How to Get a Small Business Loan in Six Steps

How to Get a Small Business Loan in Six StepsWhether you’re starting a new business or expanding an existing one, chances are you’re in need of some financing. While finding a bank or financial institute to back you can be difficult in these tough economic times, it’s not impossible. Here are six steps to help you get started.

Step 1: Obtain a Copy of Your Credit Report

Knowing your credit score is not enough. You need to go over your credit report from top to bottom to ensure that it’s accurate. Get a report from each of the three big agencies – Equifax, TransUnion, and Experian – and correct anything that may be in error. Be prepared to explain any anomalies to the loan officer, as they will no doubt be reviewing your credit report at the same time as your loan application.

Step 2: Gather Essential Financial Documents

Your lender will want to see documentation around the state of your financial affairs. You will need to provide complete financial statements, both business and personal, including balance sheets, income statements, and reconciliations of your net worth. At a minimum, you will need:

  • A recent financial statement, no more than 2 to 3 months old;
  • Financial statements for the last 3 years;
  • Your debt schedule for any pre-existing loans;
  • Accounts payable and accounts receivable for the past 3 to 6 months.

Step 3: Put Together a Strong, Detailed Business Plan

If you are just starting out, you will need a detailed business plan including your mission statement, a description of your product or service and how you will differentiate it from the competition, market analysis information, a description and bios of your management team, marketing plans, analysis of strengths and weaknesses, a cash flow statement, and revenue projections.

If you are expanding a business, you’ll need to create a projection of future operations in order to show how the expansion will increase your revenue and cash flow. Find a pre-formatted 12-month profit and loss worksheet to work with to ensure you are using industry standards.

Step 4: Determine the Type of Loan You Need

There are many different types of loans that are appropriate for a variety of different purposes. Some things to consider are collateral, interest rates, and term of investment. Your needs, preferences, credit history, and collateral will determine what type of loan you should look for.

Line of Credit. Many businesses use a line of credit as working capital in order to manage cash flow, as revenues and expenses tend to fluctuate. With a line of credit, you only need to borrow the amount that you need, so that you don’t accrue interest unnecessarily.

Business loans. Like a personal loan or a mortgage, a business loan is a term loan with a fixed interest rate and monthly payments over a set term. With a business loan, you’ll receive a large sum of cash up front, which you can use to start or expand your business.

Commercial loans. If your business owns any commercial real estate, a commercial loan is an option for you. Much like a home equity loan, you can use a commercial loan to borrow against the equity in your business real estate. This is usually an easier loan to get approved, depending on your property and the amount of equity you have built up.

Equipment loans. If you need a loan in order to purchase new equipment, such as vehicles,

production or manufacturing machinery, or farm equipment, you may want to apply for an equipment loan or leasing program. Like a business loan, an equipment loan offers a fixed interest rate and payment plan.

Small Business Association loans. Federal, state, and local governments offer a wide range of financing programs specifically designed to help small businesses. These programs include low-interest loans, venture capital, and scientific and economic development grants. SBA-guaranteed loans have lower down payments and longer repayment terms than most conventional bank loans, and can be used for business acquisitions, working capital, equipment, or owner-occupied real estate.

Federal or state grants. Small business grants are funding that does not need to be repaid, as they are funded by taxpayer dollars and awarded through a complex legislative process. Unfortunately, they are limited and harder to secure than loans, but it’s worth checking out www.grants.gov to see if you qualify for a small business grant.

Step 5: Select a Lending Institution

Although experts still contend that a bank loan is best, there are alternate methods of securing a small business loan, including many Internet lending sites like OnDeck.com. In securing a small business loan, the best place to start is the Small Business Association. The SBA can direct you to services that are specifically interested in lending to small businesses, whether you apply for a SBA-guaranteed loan or not.

Step 6: Apply, Apply, Apply – Then Apply Some More

Many small business owners typically apply at three or four banks and then give up. Don’t! Somewhere out there is the bank or lending institution that is ready to invest in your business. Banks may decline your loan for a variety of reasons, many of which have more to do with them than you. Be persistent and keep searching.

If your application is rejected at one bank, query the loan officer as to why. There may be things that you need to change or explain more fully to make your application more complete. Banks are looking for past profitability and a good solid plan for future revenue. If you aren’t currently making a profit, you should be able to show how you will change that in the near term.

Try keeping your loan requests small at first. By securing and paying back a small loan, the trust you will build with the institution will help you secure a larger loan later on.

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What is PoS (Point-of-Sale) for Local Business?

What is PoS for Local Business?As every retailer knows, PoS, or point of sale, is the place where a retail transaction is completed. Basically, it’s the cashier. So why the fancy acronym? In this time of increasingly advanced technology, you will rarely find an old fashioned mechanical cash register at a local business point of sale.

Today, a point of sale can also be thought of as a point of service, as it’s often where customers return and special orders are handled. Instead of a mechanical cash register, a modern PoS includes a much more complex computer program with many advanced features and functionalities, such as inventory tracking and warehouse management, which used to be handled individually.

At its simplest, a PoS system is a computer program that replaces the basic cash register. All sales and transactions are entered into the computer, which records and tracks it all for you. However, there are many, many variations of PoS systems available for your local business, ranging from simple to all encompassing.

Types of PoS Systems

A typical setup of a basic PoS system today includes a cash register, comprised of a computer and monitor, cash drawer, receipt printer, barcode scanner, and customer display. Additionally, most systems also include a credit card reader and pin-pad device, and, increasingly, a near-field communication (NFC) device for taking mobile payments from cell phones.

Depending on the business and desired functionality, PoS software can be set up to handle a variety of different functions, including sales, returns, exchanges, layaways, customer rewards programs, gift registries, gift cards, coupons, foreign currency, and more. PoS software can also incorporate all of your business functions, like inventory management, purchasing and receiving, sales reports, order tracking, customer tracking, accounts receivable, accounts payable, and even payroll.

PoS for Retail Businesses

For most retail businesses, the PoS unit in the front of the store handles customer sales, but that is just one part of the entire system. Linked back office computers generally handle inventory control, purchasing, receiving, and product transfer from other store locations. Other functions may include storing sales information for use with returns and for reporting and analysis purposes, storing customer information for managing receivables, marketing and buying analysis, and accounting interfaces for independent accounting applications. In some stores with multi-faceted operations, specialized additional features may include software that handles purchase orders, repairs, service, rental programs, and special orders.

PoS for Hospitality Businesses

Like other PoS systems, those used in the hospitality industry keep track of sales, labor, and payroll, as well as generate various accounting and bookkeeping records. In the hospitality industry, however, PoS systems have many more specialized functions

Typically, restaurant PoS software is able to create and print receipts, send orders to kitchen staff and bartenders, process credit cards and other payments, and run daily reports. Many high volume restaurants utilize handheld wireless PoS to collect orders, which are forwarded to a server, who forwards it to the kitchen. Wireless PoS systems are especially common in fast-food restaurants, but can also be found in high-tech restaurants with table-top ordering through a tablet device.

In hotels, PoS systems are also able to transfer restaurant charges to guest room bills with just one button.

Internet versus In-Store

Many PoS systems utilize the Internet, so that owners and managers can access reports from anywhere they have an Internet connection, and receive alerts and reports on their smartphones. This also helps protect the information from a system-wide crash, but may make it slightly more vulnerable to hacking.

For businesses who prefer to keep all of their information on the premises, newer systems are resorting to cluster databases rather than one central server, which eliminates downtime and data loss associated with a server crash. Not only can 100 percent of the information be stored securely, but it can also be accessed entirely from the local terminal.

What Kind of PoS System do I Need?

The selection of a PoS system for your local business is critical to your daily operation and is a major investment that you will have to live with for many years. The PoS system interfaces with all phases of the operation and with everyone that is involved; customers, suppliers, employees, managers, and owners.

When it’s time to select a PoS system, the many different types and functionalities available may make you want to go back to an old fashioned cash register. Resist the temptation, however, as a well-designed PoS will save you time and money, and make your life much easier in the long run.

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Signpost Thanks Denver Startup Week for Rewarding Events

Signpost Thanks Denver Startup Week for Rewarding EventsSignpost was honored to participate in this year’s Denver Startup Week. In such an exciting, growing city, the turnout exceeded our expectations. Denver’s status as a tech environment proved itself with the large crowds – more than 100 people showed up to our sessions, and we networked with more than 500 tech enthusiasts throughout the week – showing interest and asking questions about how to build a successful startup.

Signpost was present in a couple of ways throughout the week, from our our own Successfully Scaling Sales session and Pub Crawl, both hosted in the Signpost Denver office, to the Start Up Cribs presentation where our CEO Stuart Wall presented and spoke more about the Signpost company culture and office environment.

For us, the awesome week closed off with the student job fair. It was exciting to speak to so many curious young minds. If you are intrigued by the Signpost culture and did not get a chance to talk to our team during Startup Week, we are hiring – like crazy! The rapidly-growing local tech economy in Denver is calling for us to grow our office from 60 to about 100 in 2014.

Signpost Thanks Denver Startup Week for Rewarding Events

Denver Startup Week proved to be a beneficial experience for all involved; event goers got an inside look at the ideas behind some of Denver’s most innovative new companies, and the companies in turn got to not only network with each other, but with prospective consumers and employees. Signpost is excited to be part of such a busy, intellectual tech community.

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How Will Apple Watch Affect Your Local Business?

How Will Apple Watch Affect Your Local Business?When Apple rolled out their new Apple Watch, the world was watching. People lined up for weeks in advance to be first in line to see (and buy) Apple’s newest offerings. In the United States, some 33 percent of 1,000 respondents to a survey indicated an intent to buy. So the question is, if one third of the population starts sporting a wearable local search tool, how will this affect your local business?

Search Powered by Bing and Google Maps

One of the most talked about features of the new Apple Watch is the local search feature. Using the Siri interface, users will be able to search for local businesses and receive turn-by-turn navigation instructions, by voice and by tactile sensations called “haptic feedback” facilitated by a linear actuator.

The Apple Watch search function utilizes the Bing search engine, and accesses Google Maps for directions. Users can easily zoom in and out of the maps with the touch of a finger, however the screen’s small size portends that searches will most likely be very close in, with a radius of just 1 to 2 miles or even a few blocks.

How to Ensure Your Business Gets Found

In order to be found in these “hyper-local” searches, businesses will need to make sure that they are listed in Bing Local and have a complete profile on Google Maps, which is now accomplished through the new Google My Business. Both of these are easy to do and will ensure that your business is included in any local search results.

The beauty of these closed-in searches is that with such a small radius, yours could very well be the only business returned in the results, so SEO management and search engine ranking is no longer a consideration.

Coupons and Special Offers

With the advent of the Apple Watch, offering digital coupons and special offers that will pop up in a local search will give your business even more of a competitive edge. If a local search returns two or three similar results, the business that is offering a coupon or discount is most likely to be the one chosen.

The Apple Watch is just the latest entry into a growing market of wearable digital devices, including Google’s Android Wear, Motorola’s Moto 360, and Samsung’s Gear 2. If the enthusiasm for all things Apple carries over to the Apple Watch, this could boost acceptance of all wearable digital devices, which could then increase the scope and frequency of local searches tremendously.

So how will this affect your local business? If you’re not already taking advantage of local search engine opportunities, now is the time to hop on the bandwagon, or you could be left behind!

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How Can My Business Get Customers Online?

How Can My Business Get Customers Online?A professional website is a great first step to developing an online presence for your local business, but where do you go from there? How do you go about getting customers online? Do you need to pay for advertising? What about social media? What’s search engine optimization and do you need it? These are just some of the questions business owners struggle with when getting started in online marketing. Here are some answers.

Build Your Online Presence

A website is a great first step, but it’s just that, your first step. “If you build it, they will come” doesn’t work on the Internet. In order to get good page rankings on search engines – which will, in turn, bring more traffic to your site – you need to work on search engine optimization and local search engine optimization.

Search Engine Optimization vs. Local SEO

Search Engine Optimization, or SEO, is the process of making your site friendly to search engines like Google, and using various techniques to convince the search engines that your site is relevant and important.

When it comes to SEO, you can hire an SEO specialist whom you hope is up to date on the latest shortcuts to fast-track your site to the front of the line, or you can stick to tried and true techniques to earn your way to a good page ranking. The problem with SEO shortcuts is that Google and other search engines are constantly updating their algorithms to circumvent them, and what worked in the past may actually get you penalized today or tomorrow.

Local SEO is probably even more important to your business. As a local enterprise, you’re probably not so much looking to get worldwide or even nationwide traffic to your site as much as local traffic, so you’ll want to focus your efforts on SEO techniques that will get you found on local searches, like when someone types in your service or product description in conjunction with a city or county name. Local SEO depends heavily on local directories like  Google+, Facebook, Yelp as well as Yahoo Local, Bing Local, Mapquest, Yellow Pages, and Foursquare.

Research All Possible Keywords

Keywords are terms or phrases that a customer might type in to search for your business. When selecting keywords, it’s important to find ones that differentiate your product or service. Focus on what someone might type in when searching for precisely what you offer. If you own a hair salon for instance, keywords like “hair salon,” “haircuts” and “hair stylists” are way too general to do you much good. If you Google the term hair salon, for instance, you’ll get back over 9 million results.

If you specialize in discount haircuts, you’ll find the keywords “cheap hair salons” produce just under 3 million results. If you offer men’s services, you’ll find that “barber shops” produces just 1.5 million results – versus “men’s hair salons,” which yields 6.9 million.

Whether you use one of the many high-tech keyword research tools available online or simply experiment by typing various keywords into Google, the point is to research all the various keywords you could use to describe your product or service, by themselves and in conjunction with the name of your city or county, and focus your SEO efforts on the ones that yield the lowest number of returns. Those are the keywords that will help you get better ranking, in both general and local searches.

What to do with Keywords

Now that you’ve selected a half dozen keyword terms or phrases, what do you with them? These will be used throughout your website, both in page names and descriptions and all of your site’s metadata, as well as in the general content itself. The more places that your keywords occur in your site, the better your ranking when someone types those keywords into a search engine – to a point.

Don’t fall into the trap of “keyword stuffing,” over-using your keywords in your website content. If it doesn’t sound natural or it’s used too often, it will make your phrasing sound awkward and drive your customers away. Keyword stuffing is also one of the practices frowned upon by search engines, and could even get you penalized at some point. The best way to add more keywords to your site is by adding more informative, relevant content. Add more pages, add a blog, add customer comment pages, product description pages, anything that will make your site more interesting and informative. It’s a win-win.

Build Links and Citations

A link is created whenever another site mentions your site and provides a link to it, and a citation is whenever a site mentions your business name, address and phone number, or NAP. Many SEO specialists still make a practice of building links by listing a business on a wide number of online directories, many of which may not be relevant. This is another of those shortcut techniques which Google is cracking down on, and could actually get your site penalized. The best practice is to start with the best known local directories, such as Yelp, Yahoo Local, Bing Local, and Google+, and then go from there. Find reputable directories that are relevant to your business and don’t require you to provide a corresponding backlink on your website.

Another method of link-building is to submit guest blogs to other websites, if you’re an adept writer, and include a link back to your site. Just be sure the material and the blog site is relevant to your local business, and don’t overdo it. Google is rumored to be cracking down on “spammy” blog posts.

Citations can be created by hosting local events, which can be anything from a big sale or promotion to a charity athletic event or educational session. Anytime you host any kind of an event at your local business, make sure to submit the details to all of the online local calendars and news media, and each one will give you a NAP citation, which will help boost your rankings in local search engines.

What About Social Media?

The next thing after your professional website and blog –and claiming your local directory pages – should be your social media pages. Consider offering your customers a one-time discount if they provide their email address and check off which social media sites they use on a quickie questionnaire. That way you can start building an email list for newsletters and promotions, and get an idea of which sites are best for your business at the same time.

Social media is a powerful tool for interacting with your customers, but it requires frequent attention and a dedicated, long-term commitment, so choose your sites wisely to get the most reward for your time. Considering how much you could spend on advertising, it is time well spent!

Speaking of Advertising

As a local company, you likely don’t have a big advertising budget. That’s why it’s so important to leverage all of the free and inexpensive resources that are available, such as social media, local online directories, and review sites, among others. Once you have made the most of all the different possibilities, you’ll find there are many different options for your business when it comes to paid advertising, and they don’t have to cost a proverbial arm and a leg!

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How to Collect Phone Numbers for SMS Marketing

How to Collect Phone Numbers for SMS MarketingSMS or mobile text marketing is a powerful tool that can help you, as a local business, to connect with your customers, build brand loyalty and increase sales during slow periods. In order to get started, however, you need to build your database of phone numbers. How do you go about doing that?

Many people are understandably hesitant to give out their phone numbers, and shy away from receiving marketing texts. To get them to trust you with this privileged information, you need to convince them of the value of being part of your inner circle, and reassure them that they will not be spammed with irrelevant and valueless texts.

Make it Exclusive

Whether you post the offer in your local business, on your Facebook page, or, preferably, both, don’t start off with “Give us your phone number.” Phrase the offer with something along the lines of “Join our inner circle to receive advance notice of sales and promotions, exclusive mobile coupons, and one-day only offers.” Customers should feel that by signing up for your text messages they will get perks and benefits that other customers won’t be privy to.

Guarantee of Privacy

Assure your customers that you will not give or sell their information to any other entity, and that you will not spam them with multiple valueless texts. Let them know that you value their trust and that you will only send them valuable coupons and sales notices.

Offer a Worthwhile Perk

Businesses have been collecting customer information for years by offering a birthday freebie, i.e. a free product or service on your birthday. Customers are more likely to trust you with their phone number if they get some sort of reward in return. You can also send them one-month, six-month, or one-year “anniversary” bonuses based on their sign-up date.

Signing Up Online

Collecting phone numbers at your brick and mortar place of business is as simple as filling out forms or collecting business cards, but what about online? Again, that can be as simple as asking customers to email or text you their information, or you can go high-tech and actually set up an online form, linked from your website, Facebook page, or even advertising links.

The benefit of using a form, whether paper or online, is that you can use it to determine customer preferences in order to help you categorize your phone lists. For instance if you’re a spa that offers a variety of services, you might ask the customer to check off which services they are most interested in. Text messages are easier to send, however, so be sure to give customers that option as well.

Contests and Competitions

Try running a contest exclusively for mobile customers, where by signing up for text messages they can be entered to win a free product or service. Or by signing up for your “inner circle” they can be eligible to participate in regular contests, such as trivia games, voting for their favorite product or service, or any other kind of contest or competition you can come up with. Holding regular fun contests is a great way to keep your customers engaged.

Make SMS Part of Your Overall Marketing Plan

Don’t forget to include your SMS marketing campaign as part of your overall marketing plan. Place a call to action on all of your marketing products, print and digital, inviting customers to join your SMS circle by texting a message or code to your phone number (in exchange for a discount, freebie, or other reward). This will help to broaden your customer base as well as increasing sales.

However you go about building your database, remember to keep your promise and send only infrequent, valuable texts. Nothing turns customers off like getting tons of mobile spam on their messaging service.

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Should I List My Local Business in Online Web Directories For SEO?

Should I List My Local Business in Online Web Directories For SEO?Online web directories are services that list and categorize businesses, largely for the purpose of local discovery for consumers. As a business owner it’s a great asset for search engine optimization. In the 1990’s, SEO specialists discovered that they could fast-track a website’s rise through the ranks by listing it in as many places as possible, thereby getting a large number of “back-links” to fool the search engines into thinking it was a highly relevant site. This partly resulted in online web directories popping up all over the World Wide Web like mushrooms.

Like many other “black hat” SEO techniques, such as keyword stuffing and anchor-text optimization, Google is beginning to crack down on some of these directories, penalizing and even blacklisting some completely from Google search results. This is not to say that all directories are shifty or that you shouldn’t use them, but the practice of listing your business in every single web directory you can find is liable to do you more harm than good.

Trustworthy Local Business Directories

Listing your local business with the big name local directories is always worthwhile. You should definitely make the time to claim and optimize your listings on Google+, Facebook and Yelp. Others that attract a large audience and have authority to provide SEO benefits are Yahoo Local, Bing Local, Mapquest, Yellow Pages, and Foursquare. These are trustworthy sites that follow certain rules and standards and are unlikely to ever run afoul of big search engines like Google.

Directories Related to Your Industry

Next, you might do a Google search to locate the top one or two directories for your industry. Their prominent position in the search results shows that they have a good solid standing with Google. Beware of any directories that require a “link-back,” however, which requires that you place a corresponding link to the directory on your website. That’s one of the frowned-upon practices that may end up getting them on the outs with Google.

University Alumni Directories

Check and see whether your alma mater has an alumni business directory, and if so, submit your listing. Links from universities carry a lot of weight with Google and other search engines. If your business has more than one owner, have your co-owner(s) do the same for their alma maters. Don’t forget about non-university education, such as a beauty school or vocational training program. They love to list their successful graduates, and it’s an excellent, relevant place to put a listing.

Certification Directories

Likewise, any certification you have achieved is liable to bring with it a directory of certified experts. Make sure the certification is relevant to your business, however. Listing your beauty salon on a site for expert scuba divers is the kind of thing that can get you penalized by the search engines.

Recommended Service Provider Directories

If you sell or service a particular product, check with the manufacturer to see if you can be listed as a recommended service provider in your area. Be thorough; there may be any number of products or services that you provide which will give you an opportunity to be listed in their service provider directories.

Should I Pay For Links?

Some experts will tell you absolutely not. That comes from the link-building schemes of the 90s when SEO companies would offer to get you a higher page ranking for a hefty fee. They would then proceed to list your site on every possible directory in existence, many of whom charged for the listing as their sole means of revenue. These links have no value, and will cause you more harm than good.

That said, there are some very good directories who do charge a nominal fee for the listing. It’s up to you whether you decide to pay it. If it’s a highly respected professional directory, you may feel it’s worth the price. Otherwise, no, you should never pay for links.

As technology evolves and, along with it, the World Wide Web, SEO experts will always be looking for shortcuts – and search engines will keep on shutting them down. The best practice for building your web presence is to convince the search engines you are relevant by being relevant.

Don’t stuff your site with keywords; add more pages of good, thoughtful content. Don’t waste time and money getting hundreds of worthless listings; you’ll get much better return from just a dozen or so really good, quality listings. And don’t forget about the third part of the equation: citations. Hold seminars, classes, guest lectures, and promotions to keep your business name, address, and phone number (NAP) in the community spotlight, and your local SEO campaign will yield a bountiful harvest!

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Understand and Avoid the Yelp Review Filter

Understand and Avoid the Yelp Review FilterFew things are more frustrating than when customers post glowing reviews on your local business Yelp page, only to have those reviews filtered by Yelp’s seemingly arbitrary algorithms. While Yelp’s notorious review filter can be a source of great ire and frustration, it is also what gives the site its sense of integrity and value, and isn’t going away anytime soon.  Therefore, it’s important to understand how it works so that you can help your customers to avoid problems with it.

What Kind of Things Trigger the Yelp Review Filter?

The first thing you need to realize is that Yelp reviews are actually posted on the user’s profile page, where they will always be visible, even when filtered on the reviewed site’s business page.  From the user’s profile page, they are then syndicated to the business page of the reviewed entity.  That’s the reason reviews may seem to appear and disappear or shift positions; the more established and active the user, the more weight the reviews carry.  Therefore reviews may be filtered if the user who posts them is not an established Yelper:

  •      Does not have a complete profile
  •      Does not have any friends
  •      Has not posted any other reviews
  •      Does not live in the area for which the review is posted

That’s not to say that any one of these conditions will automatically get a review filtered; these are just some of the things that the software considers when looking at the overall review.  New users post reviews all the time; otherwise Yelp wouldn’t continue to grow as it does.  But the Yelp filter algorithm takes a hard look at these and other factors, to determine whether or not the reviewer is a real person.  Other things that can raise a red flag are:

  •      Reviews that are too strongly slanted, either positively or negatively
  •      Reviews that are short and lacking in detail

What is an Established Yelper?

A strong established Yelper is one who has completed their profile, including a photo and link to their Facebook page, who has a number of friends and/or followers, who posts regularly and interacts with other Yelpers.  Bonus points if you download the Yelp app and check in now and again at your favorite businesses.

The whole point of the Yelp review filter is to prevent businesses from using phony Yelp accounts to post false reviews about themselves, or just as bad, negative reviews about their rivals.  It stands to reason, therefore, that the more things you do to prove to Yelp that you are a real person, the less likely you are to have your reviews filtered.

Ways to Avoid the Filter Axe

When you have customers that wish to post positive reviews, you might explain to them that they should first complete their Yelp profiles.  You can also add them as friends, and even follow them.  Once they post their reviews, vote their reviews as “funny” or “useful,” and be sure to respond to their reviews as well.  This interaction will help convince Yelp that your customers are real people, and not you in disguise.  You can also vote on other reviews that your customers have posted.

Salvaging Filtered Reviews

As previously mentioned, reviews can drift in and out of the filtered section, depending on the strength of the user’s profile.  To help a filtered review escape the dark side, you simply need to work to strengthen the user’s Yelp standing.  One way to do that is to add them as a friend and/or follow them.  If that doesn’t work, try reaching out to them through Yelp’s messaging platform.  Explain to them that while you greatly appreciate their feedback, their review has been filtered, and ask them to complete their profile and update the review.

Should I Invest in Yelp Advertising?

Whether or not you decide to purchase advertising or coupons on Yelp should make no difference to your reviews and Yelp’s filtering policy.  Yelp very plainly states that the review process is completely unaffected by whether or not the business has purchased Yelp advertising.  Make your decision strictly based on the return on investment you expect to receive.

Things You Should Never Do

Yelp’s policy is to discourage owners from paying people to write reviews about their business.  They feel this is the same as looking over their shoulder or even writing it for them.  Therefore, while it’s okay to ask your customers to “Find Us On Yelp,” it’s not okay to incentivize them to “Review Us On Yelp.”  It’s a fine point, but one that Yelp takes very seriously.

Absolutely, never ever pay for a positive review, or offer a reward for a positive review.  You run the risk of getting banned on Yelp, which is a very bad place to be.  Yelp reviews can have a major impact, good and bad, on a business, and an enterprise that has been banned will suffer greatly.

Similarly, don’t be tempted to create fake identities and use them to post favorable reviews for your business.  You may get away with it for a while, but the risks far outweigh the rewards. Don’t get labeled as a cheater.

The best practice managing Yelp reviews for your local business is to provide stellar customer service, encourage your customers to visit your Yelp page, explain to them how Yelp works so that they can avoid any problems, and relax and bask in the glowing reviews!

Local Marketing Mistakes

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How Will Apple’s New iPhone 6 Affect Your Local Business?

How Will Apple's New iPhone 6 Affect Your Local Business?Apple’s recent unveiling of three new products caused quite a buzz in the electronics community, especially the long-awaited iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus. With new near-field communication (NFC), electronic payment capabilities, a larger screen, better camera, and improved battery life, this hot new model has competitors struggling to up the ante, and entrepreneurs wondering how the iPhone 6’s improved technology will affect their local businesses.

Paying for Stuff With Your iPhone 6

Apple has finally jumped on the bandwagon with NFC technology in both its iPhone 6 and Apple Watch. Something Android devices have offered since 2006 (Nokia 6131 was the first NFC-equipped phone), near field communication technology allows short-range transfer of encrypted data, such as payment information, between two NFC equipped electronic devices. Apple has appropriated the technology for its new “Apple Pay” system, and has teamed up with Visa, American Express, and MasterCard to allow customers to pay for goods and services with a single click, both online and at retail locations around the country.

Before you go rushing out to sign up with Google Wallet or MasterCard PayPass, however, be aware that Apple is restricting its NFC chips from being used for any apps but their own proprietary system, which is insular from other NFC payment systems. Merchants who wish to take advantage of the new NFC-equipped Apple products will have to sign up expressly with Apple Pay. How this divisive behavior on Apple’s part will affect the implementation of NFC payment technology remains to be seen.

iPhone 6 is Larger Without Feeling Bigger

Finally breaking away from its cramped 4-inch screen, Apple is outsizing Android’s 4.5-inch model with a slightly larger 4.7-inch screen. And the screen size on the Plus model is a generous 5.5 inches. If you’re thinking this will make for a bulky, clumsy feeling phone, think again. Apple combines its thinnest ever, most advanced multi-touch display with a seamless, rounded glass edge to make its new phones sleeker and more comfortable to use. At just 0.27 inches thick, this is one slim phone.

What does this mean for your local business? The larger display screen also delivers higher contrast, more accurate color, and wider viewing angles. All of this translates to a better user experience when interacting with social media and other applications. iPhone 6 users will no doubt be rabid app consumers, and looking for places to check in, post reviews from, and try out all the newest technology. Businesses that are “app-friendly” are likely to see an upturn.

Smile for the Camera

Foodies, Selfie-holics, and Instagram buffs will love the new features on Apple’s 8 megapixel iPhone 6 iSight camera. With incorporated HDR, reduced focus time, brighter colors (even when using the flash), and a noise-reducing imaging chip, this camera is likely to swell the numbers of photographic check-ins, Facebook posts, and Yelp reviews. The camera also features face detection, blink and smile detection, and burst mode auto-pick that uses programmed algorithms to pick the best from a burst of similar pictures. Digital image stabilization is included with the iPhone 6, and optical image stabilization is added to the Plus model.

With 1080p HD video at 30 or 60fps and 120 or 240fps in slow motion, new iPhone 6 users are likely to also be taking advantage of Yelp’s new video app to post videos with their Yelp reviews. Continuous autofocus keeps your subjects sharp even as they move around, and video can also be filmed in HDR mode. Business owners will want to make sure their establishments are video-ready!

Increased Battery Life Means More, More, More

The larger size of Apple’s new iPhone 6 and 6 Plus naturally incorporate more space for batteries, however Apple claims its new A8 chip is faster, better performing and also more power efficient. This adds up to not only faster performance but longer battery life. How long? Users can expect to browse to their hearts’ content on WiFi or film and watch videos for up to 11 hours on the iPhone 6, and longer on the Plus model – 12 and 14 hours, respectively.

What does that mean for your small business? Longer battery life means more time spent online and therefore more opportunities for local businesses to target consumers with mobile marketing. Longer battery life also means better reliability, which could lead to more iPhone users beginning to rely on their iPhones as a payment device.

So what is the main takeaway here? The long lines at the Apple store, days and even weeks in advance of the anticipated release, only demonstrate the population’s thirst for new technology. Business owners who choose to bury their heads in the sand and resist facilitating, promoting, and leveraging the tools of this brave new world are liable to quickly find themselves at the back of the pack!

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The Complete Reference Guide For Local SEO Terms From A to Z

The Complete Reference Guide For Local SEO Terms From A to Z

If you are like most business owners or marketing managers for a local business, you likely are very interested in understanding and optimizing your businesses web presence. However, you might feel uncomfortable about your sites’ web presence or even speaking with your web developer or marketing consultant as it’s hard to know about all complicated terms involved in building and maintaining a website. Most of what the web developer says goes in one ear and out the other, and you do not know what to make of it. We have created this reference guide of local SEO terms to help you understand the meanings of the many complicated terms used.

Algorithm – A formula created by search engines like Google, Bing and Yahoo used to decide how to rank a website on a search engine results page.  Search engine algorithms are constantly changing to reflect the information on the web and the search engine’s idea of how to best represent that information in search results.

Alt Tag or Alt Attribute – Essentially a text version of an image, this allows you to describe an image being used in a website so that it may be indexed by spiders and subsequently appear in search results.  This underused tactic of using keywords in the Alt Tag can drive traffic to your website by helping images show up in search results under relevant queries.

Anchor Text – The clickable text in a hyperlink, this text will typically appear underlined and in blue when used on a page.  Search engines can use a culmination of all anchor text linking to a specific website to determine what that website is about.

Authority – A score assigned to a website by a search engine to determine factors such as credibility, relevancy, trust, and power a site has.  To determine authority, search engines will often look at factors such as inbound links, site age, quality content, and page traffic.

Black Hat Local SEO – Unethical techniques used by some webmasters in order to trick a search engine, often resulting in serious web consequences, being blacklisted, if caught.  Some examples of black hat tactics include hiding content, meta keyword stuffing, creating doorway pages (that users are automatically redirected from), and link farming.

Bounce Rate – When a user leaves a site after viewing only one page.  Common causes of a high bounce rate include site design or usability issues, irrelevant content, or even because the information was provided on the first page.  In order to reduce your bounce rate, provide users with relevant and quality content that they will find useful on each page.

Broken Link –  A link that does not lead to the desired end location either because of an incorrectly provided link or because a web page no longer exists.  When a page has too many broken links, this indicates to a search engine that the content of the page and even the website is poor and decreases authority.

Canonical URL – An HTML tag placed on a web page and referring back to another webpage in which the content was taken from.  This is valuable as it essentially tells a search engine that both pages should be considered as one without redirecting the viewer to another page.  The value this provides for your website is in the fact that it tells search engines that content is duplicated without you being lowered in search rankings.

Citations - A citation is a reference to your business online, specifically to your name, address and phone number (NAP). Google uses them to determine the authority of your local business without requiring a link to your website.

Click Through Rate (CTR) - In pay per click terms, the CTR is the number of times someone has clicked on a paid search listing divided by the number of times someone has been shown a paid search listing.  The formula for CTR = clicks / impressions.

Conversion Rate – The percentage of people who commit the intended action when landing on a page.  For many sites, this will mean purchasing a product, subscribing for more information, or interacting with certain portions of a page.

Cost Per Click (CPC) – The price a site owner pays for every click the receive to their site.  For paid search programs, such as Google AdWords, this number is typically variable and changes based on budget and factors such as it’s PageRank.

CSS – Short for Cascading Style Sheets, this is the part of a sites code that explains how elements of a site such a headers, body content, and comment sections should look.

Directory – A site devoted to showing business information and websites relevant to category searches.  For a local business, appearing on the most prominent directories can be a great source of traffic to your website as well as drastically improve the customer conversion process.

Domain – The first part of your website address (e.g. signpost.com), most of the time the home page of your website. This site will typically show up more often than other portions of your site as it is the main page for your business.  Registering your domain for years in advance will typically have a positive effect on your SEO as it shows commitment to your site.

E-Commerce Site – A site whose primary goal is the sale of goods electronically.  An E-Commerce site will typically feature a high number of relatable products and allow for transactions to be placed over the web, reducing a businesses overhead costs and constraints provided by a brick and mortar such as labor and hours of operation.

Favicon – A 16 pixel by 16 pixel image that is displayed in the url bar of a website.  The Favicon is typically a condensed version of a website’s logo that is displayed directly to the left of the website.

The Fold – The invisible line designating what is seen right away when a user views a web page versus what a user must scroll in order to see.  One important thing to keep in mind for the fold is that this invisible line will change across devices, showing up in a different place when a user views your site on a mobile device compared to when they use a web browser.

Dofollow Link – This type of link has a special type of formatting in the HTML Markup that tells search engines that they can follow the link to the page it lands on.  Dofollow links are valuable for your business website as they build authority and make it easier for search engines to find and understand the value in your site.

Googlebot - The web crawling bot for Google, this is what Google uses to index your site and factor it into Google’s algorithm.

Heading - The top line of your website, this introduces viewers to the page as well as what the page is about.  The heading does not only show up on your page but also on the top of a viewers web browser and as the blue hyperlink text on a search engine result page.

HTML - Short for HyperText Markup Language, this is the standard markup language for most websites.  HTML tags elements of the site in angled brackets <H1></H1> and makes your website crawlable by search engine bots, something other coding language like flash cannot do.

Impression - In search, an impression represents an opportunity for a potential viewer to click on a link to your website.  Impressions build up when searchers come across your site in search results as well as when they view a link or ad to your site on another page or mobile app.

Indexing - The process by which a search engine bot will crawl the web to find information about your site to determine the quality of the page compared to other pages for relevant queries.  Search engines tend to index the web every few weeks and a plethora of dofollow links and the creation of a sitemap.

Internal Link – A link from one page to another page within the same website.  An example of an internal link would be this link to all of the blog posts I have written on the Signpost blog.

Javascript - A scripting language used by website developers to apply effects to a site as a user uses it.  Java is much more difficult for a search engine to crawl than other forms of code like HTML.

Keyword - A word or term that a user inputs to a search engine to find information related to that topic.  You should optimize every page of your site for specific keywords that searchers would use in a search query to find information.

Landing Page – The page that a user lands on when clicking through on a search engine results page.  The landing page is not necessarily the main page for your business but rather the page that has been optimized for the specific keyword search they used to find your site.

Local Marketing Mistakes

Link Building – The process of getting more inbound links to your site in order to boost ranking on a search engine results page.  There are strategies which Google rewards in link building as well as strategies designed to trick Google which can result in punishment for your website if caught.

Long Tail Keyword – Optimizing your site for a number of keywords that are not frequently searched for but also do not have very much competition.  The benefit in long tail keywording is that each search queries is less competitive and easier to get ranked highly on and the scale of doing so for a number of underutilized search term can add up to more traffic than targeting a few highly competitive keywords.

Meta-Tag – This description is written into the code of a page but does not actually appear on that page.  A meta-tag will be less than 160 characters long and will show up under the hyperlink to a page on the search engine results page.

NAP – This stands for Name, Address, Phone Number. NAP is essential for local businesses and their search rankings as search engines like Google use this data to determine which businesses and websites to show based on geo-targeted searches. Make sure your NAP information is correct and consistent on your website and local directory listings.

Nofollow Link – Opposite of a dofollow link, this type of link will not send a search engine crawler through to the page it links to.  If links to your page are nofollow, they will not build authority to your page online and also not have any effect on your search ranking.

Organic SEO - When a page is optimized without using a pay per click service to boost rankings, it has been optimized organically.  Common strategies for organic SEO include keyword optimization, link building, and a strong directory presence.

PageRank - This is what Google uses when determining the importance of a web page.  Factors determining PageRank include back-links to a web page as well as the quality of the landing page of a site.

Page Title – The name given to each individual page on your website, the page title will appear on the top of a user’s web browser.  You should put the most relevant content at the beginning of a page title as it is more heavily weighted.

Paid SEO – Any marketing program in which you pay for a specific ranking for your website.  For paid SEO, ranking is typically more indicative of the amount you are willing to pay per click as opposed to the quality and relevancy of your site.

Panda – A series of updates Google made to their algorithm, Panda updates were created to encourage quality relevant content over a plethora of mediocre content.  The updates emphasize web developers to produce relevant content that users value over a number of pages filled with highly searched keywords.

Pay Per Click – This type of marketing is a form of payment metric used for search engine marketing.  PPC and pay per action are the two most common metrics used on SEM programs as a method of tracking payment.

Pigeon – An update to the Google search algorithm, pigeon was implemented to improve the quality of search results for local business searches.  The idea behind the pigeon update was to provide more localized search results while also limiting the number of options presented to searchers in a query.

Query – A phrase or group of keywords, this is what is typed into a search engine search bar and determines the results showed to a searcher.

Ranking Factor – Any factor that affects how a web page is ranked.  Popular ranking factors include the number of inbound links a page has, how relevant the content displayed on the page is to the search query, and the amount of traffic a page has received from previous similar searches.

Redirect – Anything that causes the internet user to automatically be taken to a different page than the one submitted.  There can be both positive and negative reasons a website has a redirect.  A redirect can be a result of a new webpage address to help the user find the correct site, a doorway into a different page, along with a number of other things.  Redirects tend to hurt a pages search ranking as bots can’t always follow the redirect.

Referrer – When a site provides a link to another site that a user follows to get to the second site, the initial site is known as the referrer.

Referrer String – Used to help a webmaster understand how users are finding a site, this is a piece of information sent from the user to the website showing how they navigated to and where they went on a website.

Robot.txt File – a file placed in the coding of a website, robot.txt is intended to control how a search engine bot crawls a website.  When a robot.txt file is placed on a site, it limits and often disallows any crawling the bot can do on that site.

RSS Feed – Short for “Really Simple Syndication”,  it allows a user to subscribe to new content and be notified when any content is produced on a site.  RSS feeds are valuable for websites or blogs with followers who want to stay up-to-date with information produced on the site.

Search Engine Marketing – SEM for short, this is any form of marketing undertaking by a webmaster to increase the number and quality of leads driven to the site.  Popular forms of search engine marketing include both organic and paid SEO, paid listings, and content directing users from one site to another.

Search Engine Optimization – The process of maximizing a websites stature and presentation in order to increase traffic to the site provided by search engines.  SEO can be done both on-page, by including necessary keywords and making your site easily usable, as well as off-page, by listing your site on necessary directories and optimizing the meta-tags leading to the site.

Search Engine Results Page - SERP for short, this is the list of results produced for a certain search query.  For Google, each page will typically consist of 10 results.

Sitemap – A document created by a webmaster and provided to search engines to simplify the site and make it easier for a search engine bot to crawl a site.  Without a sitemap, search engine bots have to rely on dofollow links to crawl a site.

Spider – Also known as a crawler or a bot, this is a computer program that finds and indexes information on websites to ensure maximum relevancy in search queries.

Title Tag – The title tag is the title given to each individual web page on your site.  The title tag is arguably the most important content on your website as it not only serves as the title for the page but also appears as the linked content on a search engine results page.

Traffic – The visitors to your website.

Traffic Rank – The ranking of how many visitors a site gets compared to all of the other sites on the web.  The Alexa Score is the most common way of determining a site’s traffic rank.

URL – The web address of a page on your site.  Each page has it’s own unique url which is tied together to the rest of the site through the website’s domain.

White Hat Local SEO – These are search engine optimization techniques which conform to and are rewarded by search engine guidelines.  Examples of white hat SEO include producing quality content, doing keyword research and effectively implementing keywords, and title and meta-tags.

Zzzz – You snooze, you lose. The search engine algorithms constantly evolve, so make sure you keep up to date on local SEO via the Signpost blog.

301 Redirect – A permanent page redirect, the 301 redirect is used when a website switches addresses in order to help a user find the correct page.  The 301 redirect is most useful for people who have a site saved to their browser or listed as a bookmark.

302 Redirect – A temporary page redirect, the 302 redirect is used when a page has been temporarily moved to another page.  This is typical when a site is being constructed or re-done to allow users to go to another site in the meantime.

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