Social Computing Moves Into Recruitment

October 29, 2007

A new research by Forrester.

Human capital management (HCM) professionals are faced with a shrinking labor pool, lower unemployment rates, vacant jobs orders that require increasingly specialized and sought-after skills, and an environment where traditional recruiting processes and systems fail to align with many job seekers’ use of technology. To combat these challenges, strategic recruiters are finding alternatives to turbo-charge their traditional recruiting programs — and one alternative is Social Computing. Younger workers — and to an increasing degree older ones, too — are embracing Social Computing as a way to consume information and build relationships. Firms must deliberately weave many aspects of Social Computing into their traditional recruiting programs to find — and ultimately hire — the best talent possible.


How SEO Upped the Revenues

October 18, 2007

By Karen E. Klein

After five years of hard work, Megan Duckett’s Southern California-based theatrical-sewing business had gone from a kitchen-table operation to a well-known local supplier. But two years ago, the Australian-born entrepreneur felt her company, Sew What?, had hit a wall. Its highly specialized local market was nearly tapped out, and Duckett didn’t know how to reach additional customers.

She spoke recently to Smart Answers columnist Karen E. Klein about the technology investment she made, including Web site redesign and search engine optimization (SEO) strategies. Such initiatives have increased her revenues by 45% and earned her the 2006 Dell/National Federation of Independent Business “Small Business Excellence” award. Edited excerpts of their conversation follow.

How did you start your company?
I moved to Los Angeles in 1991 when I was 19, hoping to start a career working behind the scenes in the entertainment industry. I toured with a band called King Crimson and started sewing on my kitchen table as a sideline. An opportunity landed in my lap to upholster some coffins for Knott’s Berry Farm at Halloween time, so I rented a sewing machine from a local vacuum-cleaner store and taught myself how to do it.

From there, the business took off. I got orders from entertainers, Las Vegas casinos, and party planners for table linens and custom slipcovers. By 1997, I discovered I was generating greater income doing sewing jobs on weekends and at night than I was in my day job working for a company that built stages for rock ‘n’ roll tours. My husband and I decided to give the business a go, so we took $1,000 in savings to rent an 800-square-foot space in Torrance, buy a sewing machine, and put used carpeting on the floors.

I started contacting previous clients and cold-calling new ones. In March, 1998, we incorporated and I hired my first employee. I think we did about $55,000 in sales that year, and most of it was eaten up paying rent. Thankfully, that employee—who’s still with me—brought her own sewing machine with her!

You’re now located in a 15,000-square-foot facility in Rancho Dominguez with 33 employees and plans for further expansion. How has the technology revamp that you initiated in 2003 helped?
The biggest challenge for us has always been reaching new customers. Two years ago, we felt like we’d hit a plateau: 80% of our customers were in California, 20% were in other U.S. states, and we’d sold to only two overseas clients. I knew there was a bigger world out there, but I didn’t know how to make them aware of our company.

That’s when I decided to pay for a professional redesign of our Web site, which I had created myself, and have it optimized so it would show up prominently in online search results at places like Google.

What’s been the result?
Over the last 18 months, our customer demographics have completely changed and our revenues are up 45%. Our customer makeup is now 33% from California, 66% from other U.S. states, and we’ve done 55 international transactions. We’ve made sales in every state except Vermont, and all these new clients are finding us through the Web site, which we now have in English and Spanish.

Keep in mind that I’m not doing any substantial advertising—online or off. It’s all been the search engine optimization and some low-budget, pay-per-click ads I’ve placed on certain industry terms at Google.

Other than making the commitment to funding a technology upgrade, what else has contributed to your success?
I had to pick the right search engine optimization specialist and be willing to learn what she would do and how I could help. If I had just hired somebody to optimize my site and then wiped my hands of it, I’m not sure how great the results would’ve been. She had to learn everything about my industry in order to do her job right, and I had to stay involved with the process minute by minute.

It’s been a lot of work, but when people in my industry search on “pipe and drape” at Google, there are more than 100,000 natural results that pop up and we’re in second place. I’m pretty thrilled with that.

How did the award from Dell and the NFIB come about, and how will it affect the future of Sew What?
I was surfing online for some new computers and I noticed a little blurb at the Dell Web site about the competition involving small businesses embracing technology. I thought they were talking about us! I wrote out my story and submitted my application, and I almost fell off my chair when they contacted me and told me I was a finalist.

The award comes with $30,000 in Dell technology and services, which I plan to use to continue being a customer-centric business. I’m hoping that the new technology will help us streamline our in-house operations, so we can remain a very productive firm as we grow. I’m also hopeful that our growth and profitability will allow us to continue to offer health benefits, paid vacations, and retirement plans to our employees.

It’s unusual for a family-owned business of our size to do that, especially in California where our worker’s-comp rates are very high, but we’re proud to be able to do it.


Big Help for Small Businesses

October 18, 2007

Max Hill’s image of a perfect retirement was his favorite pastime. The 66-year-old Texan pictured himself standing on a vast green, holding a shiny old hickory club, and watching a small white ball sail far away into a clear blue sky.

Initially, Hill did not imagine his dual hobbies of golf and collecting antique clubs would become a business. Yet, thanks to the ease of e-commerce technologies for small businesses, retirement from the corporate world was the start of Hill’s new career as the owner of, an online antique golf store.

How Hill transformed his hobby into a business is illustrative of what many small business owners can do with relatively little money and Internet experience. Hill got his site up and running four years ago with the help of a Web design firm that charged $3,000 to develop the site and a Web host company that stores Hill’s data and connects him to customers for roughly $10 a month. Hill now fills several orders a week. “I am not a computer guy at all and the site works very nicely,” he says.

We looked into some of the Web offerings for small businesses and determined which ones are easy enough for Web novices like Hill and cheap enough for the smallest small-business owner. Here are some of our favorites.


When first starting a site, many small businesses opt to rent space with Web hosting companies. The reasons are ease and price. For between $10 and $300 a month, depending on the company and site capabilities, Web host services provide domain names, IP addresses, e-mail, and space for the site on their massive, secure servers. They also typically throw in 24-hour customer service and downloadable software to help beginners design simple Web pages.

Netfirms, a Web host service with more than a million customers, including Hill, provides one of the best values on the Web for small businesses, with plans ranging from $4.95 to $14.95 a month. The company’s most popular business option, the “Advantage” plan, costs $9.95 a month and includes domain names, a Web page design kit, and a 40-page step-by-step reference guide explaining how to set up the site. It also includes 24-hour customer support seven days a week.

Christopher Hebert, a marketing manager at the company, says Netfirms built its software to ensure that novices can use it. “With any of this, there is a bit of a learning curve, but we have a bunch of businesses that have gone from zero to 60 in a couple of days,” says Hebert. “It’s not out of the realm for a grandmother who knows nothing about computers and wants to start a small Internet business to be up and running on the same day.”

Most impressively, Netfirms’ Advantage plan includes 20 gigabytes of space on its server, enough to run sites laden with pictures and multimedia files, and 750 GB per month of bandwidth. Bandwidth, also known as data transfer, is particularly important for e-commerce sites because it is used every time a visitor views the images and text on Web pages. With 750 GB a month, a business whose site is laden with images and videos could serve more than a million visitors a month. A text-only site could serve billions of customers.


Jeannine Ranni upgraded to Netfirms’ CommercePro after paying a Web designer to host and run her site,, which sells gourmet coffee beans. The stay-at-home mom says the site, which was designed using Netfirms’ templates, makes it easy for her to fill daily orders. “I have a control panel that I log onto daily that gives me all my Web stats, my visitors, and any orders. And once I click on the pending orders, it gives me an option to make labels and invoices,” she says. “It links with the postal service, or whoever you want, to ship, and then it notifies the customer that the order has been shipped.”

The major drawback to Netfirms is that it takes time and activity for a user’s site to begin showing up in the results of related searches on Google, Yahoo! , MSN, and others. The result is less initial traffic. For smaller sellers, this is not always a problem. “Most of the time people hear about me through word of mouth or the search engines. I’ve never paid to advertise the site or have it listed,” says Hill. However, sites relying on e-commerce as their primary source of income may want to see more immediate results.

Netfirms tries to counteract the anonymity problem by including a $25 coupon to advertise through Google’s AdWords program, a pay-per-click advertising site that allows users to bid on keywords and then places bidders’ text ads on its pages.

For a bit more money than Netfirms, Yahoo Small Business offers more marketing help and capabilities. The search engine’s hosting arm is a popular option for e-commerce companies, serving more than a million customers that do more than $3 billion in transactions each year.


Yahoo’s business plans typically range from $39.95 to $299 a month, not including a $50 setup fee. However, Yahoo periodically waives fees and reduces prices as part of promotions. Its lowest-priced small business option—the “Merchant Starter”—was discounted to $29.96 a month recently.

For businesses just starting out, the Merchant Starter package provides all the needed capability and then some. It includes a domain name, 1,000 business e-mail accounts, Web design tools with hundreds of templates and sample pages, checkout and shopping pages, order management and product catalog systems, and round-the-clock telephone support. It also includes 20 GB of space and 500 GB of bandwidth.

Jimmy Duvall, Yahoo’s director of e-commerce products, says the Merchant Starter is very similar to the more expensive plans, without some of the complex features such as gift certificate printing and issuing capabilities. “[The Merchant Starter] is geared to be a really inexpensive world-class e-commerce system that can scale to a very high level,” Duvall says. “We are really focused on new merchants coming in and getting started as soon as possible.”

To that end, Yahoo also has a partnership with UPS that enables customers to seamlessly ship merchandise, print labels, and request pickup and delivery. It also automatically enters the site in Yahoo’s index of possible search results and includes discounts on its marketing services such as sponsored search advertising and Fast Track, a service that assists businesses in bidding on and selecting the right keywords to associate with their Web site. Best of all, it includes 30 days of free consulting to help small businesses organize and develop the site.


There are dozens of options for sellers to receive payments for merchandise sold on their sites, and Web hosts are compatible with most. Traditional credit card merchants such as Visa, for example, offer accounts enabling sellers to receive and transfer funds.

The specter of identify theft, however, has made some computer users wary of giving their credit card number to all but the most established businesses. VeriSign, a company that establishes the legitimacy of e-commerce sites, has eased this tension somewhat by providing a service that notes that a site has been verified.

Still, some users remain reluctant to part with their credit card numbers. As a result, sellers are increasingly opting to use digital wallet services, which work by allowing users to deposit money into an e-wallet via credit card or their bank. The wallet company then can move the money around for its clients—from buyers’ e-wallets to sellers’ e-wallets, for example.

The trouble with using any old e-wallet is that there is a sign-up process for each one, and customers may not want the hassle of registering. That’s why it pays to go with the popular ones.

Luckily for merchants, the most popular service, eBay’s PayPal is free to download and incorporate into a site. PayPal has 100 million account members worldwide and is available in 55 countries. It makes its money by charging fees of 1.9% to 2.9% per transaction. For Internet novices unsure of how to handle transactions, the ease and ubiquity of the service makes it a small price to pay.


How to Learn Search Engine Optimization

October 18, 2007

Every business wants to be found. Figuring out how to get your business to show up in the rankings when a potential customer uses a search engine is an art form.

Search engine optimization (SEO) is fast becoming a must-have body of knowledge for business owners. Nearly 91 percent of all Internet users resort to a search engine to find information, according to a recent survey by the non-profit Pew Internet and American Life Project. The question is: how easily can they find your business?

You already could be making costly mistakes, such as a home page that is almost all images and little text, causing your site to have unnecessarily low rankings and little traffic. Or worse, you could be using hidden text and winding up with an every more onerous problem because some search engines ban sites that use tricks to improve rankings.

Whether you are a do-it-yourselfer or you use an outside SEO firm, the more you know the more effective and successful your business can be online. I’ve assembled the five best categories of resources for business owners to learn about SEO and search marketing. To help with this article, I interviewed Jennifer Laycock, editor-in-chief of Search Engine Guide, a website designed specifically for business owners and entrepreneurs.

Conferences and seminars

Attending search engine conferences is the fastest way to learn because it immerses you in the subject. When you are starting out, choose events designed to give well-rounded instruction in basic principles, such as Jill Whalen’s High Rankings seminars.

Don’t go to advanced events intended for industry experts until you first learn the basics — trust me, you will just feel frustrated. However, there is one good reason for a newbie to attend events targeting industry professionals, such as Search Engine Strategies conferences. That’s to find and interview SEO vendors. At no other venue will you find so many search professionals in one place at one time.


There are a few excellent eBooks — downloadable PDF documents — suitable for beginners. The best eBooks typically come with a package of extras, such as lifetime updates, private forums, sometimes even money-back guarantees.

Aaron Wall’s SEO Book is widely acknowledged as one of the best.

Laycock’s own Small Business Guide to Search Engine Marketing is another I would recommend, because it focuses on SEO from the perspective of a business owner who is not a search expert.

Printed books, another possibility, are less expensive ($15 -$30 for printed books versus $75 – $100 for eBooks). The disadvantage is that printed books can get out of date quickly because search constantly changes. Tactics accepted several years ago, such as doorway pages, today may get your site dropped by search engines. If you opt for a printed book, make sure it is reasonably recent.

Newsletters and blogs

One of the great things about the Web today is that we are lucky to have so many excellent free newsletters and blogs on search. Among newsletters, Jill Whalen’s High Rankings is notable, because she answers real-life questions from readers.

Among blogs designed for business owners, a particularly helpful one is Small Business SEM. Carston Cumbrowski also has a helpful page of resources for SEO beginners.

Search Engine Land featuring search guru Danny Sullivan, is a good one to add to your reading list later on as your knowledge builds. It is industry focused, but has the advantage of experts who write on specific topics such as link-building and contextual advertising — not to mention its excellent blogroll of search sites to explore.

Discussion forums

As you begin to learn some of the basics of SEO, you will have questions. Head to discussion forums to get answers. Discussion forums are excellent sounding boards to bounce ideas off of others. Try Webmaster World and Digital Point Forums.

When you first approach a new discussion forum, read and observe for a while before jumping in to participate. Every forum has a “personality” all its own — make sure you feel comfortable. Observing also helps you learn which participants’ advice to trust. Some participants are more knowledgeable than others.

Interactive tools

No article on search for newbies would be complete without mentioning some of the excellent free or low-cost tools available. I have learned a great deal simply through using tools such as:

  • WordTracker keyword tool — Using relevant keywords in your site content and when purchasing search ads can make all the difference in attracting visitors who actually buy. You may already know the obvious keywords, but WordTracker helps you broaden your choices to identify non-obvious terms. A free trial or a single day’s subscription costs around $8.
  • Analytics programs — These help you understand which parts of your site visitors use most, such as which navigation links they click on most. Armed with that knowledge, you can make changes to your site to emphasize the most important elements to increase sales and newsletter signups. Google Analytics is a robust free analytics tool. For those who run Google AdWords campaigns and do not like the idea of giving sensitive site data to the same company you purchase ads from, ClickTracks is an alternative. ClickTracks offers a free version called ClickTracks Appetizer.
  • SEO Moz page strength tool — This interactive tool gives you a quick snapshot of some of the factors search engines consider when determining site rankings. Don’t take it as the complete word on ranking factors, but do have fun with it.
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