Happy Birthday, Google!

Google celebrates its 13th birthday with a special Google Doodle!

It’s hard to believe, but the website most of us use everyday to start just about anything we do online didn’t exist until 13 years ago.

Their rise to dominance didn’t take place until later, but the company was incorporated in September, 1998. By 2000, they were processing 100 million searches per day… and of course, today they own the US search market. (Market share varies depending who measures it and what they measure… but for all intents & purposes, they’re the search engine that matters.)

In addition to the 28,000 people they employ directly, Google and its products have an impact on the businesses, careers and income on an incredibly high number of people. I’m sure someone has tried to do it, but it would truly be impossible to measure the economic impact of this behemoth. This could be why Google officials were recently testifying before Congress regarding the competitiveness of their operations… but that’s something for another day.

For today… on behalf of small businesses and marketers everywhere… Happy Birthday, Google! We’re celebrating right along with you today!

EMR Software: Meaningful Use Incentives for Physicians

When I first launched Epiphany Marketing back in 1998, it was a side venture and a vehicle for handling smaller projects that didn’t require a full-time effort. In 2001, however, I decided it was time to make it a full-time effort and start taking on bigger projects.

One of our major clients in those early days was a software dealer that focused on providing electronic medical records software (and the related hardware like computers, scanners, tablet PCs and so on) to physicians’ practices. The company wanted to expand into Florida and we worked with them to develop and implement what turned out to be a highly successful marketing strategy.

Along the way, I became very acquainted with the ins & outs of the modern-day medical practice. Many physicians were already accustomed to using “practice management software” that handled important tasks like scheduling patient appointments and billing insurance companies, medicare & the patients themselves for services rendered.

Electronic Medical Records Software

However, at that time, it was still a relatively novel idea for a smaller, privately-owned medical practice to be using a system for handling electronic patient records (or electronic health records — EHR — as they have come to be known). Even more novel was the idea that an electronic medical records system (EMR) would be integrated with a “practice management” system so that all the patient data was in one place. At that time, if practices were using an EMR system, it was typically completely separate from the scheduling & billing functions that were traditionally part of a practice management system.

We worked with this software company for an extended client engagement which lasted somewhere in the neighborhood of about 13-14 months. I met a great many medical practice administrators and doctors in various medical specialties from all over the State of Florida during that time period. Some of the doctors that we worked with went on to become friends and even clients of ours in the years that followed.

Since that time, I have remained interested in medical software. In fact, a friend of mine and I started a consulting firm focused on working with physicians to evaluate their own needs and the EMR systems that were being marketed and sold in order to help them make wise decisions and end up achieving long-term ROI (return on investment) from their technology decisions.

But, as time went by, I spent less and less time focused on that world and more time focused on newer clients and growing our primary business. So… I spent some time away from the space.

In the last few months, however, I’ve had good reason to pay a lot more attention. And it’s interesting to me today to see that the EMR systems available now have very little to offer that’s in any way new and improved over the leading systems from 7-9 years ago. In fact, some of the more “cutting edge” systems from years ago were actually further along than where the major players are today. Sadly, many software companies have come and gone — something that seems to be a bit of an epidemic (if you’ll pardon the pun) in the world of medical software.

In fact, the churn in this unique space has created a great deal of reluctance on the part of the typical private medical practice. The doctors who own and/or manage these practices have seen and heard a lot of sales pitches over the years. In some cases, they have invested tens of thousands or even hundreds of thousands of dollars in systems… only to have the software company go out of business or otherwise become unable to provide the much-needed ongoing support that is so critical to a medical practice.

So it’s not surprising when the average physician is reluctant to think about making technology-related changes. To them, it’s about as much fun as a root canal… or exploratory brain surgery (unless, of course, you’re a neurosurgeon… in which case the brain surgery would be fun… as long as it’s being performed on someone else).

Meaningful Use Incentives

Today, however, the government has stepped into the game. Uncle Sam now has a vested interest in making sure that all physicians are tracking patient information (including diagnoses, lab results, prescriptions, etc.) electronically. After all, paper charts have always been incredibly inefficient. And this is all the more true when you have a major role in paying for services being rendered, medications being prescribed, and diagnostics and treatments of all kinds. Aggregating data, keeping track of which physicians are doing what, and which patients are being treated for what illness… these are all reasons to try to force medical practices to use electronic medical records software.

Setting aside the very interesting political and societal ramifications of all this for a moment… what it comes down to today is that government has set up incentives (for now) to reward doctors who can demonstrate “meaningful use” of a qualifying electronic medical records system.

As you might guess, “meaningful use” and “qualifying EMR systems” all have very lengthy (and somewhat bizarre) definitions. But the bottom line is that the first doctors recently got the very first sizable checks from the government to pay out the incentives for using these systems.

On the back side of the incentives is a deadly set of penalties for not adopting a qualifying system within specified time periods. Practices who demonstrate meaningful use early get rewarded. The ones that wait will not only not be rewarded… they’ll actually begin to see cuts in payments for services rendered to Medicare and/or Medicaid patients after a couple of years go by.

What all of this means for the average medical office is this: it’s time to take this seriously. Any medical practices that are using older, outdated systems that don’t meet new government requirements will have to find a new system if their software vendor doesn’t make the necessary enhancements in time. Medical practices that haven’t begun meaningfully using an electronic medical records system at all (you know… the ones still chasing 2-inch thick — or thicker — patient charts around the office) will be forced to purchase and implement a system.

As a patient, you’ve probably begun to see certain physicians taking advantage of technology. Some doctors have welcomed technology quite openly… and you’ll see them carting laptops around the office and typing up visit notes while you wait. Others have dragged their feet and will only begin using technology against their wishes. Some will undoubtedly retire early rather than face that kind of change. Others will be driven out of business by the expense… especially when added to the already high costs of medical malpractice insurance combined with the pressures of reduced reimbursements from insurers and government payers like Medicare and Medicaid (not to mention the high costs of providing health insurance benefits to their own employees).

Regardless, your privacy as a patient is going to be affected. It’s already been greatly reduced in recent years. Pretty soon it’s not going to exist at all thanks to Uncle Sam’s meddling in this game.

On the other hand, the arguments in favor of using EMR systems are substantial. Medical practices that have truly embraced the process and have implemented systems have been able to greatly reduce their operating costs, increase efficiency, increase the speed with which they can access and utilize needed information (very important for you when facing an urgent medical issue of any kind), and even recover from disasters (after all… do you think they had backups of their paper charts?).

The bottom line? We’ll be keeping a close eye on all the issues related to electronic medical records, patient privacy and the economics of practicing medicine in the 21st Century. It’s all about to change…

You Can Have Anything In Life You Want

“You can have anything in life you want, if you’ll just help enough other people get what they want.”

-Zig Ziglar

This is one of my favorite quotes from the master motivator and sales trainer. (And I think I share that sentiment with lots of other people!)

We use this quote often when speaking to audiences and training business people in the art & science of getting the message about their products and services out to the right people. It’s been my observation that people don’t buy what they “need,” in most cases… they buy what they want.

So… understanding what the right people (those who are likely to be your future buyers) really want and finding away to get it to them is a key business philosophy.

But at the heart of this quote is something far simpler and more valuable: a philosophy of service.

All the great business people — regardless of the size of their employee rosters or the number of zeros at the end of their annual revenue numbers — have always striven for this. Ultimately, those who serve best win.

WordPress Site Hacked: NoIndex and NoFollow All Links

Yes… You Know Who You Are

This morning I made the startling discovery that an important WordPress site belonging to one of our clients had been hacked.

A Little History

If you’ve heard me speak in the last 5 years, you know that I’m a huge believer in the power of content marketing. We regularly recommend and teach business blogging basics to our clients. We have no desire to turn them into bloggers per se, but we’ve trained them that producing fresh, high quality content is a fantastic way to achieve visibility online and even provide fodder for social media outlets like Facebook & Twitter.

So… one of our clients who hired us to build out their WordPress site and for whom we’ve provided a fair amount of training and coaching for some time now began to experience a decline in search engine rankings. In their case, WordPress is installed on a separate domain from their main website. Their main website was historically not performing well from a search engine point of view (although it was great from virtually every other perspective when it was built), so WordPress was being used as a way to help prop up the main site. And it worked. Really, really well.

Imagine my surprise, then, when this particular site began to drop in the rankings for no apparent reason. Nothing had changed that we could tell. We did a little research and paid attention to what the competitors were doing and could see nothing significant enough to account for the change. It was very much an anomaly, because all of our other clients who were doing what we trained them to do were doing just fine.

So today, quite by accident, we found the culprit.

The WPRef Plugin

We were reviewing a piece of content before it got published when we discovered that a couple of the links had a rel=”nofollow” attribute. The content writer who was working on it had no knowledge of how to manually create that type of link (we certainly don’t train people to do that… especially for links that are created intentionally for search engine purposes!), so we knew something was up.

I inquired a little further to find out where the link had come from, and the answer was, “I copied it from another post.”

Hmmmm…. well… I assumed at first that something had crept its way into an earlier post and perhaps it had been duplicated a couple of times. I wasn’t looking forward to hunting down the original link. As I heard someone say recently, it’s like looking for a needle in a needlestack! But then I noticed that there was more than one link acting that way. So… I used the WordPress “preview” function to take a look at how the new post would look, and decided to “view source code” to see if the changes I’d made were taking effect.

That’s when I noticed this:

Every link within the content had been modified with a and a rel=”nofollow” sitewide.

That would be a problem. The site’s being running for a while and there was a significant amount of content.

Digging a little deeper, I found that a plugin had been installed and given the name “WPRef”

We had backed up and upgraded the site to the latest version of WordPress on February 3rd. So… we checked our backup and found that the plugin was not contained in it. On the server, we found (via FTP) that a file called “wpref.php” had been copied to the /wp-content/plugins folder on February 10th.

Not only had the plugin been placed in that folder, it had been activated.

Checking a little deeper, we discovered that the plugin’s only function was to add a tag and a “nofollow” attribute to every outbound link in the site’s content.

This amounts to a very specific, malicious attack. The only purpose of it can be to cause Google (and other search engines too) to ignore the site’s links.

Needless to say, I was infuriated. We’ve taken steps to harden that particular site. All my searching and other efforts to find evidence that others have encountered a hack like this have turned up nothing. It appears that (at least for now) this is a one-off, one-shot hack job. It’s hard not to believe that this site was specifically targeted on purpose.

The amusing thing was that the plugin added an options panel into the “Settings” menu. Within that, it output a bunch of gibberish, including some Russion domain names.  In the “Active Plugins” area, it purported to have “code.google.com” as its “plugin site” and its author was listed as, “Sergei Brin.” I was so distracted by the infuration and frustration of the whole thing that I failed to recognize that it wasn’t just a Russian-sounding name to match the other Russian references… it’s the (botched) name of the famous Google co-founder.

Humorous.

So… we’ve saved a copy of this little piece of php code. Obviously, we’ve removed it from the site in question and have tested the site out. Our links are back to normal now. Presumably, this client’s search engine rankings will return back to their prior positioning. Actually, since the rankings were declining, we’ve stepped up the game for this client with some additional efforts and so the rankings should actually move higher than ever. So… if this was, in fact, a malicious attack which singled out this particular business… the plan has backfired.

Thanks. Whoever you are.

BarCamp Sarasota 2011

**Update** The BarCamp Sarasota Fall 2011 event takes place October 15-16 at GWIZ. Epiphany Marketing is making presentations there as well. We hope to see you!

I’m writing this from inside an Entrepreneurial Roundtable session being facilitated by locally-based technologist Stan Schultes. The ideas being generated within this “open source” group of people are absolutely stellar. There are folks in the room who have been there, done it, and are looking for an opportunity to share back and forth.

This is just one example of the benefits of having an event like BarCamp Sarasota. This year’s event is being held this weekend at GWIZ, which turns out to be a perfect venue because of their various small rooms that seem ideally suited for sessions like those you’ll find at a BarCamp event. The sessions are on a wide variety of topics — both technology-focused and otherwise. Skimming through upcoming session for today, here are some of the topics on the menu:

  • “Leadership and Community Building, Why Now More than Ever?” with Sara Hand
  • “The Zen of Building Sustainable Technology” with Lorrie Vervoordt
  • “Programming Humans” with  Tracy Ingram
  • “Facebook Marketing & SEO” with Thao Tran

At 11am, we’ll be presenting…

Making It All Pay: Growing Your Business with 21st Century Tools

Yes… technology is great! We love it… but without a comprehensive, written, measurable strategy in place, most every business will find themselves floundering in a sea of unfinished initiatives — nearly all of which have failed to produce any significant result from a business standpoint.

For example… how many businesses have websites, blogs, Facebook pages, Twitter accounts, etc. but can’t point to any new business that they have produced? Or (perhaps worse) know that some business has been produced, but the metrics aren’t in place to identify how much and from which initiatives.

So… we’ll be talking about the strategy piece of the equation… and lining up all the elements in a way that gets you the result you desire. For most businesses, this means new customers, bigger  market share and long-term profitability.

Hope you join us for our session… More reports from this year’s BarCamp event later!

Spring Clean Your Life

We were thrilled to be able to work on a “fresh” project for Christian Family Church Sarasota. They’re launching a brand new Saturday evening meeting time beginning March 26th, 2011 and wanted to get the word out in an innovative way.

They already had planned to do a postcard mailing, so we worked together with Lead Pastor Warren McGregor, who is also an entrepreneur and business owner, to create an integrated campaign that would provide people with the opportunity to get a “taste” of Christian Family Church. When the postcard arrives, the recipients are invited to visit a website created specifically for this campaign called Spring Clean Your Life.

Once there, the visitor has an opportunity to receive 3 downloads:

  • a free MP3 containing a 10-minute message from Entrepreneur & Lead Pastor, Warren McGregor, entitled “Fresh Start”
  • a voucher redeemable for a free meal for the entire family from CFC’s amazing International Bistro, and
  • a coupon good for 30% off any purchase from the CFC Cafe Bookstore, which offers a variety of books, CDs and resources for a successful life

In addition to the postcard, the SpringCleanYourLife.org website (along with the special offers) will also be promoted through the CFC Facebook page and Twitter account.

One final touch is that the Church’s sign, which sits on Clark Road (just east of Beneva Road) in Sarasota, is being updated with a fresh new look that ties in with the postcard, website and Spring Clean Your Life theme.

A Personal Note About Christian Family Church Sarasota

My family and I have been thrilled to be connected with Pastors Warren & Kathrine McGregor and the entire CFC Sarasota family since late last summer. This project has been a great way to help create some awareness for the community in Sarasota about the jewel we have here in CFC.

CFC features energetic music along with positive, inspiring & motivating messages in a family atmosphere. There are a variety of special-interest activities available for every age group, including some powerful high-impact items like global humanitarian outreach (I just returned from a highly productive trip to Haiti with a group from CFC and medical missions organization, Hearts Afire).

Whether or not you receive a postcard, I encourage you to check out CFC and visit a weekend meeting… either on Saturdays at 7pm or Sundays at 10:30am (starting the weekend of the 26th & 27th). You can learn more at the Christian Family Church Sarasota website.

Why Haven’t They Contacted Me Yet?

Ok… admit it. You’ve done it. We all do it. You’ve probably done it lately.

C’mon… tell me…

“How often do you Google yourself?”

Well it’s fun to see where you rank. But if you own a business, it’s critical today to rank #1 on your own name. If you serve a local market, you should at least rank #1 on your own name in your city.

However, as I’ve pointed out again and again to audiences all over the globe when speaking… ranking on your own name isn’t really marketing. It’s customer service. (Ok… it’s also brand protection, which is a marketing function, but let’s not get nit-picky here.)

What Are Your Customers Searching For?

A far more useful idea, however, is to rank #1 (or at least near the top) in Google and those other search engines on phrases that likely buyers will use when they’re searching for the stuff you sell.

For example, if you happened to be looking for a place to eat out in my city (I live and work in the paradise known as Sarasota, Florida), you might run a search like:

“fondue Sarasota”

or

“buffalo wings Sarasota”

Admittedly, you probably aren’t real likely to run both of those searches on the same day… For a nice evening out, my wife and I really enjoy fondue together. And I personally can’t seem to drag her kicking and screaming to a wings joint (happens maybe once every 2-3 years), so I go there for lunch when possible with friends that enjoy hot wings… since one of the local places is my favorite restaurant in the entire world!

But I digress…let me get to the point.

“Why Haven’t They Contacted Me Yet?”

If you happen to be the owner (or manager) of, say…

  • Dylan’s Fondue Fusion
  • The Melting Pot
  • Wings N Things
  • Wings N Weenies

…don’t you think you would contact the marketing firm that owns the website that ranks #1 in Google on the above searches?

For the record, I never really set out to rank #1 on those terms. I just happen to have decided randomly one day to write about those topics. And I happen to know what tools to use to market a local business! And I happen to use those tools myself… so… rankings happen.

You know they’re running those Google searches from time to time, right? I mean seriously… you need to know where your business ranks on those kinds of terms. And you would want (I would think) to do everything in your power to make sure that you had good positioning… so…

In case you’re wondering… yes, we help businesses with search engine rankings. But as I recently pointed out on our small business marketing blog, rankings are only a piece of the puzzle. More importantly, we train small businesses how to be their own best marketers so that they can consistently attract customers in cost-effective ways — both online and offline.

Now… if you’re in a critical situation and need rapid help with the results you’re getting from your website, our website performance assessment is a great place to start.

Otherwise, you can contact us to learn more about how we can help you grow your business!

The Machine That Goes “Bing!”

And now for something completely different: In a bizarre move, Microsoft does something brilliant.

At first I thought,

“Well… they grabbed a 4-letter domain name that’s easy to remember… they couldn’t possibly have intended to connect it to the Monty Python sketch…”

That was when I first started seeing the bing.com commercials about the tangential search results. The commercials are humorous, although for me they purport to solve a problem I don’t have.

But now… they started using the funny little high-pitched male voice saying, “Bing!”

And really… what Python fan in the world could forget this moment from The Meaning of Life?

Until Apple managed to emerge from the 1990s somehow still in business, I had always thought of Microsoft as a corporation that was brilliant in its marketing. In retrospect, my admiration was actually aimed at what I would now classify as business strategy. Apple is without question a brilliant marketing machine, and to say they’ve successfully trumped Microsoft in that department is like saying that Alexander the Great had some military victories.

But I must admit… the “Bing!” thing is a brilliant marketing move on many levels.

Whether the “new” search engine actually offers any unique value remains to be seen.

Ready for a Strong 2009… Regardless of the Economy?

I recently learned that I’d made a bit of a faux pas. I used the word “recession” in an article I was asked to write for the newsletter that Zig Ziglar sends out every week.

It was an honest mistake. I wasn’t aware of his personal — and consequently, their corporate — policy to simply not use that word. It really got me thinking. After all, Zig has been responsible for mentoring and coaching thousands (tens of thousands? more?) of successful people to the top of their game.

So… from here on out, I’m dropping the word. It might seem like a silly or symbolic move, but I had already decided months ago that we — that is me (David Johnson) and my company (Epiphany Marketing) — weren’t participating in it.

So… we officially renamed the event that I’m privileged to be a part of next week with my good friend, Tom Ziglar. It’s new title is:

How to Attract Customers at Low Cost in this Tough Economy

Ziglar Webinar: How to Attract Customers at Low Cost in this Tough Economy

And perhaps a better title would be, “in any economy.” The fact of the matter is that we’ve systemized some processes that any business can use — after all, it’s the very process we’ve used an honed for years in our consulting work — to bring in a steady stream of new prospects, clients and customers.

Sound good? You can do it.

In fact, the Ziglar organization has been kind enough to permit me to invite you to next week’s event.

Go watch the video clip of Zig Ziglar, Tom Ziglar and yours truly, then register. But do it quickly — the space won’t last long!

I’ll see you there next week!

The End of the China Price

When faced with significant economic pressure, American consumers and businesses tend to take action in a very predictable manner:

They do what’s in their own best interests.

Interestingly enough, that doesn’t always mean that they buy the products or services that cost the least. In fact, it is our prediction that in the months (and years) to come, a significant trend will emerge that will leave much of big business sailing off like the Titanic in the direction of the iceberg… unable to change course quickly enough.

The trend?

Buying on real value.

Real value is the opposite of the “China price.” Real value is what we look for when we realize that funds are severely limited, that the probability of increased spending power in the future is low, and that what we purchase today (or this quarter, or this fiscal year) needs to last.

Businesses that understand this trend have the opportunity to act purposefully now — before it gains steam. And it will gain steam. 2009 and 2010 will see significant increases in mortgage defaults and foreclosures, further pressuring the housing market. The global economic crisis will create significant instability in the global supply chain. This will threaten the low prices for the cheap, disposable, planned-obsolescence goods that are the bread and butter of big-box retailers. We’ve already seen this happen with Best Buy and Circuit City, where the goods are non-essentials. But it will move to Wal-Mart when we realize that the toys, household items, furniture — and yes, even clothing — that we purchase may need to last a lot longer than China intends them to last.

And the same thing will occur in the business-to-business world as well. Long term value will begin to outrank short-term utility and low cost.

This isn’t a short-term shift. This is going to be a fundamental swing of the pendulum. The old mentality: solve the problem as quick as possible with little regard for the future… and do it cheaply. This created the “China Price” and the credit boom. Remember your grandma and her shoebox full of cash? Remember how she wouldn’t part with money for anything? Watch for a modern version of it to arise.

What does it all add up to?

Significant opportunity for local, small business. Now is the time to ramp up value. Build products and services that provide significant long-term return on investment — even if it changes your ability to sell for the lowest price. Retrain your salespeople and refocus your marketing message to demonstrate long-term value. Don’t gloss over the immediate benefit, but make sure you’re justifying what you’re asking your customers to spend.

But don’t confuse this new way of thinking for some sort of gimmick. If necessary, go back to the drawing board and retool your products and services. The market is going to expose the charlatans and reward those who are authentically creating value. If you’re concerned that you’ve built your house on sand, now’s the time to find some valuable footing and pour concrete.

That, my friends, is the most valuable New Year’s Resolution your business can make.