Pop culture has an obsession with all powerful computer nerds. Every day, you’ll find countless stories of hackers scoring free phone service with Captain Crunch toy whistles, 10 year old girls finding iOS exploits that the experts missed, and international masterminds slipping through ‘impenetrable’ government firewalls. These kinds of stories are so extreme, and so common, that it’s easy to believe that every other 20-something with a computer can single-handedly crash the Shanghai Stock Exchange with the touch of a button.
Meanwhile, in the real world, most of us full-time computer nerds are just as mortal as the rest of you. Just because we can manually open the port on a router to unblock Skype or launch Teamviewer to take control of your computer doesn’t mean that we can move mountains. In the web development and SEO worlds, especially, even the industry’s best and brightest are subject to the whims of Google, Mozilla, Yelp, and hundreds of other major players.
Today, we’re going to take a look at what webmasters can’t do, how you can help make their efforts more effective, and how you can get much better results online without a lot more effort.
1. Your Webmaster Can’t Guess Your Usernames & Passwords
If you’re not starting a brand new company from the ground up, there is a good chance that you have lots and lots of usernames, passwords, and accounts attached to your online presence. For a website, this could include the hosting account, the domain registrar, and the CMS accounts (if you have a site on WordPress, Squarespace, or another platform). Even if you don’t have a website, you may still have a Youtube channel, verified Yelp page, or even a Twitter profile for your business.
The sooner you start keeping track of your accounts and passwords, the less headaches you’ll have in the long term. Right now, if your account info is scattered across emails, paper invoices, and scribbled on manilla folders lurking in the back of your closet, it’s time to start copying them over.
What Can I Do About It?
Today, there are lots of easy ways to keep track of your account information. One of my personal favorite tools for keeping track of passwords is LastPass. LastPass is a platform that lets you save login information for all your accounts to one highly secure cloud-based account. All you have to do is log into LastPass, log into the website you want to save, and LastPass does the rest. Lastpass works across just about every electronic device short of a toaster, and you can access your account from anywhere, without installing anything. It’s free for most uses (I’ve never had to pay for it) and the Chrome/Firefox plugins are stellar.
While LastPass makes it easy to share account logins for one site at a time, it might not be as convenient if you need to give a group access to several accounts simultaneously. If you need to share lots of logins, or if you need to share them with more than just a couple people, consider setting up a shared spreadsheet on Google Drive. If you haven’t used it before, Google Drive is another (basically) free service that lets you easily create and share word docs, spreadsheets, presentations, and lots more. Think of it as Microsoft Office and Dropbox combined into a single platform, but with a much better interface.
To learn more about how to set up and use Google Drive, just head over to Youtube. You’ll find literally thousands of tutorials that can walk you through how to format a spreadsheet, securely share a folder, and lots more. If you need more help, you can also ask us here or on Twitter @Navolutions.
2. Your Webmaster Can’t Instantly Change your Corporate Identity Online
Changing your company’s name on your website is one thing, but changing it across the web is another beast entirely.
If you’re considering changing your company name, breaking off part of your business into a separate corporate identity, or even just getting a new phone number, talk to your webmaster first. Changing your corporate identity, in whole or in part, is one of the quickest and easiest ways to obliterate your online rank and reputation.
The name, address, and primary phone number of a business, collectively referred to as “the NAP”, is how Google defines a distinct business. It’s how Google can tell the Starbucks at 123 Fake Street, Unit A from the Starbucks at 123 Fake Street, Unit B. That means, whenever Google finds any variant of your NAP on a website, they’ll often treat it as a separate business. Even the smallest differences, like “unit #134” instead of “suite 134”, can be enough to Google to split your identity.
With that in mind, just imagine how bad Google flips out when you change your company’s name from “Fakecorp Plumbing” to “Fakecorp Plumbing & Heating”.
If your new business name, address, or phone number doesn’t get updated on every single directory, link, and reference to your business, you could literally find yourself in a situation where you’re competing against yourself. Look across the nation and you’ll find thousands upon thousands of local listings where businesses appear twice, and often below their competition in both cases. If you see your company showing up twice in the same set of Google’s local listings, then you’re almost guaranteed to have an NAP issue. To see how well you’ve established your NAP, try using the free tools on Yext or Getlisted.org.
What Can I Do About It?
SEO juggernaut Andrew Shotland gives the following advice to anyone who’s considering changing their company’s name:
1. Don’t Do It!
2. Seriously. Don’t Do It!
However, if you’re dead set on changing your corporate identity, you really have four options:
1. Update all your NAPs simultaneously through a service like Yext
This approach can cost you a few hundred dollars, and results are far from guaranteed – especially if you already have existing accounts for a few of the platforms they update, or if you’ve played this game before.
2. Update all your NAPs manually, or make your SEO company do it
It helps if you’ve been keeping track of all your logins with LastPass or Google Drive, but it’s still a long, confusing, and labor intensive process. Shotland calls this approach “the SEO equivalent of root canal”.
3. Start from scratch
Replace at least two parts of your NAP, build a new website, redirect the old one, and accept that a lot of your directories, citations, and reviews will fall by the wayside.
4. Take the penalty
Spend more of your budget on adwords and other lead generation channels, while hoping that your NAP is corrected naturally in the long run.
If none of those options sound like a lot of fun to you, it might be a good time to refer back to Mr. Shotland’s first two points.
3. Your Webmaster Can’t Guess the Details of Your Business
If you’re a plumber, we assume you have a plumbing license and can fix a water heater. We don’t know if you offer senior discounts, free estimates, 24 hr service, or a satisfaction guarantee. We don’t know if you own a hydro-jetter, if you service septic tanks, or if you install tankless water heaters. Unless you tell us, we don’t even know if you’re the low cost leader, the customer service leader, or the leader in service speed.
Any good webmaster will know the right questions to ask, but if your webmaster isn’t too familiar with your industry, many times they won’t even know where to start. Worse yet, many web development agencies have one client contact and another person who builds the sites, which means that it’s easy for details to be lost in translation. Unfortunately, it’s all of these little details that add up into a real online presence and marketing strategy, and every detail that’s missing could hurt you in the long run.
What Can I Do About it?
The first and easiest thing you can do is to send your webmaster a copy of every marketing material you have. Send them every flyer, every magazine ad, and every coupon you’ve produced in recent history. Even if you’re not running the same specials, it gives your webmaster a better sense of how you want your business to be portrayed. You’ll also earn bonus points if you mention what you do like, and don’t like, about your other marketing materials.
Second, consider sending your webmaster a fact sheet. Let us know how long you’ve been in business, how many employees you have, and which customers you’re after. The more detail the better. I hope I speak for most webmasters when I say that too much information is a good problem to have.
4. Your Webmasters Don’t Know Who Your Friends Are
If you’ve been in business for a few years, chances are you’ve made some connections along the way. In many cases, these real world connections can put your business on the map and lead to some of the most powerful links you can get.
In many towns and cities across the US, a link from the local chamber of commerce can push a site straight into the stratosphere. Not only is a chamber membership a great way to network and meet other local business leaders, but the business directory link alone can often be worth the cost of admission.
Links from other businesses
It might sound a little ridiculous to recommend your favorite restaurant, dentist, or bowling alley on your website, by why not? Endorsing other local businesses is a great way to show who’s a real, active member of the community, and who doesn’t like sending customers to their favorite business? Not only will you introduce your customers to other worthwhile businesses, but a link from another business’s website can have some serious SEO weight.
(note: links are stronger when they’re not reciprocated, unfortunately. If one site needs more SEO help than the other, your webmaster can help you set up one of them as a “nofollow” link. This allows both businesses to safely endorse to each other, though only one of those links will count from an SEO perspective.)
You don’t need a PR firm to see that sponsoring an event is a good idea. If you donate services to a local charity, help coordinate an annual donation drive, or even sponsor a little league team, let your webmaster know. Even the smallest nonprofit organizations often have huge online presences, and many of them even have pages for sponsors and associated businesses on their websites.
Sharing your news and announcements
If you have a blog, Facebook page, Twitter account, or any other online channel that you use to post news and special offers, your real world connections can make them go twice as far. Even if you’re not doing the posting yourself, take the time to log into those accounts and reach out to your existing network. Chances are good that your webmaster has no idea who your friends are.
5. Your Webmaster Can’t Run Your Business For You
Above all else, the number one thing you can do to help your webmaster is to run a good business. No one likes helping a bad business succeed online, and Google has been making it more difficult each and every year. If you’re dishonest about your pricing or have a hard time answering the phone, then you’re going to wrack up a ton of one-star Yelp reviews, and those are going to hurt you in more ways than one.
On the other hand, if you do a good job and make your customers happy, only good things can come of it.
What Can I Do About It?
Besides just running a good business, make sure that your customers have every opportunity to share their experiences online. No matter what you think about Yelp, it still has the potential to put a business on the map. Just ask the people at Barnett Plumbing or Sonrise Roofing how much business they’ve earned from their Yelp pages. By doing what it takes to keep their customers happy (and sometimes going beyond what is even logical to do so), these best practices have built them highly visible reputations for exceptional customer service that will generate new business for years to come.
Of course, running a phenomenal business is only half the battle. Once you’ve made your customers happy, you still need to get them to review your business on Yelp. For many, this can be a challenge, but you might be surprised how many Yelp reviews you can collect if you take the time to literally ask for them. For more ideas on how to collect reviews, don’t miss our blog post from May, Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Yelp.
So What CAN your Webmaster Do?
If we’re talking about a one-stop webmaster – one who develops, designs, writes content, manages social media, and SEOs – then your webmaster can do a lot. A good one can build you a site that you can be proud of, grow your online visibility, develop your direct marketing network and, in short, put you on the map. And even if your webmaster can’t read minds or run your business for you, that doesn’t mean we can’t help. There is an astronomical number of tools, resources, and services available online today that can help you manage and market every aspect of your business, and chances are good that your webmaster can help you evaluate your options.
So, the next time you’re trying to find an easy way to coordinate with employees in the field, outsource your phone system, or produce advertising materials on the cheap, contact your webmaster. You might be surprised by just how much they can help.