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Tag Archives: Dallas (Texas)
Sticker shock. That’s what Terry Sullivan got when he shopped around to have a website professionally designed for his new catering business. “I looked into it, and it was between $4,000 and $150,000… that’s pretty expensive,” says Sullivan, founder of Texas Prime Caterers near Dallas, Texas. “I had just started a business, and I didn’t want to spend that kind of money.” So Sullivan did it himself. After obtaining a domain name and a hosting agreement through 1&1 Internet, he started building. In about nine hours, he had a basic website without e-commerce capability. Not bad for a chef with no code-writing or graphic design background. To build his site, Sullivan used Wix, a publishing platform application that allows someone to design a website in Flash without knowing code and without using a template. Launched in 2006 as a free service, Wix now offers a $9.90/month premium service, too. Unlike the free version, the premium service offers hosting and does not carry Wix-generated advertising, explains Wix co-CEO Allon Bloch. D-I-Y Web design grows up Wix is one of the newer do-it-yourself Web design applications that are allowing small businesses and individuals to design or augment their own websites and social network pages cheaply and more creatively than ever before. Using Wix, users can drag and drop a wide range of content into their sites. Weebly, a rival app, uses a template and simple step-by-step instructions, as well as free domain hosting. Weebly also offers a free service, as well as a “pro account” for $3.99 a month with additional features. Meanwhile, inexpensive domain-name and hosting services are plentiful in the marketplace, and many of them offer sitebuilding services. Likewise, many Web design firms offer cheaper do-it-yourself options. The result is a market that makes it easier than ever for smaller companies to do everything from find a domain name to power up their site faster and more cheaply than ever before. Wix’s Bloch notes that, between small businesses and personal users under 35, there is a growing market for technologies that let people design their own websites and personal pages. “Artists, designers, musicians, they are wanting to create their own sites,” he says. “And people under 35, their lives have been on the Internet. They want their social pages to reflect who they are.” Moreover, the technology allows people to easily update or change their sites without involving a designer, and yet another layer of expensive design, says Bloch. But attempting to design a site that is at once professional, informative, and easy to navigate is not without risks. Sullivan admits that one client pointed out a host of spelling and grammatical errors on his catering site. “It hasn’t hurt my business any,” he says. But for some businesses, it could. Sometimes it pays to hire a pro “You want your site to look professional, or you could lose business,” says Jim Dittman, co-owner of w3.com, a full-service sitebuilder site based in Birmingham, Ala. Errors in the pages, or advertising that diverts attention from your page, “isn’t considered very professional,” he warns. Moreover, adding features such as e-commerce or database functionality can get complicated if you don’t know the ropes, experts say. “If you’re putting in an e-commerce platform, you need to know, will it work? Will it integrate with your accounting software?” asks Susan Wade, spokeswoman for Network Solutions, a Herndon, Va.-based sitebuilder firm. Both Dittman and Wade note that professional Web design services don’t have to run in the thousands of dollars. A three- to four-page site, says Dittman, could run as little as $700. Wade advises that users try different options out first, and really think through what they want in their site before proceeding. “No matter what option you choose, you need to have a clear idea what you want your site to do for you so you can keep costs down,” she says. “Concept spread — that’s what will cost you.” SIDEBAR: D-I-Y Website Design Apps to Know Do-it-yourself website design apps becoming easier to use and more sophisticated than ever. Here are a few to keep an eye on: Wix: A Flash-based app that you don’t need to know Flash to use, Wix allows users to drag and drop content into their site freestyle, meaning that there’s no template in sight. Basic service is free, but users must first obtain a domain name and a hosting service, since all sites require a host. The free service features advertising. A premium service ($9.90/month) features no ads, and provides hosting. The company plans to offer domain-name search services soon. Weebly: Weebly’s simplicity allows users with almost no tech skills to form a website or personal page using a template. Moreover, says Weebly co-creator Dan Velti, it does not use Flash, thus making it easier for search engines attempting to index and rank the site. The app offers free domain hosting; its pro account at $3.99/month offers password protection, larger file size uploads, and an embedded audio player. Sprout: The Sprout app is not a sitebuilder. Instead, it allows users to trick out their existing website, blog, or page with rich media content (also known as a widget, mini-site, or mashup), such as a streaming video, real-time poll, or chat function with ease.
VAALCO is a Houston-based energy company that explores, develops and produces crude oil and natural gas. It’s a small, but publicly-traded company with 20 employees in Texas and more worldwide. Robert Walston, IT supervisor of VAALCO, says that moving to an online backup service helped the firm comply with regulations regarding accountability of financial data and allay disaster recovery concerns Elizabeth Wasserman: What type of data do you keep? Robert Walston: The critical data is the financial data. And recently, in the last year or two, we implemented Microsoft Exchange server so we have all of our e-mail data also that would be critical. Wasserman: Why did you look for a new backup solution? Walston: We are a public company and we were introduced to the Sarbanes Oxley requirements. Even though we’re a pretty small company, our market cap is big enough to make us have to abide by the same regulations the large corporations. In late 2005, we were basically backing up everything to tape drives. I was hand carrying them to my house at the time. Once we were introduced to the Sarbanes Oxley regulations, we knew that wasn’t going to cut it. It didn’t meet the standards for accountability and so we had to come up with a solution pretty quickly. That’s when we started looking into an offsite, online type of backup. We went with Netmass, based out of Dallas, with Asigra software. Wasserman: How does it work? Walston: We downloaded a client and it backs up our computers over the Internet. It’s all encrypted, so it meets the securities standards and accountability standards we need. Basically, each night a couple times a week, we rotate between the accounting/purchasing and Exchange server. It’s really easy to set up. Every night at a certain time, it backs up our servers. Wasserman: You’re based in Houston, which was hit pretty hard during Hurricane Rita. Does this give you peace of mind during hurricane season? Walston: The main concern was with our auditors at the time. They didn’t know where I lived and whether I lived in a flood plain. I, myself, wasn’t concerned. Our offices are located on the third floor of a three-story building. Having said that, it does provide peace of mind. That’s for sure. If something were to happen, a disaster in our building itself, we would be able to get these backups from a remote location and restore then in a matter of hours if we had the right hardware.
We have previously talked about the basics of search engine optimization. Now it’s time get down to the meat! In this column we’ll drill into one of the most important factors in achieving high search engine rankings, the title tag. What Is a Title Tag? A title tag is essentially an HTML code snippet that creates the words that appear in the top bar of your Web browser — for example, “XYZ Company Home Page.” These words were entered into the title tag of the site’s HTML code. They don’t appear anywhere on the actual Web page. The HTML code for a title tag looks like this: < HEAD> < TITLE> XYZ Company Home Page< /TITLE> < /HEAD> The title tag is usually the first element in the < HEAD> section, followed by meta description and meta keyword tags. (You can get more information on metatags in the glossary.) Some Web site creation tools automatically generate the title tag from information you provide. You may have noticed Web pages that are labeled “Page 1,” “Page 2,” or “Home Page” in the browser bar. Labels like these are used by beginning Web site designers who simply don’t know how to use title tags for maximum benefit. Search Engines and Title Tags All search engines use title tags to gather information about your Web site. The word(s) in the title tag will appear in the hyperlink listings on the search engine results page; people click the hyperlink to go to your site. Arguably, your title tag is second in importance only to the actual text on the page in determining your site’s ranking with the search engines. So far as placement of your title tags is concerned, most search engine experts agree that it probably doesn’t matter if the title tag is the first element in the < HEAD> section. However, I believe that good coding practice argues for placing it first. What Not to Put in Your Title Tag More important than the placement of the title tag are the words you put in the tag and the order in which those words appear. Many site owners mistakenly believe they should put their company names in this tag. This is only a good idea if you are a well-known company that people will be searching for by name, such as Coca-Cola or McDonalds. Otherwise, you should assume that most potential customers will be searching for specific products or services, not a particular company name. For example, if your company is named “Johnson and Smith Inc.” and you are a tax accountant in Texas, putting only “Johnson and Smith Inc.” in your title tag will probably be fruitless. If you absolutely insist on including your company name in the title tag, put it at the end of the tag, after the more important keyword information. (A number of search engine gurus believe that some search engines give more weight to words that appear first in the title tag.) Title Tags Should Be Specific Keywords and Phrases As the tax accountant in Texas, you would want your company’s site to appear in the search engine results for searches on keywords such as “Texas tax accountants” and “CPAs in Texas.” You would need to be even more specific if you prefer to work for people only in the Dallas area. In that case, use keywords such as “Dallas tax accountants” in your site’s title tags. This is a key point: If you’re seeking customers or clients only in a specific geographical region, your keywords need to reflect that geographical specificity. People looking for a tax accountant in Dallas may begin their search by simply entering “tax accountant” in the search engine. However, once they see that their search is returning accountants from all over the world, they’ll narrow the search by adding “Dallas” to their search terms. When they do, you want your site to be right there on the first page of new results. In our Dallas accountants example, you could create a title tag that says < TITLE> Dallas tax accountants< /TITLE> or you could say < TITLE> Dallas CPAs< /TITLE> . However, there’s more than enough space in the title tag to include both of these important keyword phrases. (In fact, search engines will display 60 to 115 characters of your title tag.) Here’s an example of a better approach: < TITLE> DALLAS tax accountants dallas CPAs< /TITLE> You’ll notice that I used the word “Dallas” twice and also placed it in ALL CAPS once. Most search engines are not case sensitive, but AltaVista and HotBot are. This means that your site may well rank higher on those search engines in response to a query that is entered in ALL CAPS. (Studies have shown that most people use all lowercase letters when they type their search engine queries; however, enough use ALL CAPS to make this worth the effort.) An interesting note: Several years ago I noticed that in some engines, pages with keywords in ALL CAPS sometimes ranked higher than pages with all lowercase keywords. This occurred even with the noncase-specific engines. Although this was not a scientific study, I’d love to hear from any readers who may have observed the same phenomenon. As for placing the word “Dallas” twice in the title tag, I have found this approach to be both permissible and effective. Just make sure that you don’t put the same words right next to each other. For example, a tag that reads “Accountants in Dallas – Dallas CPAs” is very likely to trigger a red flag with the search engines, so that the word could get ignored entirely. It’s also not a good idea to use a word more than twice or to repeat more than one or two words total in the title tag. However, if you keep these caveats in mind, I strongly urge you to repeat one or two keywords in your title tags. In fact, I think it’s a must! Use Only Keywords and Phrases that Are in the Text on Your Page If you’re not sure what to put in your title tag, take a look at the text within the page itself. If you’ve done a good job with your writing, you should find all the keywords you need right there on your page. Simply choose the most relevant ones for the title tag. If you can’t find any good keywords on your page, it’s time for a rewrite. The optimal approach when creating a Web site is to think of all the keywords that best reflect your business, and then compose text around those words. When you go to write your title tag, you simply revisit the keyword list, make sure the keywords are being used on the page, and poof, you have a good, keyword-rich title tag. But remember: If the words don’t appear somewhere in the text of your page, they shouldn’t be in your title tag. Using our tax accounting firm example, suppose you look at the text on your page and notice that the phrase “Texas tax accountant” doesn’t appear anywhere on the page. Does this mean you shouldn’t use this phrase in the title tag? Well, yes and no. If you’re not willing to change the text on your page, then no, you shouldn’t put those words in your title tag. However, you can also forget about ranking high for those words! The smart thing to do is to rewrite the text on your page so that it uses the keywords that are important to you. This doesn’t mean to just stick the words at the top or bottom of the page. It doesn’t mean to hide them in the background. Nor does it mean to put them in a tiny font so that no one will notice them. And it doesn’t mean to simply put them in your meta keyword tag. If keywords are important enough that you want your site to be found under them in the search engines, they are important enough to be elegantly incorporated into the body text of your page. Once you have incorporated important keywords into the text of your site, all you have to do is take these same phrases and put them in your title tag. It really is that simple. Copyright Â© 1995-2000 Pinnacle WebWorkz Inc. All rights reserved. Do notduplicate or redistribute in any form.
From the Front Lines How does a manufacturer go online without destroying its relationships with its retailers? I first really learned about the power of the Internet two years ago — the same day, in fact, that I learned I was an unethical, two-faced liar driven by insatiable greed. I was taught both lessons by one of my most important retail dealers. He had just lost a sale over the Internet to another of our dealers, who had sold one of the leather sofas we manufacture for almost 30% below its normal retail price. The competing retailer was several states away and had a brand-new Web site on which he was offering the lowball price only to Internet shoppers not in his market area. He figured that any business from the promotion was gravy, so any margin was a good margin. My nine-year-old company, American Leather, manufactures some 80 different collections of custom leather furniture (everything from sleeper sofas to recliners to ottomans, in 13 grades of leather and in more than 75 colors), which we then sell through select higher-end retail dealers throughout the country. As is the norm in the furniture industry, we provide each dealer with exclusivity on the specific collections that it carries within its market area. We’ve assiduously avoided selling our products through discount or price-oriented catalog operations in order to maintain the integrity of both our distribution model and our brand name. And we’ve eschewed any direct-to-consumer sales over the Internet, either through our own Web site, which we set up in 1997 to serve as an online brochure, or through the myriad dot-coms that are popping up like the springs in a seat cushion. The irate dealer, however, was convinced that we’d changed our tune and were now encouraging sales of our products online. The incident was a wake-up call to me: with retailers flocking to cyberspace like birds flying south for the winter, how could we enforce our policy of dealer exclusivity? And perhaps even more challenging: how could American Leather itself take advantage of the growth opportunities offered by the Internet without destroying its relationships with its 600-plus retailers — the very heart of the distribution channel that we at the company had spent our entire careers developing? After fielding several calls over the next two weeks from other disgruntled dealers, we leaped into action and established an Internet policy. Purely reactionary, the policy simply declared that we prohibited the use of our name or images of our collections on the Internet by anyone other than ourselves. It would now be impossible, we reasoned, for dealers to conduct E-commerce with our products. But the irony of our victory didn’t escape us: we were also telling our customers that they couldn’t promote our brand over the fastest-growing, most revolutionary information medium in the world. From a logistical standpoint, too, the policy was far from ideal. For starters, how could we police it? Even a full-time hire charged with surfing the Internet in search of violators would no doubt miss some references to us. And second, wouldn’t such a stringent policy ultimately alienate the very dealers that it was designed to protect? After all, many of them had recently launched their own Web sites — often at considerable expense — and hoped to make their pages as content rich as possible. To address those concerns, we redesigned our site to include more detailed product information — descriptions of the leathers we offer, biographies of our designers, room shots of the different collections — and an automated “dealer locator” that allows potential customers to quickly find the American Leather retailer nearest them. Additionally, and at much greater expense (more than $500,000 annually), in January 1999 we began a Web-oriented advertising campaign through premium consumer magazines and newspapers such as Architectural Digest, Elle Decor, House & Garden, Metropolitan Home, and the Wall Street Journal. It was the first time that we’d stepped out of the trades and into consumer publications for advertising purposes. The aim was to drive people to our site in order to teach them about our products and then give them an easy way to get to the nearest American Leather retailer to sample — and hopefully to buy — the furniture. (We still subscribe to the theory that comfort is the single most important factor in purchasing furniture. In a recent Better Homes and Gardens survey, 83% of readers agreed.) The results were exceptional and highlighted another great benefit of the Internet: in near real time we could see the results of the advertising campaign. Every time a new ad ran in a publication, there was a substantial — and measurable — increase in hits to our Web site. We went from several hundred hits a month to an average of more than 30,000 hits a month. Business rose concurrently: our sales went from $19.5 million in 1998 to $28 million in 1999 — an increase of more than 40%, with largely the same dealer base. All of that was occurring in a strange atmosphere in which start-up E-tailers with virtually no sales garnered valuations that defied gravity. Within the furniture industry, for instance, there are several new dot-coms whose valuations run in the hundreds of millions of dollars. One of them, Living.com, which is based in Austin, has been in business for less than a year. At its one-year mark — with no sales and no Web site — it sold an 11% interest in the company for $35 million. Do the math and you’ll see that that equates to a $300-million-plus valuation. The current “veteran” of furniture E-tailing is Furniture.com, a two-and-a-half-year-old company based in Framingham, Mass., that relaunched its Web site in January 1999. Though Furniture.com didn’t celebrate its first $1-million sales month until May, as of last summer it had reportedly raised more than $50 million in venture funding. Compare the numbers with those of Ethan Allen — a rock-solid 63-year-old furniture retailer with annual sales of more than $700 million. Ethan Allen’s total market capitalization is about $1.2 billion — and it actually makes a profit. I don’t want to wake up one day to discover that American Leather’s traditional distribution model has become obsolete. Yet despite the allure of amassing a fortune from negative earnings, most new E-businesses will probably never achieve a level of sales or profitability to justify even their current valuations. But at the same time, because no one knows exactly how the boom will play out, I do feel compelled to think about new online distribution opportunities for my company. I certainly don’t want to wake up one day to discover that American Leather’s traditional distribution model has become obsolete virtually overnight. Hence our next step is to consider selling our products directly over the Internet either through our own site or through a furniture E-tailer. Whatever we do, though, it cannot conflict with the sales of our existing dealers. One possibility is to offer our collections on the American Leather site at a normal retail (not a lowball) price. In this scenario the product would be delivered — and the after-sale support handled — by the dealer located closest to the buyer. We would then pay the dealers the approximate margin that they would have made on the sale if it had taken place in their showroom. Such an arrangement would give customers the convenience of shopping over the Internet while increasing sales for our dealers as well as for ourselves. Here’s hoping we get our next foray into cyberspace right. Bob Duncan is CEO and cofounder of $30-million American Leather, based in Dallas.