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Does Privacy Matter to You?

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Privacy ProtectionIf you are uncomfortable having your name, address, phone number and even a map to your home accessible to any and all you need to take a look at Spokeo because chances are you’ll find yourself listed.

Their claim of just being a user-friendly search that will allow users to find and keep up with friends, makes my jaw clench. It clenches even more because this is not an opt-in site. They collect data from all types of sources and put it together on a profile page. You aren’t asked if you want to participate. Nor is there any assurance of accuracy of the data they present. It could be very old or may no longer pertain to your current situation. I have two listings – I use Susan and Sue and they managed to find and list both as separate profiles.  Unfortunately one of them is ancient and other than the name, none of the information is accurate.

Laughingly I read that their site had received over 9 million visitors in January. I just bet they did – would love to know how many of those were opting out of the program!  Yes, you can opt out.  Go to their site, enter your name in the search box, scroll through the results and find your personal profile.  In the browser will be a long address (URL). Copy that and then go to their Privacy page and complete the required information. Sadly there is no guarantee that your information won’t be added again; a month or so from now you may end up back in their clutches. Clever of them, deceptively so. They can claim to advertisers they get millions of hits even though a lot of those will be people opting out and then having to check back frequently to be sure they haven’t been added again.

It remains to be seen if  there will be enough of an uproar from people about this invasion of privacy to get the FTC involved. Personally I take issue with someone else adding my personal information for all the world to see.

What is your opinion about what Spokeo is doing?

Form 1099-Misc and Website Designers

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tax timeThe controversial Health Care Reform Bill that was passed last year came loaded with all sorts of new laws hidden within its 2400+ pages. Many of you who use Homestead’s SiteBuilder program are designing sites as a business and that means these new laws apply to you.

Form 1099-Misc has been a requirement for a number of years for services rendered by an independent contractor in a business to business situation. When you design a site or do maintenance on a site for another business THEY should issue you a Form 1099-Misc if you receive $599 or more from them in a given year for your services.

The reverse is also true. If you pay another business over $599 for services that relate to your website design business you need to issue them a form W-9 to get their Tax ID number, etc. and provide them with a copy of a completed 1099-Misc form.

Beginning December 31, 2012, thanks to even more sneaky tactics when the bill was drafted, businesses will be required to obtain W-9 information and file 1099s for not only services but GOODS as well. That means you will need to issue a W-9  for the 1099 form anytime you purchase a product related to your business that is over the established limit. New computer from Best Buy? You’ll need to ask for their information. If your office supply purchases are  in excess of the $599 threshold  from any one business – 1099, if you claim a portion of your utilities phone, internet, etc. for your business and the amount exceeds the limit – 1099s will need to be issued. And on and on …… Try to get in the habit of issuing a W-9 prior to paying for goods or services.

The whole point of this is so the IRS can compare reported income against issued W-9s  in the hopes of collecting unreported income. And as is usual, the wording is ambiguous and about as clear as mud. There are of course penalties if you don’t comply.

The good news is that some lawmakers in Congress are currently making attempts to repeal and or modify the new laws attached to Form 1099-Misc.

Senate passes amendment to repeal 1099

Partial Repeal Likely

As a web site designer you need to be heads up and make sure you are in compliance with the laws that are currently in effect for tax year 2011.  Consult with an accountant or tax attorney for assistance in what information you need to be collecting, receiving and reporting.

Google shaking up search results

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Besides the school-yard spitting match going on between Google and Bing (For more on the spitting match just do a search for Google and Bing click fraud – everyone has jumped on that posting bandwagon.), the latest news concerning Google is that they are about to shake up search results in an effort to reduce the incidence of spammy sites coming up prominently in those search results.

Beware! If your Homestead – Intuit site or article or post is essentially duplicate content, either something ‘borrowed’ from another site, or an article you’ve written and submitted on multiple sites you could well wake up to find it non-existent in searches. Sites that are predominantly links with little original or useful content are also apparently on the hit list – FINALLY

I’ve longed for the day when sites that offer visitors little in the way of original content and consist of nothing but links and clickable ads that will bring the site owner in $$$ and webmasters who copy and use other’s work, would end up in the nether-world of the www. Perhaps that day is coming.

Google’s Matt Cutts quoted on his blog, “The net effect is that searchers are more likely to see the sites that wrote the original content rather than a site that scraped or copied the original site’s content.”

It’s time to take a good, hard look at your Site Builder website to be sure it is going to stand up to the new search standards.

  1. Does the site have  informative content? A bunch of links and ads are not informative content.
  2. Is it original content? Have you duplicated that content elsewhere? On a blog or in articles posted to different sites? Or perhaps it is content taken from another site?
  3. Does the site employ black hat techniques?
  4. Has the content been written for the human reader or the search engines?  Sites written for search engines tend to lean toward keyword stuffing

Keep an eye on your site placement over the next several weeks. There are no absolutes and nothing to say that the new algorithm won’t make mistakes and drop a good site.  How to request reconsideration of your site.

10 Ways to Promote Your Intuit – Homestead Website Locally

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In this day and age a web site is a must-have for businesses large or small. For the business that operates within a specific locale a web site is an invaluable tool.  The Yellow Pages used to be the ‘go to’ place for people to find a business or service; expensive advertising with limited exposure. Thanks to the internet and easy-to-use web site building programs like SiteBuilder from Intuit – Homestead, business owners can now promote their business with full details, contact info, maps to the location, photos and even coupons. Perhaps best of all,  you aren’t stuck with the same content for a year as is the case with a phone directory ad.

So how do you promote your niche market website when your business serves a specific area? Simply having one doesn’t mean you will be found unless your base audience already knows the name of your business or you’ve managed to place high in search placements for your key words. But, don’t overlook the fact that new people move in regularly and there are probably visitors to the area who could possibly be interested in your business or service.  To expand the reach of your website, go outside the web. How to increase awareness of your website …

Search Engines Gone Astray

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Simply having a website  does not guarantee that the world will beat a path to your door (I’m sure I’ve said that before, but it bears repeating!). There are hundreds of millions (billions perhaps) of websites, so competition is fierce to try and place prominently in search engine results. Face it, if you aren’t on at least page 2 of the SERPS chances are good you just aren’t going to get much traffic.

SEO (Search Engine Optimization) is a must if a site is ever going to improve in positioning. There are  many basic components involved in optimizing a site – it can become a full time job and even then you can’t be assured of reaching the top of the heap. And the  Search Engines make it harder all the time. In my opinion, they’ve gone over the edge of what truly constitutes  a  top site.

Things started going downhill when the SE’s began putting importance on the number of  backlinks a site had. Supposedly it meant that the more backlinks a site had, the more visitors found it worthwhile which meant that it was a top notch site. Seriously? Is that really going to determine a quality site? You can buy backlinks so how does that prove the value of a site? And, really? how many webmasters are going to link to 100’s or 1000’s of other sites when it’s  incoming links to their own site that are more valuable and particularly one-way links (non-reciprocal links – meaning they link to you, you don’t link to them) There’s something wrong with this picture.

It proceeded to get more convoluted with the advent of blogs. All of a sudden Blogs were the be all, end all. Everyone needed one and the SE’s began to put blogs on the list of how to improve link juice to your site. As a side note here I have a couple of clients who belong to a blog for a particular profession.  They have begun allowing members to re-post other member’s previous posts.  Why? Well with thousands of people posting about a specific profession I believe they’ve run out of original things to post about so they’re recycling!  Go Green I say. Many blogs have really evolved into semi-websites. There are some awesome blogs out there, but for the most part they are just posts with little value and are merely taking up space – kinda like this one!  🙂

The advent of social media sites was one things really tanked.  Once again the Search Engines went off the mark and began putting emphasis on the nutworking sites as I call them.  Again I can only say SERIOUSLY? Anyone running a business has their hands full already – the last thing they need is to have to belong to a dozen social sites where they have to tweet, or write on a wall or dig something EVERY DAY in order for it to do any good. And guess what happens? The information highway becomes more and more diluted and ridiculous. Tweet this! Many of these  sites have their value for people who have nothing else to do than be social butterflies, some are a great way for families who want to stay in touch, but for the most part they are valueless. Get rid of them? No, because they do serve a purpose for some people. Make them part of SEO juice? NO!

Essentially there are four kinds of websites:

  • Informational sites – sites that provide information about a specific topic or topics. Authority sites, government sites, library sites and so on
  • Sites that offer a  limited variety of products or a service they are selling such as real estate sites, pet sites, etc., but also provide information about the service or the target for their products.
  • E-Commerce sites – These are internet stores that sell products and offer little or no information other than product descriptions
  • Personal and Organization sites – Sites about  family reunions, sports team sites, organizations, and the like

This is where the true value of the internet lies, not in twitting or facebooking or digging or stumbling. While those types of sites may hold interest or entertainment for some, I don’t feel that the Search Engines should be placing any value on whether or not a website is tied to one of these social networking sites.

Webmasters keep your focus and continue to make those websites strong, with good content and useful information. Add pages, update, add the site to directories and keep giving your visitors what they are really searching for.

Be sure you get listed in that Directory

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As many of you know we offer a free directory to users of the Homestead – Intuit web site program. The Homestead Connection Directory was developed to give Site Builder and Store Front users a way to add a non-reciprocal, inbound link to their sites as well as giving them web exposure. We’ve gained some insight into how many people, who submit to more stringent directories, probably aren’t getting in or if they are, their listings probably aren’t doing them much good.

Using the Homestead Connection Directory (HCD) as an example, there is a link to the Guidelines as well as a FAQ page in the navigation menu. When you submit to any directory you’ll find a similar page(s) that list the requirements. That page isn’t there to just take up space … it lists the rules, requirements, limitations and so forth that the directory requires in order for your site to be accepted. READ THE TERMS AND COMPLY or you will most likely not find your site listed in that directory.

Again using the HCD as an example, one of the terms is that the Description not be any longer than 200 characters, including spaces. This is repeated on the form used to submit the site. Yet time and again we receive submissions that are in the 400-500 range.  We’ve been lenient and allowed a bit of overage and sometimes we even re-do the listing in order to meet the requirement. 9.5 out of 10 directories will simply toss the submission.

The flip side of this is the listing that comprises only a few words.  Ex: Dog Breeders or Houses remodeled. It’s a big world out there and there are many dozens of dog breeders and home remodel companies. Make that description work for you and make the visitor want to click on your link. List the area you are in. The search engines pick up on localities so this is especially important for those who serve a limited area.

Your Description should include your main keyword/phrase and it should make sense to the human reader. Many directories specify not to use exclamation points, sales hype, all capital letters, etc. Be sure you comply if you are serious about getting your site listed.

There is usually a character limitation for the Title as well specific criteria for the content of the Title.  This is usually the domain name of the site ( not the URL).  Sometimes you’re allowed to use the actual page name if you are submitting to an internal page.

Contact information is another area that often lacks enough information. Utilize the maximum amount of information allowed. Show that you are a legitimate business by including a phone number, city and state, contact person’s name (even just a first name is better than nothing), if your business is a brick and mortar store include the physical address and an email address.

Sample listing for directory

Sample Listing

Remember that directory listings can play an important part in your overall SEO. Make sure to read and follow the instructions for each directory you submit to in order to get listed and be sure that you give viewers enough information to make them want to visit your site.

Just have to share …

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Last year we posted about Transparency and Ethics in designing sites professionally with the Intuit – Homestead software.  This is also a topic we cover pretty seriously in our e book,  Homestead Website Design – Building Blocks to a Successful Home Based Business.

We stated that piggybacking sites, overcharging clients for services already covered by the hosting/program fees, not allowing clients access to stats or the ability to make their own updates and changes is A. not ethical and B. can come back and bite you. So, yes, we got a real chuckle out of the following letter we received last week from a gentleman who had purchased the book and read it and ignored the advice.

Greetings,

I’m wondering if you’re able to offer some brief guidance.  I own your Intuit by Homestead SEO and Website Design Business eBooks.  Without unnecessarily elaborating on the background, against my better judgment, I set up a few websites for other businesses under my own Homestead website account.  I didn’t do this to be unethical but because I reside in an area where certain business owners are seemingly not the type to even touch a keyboard even though many would like to have a website so asking them to set up their account with Homestead, at least at the time, seemed impossible.  Naturally I’ve now found myself in a position (as warned in your books) where one business owner (2 websites) is requesting immediate direct access to their websites and full control.  (I’m sure you’re not surprised.)

I was hoping you might instruct me on the means by which to most effectively accomplish this.  I’m planning to instruct the business owner that they will need to set up their own Homestead account under the Gold Plan to accommodate both websites and their existing features.  Do you happen to know if it’s possible for me to then transfer not only the websites but the domains as-is over to their new homestead account?  I’m sure I’ll need to rely on Homestead Support for details but I’m just hoping you’ll tell me this is possible and not terribly challenging to accomplish.  Any insight you can offer would be greatly appreciated.  I certainly learned the hard way that any future website assistance I provide will be under that person’s own Homestead account.

Steve (last name removed to protect the innocent)

Steve was given some direction on how to ‘clean up’ and hopefully it won’t have any lasting effect on his business.  He learned the hard way. You don’t have to.

Keep on webbin’ in an ethical sort of way.