Google “Default Location” Fixed

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A long long time ago, when Google introduced “default location” as an optional entry for Google Maps, it didn’t seem to me to actually be the least bit useful. I am not really sure what its function was on paper, but when I used it, I found it to be essentially worthless. It didn’t make it easier to find directions to or from my location, it didn’t center the map on that location, nor did it seem to remember a single thing about it. I could never even find a shortcut to load up my address on the map. As far as I could tell, literally the only thing that this feature accomplished was to physically list your address somewhere. Just in case you forgot perhaps? Who knows. If there was a way to make it work, I could never figure it out, and I consider myself to be far more tech-literate than the average person.

It would appear that there is finally a point to the default location. Today, Google asked me to enter a default location. Not really sure why it didn’t remember it, given that I am logged in to all my Googles, but I will let that slide. So I tried it. And lo and behold, it works! The map ACTUALLY centers on my default location automatically, and when I click “directions” to a location, it automatically populates the start location with my address. In the past, I used to literally have to type in my full and complete address down to the zip code, otherwise it would use an incorrect location. That became very frustrating. Now, it would seem, I don’t have to worry about that.

Google Map users rejoice, a new age is upon us. Now if they can only fix those momentary outages that seem to happen only when you are in a hurry, I will be a happy man.

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Google Calendar Appointments: a Half-Baked Plan?

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Recently, my Google Calendar alerted me to one of its newest features: an appointment calendar. The idea is simple: Make a list of all the times you are available, make this list available to others, and have them sign up to meet with you whenever they want. It sounded so great, I had to try it immediately. I had even had a conversation with someone earlier in the week about how there should be something exactly like this.

So I set up some appointments. This process is straight-forward enough, though in practice it is a lot of work and fairly time consuming. My goal was to take the days where I have lots of time and break it up in to one hour meetings spaced half an hour apart. Simple enough. But actually accomplishing this is a lot of work… They require you to first create an event, select appointment slot, then change it from the default “offer as slots of 30 minutes” to offer as a single appointment slot. The slots would make sense, but there is no way to use them to space the meetings out. Unless you are in the same building meeting with people with zero downtime between, this is not useful. I could, in theory, select “offer as slots of 90 minutes,” but this would then be confusing to people looking to sign up for an appointment slot. They don’t want to meet for an hour and a half.

So in the end, I had to select all of those options for all 20 slots I might have for a given week. It was repetitive and boring, and it makes me sad to know that if I want to do this in the future I will have to do it all over again. You would think there would be a way to clone the events over and over, but there isn’t. Additionally, if you don’t name each one then a big, ugly “(no title)” appears as the main piece of information for each slot. Why would you name them to begin with? You don’t know for sure what the event is going to be, thats the whole point…

I finished setting that all up. Now all that was left was to send potential meet-ees the worlds longest link to my own appointment calendar. First off, you might want to use a URL shortener for this one, because it is seriously long. It looks like this: https://www.google.com/calendar/selfsched?sstoken=UU1lenJiclp3cFp6fGRlZmF1bHR8ZTE4NDk3NzAwYLk4NDczNTNiZTAzMWM4ODBjZmNkJDQ (Not a real link). It is anything but pretty. The emails went out fine, and I figured I would just wait.

Within an hour or two, I got many emails back. And this is where I learned the true failure of the appointment calendar. Of the eight or so people who responded, only one had actually gotten through to my calendar. Just one. Why? Because Google did perhaps the most asinine thing they could possibly have done to the system: They require you to log in to your own Google calendar before you can even LOOK at this appointment calendar. Are you kidding me?

So lets walk through what happens when somebody wants to select a time to meet with me. They click the link. What it takes them to is not a page explaining whats going on, where they are, or any relevant piece of information. No. Instead, they are faced with a log-in screen. Most people give up instantly at this point, probably even if they HAVE a Google calendar. It looks like it didn’t work… As if only the owner of that particular calendar can see it. Maybe this would be a good idea if every person on the planet had and was logged in to their own Google calendar. But they don’t and never will. The pragmatic approach would be to let anyone see the calendar without logging in, and even letting people sign up for appointment slots.

The final irony of all this is that when the one person made it through and selected an appointment slot, it showed up as a new event on my calendar, leaving the appointment slot free. Meaning that as far as everyone else is concerned, that time is still available for me. What the heck is the point then? I might get 10 people signing up for the same time, thanks a lot Google. And in a telling twist of fate, the only person who made it through is the owner and sole-employee of an IT services and support company. And even she sounded a little confused.

I can only hope that Google will continue to develop this feature to make it usable… It is a great idea that has been laughably implemented. Stick to emails and phone calls for now, everyone.

The Power of Good Practices

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In almost everything in business, there is a generally accepted “right way” to do things. There might be some variation on that way, and many may in fact find great success from creatively developing new ways to do things. But still, there is usually a right way. Unfortunately, there is almost always a wrong way as well. Maybe it looks like it will save time, maybe you think you aren’t going to get caught, or maybe you were just offered bad advice. Either way, as a business person, you will be faced with these choices every day.

I would love to think that everyone would want to do the right thing just because it is right. Unfortunately, that is just not the case. From corrupt corporate executives to bad SEOs, there is no end to the list of people who picked the wrong way. And how does that work out for them? Maybe they got some short-term benefit. Maybe they were rich or very successful. But eventually that ended. Some went to jail, most just continue to struggle in their chosen profession.

The issue at hand today is search engine optimization and the tools we have at our disposal. Lisa Barone of Outspoken Media goes into detail discussing some of the recent changes to the Google algorithm and how this has affected SEOs in this post. I think she summarizes it pretty well when she says,

“You’re investing in SEO to grow your business and your brand over the long-term. That is not done through shortcuts, through buying links, or through acting out because you’re PO’d at Google. It’s done through putting in the work. “

Best practices are not just called that because they are morally correct. They are also the most effective. Maybe not in the short term, but if you are looking for sustained success, then they are the way to go. Despite any complaints about the recent “Panda” update to Google’s algorithm, the bottom line is that Google and all the other search engines will most likely improve over time. There may be ups and downs, but through all the changes you will be better off using legitimate, ‘white hat’ SEO tools. Obviously link farms and scraper sites provide little benefit to actual people. Do you really think they are going to help your site forever?

Bottom line: do the right thing. It’s in your best interest and the best interests of those around you.  Not just this week or this month, but in the long term.

3 Ways Social Media Improves Your Web Presence

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Social Media outlets are more than just additional ways for a company to communicate with the world. They can have a dramatic impact on your overall web presence. I have highlighted three of the main ways you can use Social Media to your advantage.

1. Interaction with peers and customers everywhere they are talking

This tactic is at the heart of any social media strategy, and with good reason. Conversations are happening everywhere… and they are talking about you. Why not join in? Interactions with others in a variety of different online settings increases both the amount of unique content relating to your company online and your overall online reach. Your website should not be the only place for anyone to reach you. With social media they COULD go to your website, or they could visit one of the other dozens of places where you are actively involved with the online community. It might be your blog, Facebook, Twitter, an industry forum, or even a review site. The goal is to encourage as much positive conversation about your brand as possible, and in doing so, become more visible online.

2. Improve Page Rankings

Every time Google sees a mention of your brand and your industry combined with a link back to your website or other social media profiles, it gives a little bonus to your page rank. Your page rank is essentially what Google uses to determine your popularity. And popular pages are what people want to see and what show up on search engine results pages (SERPs). The simple way of thinking of this is that every time any profile or page you own gets mentioned, it is more likely to be visited in the future. The more involved you are in your social media, the more likely you are to be found in the search engines. Even when links have a “nofollow” command attached to them (which makes Google ignore it for popularity and page ranking), anyone who clicks that link and ends up on more of your content is still helping to increase your traffic.

3. More Results in Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs)

Everyone wants their site to be the #1 result for their keywords… But what about the other slots? When someone searches for your company name, for example, the results should show your website, your Facebook page, your Linkedin page, your Flickr photostream, your Google Places page, your Blog, and hopefully many more. If done right, your social media profiles can dominate the SERPs for all of your keywords. If your company sells custom lawn ornaments, for example, a search for “custom lawn ornaments” should return your website, some pictures from your Flickr, your facebook page, and even your blog. More well-maintained and active social media accounts lead to more places for people to find you.

The benefits of active involvement in Social Media span many aspects of a brand’s online presence. If used correctly, you will increase traffic and visibility of both your website and your brand dramatically.