Category: Getting Started

The Best SEO Keyword Research Tools

There’s no question that search engine optimization is a key part of successful small business website design–without effective SEO, your customers simply won’t find your site. I’ve discussed some of the keys to search engine optimization before, and now I want to share with you some of the best tools to conduct SEO keyword research.

Choosing the right keywords for SEO is essential, because the keywords associated with your website will determine which and how many Internet searchers will find it. You want to be sure that you’re optimizing for keywords that your target audience is searching on. This is where keyword research comes in. Here’s a quick overview of the best SEO keyword research tools available:

Free Keyword Research Tools


Alexa offers a wealth of free search analytics tools that can help you optimize your website. To conduct keyword research with Alexa, you can:

  • Type in a search term to find out how popular that query is (“Query Popularity”) and how much competition there is from other websites for that particular query (“Query Competition Index”).
  • Type in a competitor’s website to see what keywords they’re using to attract traffic.

Google provides a number of free keyword tools, particularly for those who have created AdWords accounts. An AdWords account is how you buy advertising space on Google, but you can sign up and use the tools even without purchasing advertising space.

  • Google Search-based Keyword Tool
    • Google’s Search-based Keyword Tool will suggest keyword ideas based on your website and your Google AdWords language and country settings, so you get suggestions that are particularly relevant to your needs. It provides info on the number of monthly searches and the competition for each suggested keyword, as well as a suggested AdWords bid price. You can also browse keywords by category. (This tool is very similar to the Google AdWords Keyword Tool, but provides a little more data.)
  • Google AdWords Traffic Estimator
    • This tool will provide an estimate of how much advertisers are paying to have their ad displayed when certain keywords are searched–keywords with a lot of searches tend to be more expensive. Use the Traffic Estimator for keyword research by looking for keywords that are relevant to your website but are not the highest or lowest priced–the top priced keywords generate a lot of competition, and the lowest priced ones see too little traffic.
  • Google Insights For Search
    • Google Insights for Search is how you can find out who is searching for what keywords. Enter your search terms and Google will provide you with an analysis of the keyword’s search trends relative to Google’s total number of searches. You’ll be able to see the change in search volume over time, amount of interest by geographic area, and similar keywords that are highly searched or that have seen an increase in number of searches.

Paid Keyword Research Tools
Wordtracker is generally considered the gold standard in paid keyword research. There’s a free Wordtrack keyword research tool, but access to the features that make Wordtracker one of the best requires a paid subscription. They do offer a free trial, however, so you can see if you like it before you buy. You might also want to check out the Wordtracker-powered SEO Blogger plugin for Firefox.

Keyword Discovery
Another good keyword research tool which also offers a free trial. According to their website, Keyword Discovery has the largest keyword database, containing nearly 38 billion searches from more than 200 search engines worldwide.

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Someone Has My Domain Name – Now What?

As a small business owner, you surely put a lot of thought into choosing the perfect name for your business. Now that you’ve decided to take advantage of all the opportunities offered by a small business website, you will need to purchase a unique domain name to serve as your business’s online presence. The obvious choice is—but what do you do if someone already owns “your” domain name?

You basically have two options for securing a domain name that has already been purchased by someone else:

  1. Ask the owner if they’re willing to sell. Visit the URL you wish to have to see what the owner is using it for. In some cases, the domain will be “parked” or inactive, meaning that it’s currently undeveloped. You might be in luck if the domain name you want is parked or doesn’t direct to a website, because it means the owner doesn’t currently have a use for the domain and may consider selling it to you for the right price. Sometimes a parked domain will have a page stating it is for sale and providing a way to contact the owner. If not, you can look up the owner’s contact information with a WHOIS search. Most domain registrars offer their own WHOIS database search, or you can use a site like Even if there is a site already up on the domain name you want, you have nothing to lose by asking the owner if they’re willing to sell. If you feel uncomfortable contacting the owner yourself, you can pay to have a registrar do it for you. For example, two of the largest domain registration companies, GoDaddy and NetworkSolutions, will contact the owner and make an offer on your behalf for a fee. Keep in mind that there is still no guarantee that the owner will be willing to sell, and you’re out the fee regardless.
  2. Wait for the domain registration to expire. The WHOIS data on your domain name will list the date the current owner’s registration expires. If the owner doesn’t renew their registration, you may be able to snag the name for yourself. There are a few things to consider if you decide to go with this method:
    • Domain registrars offer a grace period after expiration, usually around 35 days, before they put the name up for sale. This means that a domain won’t necessarily become available on the day it’s set to expire.
    • Many companies will let you “backorder” a domain name, where you pay a fee to be put on a waiting list in case the name expires. The fee is nonrefundable and you aren’t guaranteed a chance to buy the domain—the owner may renew, or you may have to compete in an auction against other people who have paid to backorder the domain.

Alternatively, you can always go with a similar name that is available or think outside the box to come up with a unique and memorable name that represents your business. Another option is to choose a different domain extension, such as if is already taken.

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Choosing the Best Web Hosting Provider

In order to publish your small business website to the Internet, you’ll need to choose a web hosting provider. There are many web hosts to choose from, with prices ranging from free ad-based hosting to expensive monthly fees. Choosing a provider can seem a bit overwhelming, but if you start by figuring out what you need to run the website you want, you’ll be able to evaluate different web hosts much more easily. We use, which offers us exactly what we need to host Design Leap.

Think of choosing a web hosting provider for your website as choosing a hotel to stay at on vacation. Your website has to stay somewhere in order to have access to the Internet, but some hotels will be a better fit than others. Do you really need a huge suite with a minibar and 24 hour room service? Or will a single room and a continental breakfast serve your needs just fine?

One of the most important factors to consider is web space–most web hosts provide you with a set amount of space on their server. You’ll want to be sure you get enough space for your business website as it is now, as well as consider whether you might need more space for future expansion. Keep in mind that things like images, video, and Flash take up a lot of space.

Bandwidth or data transfer is another factor to consider. Bandwidth refers to the amount of information your website sends across the network every month. Every time your site is viewed, it uses bandwidth. When choosing a web hosting provider, you’ll want to make sure they provide enough bandwidth to cover the number of visitors you expect. Also check whether the web host charges fees for going over your monthly bandwidth–some advertise “unlimited bandwidth” but actually do have restrictions. How much bandwidth you need varies depending on the amount of traffic you expect.

In addition to these basic factors, there are many additional things offered by web hosting providers that you may or may not want:

  • Domain registration/setup–Does the web hosting package come with domain registration and setup included? Many offer it for free as part of choosing their services, which is a great freebie if you need it (you don’t if you’ve already registered your domain name somewhere else).
  • Email accounts–You’ll probably want to be able to create an email account for every employee, but most small businesses won’t need the ability to create 100 different email accounts.
  • FTP access–FTP is usually the easiest way to upload new pages to your website.
  • Programs and scripts–Interactive websites often require databases and the ability to use scripts like PHP. As with emails, you probably won’t need a huge number of databases; you can do a lot with just one.
  • SSL (secure server)–If you plan to have an online store, you’ll want to provide a secure server for your customers. If you don’t plan to collect credit card payments through your website, a secure server probably isn’t necessary.

As you’re trying to choose a web hosting provider, remember to look critically at the services they offer. A great hosting package for one small business website may not be the best choice for another–it all varies depending on factors like what you plan to do with your site, how much traffic you expect, and how large your business is. Don’t be swayed by the promise of “unlimited” amounts of things you only need 5 of, and make sure the provider offers the important things you need to run your site.

Choosing Your eCommerce Solution

eCommerce SolutionI probably don’t need to tell you that starting an online store is a great way to supplement your income, and  – overtime – to hopefully generate a full time income while working from home.

People have always been drawn to the idea of working from home and being their own boss. The best thing about an online store is that the risk is minimal – unlike a brick and mortar store, your initial investment can be very low.

After two years of a shaky economy, more people than ever are looking into opening an online store. If you’re one of them, one of your very first decisions is which ecommerce solution to use.

When choosing the software that will run your online business, it’s important to have all the facts and to make an informed decision. You basically have three options when it comes to ecommerce software:

1. Building your own ecommerce system

This option provides you with the most control of course, but it’s not a viable choice for most small businesses because it’s very expensive. While building a custom online store is the best way to make sure your store looks and functions exactly the way you want it to, going this route will require you to either have programming skills or to hire a programmer, and programmers are expensive.

Even the most basic custom store will cost you at least $10,000, and in most cases, it will cost you much more. For most small business owners, it makes much more sense to use an existing ecommerce solution.

2. Using open source e-commerce solutions

Open source ecommerce solutions such as osCommerce and Zen Cart are widely accessible, and supposedly free. But are they?

OsCommerce states on their site that their solutions “allow store owners to setup, run, and maintain online stores with minimum effort and with no costs, fees, or limitations,” and Zen Cart say that other solutions – not theirs – are “complicated programming exercises” that are “nearly impossible to install and use without an IT degree.”

But these open source solutions are not as simple as they seem to be. While the software itself is free, and while the hosting you would need to purchase is cheap, most business owners would have difficulty handling the installation and customizations by themselves and would need the help of a software developer. As I said before, programming services are expensive, and since the entire idea behind an online store is to lower your risk by spending as little as possible on creating the store, open source ecommerce software is often not the best choice.

3. Using all-in-one ecommerce solutions

Open a  Store NowThis is my favorite option. It is the easiest and most affordable so it makes a lot of sense for most small businesses. You find a reputable provider (I like Volusion), pay a very affordable flat monthly rate (just $25 per month for a small store), and they basically take care of EVERYTHING – no need for you to worry about programming, hosting or backup – they do it all. By the way, I’m not just saying this because I’m an affiliate for Volusion, I really do recommend them to all my clients.

While some ecommerce providers limit your choices of what your store will look like, one of my favorite things about Volusion is the flexibility they offer in terms of the look and feel of your site. I also love how easy it is to build and manage the store – the web-based administration area is very intuitive, you can upload products to the store via a spreadsheet, and the entire experience is very non-intimidating and friendly. Another important feature of the software is that it’s SEO-friendly, which helps your site get found on the Web.

Starting your very own online store is exciting! Make sure you keep the costs down by choosing the right ecommerce solution for your needs.

What is your Business Image Worth?

I participate in few forums here and there and provide website critiques on numerous of them. There was one website critique request that came from a website designer that wanted some feedback on a recently completed flower shop website. I was very disappointed and a bit angry with the web designer, because the designer took advantage of a small business owner by promising to deliver a site that sells flowers, but the look and functionality of this flower site didn’t even come close. I of course dug a little deeper and found background information on the web designer, which led me to writing an article What to look for in a Web Designer.

flower-arrangementsWhat was wrong with that website?

Well, there was nothing about the website that said, “We sell flowers”. I don’t mean literally, but when a visitors arrives to your website, they should almost immediately know what the website is about. On top of that, this website was built all in Flash, meaning there’s no way for search engines to crawl the pages of this website. Not having the website search engine friendly is a huge loss for this small business.

Is cutting corners worth losing your business image?

The design of that flower shop website wasn’t professional, it looked like a job of a student who’s still practicing design skills. Shouldn’t the beautiful flower arrangements that this shop sells be represented in the same professional quality website? Your website reflects your business image, many will see your website without ever meeting you. Many who visit a poor quality website will reflect that what you sell will be poor quality also. Do you want to make a sale or do you want to lose that visitor for good. It’s really important to have a quality website that delivers what your customers are expecting to see. Unless you’ve done business with that person before, you wont win a visitor over with a poor website where it’s hard to navigate and find what they’re looking for.

Before hiring a Web Designer

It’s to your business’s best interest for you to do a little “homework” on what’s involved in a website design. You don’t have to become an expert, but you should understand the basics. Don’t be afraid to ask questions! Any Web Designer that you choose should be able to answer your website design questions or at least find the answer and educate you on your options before proceeding with the design. In the case of the flower shop, the use of all Flash was a poor choice; this is where the Web Designer should have educated the owner not to go this route.