothing like what it did even 4 years ago.  The Google Search Engine Results Page (SERP) is full of information tiles and getting your business featured in these tiles will be the new play in the SEO game.

Google has always been the goto search engine, but look at how the Google SERP has evolved and also consider Google’s entry into the Digital Assistant arena. I propose that Google is evolving from a Search Engine to an Information Engine.

As a result, more people are finding the information they need right at the Google results page without having to follow a link to get the information they need.  In the end this can mean less traffic for your website but if you are prepared, there are several strategies that you can use to take advantage of this.

We will be writing a series of articles with tips to take advantage of this evolving search results page.  For today’s tip, we definitely recommend that you take advantage of the Q&A feature within Google Maps.  Search results that are destination specific take the user directly into maps on the first click.  These destinations have a section dedicated for Q&A.  Read more about this new feature in our article: Updates to Google Maps

Look below at the samples below for the same search:

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Have you reviewed your reviews lately?

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From Facebook to Yelp reviews for your business reviewscompany are probably scattered everywhere. How do you determine which to participate in?  How do you overcome a review site that represents your company under a negative light?

 7 tips to make reviews work best for you

  1. Determine the Scope – Take an inventory of all the review sites that your company appears in.  Note the quantity of reviews and how well your company is represented.  Also check and see if your company’s listing is ‘claimed’ and correct.
  2. Claim your Listing – make sure you own the listing and that all the contact info, including hours of operation, are correct.  We recommend that you claim your business listing in all review sites – Google loves this type of consistency across the internet.
  3. Pick the best review site that fits your industry and the lifestyle of your customers.  As Google slowly evolves to an information website more than just a search engine expect to see review sites like Yelp slowly evolve in their focus to businesses are that are less transactional and where choosing the right company is critical to the consumer.  Research heavy industries include contractors for home remodels, doctors, long-term care facilities, and private schools.
  4. Offer Free Wifi if you are frequented by people using mobile devices.  Guest wifi usually has features to direct the user to a webpage.  There is no harm in directing them right to your review page.  Free wifi makes it very easy for them to get online and with a fast experience they have one more reason to brag about your amazing service.
  5. Don’t wear your clients out asking for reviews everywhere, rather engage with your customers on your preferred review site.
  6. Show appreciation in all your positive reviews.  Thank them, like the review, use an emoji.
  7. Respond to Negative Reviews showing your commitment to great service.  A negative review is an opportunity to care for your customers. Remember, people want to be understood so validate them by repeating why they are frustrated and what you are doing to improve future experiences.

5 star review

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Updates to Google Maps

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Google my BusinessGoogle My Biz FAQ mishap for Arrowhead Stadium is the tool to check your business listing on Google Maps with all the relevant info (Address, Phone number, Web Address, etc).  This information is critical if you want to be quickly found in any Google Map app on a mobile device.

Google Maps for has been expanded with an FAQ section (previously it was only available on the Maps app on Android) that is populated by internet users and works similarly to Amazon’s FAQ.  We see this feature becoming popular and recommend that you Pre-Populate your Google my Business  FAQ section ASAP to ensure relevant content and avoid being a target of some clever teenager. What to know more? Look at the picture on the right or try it yourself:

  • Take out your Android smartphone and search for: Arrowhead Stadium
  • Scroll down and read the Questions & Answers
  • When you search you will no longer find the question ‘Do they have hookers at Arrowhead?’  – This question certainly got alot of attention at the expense of Arrowhead.

We recommend that you use the Q&A feature as a chance to front-load questions that prospects would find valuable about your company or industry.  Google is evolving more form a Search Engine to an Information Engine – meaning that instead of just search results, Google is attempting to answer your question without you needed to click on a result and leave the Google page.

UPDATE: The article has been updated to reflect Arrowhead stadium’s cleaned up Q&A


How are you using Google Map’s Q&A feature for your business?

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B2B Social Media Marketing

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Social Media marketing is one of the most powerful tools in business to business (B2B) industries. B2B marketing is about connecting to the right people, with the right message, at the right time. No social media network does that better than LinkedIn. If your business needs to reach the consumer you need to look at Facebook but if its B2B then let’s talk about LinkedIn.

Marketing is not sales although sales are the reason that you do marketing. Marketing is about communicating to the market the value that your business creates. One way to get this done is to connect to the right people and get to know them. Like all marketing challenges this is about reach and frequency where reach is your network and frequency is your newsfeed contributions. Another key element that businesses sometimes miss is that Social Media is a conversation not a speech.

Pick Your Players

The first step in Social Media Marketing is to decide who in your organization will be market facing. These are the people in your organization that are responsible for connecting to the market and that is all business relationships not just sales (although sales will be our focus for this article). Picking market facing people is a big deal and it should be carefully considered. In most organizations you will have people with the mission of connecting to prospective customers but others could be for strategic partners.

Create Amazing Profiles

Once the Market Facing profiles are identified, the first task is to evaluate the profiles and fix any problems on them. Incomplete profiles with no pictures, no background, or few connections scream to the market that you are there to do the minimum work, probably not a message you want. Make sure that every word on the profile is evaluated and that you create great content for these profiles. Ask customers for referrals, join related groups, and start to read (and ‘Like’) some of the discussions.

Upgrade Your Profile

To use LinkedIn professionally you need a professional profile and that costs a few dollars. As I write this the basic professional service level is $47.99 a month or $575.88 a year. There are lots of other services from LinkedIn but this basic one will get you the services you need. The problem with the free profile is that after a very small number of searches the search results become blurred forcing the upgrade. LinkedIn is earned media so while there is no cost per click there is a subscription cost and a labor cost.

Keep Score

Reach in social media is measured by the size and quality of the network connected to your profile. While measuring quality is a complicated conversation, measuring the size is easy. Look at your profile and display the metrics of your reach somewhere your team looks at all the time. In our office, this started out on the whiteboard and was promoted to the electronic dashboard where it is visible to everyone every day. Reach is as simple as three numbers; Starting, Current, and Additions.

Ask the Right Person

Once you have selected the Market Facing Staff the next step is to create a model of the ideal contacts for that person. The search process in LinkedIn is simple but your target may not be. To target a list it has be less than 1,000 names because the system will only show you the first 100 pages. Our process starts by limiting to the 2nd level connections and then we start slicing it with other settings. There is no one way to do this but common slices are geographic location, title, industry, etc.

Introduce Yourself to the Right People

Marketing 101: “If you do not ask for the connection then your rejection rate will be 100% and your growth will be 0%.” Where people fail in this step is by being lazy and not thinking about the person they are contacting. If you want a connection, tell the person why and make it as personal as possible. If you cannot make it personal then you have not really thought about the person you are contacting. I start this process by thinking about the profile of the person I want to connect to. This becomes a search profile that we use to find those people and deliver a targeted connection message to. The mission of the message is to clearly state in 300 characters or less why connecting to me will be of value to them. If you fail to reach this standard you will have problems with LinkedIn and will be eventually blocked from future connection requests. People who are in interested in what you say will accept the connection. A good guideline is if your yes rate from your message is less than 10% you are in trouble, 10-20% is average, and over 20% you will earn a positive reputation.  

Watch Your Timing

Marketing is about timing and social media does not change that but it can help. When we work with clients on this we often look for events that trigger or are associated with demand. In the business world, this can come in many forms but a common one is conventions and seminars. A recent example of this was a client in the tourism trade that wanted to rent accommodations to business travelers. We found several venues in the local area that hosted conventions and then requested connections to the managers most likely to be involved in the event logistics. This allowed us to communicate with the person that was most likely going to set the accommodations for the team that would staff the convention. This is an example of using events and social media to get messages to the right people at the right time, after that all we needed was the right offer.   

Engage with the Conversation

Once you have a network you need to invite a conversation and avoid shifting into speech mode.  Businesses often fall into the trap of only talking about themselves and it comes across as something between arrogant and conceited. Messaging in social media needs to be of value to the intended audience and failing to meet that standard is a big problem. Communication in LinkedIn is part of the newsfeed and needs to be thought of as a mosaic that you put together one posting at a time. Your posts taken as a collection is your story.

Measure Response

In our social media plans we decide on the frequency and message content and then measure the engagement we get from that. We use a simple Excel spreadsheet as shown below as a management summary. What we are looking for are topics that engage our audience, aka network, and our reach outside of our established network. If the audience finds your content interesting they are likely to read more from you and the system will see that and give you better distribution.

Yes, It’s a lot of Work

Social media is earned media not paid media and as a result it has more work in it. Earned media has been around for generations although in the olden days it was called PR. Earned media is 10x more powerful than paid advertising but less controlled. If you want to build you network we do offer this as a service and we would be glad to discuss this in detail – call us 800.272.0887 and ask for Josh or Bob.

Call us to see what's next for your marketing.