They’re Not Searching; They’re Going to Yelp

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“When people want to find a place to go to dinner, they’re not searching; they’re going to Yelp.

– Steve Jobs, Apple Chairman and CEO (April 8, 2010)

I don’t always begin a blog post with an iconic quote from the visionary Steve Jobs, but when I do, it’s because I think that the guy was really on to something. Continue reading “They’re Not Searching; They’re Going to Yelp”

Apple, Google, Microsoft: Follow the Money

What is the difference between Apple, Google, and Microsoft? The “Big Three” tech companies, while in competition with each other in various segments, each have their own distinct financial profile: the best way to understand the differences between these three publicly traded companies is to look at the detailed reports each is required to file every quarter.

Here’s the breakdown, using the segments that each company uses to define how its business is organized:

Continue reading “Apple, Google, Microsoft: Follow the Money”

New Computer Setup – Buy a Computer the Right Way!

After several requests from clients in the past few days, I’ve officially added a new service to the repertoire, which can be viewed at the accompanying page here: Silverleaf New Computer Setup.

Click the image below for more information. In a nutshell, this service involves:

  • FULL setup service for on-site setup, in-shop pick-up, or shipping any new PC.
  • FREE e-waste disposal of your old system
  • FREE consultation and estimate on the perfect PC for any use and budget.
  • Install critical software updates.
  • Install anti-virus software protection.
So if you’re looking to buy a new computer for your home or office, and you’re not really sure what to get or how to set it up properly, contact me for help!

Home Business Computer Setup Checklist

Awesome stock photo of a home business computer user
Awesome stock photo of a happy, productive home business computer user who followed this checklist.

When I started working from home, one of my first tasks was making sure that my computer was properly configured to meet the needs of my business.

Entering the business of Computer Repair & Consulting, in particular, meant that my specific computer needs were a bit above average (most folks don’t need 5 external hard drives, for example). But I consider the basic components of my setup to be critical for any home-based business setup, not just those that are specifically tech-oriented.

In this article, I’ll describe these components and talk about why it’s essential for home businesses to set up them up properly.

Disaster Prevention

Most home business owners rely on their computers for all of their core communication, accounting, and storage needs. Therefore, it is crucial that you take a few easy steps to help you survive (or even better, prevent) a catastrophic computer failure:

Hard Drive Failure – If your primary hard drive crashes, and you don’t have a backup, you’re in big trouble. Data recovery is easy if you have a backup, but very difficult (and costly) if you don’t. Install an external hard drive, and use it to keep up-to-date backup copies of ALL your data. (And don’t forget to backup your mobile devices too!)

Power Surges and Blackouts – This is especially important during the hot summer months, when electricity usage peaks and power surges/outages are common. Installing an uninterrupted power supply (UPS) will give your desktop computer 10-15 mins of extra use following a power outage, allowing you to save your work and avoid possible data corruption from a sudden power loss.

Beware the Spill – Coffee, coconut water, and vodka martinis are all terrific drinks for working at home. However, these tasty beverages are also shockingly effective at frying the main logic board of your laptop computer. A liquid spill is usually a career-ending event for a laptop, and most warranties (such as AppleCare) do NOT cover liquid damage, so be sure to keep liquids safely away from your laptop!

Productivity and Security

Optimizing your computer for maximum speed and productivity should be a top priority for home business owners, but securing your computer against external threats is just as important:

Anti-Virus Software – Not necessary for Mac users (yet), but critical for PCs. A computer virus can completely disable your machine and compromise sensitive information, so it is very important for PC users to have up-to-date AV software running at all times. Consider free anti-virus software as an alternative to the expensive, bulky programs that come pre-loaded with most PCs.

Software Updates – Don’t put these off by clicking “Remind Me Later” indefinitely: fully-updated software programs generally run faster than their outdated counterparts, and are also more reliable with fewer crashes and conflicts. Remember to update!

Network Security – Whether you’re running a simple home network, or a more advanced resource-sharing solution, the basic principles of network security apply: limit access to your network by setting permissions, change passwords frequently, and make your passwords difficult-to-guess (“password” and “12345” are NOT secure password choices!)

Online Branding and Promotion

Congrats on setting up your new home business computer system! Now it’s almost time to get to work, but first you need to attract a few customers:

Website – Investing in even a simple web design will allow interested parties to get basic information on your business online, and will serve as the public face of your brand in the absence of a physical storefront or office. If you work from home, and you want the public to find your business, then you need a website.

Online Branding and Promotion – Having your own website is great, but unless it is marketed and promoted properly, it will essentially just sit there and act as an expensive virtual business card. Your website should not only look professional, but also generate business (i.e. conversions). Your content needs to be keyword-optimized, mobile-optimized, indexed by search engines, submitted to local directories, and back-linked by social media so that it can found amongst the 600+ million other sites out there. Drive traffic to your site, and get conversions with professionally-optimized content.

Conclusion

Running a business from home is a challenging and rewarding experience, and a home business computer setup that is optimized for fast, reliable operation can help make it a productive and profitable experience as well. Maintaining a professional website will help you promote your brand, and will generate more leads and conversions for your business.

Please contact me for help with anything mentioned above, or feel free to leave a comment below!

Yelp Ads: A Viable Marketing Strategy, Or a Total Rip-Off?

I like having a blog. It lets me rant about things. Here’s my latest on Yelp.com’s oddball ad model and pricing.

The last article I wrote on Yelp centered around their controversial review-filtering algorithm. Today’s rant, however, will focus on their core advertising and revenue model, how it differs from the popular ad models of Google and Facebook, and why it may not be the *best* fit for a business like mine.

Warning: Lengthy Technical Online Advertising Explanation

Major companies that make money primarily by selling ads online, like Facebook and Google, serve up ads to their users using a competition-based bidding model. When you see an ad on these sites, it is targeted specifically at you using the droves of personal data you’ve provided Facebook and Google over the years. Advertisers then use this data to compete with one another for the privilege of showcasing their products & services to you, with highly-competitive niches commanding large CPM (cost per 1000 impressions) prices.

For example, users who “Like” the iPad Fan Page, or people with browser histories full of iPad-related searches, will likely be shown iPad-related ads on Facebook and Google, respectively. If Facebook/Google sees that a lot of people are clicking these ads, the ads will be shown more often, and their CPM price will increase. Over time, the highest-performing ads for a given niche will nudge out lowest-performing ads, because Facebook/Google makes more money from the ads people are actually clicking on.

When you buy an ad on Facebook/Google, you design the ad, set a budget, and you’re up and running: your targeted ad is displayed, and depending on your niche, you’ll pay anywhere from $.01 to $5.00 per 1000 impressions. Things are a bit different for Yelp advertisers, however.

The Yelp Advertising Model: A Total Rip-Off

Strangely, Yelp’s online advertising model is based around selling subscription-based ad packages in 6-12 month contracts. Their intro ad package (at the time of this writing) requires that a business sign up for a $300/month, 6 month minimum package (with a $600 early termination fee). They guarantee 600 “targeted impressions” each month, i.e., they would show my ad 600 times to users searching for “computer repair” in my area.

This represents a whopping $500 CPM, or $500 per 1000 impressions. This is over 100x what national online advertisers typically pay for huge ad campaigns.

Compared to standard and widely-accepted online advertising models, Yelp’s model looks like blatant exploitation and robbery!

Exploitation of Technical Ignorance

Of course, Yelp Ad sales reps will never, EVER mention terms like CPM or CPC. They don’t want potential advertisers to know just how ludicrously overpriced and low-tech their ads actually are. (Yelp offers advertisers nowhere near the tracking and targeting data that Facebook and Google do)

It seems to me that the Yelp revenue model relies on three factors:

  1. Building a business owner’s perceived value of reviews,
  2. Using that perceived value to justify the sale of expensive ads, and
  3. Exploiting the fact that *most* business owners have absolutely no knowledge of standard online advertising practices.

I cannot support a program that, in my estimation, overcharges people by exploiting their ignorance. Too many unscrupulous computer consultants and other tech-savvy businesses are guilty of similar unethical practices and behavior.

It’s a shame that their ad program is the way it is, because I use and recommend Yelp, and everyone I’ve talked to that works there is extremely friendly and courteous.

But if you’re a business owner and looking for affordable advertising, look elsewhere.

Never Trust a Computer Technician (and Other Issues of Business Ethics)

Not long ago, a woman contacted me and asked me to come to her house. She had located me on the Internet, and offered to pay me for computer services.

a computer technician under attack

I decided that she probably just needed a computer technician to fix her laptop, that she fully intended to pay me, and that she certainly wasn’t going to re-enact scenes from Misery with me. She had also (rightly) decided that the risk of inviting over a total stranger was outweighed by the benefit, and both client and computer technician benefited in the end.

However, our simple (but potentially risky) transaction could not have occurred without a mutual willingness to put worries aside, or without a shared desire to form a business relationship based on trust.

Issues With Trust

My job at Silverleaf allows me to help people from all walks of life. Nearly everyone has a computer, but few people are tech-savvy, so many folks decide to contact a technician for help at some point in time. In my business, I meet a lot of different people, and I’ve learned that they all have something in common.

What I’ve learned from years of service is that it doesn’t matter if you’re a computer technician, photographer, or lawyer: everybody just wants to work with professionals who are competent, fair, and most important, trustworthy. In other words: nobody wants to get screwed-over.

Trust is essential for any business relationship to flourish, whether it’s between a technician and client, a boss and employee, or myself and a partner. Before any service agreement, warranty, or other legal “guarantee” is written and signed, and before any work begins, all business transactions start with an implied promise: to efficiently deliver a product or service, and to do so in a fair and honest manner.

Business Ethics and Branding

I could be the best computer technician in Los Angeles, relying on skill and technical prowess alone *wink*, but if I can’t gain the trust of my clients and colleagues, I’m finished.

a spoonful of computer technician lard

That’s why being skilled in a craft is only one key to success: clearly and honestly advising a client, employee, or partner so that he or she can make an informed decision is an essential way for any professional to earn trust and be successful. This is especially true when working on large, complex projects, when any lapse in communication or trust can result in a significant loss of time/money. Besides, it’s just easier to work with people we trust.

Any significant loss of trust, however, or a reputation for being untrustworthy, can be extremely costly. For example, as a sole proprietor I am 100% liable for doing business under the Silverleaf name. Additionally, any negative impact on trust in Silverleaf directly affects trust in me, so any damage to my brand is especially costly for me.

It may be a risky way to earn a reputation as a brand and as a computer technician, but it’s my way of showing people trust.

Web Design For Dummies: Creating a Website By Yourself

In 2010, soon after I started Silverleaf, one of the first things I did was get business cards. After choosing a design, finding a printer, and deciding on how many I could afford, I anxiously placed my order. The day my new cards arrived, I ripped open the box…

Instantly, I hated all 500 cards. The free template design I chose looked low-quality and cheap, and having a personal e-mail address on the card seemed really unprofessional.

I needed a new design, and a separate business email address. However, there were problems: the domain name I purchased was WAY too long, and I didn’t know how to create a new email address @mynewdomain.com

Oh, and I didn’t know anything about creating a website.

Creating a Website With Software

As I began researching website design, it soon became clear that creating a website was not going to be easy. The more I learned about domains, host servers, CSS, FTP, and HTML, the more I lamented, “FML”.

Website Design

First, I looked into using web design software. The software promised to make website design easy: position some buttons, images, and menus, and viola: a professional-looking site, complete without the need to learn any code!

In reality, what I ended up with was a strange-looking, mis-aligned template page that I couldn’t fix, because I hadn’t learned any code.

I had a vision of what I wanted my website design to look like, but I just couldn’t make it look right. As a do-it-yourself-er, I would normally have the patience to continue learning on my own, but at this point I was spent. I needed help.

Finding a Web Design Professional

Next, I decided to look for a web design professional that could make my vision a reality, and not overcharge me for a basic design. After all, why should I spend a lot of time trying to do it myself, when I could pay someone to do it for me, quickly and correctly?

Silverleaf Web Design

Finding someone to do a professional website design turned out to be much harder than I’d imagined, however. I asked family and friends for referrals, and out of about SIX website designers I contacted, only ONE responded to my request.

Even worse, the designer that did respond quoted me a high price and long wait time, for creating a website that I felt had an extremely basic design, and shouldn’t take that long to make.

After my discouraging experience hiring a web designer, once again the do-it-yourself attitude in me kicked in. I decided that if I wanted a website, I was going to have to learn web design myself.

Website Design For Dummies

Fast-forward two years later, and www.silverleafcs.com is complete. I’ve even completed a few other sites as well. I honestly can’t say how many hours I’ve spent learning HTML and CSS, staring at line after line of code, and creating a website that I think finally looks perfect.

I don’t recommend that anybody assume my crazy “do-it-yourself” mindset, at least not when it comes to a technically and creatively complex project like website design. In fact, I’ve partnered with a team of web design professionals for exactly this reason: website design isn’t easy.

So, if you’re thinking about creating a website, please, save two years of your life and check out the Silverleaf web design page for a free quote instead.

A Review of Yelp Reviews: Content Ownership and Search Result Bias

Computer Services Reviews on Yelp

Early on in my career as a computer service professional, I realized the importance of referrals and word-of-mouth advertising. So I decided to list my business on several review sites in order to gain positive reviews and increased business.

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A review site is a website on which users can write and read about people, businesses, products, or services. Yelp.com is a popular review site that offers users a convenient way to seek out new and highly-rated restaurants, write a review on their favorite (or not so favorite) business, or create their own business page.

Consumers and business owners alike love review sites, because they all provide a “word-of-mouth” sense of community and trustworthiness. Yelp’s slogan “Real People. Real Reviews ®” embodies this attitude, and the company’s commitment to providing “real reviews” is so strong that it only scores 3 out of 5 stars: on its own website!

But how can Yelp allow people to use its service for free? How do review sites stay in business?

Paying For and Filtering Reviews

Yelp.com, like many review sites, is supported by advertising. And as a popular site (#170 in Alexa.com worldwide rankings at the time of this writing), Yelp.com may charge a considerable fee to allow businesses to advertise with them.

However, critics of the review company say that it unfairly gives its biggest advertisers a higher ranking in search results, or that it punishes and decreases the rankings of businesses that refuse to purchase Yelp ads. Spokespeople from Yelp have repeatedly denied these allegations, responding that the company does everything it can to ensure that the reviews on its site remain real and unbiased.

To help address these credibility problems, the company has instituted a review “filter”: a computer program which determines if a review is legitimate and thus displayed in search results, or suspected as a fake and then filtered out. The filter periodically re-evaluates each review, so that previously un-filtered reviews may disappear, and old filtered reviews may come back.

Silverleaf Computer Services – Filtered!

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So I listed my business on Yelp, and clients have written reviews for me. Now, when a person looking for “computer services” near “van nuys” types these terms into Yelp’s search engine, they may find my business near the top. They can click the link to read reviews about the business, where currently only 3 of a total 11 reviews are displayed. One can still find these filtered reviews, but they do not count towards the overall rating.

The majority of reviews for Silverleaf Computer Services weren’t always filtered out: in fact, the filtering soon began after a phone call I received one day. “Billy” from the Yelp Ad Department called to comment on how great my business was doing in search results. He also wanted to know if I felt that my business benefited from being in Yelp (which it has), and asked if I’d be interested in advertising with them.

I politely declined.

Content Ownership and Search Result Bias

I’m not going to bash Yelp.com for unfairly filtering my reviews as punishment for not buying ads. On the contrary, I’ve come to understand that even though these reviews were written to help my business, they are part of an online community that Yelp owns and maintains, and are not “my” reviews.

All review content (though user-generated) effectively becomes the property of the website on which it is written. Yelp, or any ad-driven site, may provide or deny access to its own content as it sees fit: if the site wants to use this valuable content as incentive for advertisers, then it may do so as a viable marketing strategy.

But people who rely on review sites (or any search engine for that matter) for information should realize that these websites are ad-driven, and are NOT free of bias. And while search engines are powerful information-finding tools and do a good job of providing relevant information, search engine results should be taken with a grain of salt because any company that gathers, organizes, and ultimately controls what information is displayed on the Web also has the power to NOT display certain information.

In conclusion, do not simply rely on companies like Yelp or Google to provide only “good” information while filtering out the “bad.” Such reliance can leave you open to manipulation by advertisers, or worse, information filtering and censorship.