In this week's online forum, Tesswrite gets the ball rolling with questions about search engine marketing (SEM) and asks how important the process is for site owners. In response, our forum members explain how SEM works and offer tips for getting the best results. We also take a look at a discussion that offers tips on formatting Excel sheets to CVS (comma-separated values), and lastly, one forum member looking to start his first e-commerce business receives excellent advice on how to get started.
Feel free to add your own comments through a handy quick link to each topic, which lets you easily join in on the discussion and debate in our Small Business Computing forums.
This week in the Small Business & Ecommerce forums, Tesswrite has a few questions about SEM and Search Engine Optimization (SEO). In this discussion our forum members offer sound SEM advice and also provide tips on how to get started.
Tesswrite asked, "Why is SEO important, and can I do it myself? All the material I'm reading on SEO and SEM is so technical, that I have no idea what I'm actually reading. Please help."
Roban replied, "I suppose it seems daunting to the novice. I favor organic SEO because it deals with processes that haven't changed over time and have been proven to work. It is not as fast as PPC and other money-based systems, but it is proven and the least expensive.
Basically, if you do nothing, your site will get indexed but that is not the point of SEO. If you get 1,000 visitors per day it means nothing unless those visitors are looking for what your site offers. You want targeted visitors and 100 targeted visitors is better than 1,000 random ones."
JEccles said, "As Roban said SEO can be daunting, but it is something that I believe is totally doable for every site owner. Most important is content. Then get your name out there through directories, blogs, AdWords and every place you can think of. Remember that this is a daily thing -- you can't just do it one day and think youre done - it is an ongoing process."
QuikShop said, "The only issue with SEM, or SEO in particular is time. Putting aside regular blocks of time each week to carry out link swapping, adding a few informative articles to your Web site and other SEO techniques can over time make a big difference."
Formatting Excel to CVS
CVS, also known as comma-separated values, is a type of file format in which each piece of data is separated by a comma. This is a popular file format for transferring data from one application to another, because most database systems are able to import and export comma-delimited data.
Unfortunately for forum member Kernphilip, when he works with a catalog of 4,500 products, he is unable to get the Excel file into CVS format for uploading to his cart. This is an excellent forum thread for anyone encountering problems when converting Excel files to CVS.
Kernphilip said, "I am working on my product catalog, and I have about 4,500 products. I have an excel spreadsheet full of product descriptions. I've attached an excel file so you can see what I am working with.
When I turn this into a CSV to upload to my cart I lose all of the extended description formatting. How can I import this data without having it run into one long string?
I've tried replacing every "*" with "<br>" but it replaces the entire contents of the cell rather than just the "*". Any guidance would be appreciated.
Paul_858 asked, "How do you want the description formatted? If all the "*" are replaced by <br> do you think it would work? Are you basically looking for a way to convert the list in that cell to HTML? I could tell you a few ways to do it, but I just want to be sure of what you want the final outcome to be first.
Kernphilip answered, "The import in my cart does not read the hard or soft line returns so I do need to turn the cells into HTML. I'd love to know how to do that, without having to do each manually.
Paul_858 replied, "Well, you can try playing around with this function, but it should do what you are looking for.
Insert a new column into the sheet to the right of the Long Description column, let's call this new column "N" - so Long Description is "L" and the new column is "N". Enter this in cell N2:
This will replace all the leading "*" in cell L2. Just copy this formula down for all products. Then highlight the entire N column, copy it, and Past Special one column over, pasting VALUES only. The result should be a new column with all of the descriptions with a <br> instead of the "*" notation.
This should work out as an HTML list.
How To Get Paid Through My Web site
After reading through the Small Business Computing discussion forum, Chacha posted that he's looking for advice on how to get started with a new e-commerce business.
Chacha said, Hello all. This is a great site. I've spent the last two hours reading threads and enjoyed every minute of it. I am building a new Web site, and while I own a few already; none of them deal with e-commerce or payments through the site.
The site will be hosted in the U.S. It deals with video lessons and teachers offering their lessons on video, and it is very important for us to control the whole paying system through every step. Your comments would be very helpful.
Roban replied, "You might as well go with a cart system as they have payment gateways already in place. PayPal seems to be the beginner system-of-choice because opening an account doesn't cost anything, the payment process is secure and there are several options available such as adding shipping cost and taxes at the final process. You can also accept credit cards with it.
For a more professional approach you might want to consider a merchant account with a company such as Authorize.Net. This gives you the option of accepting credit cards without leaving your site, which only the Pro version of PayPal offers. There are several free carts available to you such as OsCommerce, Zen cart and version 3 of Cube Cart.
Make sure you are happy with your system before making your final decision. Once you set up your shop, it's not easy to transfer to another system. Most all carts are database-driven and transferring a database from one system to another is fraught with problems. Make your choice wisely.
Opensourceforce replied, "Authorize.net and QuickCom are two great gateway options for these carts. The program we recommend for either of these, and one that is very familiar for open source carts, is Ecom Exchange. They also have an option where they setup your payment gateway settings for you and walk you through the basics of all of your account details.
The Small Business discussion forums offer advice on data backup, recovery, servers, marketing issues and general discussion related to current trends and practices. Fellow small-business owners can network and share tips and advice. You can use the forums for knowledge gathering, or you can create a free member account to take part in the discussions and ask your own questions.
(Ed. Note: The forum postings in this story have been edited for grammar and clarity.)
Based in Nova Scotia, Canada, Vangie Beal has been writing about computers, games and technology since the early 90s. She's also the managing editor of Webopedia.
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