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Free internet advertising on Craigslist

It's not often that you get something worthwhile for free. In the realm of internet marketing, many people think of AdWords when the topic comes up. But did you know there are many great opportunities to advertise for free on the net, and quite successfully?

The more obvious ones are sites like MerchantCircle, Yelp (though I have issues with some of the less-than-reputable dealings), & your local city business directories. But the one I'm going to mention in more detail is Craigslist. Yes, it has a worse look than a 980's website done by an amateur, but, for many industries, it can yield great results.

It also seems to be better in some cities than others. When we were in Citrus Heights, CA (part of Sacramento) we got 1-2 inquiries off it every week. And many of those became customers. However, Arizonans (specifically in Phoenix) web design at least on CL has been a much worse performer. We're lucky to get 1 a month. However, the time required to keep ads going is minimal, so it still is worth the little time needed.

How to work Craigslist for free advertising

I will say that when we first started on Craiglist, we could sell out ad writing skills to people as CL allowed a lot more HTML markup in ads. I have no idea on the reasons behind the decision, but a whiles back, they severely restricted what HTML tags could be used. So much so that the list is laughably small and, well, basically useless in terms of jazzing up your ad. Realtors, especially, were hit hard by this decision. So, writing a good ad is now much more important.

If you suck at writing, then your job is harder (or more expensive) to do well on CL. If you really can't write then get someone who can. Even though poor ad writing still didn't work as well before as good writing, the ability to pretty the ads up helped. Now it's almost just raw code that's displayed. You can't even link to external sites.

Compelling copy is a must

Your ad must create the need, provide the solution, and give a clear call to action. Without this, you'll get lost in a sea of junk (and there's lots of it on CL). You have to give an "elevator pitch". Can you sell yourself, your company and your product and service in 30 seconds to a total stranger? That's your "elevator pitch". If not, you need to learn. It's a powerful tool. And that's what you need to do on CL.

Create the need

Your headline is really the make-or-break. Screw it up and CL visitors won't even open your ad. You need to grab them by the throat with your headline - it must create the need, or offer them a viable solution for their problem. Spend time on the headline - without a decent one you oh-so-polished ad body probably won't get read.

Offer the solution

Once you've stopped your reader with a great headline that creates a need, you need to solve that problem. Your ad is NOT a technical brochure! Don't tell them how long or wide or high it is, how much it weighs, or how many colors it comes in, unless that is just a segue into what that means for them. Every consumer listens to only one radio station - WIIFM - What's In It For Me! They don't care about the products specs, they care about what it will do for them. So tell 'em!

Drag them into action

 If you've captured them with a great headline, then sold them by telling them WIIFM, don't expect them to naturally demand to buy it. You need to tell them forcefully what to do next so they can get relief, save money, stop worrying, or whatever it is. I dislike infomercials, but they do this so well. Call now! Limited numbers at this price! When they're gone, they're gone! You must create urgency to buy or call NOW! RIGHT NOW! Not after they've looked at a couple more competitors. 

The good thing with CL making ads dull is pretty much everyone is on a level playing field. Just because your web designer, or you, know some HTML, no longer gives you a distinct advantage over others. We all get the same ugly ads! So get to writing 4-8 different ads, then rotate them every day. I have enough for one a day, and simply log in and "Renew" an ad that's expired. Simple and fast. And if I only get 1 inquiry a month, I don't care - I only spent about 10 minutes renewing ads that month.

Happy Craigslisting!

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You website NEEDS video too

There are 3 main learning styles, auditory, visual and kinesthetic. It's hard to do kinesthetic on your website - they're the touchy feely group - offer them a free sample by filling in a SIMPLE form. Visual is what you're already doing (I will assume you have a visually appealing website - if you don't talk to us about a redesign). But where is your site on auditory? If you're at zero, join the club - most are.

As many as 60%+ of the population learn by visual primarily. For those people, lack of video seriously underpowers your site!

 With the price of video production falling dramatically, it's now easier than ever to add video to your site. And, if a pictures says 1000 words, then a video says 1000 pictures. You now have the ability to showcase your business and your products and/or services like never before.

Here's a video (yep, I'm into it too!) of a local Phoenix voice over artist I know, doing just what I'm talking about - showcasing her business. I've teamed up with her and a local media production company (that Weecks Productions who made Amber's video) to bring together a special package for all my clients. For $899, you can have a professional video made by Dan Weecks and Amber that will help add zest to your website. And hosting it on YouTube and embedding in your site gets a big tick from Google (the owners of YouTube).

Without further ado, may I present Amber May, the voice of your business!

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Malicious code in Joomla templates

A coule of weeks back, I blogged about using add-ons/extensions for Joomla that came from warez sites, and the potential security problems associated with that (see "How to get a free lunch on the internet"). A joomla website is just a bunch of images, text, HMTL files, PHP files and CSS files. Whilst it's possivle to attach "nasties" to an image, or embed in text, when it comes to websites, usually the most common is adding code to one of the last 3. And of those 3, PHP is the "best" (from a hackers point of view) as it's the most powerful for wreaking havoc.

Templates for Joomla, or any modern CMS, are a collection of HTM, CSS and PHP files, so are just a good a target for hackers as the core website files. When we're doing sites we code our own templates - we don't buy templates, so your site will be unique. Templates are not usually particularly expensive - in the $20 - 50 range - though there are some more expensive than that. However, humans are loathe to pay for something they can get for free, right?

The same sort of sites who are offering free downloads for add-ons, are also offering free downloads for paid templates. And this comes with the same security risk as pirated add-ons. At best, the added code may just deface your site, or make it stop working, or redirect it to another site. At worst, it can turn your site into a spam bot, a DOS attack machine, or collect sensitive information ranging from browsing habits to credit card info or social security information. 

In short, there are no free lunches, but there are many nefarious characters on the net looking to dupe you, and/or steal your information. Is saving $50 worth the risk?

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Small business should benefit from Pigeon

In the ever-changing world of search engine rankings, Google recently released a major upgrade to their algorithm - the first major release in quite a while. Nicknamed "Pigeon" it promises to be good for local based businesses, which make up a huge percentage of the nation's businesses and covers almost every "Mom and Pop" one.

Local business directories - you've all used them before, they're Yelp, TripAdvisor, etc - have received a boost and the long-running fracas between Yelp and Google seems to have been fixed, with Yelp results now showing up properly in searches.

So what's in it for me?

If you're a local business, that is, you don't try and grab your customers right throughout the nation, you could see a significant improvement in search rankings - depending on the search phrase of course. If someone searches for "Pizza, Phoenix", or "sporting goods, surprise az", then, assuming your site and peripherals are properly optimized, you will now stand a better chance against the nationwide brands - Dominos or Sports Authority.

But there is a catch (isn't there always?). You may need to do some off-site work first to take advantage of this change.

What should I do?

First port of call is Google Places for Business (https://www.google.com/local/add). If you haven't already listed here, go and do so now. If you have, go there anyway and make sure all your data is up to date and everything has been completed.

Next stop are sites such as Yelp (www.yelp.com), MerchantCircle (www.merchantcircle.com), LinkedIn (www.linkedin.com), Local Yellow Pages (www.yellowpages.com) and a myriad of other local directory pages. Source out ones, especially, that are local to you and get listed on them.

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60% of small business websites have been hacked

According to the latest statistics from the British Department for Business Innovation and Skills (BIS), 60% of small businesses had a cyber security breach in 2013, slightly down from 64% in 2012. I'm doubting that the stats are any better anywhere else.

Current statistics show you have a better than even chance of having your website hacked!

Often, hacking is just an annoyance, requiring deletion of the existing upload, and reinstalling of a (known) clean backup. Oh, you DO do regular backups right? DON'T rely on your host to do it - mostly they don't care as long as you don't infect their servers. Assuming you have a backup, you can restore. But does your website, or the server it's on, have security holes?

An article I was reading this week talked about one such small business from the UK who got hacked. The owner had had a great holiday away and went to log onto her site to update clients.....and it wasn't there. Gone! Thrashed! It's back up now so it seems she had a backup. Unfortunately, a quick check showed she was using versions of software that were very out of date. This is your first line of defence - current software. If you don't update all the software related to your site, you're almost begging to be hacked.

The second issue to address is your hosting. A quick search reveals hundreds of companies doing $4-5-6 per month hosting. Seems like a great deal huh? Well, again, it is for the hackers. You won't buy a Ferrari for the price of a beat up old Ford; why do you expect top-of-the-line hosting for $5 a month? Over the last year, we've spent hundreds, if not thousands, ramping up the security on our server (yet we still include hosting free for all our clients who want it). We've also made sure we have great security installed on each individual website. Security that intercepts hacker and locks them out.

So of course we charge lots for this right? Nope! While we did have a $10 per month increase this year (oh yeah, we chanrge low monthly subscriptions so we can properly support you - see our packages here), we don't believe gouging customers is the way to do business. Unfortunately, it's not only big business that's out to rip you off; most any business is anymore.

Why should you worry though? After all, you're a small business, not that important in the scheme of things. Why would someone want to hack your site? Glad you asked!

Why websites get hacked

Because I can/for the challenge: When asked why he climbed Mt Everest, New Zealander Sir Edmund Hillary said, "Because it was there!" Same deal with your site - it's there, so why not? Many hackers delight in causing chaos for chaos's sake. Never make the mistake of thinking they care about the damage they may cause you - it probably never crossed their mind.

To steal information: Especially true if you're an e-commerce site, some form of membership site, or run applications like forums. Anything that requires the entry of personal information. Studies have shown that arounf 55% of adults use the same username/Password combination for every website they use - including banking! Ouch! So, again, a better than even chance that, if a hackers gains access to a database, they'll gain access to hundreds more sites than just yours - but without hacking.

Planting bad software: Another form of information theft is done by planting malicious scripts on a website to capture entered information. Same outcome, different method of acquisition.

Turning your site into a bot: Again, this is achieved by planting malicious software. However, this attack works by making your website into a remote slave which the hacker can then use for nefarious purposes - denial of service attacks, spamming. Often these can go unnoticed until you get blacklisted or worse.

Don't be complacent!

"It'll never happen to me!" Yeah right! That's what Target said and they HAD spent millions on security - does help if you enable it of course!! Follow these simple steps to help minimize the hacking risk:

  1. Take regular backups and store off your website - Amazon S3 is easy and cheap; or Dropbox, or SugarSync - there are loads of places
  2. Keep your website software update regularly. Do you know if your software is up to date? If not, is your web developer or webmaster ensuring it is?
  3. Install robust security applications on your website
  4. Ensure you aren't using the cheapest hosting around - it's cheap for a reason. Do they have the latest software installed? What security do they have in place? Has your server been security optimized? What other sites are on the same server (you can get cross contamination from them)?
  5. Pray!
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