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Using Content to Boost Local Search Results

Whether you’re a real estate site, a travel site or have a brick and mortar business as well as a website, local search can play a major factor in your site receiving relevant traffic. There are several ways to take advantage of local search listings through Google Maps, Facebook Places and a variety of review sites, but what about the content on your own website? Does it do anything to improve your local search results?

Whether or not your content is working for you from a local standpoint should really be considered. Are local keywords worked into your content pages? Do you blog regularly and use local information and keywords that will attract visits from the search engines or do you just write like everyone should already know where you are and what you do?

Another point to consider is including content on your site that doesn’t have anything to do with your business, but everything to do with what is going on around you. Talk about local events, local attractions, places to visit, etc. The more you talk about your local community, the greater the chances are that another local business will return the favor and talk about your establishment as well. This is a great linkbuilding opportunity!

For example, let’s say you have a seafood restaurant in San Diego. Your blogs should talk about your business and what you have to offer the community, but also what events you’re participating in and what attractions are located nearby. These are great opportunities to work in phrases such as, “Once you’re done at SeaWorld, stop over for a nice relaxing dinner on our patio to unwind. After all, we’re a favorite San Diego seafood restaurant!”

This strategy can be used by any type of business in any location. Some of the best article titles that utilize this strategy are “Top X” and “Best of” articles. And, of course, if you need help writing and coming up with topics, Words You Want has you covered!

Google has shown the SEO world in the last year that they want to see useful and relevant content on your website. They are encouraging this and they are rewarding websites that are doing it right. Words You Want can assist you in creating reader friendly content that not only boosts your local search, but improves the quality of your website at the same time.

Why We Charge a Phone Call Fee

If you read our homepage, contact us page and our Elance profile, you’ll notice that we charge a prepaid $50 phone call fee. Over the years since we’ve had to enact this fee, we’ve gained a few clients and we’ve lost a few potential clients, however we continue to charge this fee. Many people don’t understand why we charge a fee to consult with potential or existing clients, so I thought that I would write this post to explain it, as there are several reasons behind it.

Do note that this decision was not an easy one to arrive at, as we consider ourselves to be very customer service oriented, but the nature of the industry that we are in has landed us in this decision and this post explains why.

Popularity = A Lot of Calls
The majority of our clients find us via Elance. We’re the top writing company on Elance and when people look for writers, we’re the first writing company they see. We also have excellent feedback and have completed over 1000 projects, so the request for phone calls is abundant. If we were to take every phone call that is requested, we could easily spend hours on the phone each and every day. It’s not that we don’t want to talk to potential clients and existing clients, but we’re writers and when you’re a writer, you only make money when you’re writing. When you’re a writer…

Time is Money
We’re paid by the word. If we’re not writing, we’re not making money. We book up a week to two weeks in advance at times and each and everyday is planned out precisely. A certain number of words have to be written everyday to keep our schedule intact. In the past, we had an open phone call policy but this resulted in several issues including quality and potential deadline issues.

The open phone call policy also created a few issues and a few horror stories.

1. Clients that constantly change their project scope and details. We wrote an eBook once for a client, but the problem was that as soon as we were about to start writing the book, he would call and change his mind on what he wanted the topic to be. As you can imagine, you can’t get very far into a project if the topic is being changed every other hour (I kid you not). You also can’t get any work done when someone is calling every other hour to change the topic and spend another hour discussing potential topics. This went on for several days before I had to be rude about it and I don’t like being rude to anyone. I don’t like being put in that position.

2. Free consultations that don’t produce any projects – because the person took everything I told them and instead of hiring us for their project, they turned around and hired someone from India and provided them all of the details that I had provided to them in the phone call consultation. There’s nothing worse than spending an hour on the phone telling someone how they should do their project to see them turn around and send that exact same information to a foreign writer so they could have it done cheaper.

3. Being put on the spot for discounted rates. I have had more people get me on the phone simply so that they could try and negotiate my rate. My rate is not negotiable and it doesn’t matter if I’m talking to you or emailing you, my response is going to be the same. Our rates have been the same for 6 years and we don’t plan to change them anytime soon. We’re very competitive for US native writers and we simply can’t afford to compete with foreign writers.

Elance Terms of Service Requirements
We do a large amount of work on Elance and part of their terms of service is that all communication be posted on the message board. Elance has a dispute system that is utilized in the event that there is some sort of disagreement between providers and clients. However, in order for communications to be considered part of the project, it has to be in the message board. This means that phone calls have to be transcribed. So, what might be considered an easy 10-minute phone call is actually a very time consuming process on our end. The phone call must be recorded and then transcribed so that it can be placed in the PMB. This is time that we aren’t working on current client work and is therefore lost in our workday and has to be accounted for and the transcriptionist has to be paid!

We’ve had issues in the past on Elance that were very minor issues, but cost the company valuable time and a substantial amount of money. We’ve been suspended for having our website link on the last page of a 60 page sample ebook for example. The result was 3 days of not being able to bid or set up new projects with existing clients. We follow the Elance Terms of Service very strictly and therefore are not willing to forego any protection that may be available to us via the Elance dispute system.

A Way of Vetting Clients
We’re somewhat picky about what clients we work with. Sometimes there are clients that we just get a bad vibe about and it doesn’t take a phone call to get those gut feelings. We can get that bad vibe through an email easily. Saying that, we don’t want to turn down work. We don’t want to cancel projects. What we have learned though is that those who do pay the fee are serious about working with us. They aren’t treating us as some individual starving writer, but they are treating us as a professional organization and they respect our fees and the reasons for those fees. We know that when someone pays the fee that they are serious about working with us.

As a writing company, I can’t tell you how many times we’ve heard “we’re looking for a long term relationship” or “we’ll have lots of work for you” and “we’ll keep you really busy” and then they order 5 articles, pay and we never hear from them again. There’s nothing more frustrating than spending an hour on the phone with someone, doing 5 articles and then never hearing from them again. It’s not because they weren’t happy with the work, most everyone is, but their idea of “keeping us busy” is a lot different than ours. Unfortunately, this business is full of a lot of empty promises and often times, new writers find this out the hard way. We’ve been in business for going on seven years now and we know what to expect and not to get our hopes up.

Why Email Makes Everything Easier
As stated on our website, we are a 100% online business. Communicating via email allows us to provide the best service possible to our clients to ensure quality is met and deadlines are kept. Working primarily online allows us to respond to everyone in an expeditious manner.

Emails also allow us to document all project details. When all project details are in an email, we can copy and paste that information into our project details that we create for each project. This also allows us to look up emails in our archives should we need to verify a detail or something that was said in the past.

We are actually able to respond to everyone much more quickly via email than we would through phone calls. No matter where we are, traveling, out of the office, out to lunch, etc., we have a laptop, an iPhone, and a Blackberry to ensure that an email is not missed. This allows us to respond no matter where we are. We use Dropbox for our project management to allow us to access our documents and archives, so that we can access that information from wherever we are as well.

We also have clients that we’ve worked with exclusively over the past 3 years via emails only. They spend thousands per month on our services and we’ve never even spoken on the phone, yet we have an excellent working relationship and communicate via email regularly. In today’s society and working environment, this type of working relationship is not unheard of and one could say that doing business over the phone is becoming a thing of the past quickly.

Alternative Options
We do offer the option of text chat via Skype. This is the best alternative we have to those who want to have “live communication” with us. This does not include Skype calls, but chat only. We also use MSN Messenger and Google Talk as well. However, like phone calls, these chats are by appointment only as well. We have to schedule time to ensure we are in the office to chat with you, but we’re more than happy to do it.

If we’re chatting about an Elance project, that chat will then be copied and pasted into the PMB as well. Again, this is to ensure that those details are documented in Elance for the protection of both parties.

Protect Your Content and Your Copyright

In the past couple of months, Words You Want had an interesting issue arise in that two other companies tried to impersonate our entire business. One company set up a website that used our exact web content only they changed the name of the business to their own, RollingPens.com. Another set up an Elance profile and used our exact content including my name!

Fortunately, these issues were easily cleared up with a lengthy cease and desist letter, but it was a reminder at just how sneaky and lazy people can be. Instead of creating a successful business on their own, they try to ride the coat tails of others and blatantly steal from them. Unfortunately this isn’t only limited to actual web content, but articles, blogs, eBooks and even photos. I thought that the start of the New Year is a good opportunity to remind everyone about copyright and exactly what you should be doing to avoid any issues with your own business as well as ensure that you’re not breaking any copyright laws yourself.

How Copyright Really Works
There’s a misconception that when you create something that you’re automatically the copyright holder and that if anyone steals your work you are automatically due any monetary damage caused by the theft and that you don’t have to actually register anything with the U.S. Copyright office.

Unfortunately, this is only partially true. You are the automatic copyright holder, however, if someone steals your work, whether an article, a photo or a design, you are not due any remuneration if your work is not registered. If you want to have a leg to stand on in court, you have to register your work. Simply placing a copyright symbol on your pages doesn’t guarantee that you are due any money from the theft; it simply shows you are the creator and that you can request them to stop using it.

To be on the safe side and to protect yourself, you need to register your content and products with the U.S. Copyright office (or the copyright agency in your country). Registering with the U.S. Copyright office is relatively simple. It can all be done online now and you are able to register anything that you can upload within an hour for $35. Visit the Copyright.gov for more information on the process. I will admit though that their system is not the easiest to navigate and is not very user-friendly.

Uniqueness and Originality
There’s really no “new” content on the web today, particularly if you are writing over many of the niches that people have deemed to be “hot” or good product topics. However, that doesn’t mean that this same information can’t be repurposed into something new and interesting. At Words You Want, we deal with this on a regular basis and we strive to make even topics that have been beaten to death interesting and original.

The problem we’re seeing today though is that all of these “tools” for creating content have been generated, such as article spinners, and this has resulted in a bunch of content that is nothing more than trash. The same article spun into 100 different iterations is not unique and original content. Words You Want doesn’t engage in such activities because it’s worthless to our clients. Yet, there are still those people out there that not only hire people to do this for them, they are often stealing content from websites and then spinning it to make it appear new and unique, but it’s not.

The other issue is PLR content that people then want to spin and reuse, but the problem here is that this content may have been purchased by hundreds of other people as well, so no matter how much you spin and rewrite it, it’s never really going to be unique and original. Google has become very adept at filtering this trash out, but unfortunately, it’s still an issue that we have to deal with because it can affect your SEO negatively, as well as your overall online reputation.

Buy Stock Photos!
Another area we have issues with is that we often have clients request that we get images for their eBooks or articles, but then they balk when we have to charge for them. There’s a misconception that images on Flickr and other photo sharing sites are free for the taking, but that’s simply not true. These photos are not free to be used however you wish. Some may be creative commons, but even creative commons licenses have stipulations that must be met.

The best way to ensure that you’re not breaking copyright law and using images illegally is to buy them from a stock photography website like iStockphoto.com. iStock is a great micro stock site and there are a variety of other sites to choose from as well. Plus, you’re helping a photographer make a living by purchasing their work rather than stealing it.

Check Your Own Content and Images for Originality
As writers, we use Copyscape to ensure that what we write is original and unique. You can check your own website’s content for theft by running it through Copyscape as well and making sure that nobody is stealing your content or impersonating your business. In fact, this is how we found out that our web content was being stolen.

For images, you can use Google Image Search to check that images you have taken yourself for your website or blog haven’t been stolen. Google Chrome has a plug-in that allows you to right click on your image and it then runs a search for images that look like yours. It’s an amazing little tool.

Conclusion
Far too many people think that they can hide behind their computers, steal content and images and not have to worry about getting caught. Fortunately, this isn’t the case. You can find out if people have been stealing your content and you can put a stop to it, but you have to be prepared for the fight.

Online Storage: Your Best Back-Up Option

August 29th marked our 5th year on Elance and in business.  In those 5 years, you can bet that we’ve made great strides in our business processes and efficiency.  One of the more recent changes that we’ve made is to move our files and folders to the “cloud.”  We had several reasons for making this change and in this blog I’m going to walk you through what we used to do, why it wasn’t the best option and why we’ve found online storage to be the best option for us as a writing business.

 

Computers and External Hard Drives Crash

In the past 5 years, I estimate that we’ve had 10 different computers and laptops.  When you’re online nearly 17 hours per day either writing, emailing, researching or just surfing the web, that amount of constant use can really wear out your typical computer.  We originally used nothing but laptops, but after going through so many, we eventually decided that we should probably switch to desktop computers for our “in office” computers and then only use the laptops when we aren’t in the office, either around the house, out during the day running errands or traveling.  This increased the life of our laptops and we found we were simply more efficient in the office on the desktops.

Originally, my back-up system consisted of CDs.  I would backup my computer to CDs and save all of my article samples, eBooks, client work, etc. on CDs.  I had one flash drive when I started Words You Want and it was just a little 125mb drive that I’d actually washed in the washer a few times while in college.  Flash drives were relatively new around the time we started Words You Want and a 1 GB drive was expensive. External storage options and sizes have really come a long way in just 5 years.

Eventually, I moved to a larger external hard drive. I think it has about 160 GB.  What I did learn was that those external drives that use your computer’s power via USB to run and operate can actually die rather easily.  The motor on our drive died on us and we ended up having to pay about $300 to have all of our data and article samples retrieved from the crashed drive.  We then moved to a larger 300 GB external drive that uses its own power source.  It’s still running strong today and is about 3 years old. I have about 100 GB of space left on it as well.

In between all of our external hard drives and flash drives, we were going through about two computers a year as well, so about twice a year we were starting fresh and having to migrate our important files around to new computers, which is a major pain. We now try to not save anything on our actual computers and save everything on external drives or our new online storage – or both.

By the way, all of our old computers have been handed down to friends and family. They were still good for occasional use, but not ongoing consistent abuse that we put them through.

 

File Management

As a company, we do dozens of projects on a weekly basis ranging from a single press release to a hundred-page eBook.  We also have a team of writers and they have assignments that they have to get to us at the end of each day.  In the early days, everything was done via email.  Writers emailed in their completed work and we would even email files and folders between each other in the office in order to turn work into clients, proof, etc.  This meant we were sending a ridiculous number of emails back and forth all the time and saving dozens of files to our computer’s memory.  The problem is that email is not always foolproof.  You never know when an email is going to go missing in cyberspace somewhere and this could create major issues depending on the importance of that message.

In office, we definitely had to find a different and more efficient method of working and managing files.  So, we set up a network in the office and had shared folders between all of our computers.  We thought that this was really great because we didn’t have to send so many emails back and forth. However, the problem was that when we traveled, it meant that we had to take our folders with us and at times these could be rather large. It also made it difficult to ensure that we were working on our most recent payroll files, assignment master sheets, etc.  It was simply too easy to lose something or use the wrong version of something.  We operated like this for a long time.

In the meantime, we would have completed projects that needed to be saved and archived somewhere, so I would save them on my computer for awhile and back-up everything every so often to the external drive.

Just this past November, we finally found a way to avoid all of these issues when we discovered how online storage could help us.

 

Dropbox – A Sanity Saver

I was introduced to Dropbox through a client who requested that I share a folder with her for ease of turning in work to her.  When the work was completed, I could just drop it into the folder and in a few seconds, it would show up on her end as well.  Dropbox is actually an application you install on your computer, but you can also access your files online.  In addition, they also save files that you delete! Ever deleted a file and then realized you’d just made a huge mistake? With Dropbox, you just log in, click on your folder and click to view deleted files. You can then choose which version to reactivate.

You can install Dropbox on all of your computers and when they are online, they will sync and all of your files are instantly available to you as long as you have an Internet connection. Let’s say you have files saved on your office computer and you go out of town for the weekend, all you have to do is get online with your laptop and any files that are on your office computer are available to you.  Let’s say you don’t have an Internet connection though, you will be able to access the files that are on your laptop and when you do get online any changes you made to those files will sync and be available on your office computer.  You can save everything to Dropbox, go out of town, get online and everything in Dropbox is available to you.

We’ve never had any issues with the Dropbox other than the occasional slow syncing.  This usually only happens if our Internet connection is slow or the files are very large.

In addition to the ability to access your files no matter where you are, you can also share folders.  Now, instead of emailing their work to us, our writers simply drop their work in their Dropbox folder at the end of the day.  When we go to turn in a project, the files are there waiting for us.  We no longer have to worry about whether or not an email didn’t go through and that a project is lost in cyberspace somewhere.

 

Easy to Use and Nearly Disaster Proof

As long as you know how to save a file or a folder, you can use online storage. It’s incredibly easy to use and it’s incredibly convenient.  There’s nothing technical involved. You just save your files to the specified folder and that’s it. The program syncs, your information is saved online and you can access it from anywhere.

Another key benefit to this is that should something happen to your computer, like it crashes, or let’s say your house catches fire and you lose your computer.  In the past, you would have been, well, screwed. There’s really no nicer way to put it.  If you have everything saved offsite somewhere in online storage, then you won’t be screwed. Sure, you’d have to get a new computer, but once you logged on, all of your files will be there waiting for you.

As a writer and business owner, I try my best to keep a copy of work for my clients.  The amount of time I am able to do so depends on several factors. In the past, I could save backup copies for about as long as my computer or external hard drive lasted.  With online storage, I’ve been able to extend the amount of time I keep a copy of work completed because I can save it in online storage and once I begin to meet my quota there, I move the oldest files to my external hard drive.  So, if a client ever loses a project, I will likely have a back-up copy up to a year or longer later.

 

Conclusion

I would definitely urge anybody considering online storage to take the plunge. It’s really not that expensive when you consider the amount of space you can get and the level of convenience it offers.  It’s great for saving work projects, photos, family documents and anything else that you may need access to when you’re away from home. Most services come out to about $5 per month and Dropbox even provides you 2.5 GB for free and if you share folders with new users, you are rewarded with more free space.  Should you need more space, you simply buy a monthly or yearly plan based on your needs.  Too many things can go wrong with your computer and external hard drives. It’s better to have a second or third layer of back up no matter what business you’re in.