Maryland Tech Tax is Repealed… Awaiting Governor’s Signature

Got an email and saw this on several blogs as well…

The Maryland General Assembly has passed a repeal of the Tech Tax. Now Governor (ug) O’Malley just needs to sign it, which he is expected to do. Very happy about this. Here is some more info on it…

Examiner

Tech Council of MD

Washington Post

Dataprise, Inc. applauds the repeal

…just a shame it took so many people spending so much time to convince the General Assembly that trying to sneak by a bill at the last minute without making the public aware is not a good thing to do, especially when it targets small businesses who provide so many jobs and economic stimulus to the region.

Growing a Service Business… Without Adding Clients

I just ran across a piece about growing service firms “from the inside out”. I believe this piece was specifically written for law firms, but in running an internet marketing agency I find it just as true for my situation and clientele.

Look inward to branch out. Take a look at the firm’s top clients over the last three years or so. How many of your services are used by each one? There may be an opportunity here. If you have done stellar work in one practice area, your client will most likely be amenable to hearing about other practice areas that apply to their business. To outsiders, expanding your business with an existing client shows that they value and have confidence in you, and in turn, serves as a law firm marketing technique. It also builds your resume and track record in the practice in which you would like to augment.

I have a number of law firm clients so naturally I browse this industry a bit, and often find that law firm marketing strategies are really just professional service strategies… except the whole concept of “legal marketing” is a bit new, so some tried-and-true concepts can get further legs in that industry.

Let’s provide a little translation to the arena of “web marketing”:

Practice Areas = Services
Resume = Portfolio

Basically the general concept is that its often better to build revenue by further serving your existing client base. I believe there are several other good reasons for this, not mentioned above as they are perhaps not as important for a large law firm as they are for a small internet marketing agency:

  • you know your current clients pay their bills on time… new clients might not.
  • you already know how much attention and communication your current clients demand.
  • they are generally already pleased with your service, and thus a positive bias heuristic kicks in… they believe you do a good job at one thing and will likely believe that you do a good job in many areas.
  • at least for me, its easier to handle a smaller number of clients than a larger number of smaller clients.

Learning SEO in College… Trade Schools, etc.

Another comment on an SEOmoz.org post that I made, which I am recycling as per usual:

Danny,

 I will argue that all formal education is always at least 5 years behind the appropriate "real world" education.  Its probably more so with fast-moving industries, but even true in more steady fields.

That all said, I think you may just not be looking hard enough.

I personally have a Bachelor's degree in E-Business from Towson.  Check out the courses.  And I graduated ALMOST 5 YEARS AGO!  

Again, its not the most relevant.  No they don't teach practical applications of SEO.  But then again that's no different than how my roommate who was a Com Sci major couldn't program a lick of code.  Lots of theory. 

Colleges and Universities are typically places that teach theory and the process of learning more than practical job skills for early-career success.

Trade schools and IT training schools like this one or this one can teach you the nuts and bolts of online marketing, etc. if you want to go that route.  Certainly you can also learn it on your own as well.

I've also found that many schools bring in outside professionals to give guest lectures to expose students to the "nuts and bolts".  I believe Rand has taught a few, and I've taught about a half-dozen myself.  Check out the powerpoint slides (bottom of page) if you like. 

I think you are simply expecting the wrong thing from a college (university) education.  Its about theory and learning to learn.  If you want practical skills consider a trade school or certification program.  Its not just you here though, IMO far to many people go to a university seeking "job skills" b/c that is simply the status quo in the US.  I would like that to change.  We need more technical people with tangible skills.

Another item I didn’t address here though is the issue of qualified teachers. There is already a huge shortage in business schools. Few available, willing teachers to teach SEO and Internet Marketing. Those who can are too darn busy.

SEO Popularity & Being Famous – Comments re: TopRank, SEOmoz

I found this post on SEOmoz which referenced this post on TopRank’s blog and posted a comment. As I’ll do from time to time, I’m going to steal my own content and paste it below… my thoughts on “being famous” in the SEO community:

Lee – excellent post. I know many SEOs who spend 50-75% of their time or more doing things to “be famous” in the community – writing blog posts, commenting (ummm…), creating articles, etc. As you have suggested, the expectation is that by doing those activities they will get new clients and make money.

But what about if you already have alot of clients? If you don’t need new business than it doesn’t make sense to spend 75% of your time on business generation activities (getting famous). Instead, how about spend time differently…

BILLABLE TIME!

Yes that’s the key to making money. The key is doing work that you are paid to do. The more paid work (for agencies) or more work spent doing your own projects (affiliates, others) the more you will make.

But what about the “being famous helps you get bigger clients and raise your rates” argument?

Perhaps. But so too does “doing a good job for your current clients” and then getting solid referrals that produce bigger projects.

I think there is a ton of waste with all these newbies spending time blogging and writing articles. There’s too much to read, and not enough time to read it… or much less actually GO DO SOME WORK PEOPLE!

With that, I’m off to start doing some actual work :)

There isn’t enough room for everyone to be a celebrity in the SEO field. Nor does achieving that matter much, IMO. You can have a very successful career (as a consultant) by:

doing great work, producing great results
giving your time and attention to your clients
growing with your clients
getting referrals from your clients

Several years back I used to spend alot more time with SEO-related blogs, forums, articles, etc. I wanted to be famous in the community, to some extent. The day I stopped spending so much time on that is the day I started doing better work, having more time for clients and started making more money. Imagine that. Do actual (billable) work. Get actual clients. Make actual money. A novel idea!

Both Rand and Lee referenced an idea I do strongly – that its far more important to be “famous” for SEO outside of the SEO community than inside of the SEO community. I totally agree. I have a few good relationships in the Baltimore area with various marketing agencies, PR firms, etc. and among them… I’m famous, sort of. Enough for them to refer work to me, and that referral typically means bigger clients than I’d get without the referral, as well as a better close rate.

To me, I believe this is more valuable than having a bunch of newbie SEOs blog about you and get your article posted on Digg, which results in 10 service solicitations for crappy projects that have no business model.

Now concludes my 30 minutes this morning of non-billable work. I’ve made no money so far today. Thus, don’t expect another post for probably another 4-6 weeks, at which point I’ll reference my own comments on another blog again or copy/paste my reply to a client’s question on this blog to “get more play” for something I already wrote.

Fin.

Maryland Sales Tax on Web Design & Computer Services

Fight The Tech Tax

Help repeal a bill that is currently in the Maryland General Assembly stating that sales tax of 6% must be collected on “computer services” effective July 1, 2008:

Link: Repeal MD Sales Tax on Computer Services

It will ultimately hurt small businesses b/c they are the ones who outsource and thus will pay the tax… large corporations do their design, programming, etc. in house and thus they pay no tax on it, since it involves no transaction.

Its clear this covers “programming” but I’m unclear as to whether or not it includes “web design”. My firm does mostly SEO which I would imagine we can argue (rightfully so) is a marketing service, not a computer service… but we do sometimes do a bit of web design as well… Update: It does include “web design”.

Update:

I had Bill Slawski take a peak at the legislation and he seemed to echo my disappointment with such a law. In my reply to him I wrote:

Thanks for giving that a look Bill. It seems dumb in so many ways. First off, if I raise prices for programming by 6% than I’m that much less competitive versus a firm in another state. Since (unlike physical goods) there is no cost to the consumer to choose a firm in another state, I’m now less likely to make the sale due to price competition factors. Thus, I probably will sell x% less programming projects and thus the state government will make less on my personal income tax returns since I’ll make that much less profit. This seems “penny wise and dollar foolish” to me, especially when you figure that my personal income tax rate is alot higher than the 6% sales tax.

Anyhow, too tired and time-starved to really give this the verbal assault it deserves.

It looks like it does include “web design”.

Until I decide otherwise… I think I may start charging an “SEO Setup Fee” and coincidentally begin offering “Free Web Design & Programming” with every purchase :)

Our Comcast Nightmare – Comcast SUCKS!

Executive Summary: Six months after we moved out of our old office and “transferred” our Comcast internet service to our new office, we were still receiving invoices for the old office… plus those for the new office. Finally they’ve stopped sending those invoices, though we’re still waiting on the refund we were promised. To make things worse, we just got an invoice for Cable TV at the old office. That’s right, we’ve been gone from there for 6 months but somehow we decided to order Cable TV for that office? Unbelieveable.

Detailed Timeline:

Timeline of Comcast’s Ineptitude:

Continue reading

Yahoo’s New Layout

Apparently today there is much to do about Yahoo’s new layout, available at http://www.yahoo.com/preview or depending on your luck maybe at the http://www.yahoo.com home page.

I first made note of this pending new layout back in February, when it appeared as though they were testing it. I believe they placed a cookie or something on my PC b/c for a while I kept getting the new layout from my PC at work but not from my home PC. I also wondered why no one else was discussing the new Yahoo layout, but apparently its just b/c not many people new about the layout being tested on selected PCs. I take this a confirmation that indeed my blog does not have the widespread distribution to educate or inform the masses. Sigh.

Anyhow, many others are discussing it:

Google Trends – FUN!

Per Matt Cutts. Wow this is fun!!! I highly suggest you give it a try right now. I knew there were lots of paid tools like this, but a free one by Google is good times.

Reminds of Yahoo’s Buzz Index but way cooler – comparisons between terms, regions, etc. Good times.

Update:  Comparison of “housing boom” versus “housing bubble” – my interest was peaked after reading a post on Bubble Meter that was comparing the relative popularity of each phrase by looking at results in the SERPs.  Google Trends looks at search volume.

Maryland Web Directories

Seems like most every internet marketer either has or is heavily involved with one or more directories. There are often a myriad of reasons – but one reason that I’d like to focus on is sheer quality. Typically sites of little or no value and weak business models don’t account or budget for professional marketing services. As such, I find that most firms that approach me do have sites of high value… and often they are getting beat out in the search rankings by low-value spam sites. High-quality directories (read that again, there are a lot of spammy directories of which I am NOT referring to) help to weed out the spammy sites and attract attention for higher value sites.

Anyhow, Loren Baker of Search Engine Journal recently notified me of a new Maryland-based website directory called Maryland Yellow. I checked it out and it appears to be using a blog-style approach and blog-managed CMS for its directory structure. It appears very new so I’m not sure how it will shake out (few listings as of yet) but with Loren behind it I’m sure it will build up quickly and prove to be a high quality directory.

There are a bunch of regional directories out there – by state, city, etc. etc. In Maryland (which is my place of work and residence) a few notable ones are:

MarylandInfo.com

SearchMaryland.com

GreatMaryland.com (seems not purely local)

Maryland.com (more of a community site)

Connect2MD.com

The last one does not appear to accept submissions, and as such they won’t get a link from me. For full disclosure, I do own the Search Maryland internet directory and I do maintain it, although probably only approving new sites once every couple of weeks (its not a high priority and hey… I’m a busy guy!).

In DC there are also:

DC Pages

DC Registry (I believe they may have stopped accepting submissions?)

Microsoft FrontPage to Be Replaced

I just read on FrontPage Webmaster that Microsoft is pulling the plug on FrontPage.  They are replacing it with a number of different products, most notably (IMO) the soon-coming Microsoft Expression Web Designer.  The word is second half of 2006.  If its before Christmas I’d consider that early.

Supposively its big with standards and CSS.  In fact, the little video that intros MS Expression Web Designer on the MS site ends by stating you can “Create CSS-based, XHTML compliant Web sites with ease.”

I’m actually fairly excited about it.  I’ve used various versions of FrontPage for years and actually really like FrontPage, although there certainly are a number of bugs and issues – especially with the Database Results Wizard in earlier versions (cough cough, freaking code that uses parent paths and how it won’t let me edit that code to use on a site where the host does not have parent paths enabled due to security concerns… GOSH!).  However, I think FrontPage by and large gets an undeserved bad wrap.

I also use DreamWeaver.  Alot too.  I think DW is more of a pain, and in my opinion most people seem to think DreamWeaver is so superior simply b/c that seems to be the popular opinion.  I think it has more to do with the user base.  Both tools are great.  FrontPage tends to attract more amateurs and beginners though – and thus you tend to see alot more junk as the output of such users using FrontPage.  As was mentioned in that FrontPageWebmaster thread I referenced above – a poster states that “a tool is a tool is a tool”.  So true.  He (for my laziness) also says that the brand of hammer has very little to do with the outcome of a construction project – its the person that’s swinging the hammer that matters.  I totally agree.  Both programs are very good, and each has its advantages – but really its how you use it that matters most (how and who anyhow).

By the way – check out that video, the CSS on/off type feature looks pretty sweet!

Don’t Link to Our Website

http://www.dontlink.com/ – This is hilarious!  Man oh man, I have no words!

I especially like this:

Sylvania requires linking sites to submit this Link Form. General Electric permits text links to its home page, but requires written approval for all other links to its site.

God forbid someone is directed right to the content they are looking for!  No, let’s make them go around in circles with our crazy navigation!  Woohoo!

Blaming MySpace for Bad Parenting

Why do you think, is this guy missing the true issue at hand?  MySpace is merely a the convenient medium and largest network for this type of social behavior – be it good or bad.  Sure there are lots of slutty guys and girls posting sketchy photos of themselves – but is that really the fault or encouragement of the medium?  I think not.  Its a reflection of the person posting such photos, and what is clearly important (for better or worse) to themselves.

I have a MySpace account.  I do not have slutty photos of myself on it.

Why not?  Because I don’t want to.  I think its tacky and cheap.  I don’t wish for people to think of me in that way.  There are alot of people that use this type of social networking site in a way that even the most conversative watchdogs would think is acceptable moral behavior.
You can get rid of MySpace, but that won’t solve the problem.  If its not MySpace its Friendster or Xanga.  Again, they are not the problem – the “problem” this guy is truly worried about is the sluttiness of some of the young people he’s seen on the site.  He’s worried that young people may do things they regret later.  Isn’t that pretty much what being young is about?  Teenagers were doing stupid things that they regret long before MySpace or the internet in general.

I will say this – my only apprehension with such sites in the privacy and personal information stance.  If you are a parent, make sure your kid knows what is okay to share and what’s not.  Parents are supposed to do this – don’t shun this responsibility just because they are now using an online medium that they are more comfortable with than you.

Everyone’s parents tells them “Don’t talk to strangers.”  My mom drilled me when I was young not to get into a stranger’s car, or tell them where I live, etc.  Why not apply the same stance to the internet?

What is okay to share?  I’d say things like

  • general stories, blogs
  • first names
  • interests
  • activities

What might you want to avoid?  Really anything specific:

  • full name
  • address
  • SSN
  • you complete hourly whereabouts

Again, just use common sense.  Only share it if you are okay with a complete stranger, or rather many many complete strangers knowing it.  I think that’s how many bloggers (including myself) approach it.

Other MySpace Posts:

MarketingSherpa Article on Internet Advertising 2005/2006

I was just sent a link to a great article on Internet Marketing opinions, budgets, and spending habits on MarketingSherpa. Its a bit of a survey for 2005 and projections for 2006. In short, it seems as though PPC search engine ads are the most beloved, and organic search engine optimization is slightly less highly thought of. I wonder how Google’s tweaks to AdWords and a general loss in ROI through PPC many people I know of are experiencing will impact this in the next 12 months. Anyhow, the article is certainly worth a look.

Aaron Wall Interviews Matt Cutts

Aaron Wall of SEO Book (who BTW, happens to be a great guy and really cares about helping out others) recently interviewed Matt Cutts, an engineer at Google who is pretty well-known in the SEO community. In particular, I’d like to highlight one Q&A from the interview:

Is all SEO spam?

Absolutely not–I need to do a post about this on my blog sometime. Lots and lots of search engine optimization is white-hat and not spam at all. Things like making a site more crawlable, tweaking the words on a site based on what users type in or what you see in your server logs, and gathering links by coming up with creative ideas or services that make people link to you naturally. To me (and Google), spam is search engine optimization that is outside our quality guidelines–things like hidden text, hidden links, doorway pages filled with gibberish words that do a sneaky JavaScript redirect, and so on.

Personally, I have a theory that some spammers want everyone practicing solid, common-sense SEO to believe that they’re spamming, or that everyone is a black hat. To me, that fails at first blush; was I a spammer for changing the word “howto” on a page to “how to,” because more people type it the second way? Of course not. I have a similar theory about doing spam reports–why would someone who claims that they will use any trick in the book whatsoever then turn around and try to convince people not to do spam reports? Those two beliefs (“I’ll do anything to get ahead in rankings” and “Don’t report a competing site that is using spam tactics”) aren’t especially consistent. There’s a lot more nuance that I’d like to go into sometime, but I’ll throw those points out there for people to discuss. :)

Phew. I love hearing that reassurance. :)

Please do go read the whole interview – as its a well worthwhile read.

Review of Seth Godin’s “Knock Knock”

Knock KnockGood read. Informative, interesting, clear. No BS.

Its even free.

I just finished reading Seth Godin’s free ebook “Knock Knock – Seth Godin’s Incomplete Guide to Building a Web Site that Works“. I think it was a nice basic overview, and a bit of an eye opener. For me, it wasn’t so much a matter of information and ideas that I didn’t know – I came into it already agreeing with what he said – but rather it was a clear smack in the back of the head to tell me to stop thinking those things and actually do them.

Too often I start fighting the good fight for clear, action-oriented web design, but I give way to the desire to create a page that is all things to all people. People are not patient. Shoot, me most of all. In this sense, it was similar to The Big Red Fez, which uses the fun monkey and banana scenario.

The book took me no more than 45 minutes to read, and that was while half-checking email and such. Nice examples too. Now I just need to exercise a little discipline and make sure to put those principles into action.

Most sites have 1, maybe 2 clear objectives:

  • Buy something.
  • Contact us.
  • Request a Quote.
  • Get Help.
  • Give us your email address.

That’s not to say that pages like the ever-interesting “about the company” and “news” pages are worthless. They aren’t. But they should support the goals listed above. The point of every page should be to bring you to another stage in the process, and ultimately (as streamlined as possible) to the action point. It may take me viewing a few pages about the product, company, etc. before I’m ready to buy. That’s fine. But at least steer me in that direction.

I particularly like one statement Seth made when comparing the visual appearance of two sites, and how they each do or don’t suit the market they are targeting:

If the first page were a person, how would it dress? Would you talk to him if he met you in a bar? In a bank?

Nothing new really, but still a nice, quick read. Good examples, good “large picture” overview. I recommend. Its well worth the 30-60 minutes it’ll take you to read it.

Knock Knock – PDF
Knock Knock – Blog Post

Clint Dixon’s Article – Google Revamps SERPs…

I just read an article on SEO Chat by Clint Dixon, entitled Google Revamps SERPs, for Money? Its well worth your time – at least a 10 minute skim.

Apparently Google is now experimenting with what they claim is a user experience enhancement. Mr. Dixon believes its more commercially-motivated. Me – well I’m not real sure just yet, but I can definitely see both sides.

Essentially what’s happening is that the #6-8 results are now being replaced in many cases by a suggested alternative search – i.e. “did you mean ______ lyrics?” or something like that. Thus, three (still organic) listings for another search term are now getting real estate on pages for terms they wouldn’t otherwise rank for. If you are one who closely monitors how your site ranks than this is both good and bad news. If you have rankings in the #5-10 range, well its probably bad news. If you are one of those sites that ranks higher for some more specific searches, you may also get play on more general ones via this feature. However, I do suspect that in practice this may just serve larger sites. Mr. Dixon pointed out an example about the search for “on demand” and Comcast getting more real estate.

It remains to be seen how widespread this will be rolled out, and exactly what effect it will have. I suspect at a minimum it will draw a thicker line between top 10 and top 5 results, and the volume of traffic they bring.

For the larger picture, Mr. Dixon makes the case for concern about how money-motivated Google may now be, due to going public and having pressures to increase share value, grow revenue, etc. Its going to be tough for them, I would think, outside of driving search volume, as there is a point when adding more ads to the SERPs page is going to start to hurt rather than help.

They have recently (in many cases) opted to show 3 top paid ads now in the top-center real estate with the blueish shaded background area. IMO this is a money-motivated move. That’s now to say I fault them for it. Shoot, we’re all money-motivated to some degree. You’ve got to make a living, pay your employees, etc. However, I’d be surprised if that really helps a great deal, as to me that whole area now just dissappears into obscurity and I begin to not notice any of those top ads – which, lets remember, make Google more money than the ones on the side. When there was/is just one there, I really notice it. It stands out, catches my attention. With two, I could still see each unique one. Now with three its pretty crowded, and just screams more of unwanted advertisements than before. I’m interested to see where that will go.

CNN Article About Google / SEO

An interesting article I found linked off of CNN’s homepage:

“Keeping enemies close at the Google Dance

It written in a very basic/general style, for someone who has essentially never even heard of SEO. In fact, they use the term “webmasters” and “search engine consultants” where one might substitute them for a term such as “SEO”, but let’s not worry about that. Anyhow, its always interesting to me to take note of what search gets more mainstream media exposure, and CNN.com would fit that bill.

Quick Comment About the ClickZ Sale

First off, my apologies for no posts in the past week and a half or so. I was on vacation and am just now catching up and figuring out what’s been going since I left. :)

Second, it appears as though JupiterMedia has sold ClickZ and SearchEngineWatch (which produces the Search Engine Strategies conferences and is to my understanding a part of ClickZ) to Incisive Media, which is based in the UK.

Details are posted by Danny Sullivan here.

My thoughts? Well naturally I’m not privy to either company’s financial situation or much anything about them beyond the surface, but on the surface I very much question this move. I’m typically one who is usually very skeptical about large dollar amounts flying around, but in this case the $43 Million selling price actually sounds a bit cheap to me. I’m sure they generate a fairly nice income with each of the SES conferences, which seem to be growing in size and number of annual occurances each year. Add that the the ad revenue on SEW and whatever subscription income they have, plus its general pull in the industry and I’m actually a bit surprised it didn’t go for more…