About Me

Toronto, Ontario, Canada
Len focuses on helping small and new businesses succeed through developing appropriate marketing and sales strategies. Len enjoys mentoring, relishes in getting both arms and feet wet in addressing technology, marketing and sales issues. He understands the drivers impacting business results for today and tomorrow including time-to-market, time-to-revenue, marketing, sales channels and social media.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Email Tools that Make You Want to Pull Out Your Hair – Seen My Picture?

Recently one of my clients faced a challenge with his email application. He saves everything in Microsoft Outlook folders. This is a potential source of problems and a very common practice. Do you do this as well?

My client further compounded this practice by using two different versions of Outlook at his two work locations. At one he was using Outlook 2002 and at the other Outlook 2003.

In Microsoft Outlook 2002 and earlier versions the file folder size limit is 2 Gigabytes. These files use a format called PST. When you reach the 2 Gigabyte limit Outlook stops allowing you to send and receive email. If you use the Outlook archive feature to offload older email files and attachments, 2002 limits the size of each archive folder to 2 Gigabytes. What many users of Outlook 2002 and earlier versions going back to Outlook 97 do not know is that they can create multiple archive folders, each under 2 Gigabytes.

That solves the problem but doesn’t address the common practice of using Outlook as a primary filing system on your computer. This is not a practice I recommend. There are better ways to structure and secure your file folders and the data inside them.

When my client first encountered the 2 Gigabyte folder size lim
it he was able to create multiple archives. He then did a backup and took the archived materials with him to his other office location where his Outlook 2003 system resided. The geography that separates these two offices requires a 3-hour plane ride and my client did not realize he was using two different versions of Outlook.

Outlook 2003 uses PST file formats that support a standard that can represent most printed language alphabets. This standard is called Unicode. There is no theoretical limit to the size of a file folder in Outlook 2003 although the practical li
mit is 20 Gigabytes, 10 times the size of Outlook 2002 and earlier versions. Outlook 2003 had no problem reading the archived files from Outlook 2002. Everything worked as required. Then my client did his back up and got on a plane to fly back to his other office. When he tried to open his Outlook archives using 2002, his computer would not display the file folders.

Talk about a painful lesson. There is no workaround for this problem. What my client had to do was buy Outlook 2003 for his other office and install it. Only then would he be able to view his archival record.

I like to experiment with email systems. I use Outlook 2002. I use Gmail online. My service provider offers an online Outlook utility. I use the mail system in Windows Live Messenger. I route all my email through Gmail to take advantage of its superb spam filtering capability.

I had Office 2007 with Outlook 2007 running on my computer last year but I had to remove it from my laptop running Windows XP Service Pack 2 because it m
ade my system grind. So I went back to my Office XP/2002 running Outlook 2002.
Mozilla Thunderbird Has A Lot of Similarities to Outlook Interface

But I have also looked at other desktop email applications. One of these is Thunderbird, the
open source Mozilla product. Thunderbird is easy to download and during the installation it can extract archives and current email records from Outlook. I was able to make it my default email receiver without doing any account setup although later I went back in to create a signature for my emails. This doesn’t work as well as it does in Outlook but it was adequate.

Like all of the Mozilla products the best thing about Thunderbird is it’s free. You get functionality that is similar enough to Outlook with the ability to create and view email threads similar to Gmail.

Viewing Mail and Sending Replies Can Be Counter Intuitive When Using Gmail

The interface is far less busy than Gmail as well which makes it more intuitive to new users. So take a look at how you manage your email and recognize that email products are not meant to be robust file folder management systems for all of your documents. If you are challenged by developing a logical filing system then install Google Desktop on your system and use its search capability when you need to find information on your system.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

SEO: How Your Small Business Can Attract Potential Customers On The Web

There has been a lot written about search engine optimization (SEO), that process of improving your website’s visibility when someone enters a search engine query on Google or Yahoo or MSN. SEO ensures that your website pages produce higher search result listings, getting you onto the first page ideally, if not within the first few pages. To optimize your website for queries it is important to know how search engines work and how people use them.

Crawling the Web

Have you ever used Google Alerts? This free application from Google allows you to create a web crawler based on you entering a phrase or descriptor on a subject of interest to you. Based on the search frequency you choose your Google Alert goes out and finds suitable information and reports back to you in your email.

The crawlers that web search engines use are very similar. They are robot collectors that examine websites, finding information and storing it. Crawlers look at HTML pages. They look at PDFs. They look at file names and the names of URL links. They have more trouble with images, video, Flash and Javascripts.

When a crawler looks at a page it extracts word information from the page header. it looks a key word tags. When it is finished it creates a data index which the search engine stores in a database. Every search engine query accesses that information database.

Searching Results

A query in Google or another search engine creates an online report listing relevant pages. Every search engine has different criteria for determining what results should appear. Google, for example, uses over 200 criteria in its search engine. Search engines rank results based on what is considered most relevant first and less relevant last. The positioning of search results is what SEO is designed to assist.

Some Tips for Improving Search Ranking Results There is so much written about SEO on the web and so many companies providing SEO services that for small businesses the whole subject can become very confusing. What to do? What to do? Well here are some very simple rules for you to follow to improve rankings.

1. Create clear and accurately named page titles. This helps web craw
lers immensely and makes it easy to display relevant search query results. Make sure that your homepage contains the name of your business in the title. Make sure that you put the name of your products and services on relevant pages in the title position.

2. Use URLs that describe page content. Here are two URL names:
http://rosen.len.googlepages.com/services and http://rosen.len.googlepages.com/page112 A crawler can do very little with the latter. There is no relevant word in the URL to indicate the nature of the page content.

3. Create headers that reflect what's on the web page. If you do tradeshows like I do then you may understand this analogy. Unstructured content is like the booth you walk by that has lots of information but you cannot tell what the exhibitor does. Structured content is the booth that features clear, intuitive messages. When you construct a website you have to make sure that each page has a clear message that starts with the header and goes on from there.

4. Use relevant words and phrases when creating page links. Take a look at the following example:

(Click on image to enlarge)

The links specifically describe the content of the pages they link to. If at all possible avoid ambiguous expressions for links such as "click here."

5. Give image files names that describe image content. As we stated before search engines have trouble indexing image content. A description of the image in the file name, however, is easy to index. So instead of calling an image file "image1," give it a descriptor "NewJerseyshorefall08."

Remember that this blog is dedicated to finding you resources that are free or very reasonably priced so that your small business can succeed. For free SEO tools and resources I recommend you visit SEO Tool Land.

As always please feel free to send me your comments and questions.