Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Promoting Your Local Business On Google - Part II: Intro to AdWords

As I said in Part I, the most important thing you can do for business costs nothing: set up your Google search listing using the Google Local Business Center.

But once you've done that, the next thing is to advertise. Yes, this will cost you money, but not as much as you might think, and you are in complete control of your budget. A reasonable campaign for a local business could cost as little as $20-40 a month.

To get started, you'll need to add the Google AdWords service to your Google account. Start here: http://adwords.google.com. Just use the same Google account you used in Part I with the Local Business Center.

New users of the AdWords service get a chance to choose between the Starter Edition and Standard Edition.

I have not yet used the Starter Edition, so we'll be talking about the Standard Edition here. Click the button next to Standard Edition and then Continue.

As a new user, you're treated to the "Sign-Up Wizard" to create your first Google Ad.

Click the "Create your first campaign" button. In the Google AdWords system, each campaign is a collection of "ad groups". An ad group consists of a single ad, and possibly variations on it.

The next wizard screen is the first step of "targeting" your ads to the audience you want. Targeting is the key to any effective ad campaign -- the success of Google AdWords is largely due to the superior targeting it offers over yesterday's media like newspapers, magazines, radio and TV.

This page lets you choose your target language and geographic area (location). Language is presumably an easy choice. But for a local business we need to pay very close attention to the location targeting. Click on "Change targeting" and let's get started.

Location Targeting

A click on "Change targeting" opens a large pop-up panel "Target customers by location":

The system selects an initial region for you based on where you appear to be located. For example, if Google thinks you're located in the USA, you'll see the entire United States selected.

For a truly "local" business this never what you want. If you're a plumber in San Jose, California, why waste money advertising to people looking for a plumber in New Jersey? Location targeting allows you to specify the particular area of interest.

To begin with, enter the name of the city where you are located, for example, "San Jose", then click the "Find" button.

The map displays rectangle "bounding box" around the selected city.

How Location Targeting Is Used

I think it's helpful to understand how Google is going to use your location targeting information.
It's really used in two somewhat different ways.
  1. In business searches for a location, such as [plumbers near san jose], either as a regular Google web search, or on Google Maps, and
  2. In "viewport" searches on Google Maps. This where a customer is looking at, say, San Jose on the map and then enters the query [plumbers].
Let's get back to the "Target customers by location box". Take a closer look at the selection box that appears on the screen:

I want to point out a couple of things here.
  • Nothing is selected yet. Even though San Jose shows on the map and is highlighted in the list above, it's not really selected until the checkbox is checked.

  • The list is a hierarchy of geo-political entities. For example, click on "San Francisco-Oakland-San Jose" to display the next larger area:

You can also point on the map to pick regions. In the image below you can see a small "X" where I've clicked on the location of Mountain View, and another popup list of the enclosing geo-political entities.

Finally, below is a screen shot after selecting several cities in the Bay Area. Notice that the box at the lower left lists the regions you have selected.

Now click "Done" to close the location targeting popup and return to the targeting wizard. Click "Continue" to advance to the "Create an ad" window.

Creating Your Ad

... under construction ...

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Promoting Your Local Business on Google - Part I: The Local Business Center

Most people think it costs money to promote your business on Google. Well, advertising on Google does cost money, but not as much as people think. And the most important ways to promote your business don't cost anything at all.

Your Google Business Listing

Google has a service called the "Local Business Center" where you can set up what amounts to a Google Yellow Pages listing. The best part is that this service is 100% free.

Example: [Chiropractor near Soquel CA]

In these Google Maps search results you can see a mix of "organic" business listings and what appears to be a single Local Business Center listing. Guess what one is from the LBC?

You're right if you guessed, "Dr. Z's MindBody Shop". It's the only one on the page with a picture and it's got more descriptive text.

How To Create a Local Business Center Listing

To create your own Google Local Business listing, you first need a free Google Account. If you already use GMail or other Google services, you have an account already. Otherwise, to create a Google Account visit https://www.google.com/accounts/NewAccount.

Now start by visiting the Local Business Center at http://www.google.com/local/add.
If you aren't already logged in using your Google Account, you'll need to do that now.

You'll probably be greeted by a form that says "Enter your business information below." Like this one:

Go ahead and fill out the form, with your basic information and click "Next". The following screen allows you to either "claim" an existing listing or enter a new listing.

Google may have obtained an existing listing for your business from some other source. You should "claim" that listing if there is one. Otherwise add your new own listing.

After that, Google asks if you want to enter some additional info about your listing. It includes
  • Business Categories
  • Hours of Operation
  • Payment Options
  • Photos
  • Videos
  • Additional Details, where you can add things like "Parking Available: yes"

The most important things here are the Categories and a Photo.

Submit your info. You may have to correct some bits before Google will accept it. For example, I had entry for "Return Policy" that said "ALL SALES FINAL". Google objected to the "excessive capitalization" until I changed it to "all sales final".

Now you'll get a page asking you to validate your listing, and giving you two choices:
  • By Phone
  • By Postcard
By postcard takes weeks -- you really want to do the phone validation.

When you click "Finish", you get the phone validation screen:

If you're at your phone, go ahead and click "Call Me Now". In a few seconds your phone will ring and you can enter whatever code number they've given you.

Here's what the screen looks like while it's calling you:

And here's what it looks like after you've successfully entered your 4-digit code:

That's really all it takes. In the past, it may have taken several weeks for these listings to appear, but now it may appear in our index in less than a day.

Monday, June 09, 2008

Video Photo Montage: Carmel Sunset

Besides all the timelapse photos I took in Carmel in April, I also had about 75 shots from the beautiful sunset Evelyn and I enjoyed at dinner. Like the baseball pics, the question then is what to do with them.

Traditionally, one picks out the 2 or 3 best ones. That's fine, but it's not going to capture the experience. So I decided several weeks ago to try making a video.

This is my third attempt. The first two efforts were simple rapid-fire image sequences. This can work (most of my baseball video is done that way), but the problem here is that the images are all framed differently, and a third of them are vertical. They just made me dizzy.

So... I decided to individually zoom and position each frame. This is way too much work, but after a while I got much better at it.

The most important lesson I learned is to use the horizon to fix the vertical position AND use the sun to fix the horizontal position whenever possible. This creates a much more natural look.

I also found a few different ways of dropping in the vertical frames without disturbing the flow.

The Procedure

My basic procedure to first manipulate the still images.
  • Throw away bad ones.
  • Adjust color and exposure. For a sequence like this, the images have to be consistent, and need to get gradually darker through the sequence.
  • Straighten. I normally try to avoid straightening, but unstraightened horizons look terrible in a sequence.
Then, save them in reduced size in a separate directory. In this case the originals are 8 megapixel 3264 x 2448. They will be going to 640 x 480 video. I saved them as larger 1200 x 900 to give room for zooming. Next time I would give myself even more room and use 1632 x 1224 (i.e. exactly 1/4 the original).

If I wanted to use them as an actual image sequence (like the baseball game) I would use Canon Digital Photo Professional to rename and resequence them. In this case I didn't need that and I just used Google's Picasa to resize them.

Next I imported the images into Sony Vegas Pro, not as a single sequence but as individual stills. Vegas then allows you to put all of them on the time line as a still sequence -- the frame duration is setable in the Edit preferences. The default of 3 seconds seemed like forever, so I changed it to one second. But I wound up back at 3 seconds before I was through.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Introducing Chip-o-Vision

Last week I went to a baseball game in Oakland with Evelyn and Elizabeth and watched the A's get whupped by the Toronto Blue Jays. I took lots of pictures, and then didn't know what to do with them all. Decided to experiment with presenting them on video: