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The Ultimate SEO Toolbox

“How do I get my website to show up higher in search results?”

That question is oftentimes heard flying around meetings of entrepreneurs, small businesses, and large corporations alike. Search engine optimization is a science that is complex and constantly evolving, and developing a strategy can be difficult for some. (Having trouble? Hire an SEO expert on Elance.). However, if you’re looking to do a little dabbling in improving your website’s SEO, familiarize yourself with all of the tools in this Ultimate SEO Toolbox.

(Want more tips and SEO strategies? Search SEO on our blog, and you'll find more great stories like 5 Ways To Improve Your Search Rankings and Why You Need Social Media Bookmarking In Your SEO Strategy.)

SEO Chat Tools: SEO Chat Forums is a nicely equipped website with 41 free mini widgets that fulfill a variety of search engine optimization needs making it a great starting point for those looking to improve their website’s SEO. There’s an AdSense Calculator, an Advanced Meta Tag Generator, a Future PageRank preview, a Keyword Density analyzer, a Google vs. Yahoo search query tool, and a whole lot more. A great site definitely worth checking out. (Free)

Website Grader: This quick and easy tool allows you to get a brief report card on how your site’s SEO strategy stacks up and where you can make improvements. The tool grades you on six different criteria, which includes On-Page SEO (Metadata, Heading Summary, Image Summary, etc), Off-Page SEO (Domain Info, Google Page Rank, etc), Blogosphere, Social, Converting Qualified Visitors to Leads (RSS Feed, Conversion Form) and Competitive Intelligence. See if your website makes the grade. (Free)

Free, Open Source Alternatives To Retail Software

High-end software packages from giants like Adobe and Microsoft are an absolute pleasure to use – they’re the industry standard for a reason. But legitimate retail copies of the software can cost a pretty penny and put a dent in the wallets of small businesses and individuals.

However, there are free, open-source alternatives that are widely available on the web that can tackle some of the tasks that the big-brother software packages do on a regular basis. I’ve lined up a number of alternatives to the most popular programs – trust me, they can be very useful in a pinch.

(Interested in free Microsoft web development software? Check out the Microsoft WebsiteSpark program and you can get thousands of dollars of software at no cost.)

Adobe Photoshop Alternatives: GIMP and GIMPshop – GIMP, otherwise known as the GNU Image Manipulation Program, is one of the oldest and most well-known open-source projects out there today. The image editing program offers most basic and intermediate level functions, like resizing, editing, cropping, layers, filters, and more. Although you won’t be getting the same level of tools available in its powerful, high-end counterpart, don’t count the GIMP out for image editing needed in a pinch.

GIMPshop is a modification to the GIMP software package that changes the menus and user interface to offer an experience more similar to Photoshop. GIMP is available for Windows, Mac, Linux, and more, while GIMPshop is only available to Windows users.

More Photoshop Alternatives: CinePaint, Krita

Microsoft Office Alternatives: OpenOffice – If you’ve used a computer in the past 20 years, chances are that it had some form of the Microsoft Office suite installed. In recent years, however, OpenOffice, the Sun Microsystem-backed office suite, has been a turning a huge number of heads in the business world and has become a legitimate contender in the office suite arena. Its package offers Writer (Word), Calc (Excel), Impress (PowerPoint), Base (Access), Draw (Visio), and Math (Equation Editor).

You won’t be getting all of the Office Suite knickknacks, like Outlook, Publisher, InfoPath, OneNote, SharePoint, and Groove, but for the core functions, OpenOffice is definitely a solid choice. OpenOffice 3 is available for Windows, Mac, and Linux, and is ready to download today.

More Microsoft Office Alternatives: KOffice, Google Docs

Microsoft Outlook Alternatives: Thunderbird: - Outlook makes the corporate world go round – we all know that. But there are a couple of viable open source alternatives to the email-handling software that are available on multiple platforms. Mozilla, creators of the Firefox web browser, developed a fully-featured, open-source email client named Thunderbird. Thunderbird offers email search, message tagging, a fully customizable interface, add-ons and extensions, and more.

Mozilla Thunderbird 2 is available for Windows, Mac, and Linux and is ready to download today.

More Microsoft Outlook Alternatives: Evolution (for Linux)

5 Ways To Drive More Traffic To Your Website

“If you build it, they will come.”

If I've learned anything over the past few years, it's that this old axiom doesn’t always apply, especially in this day and age. Simply putting together a website with the latest technology platforms on top of a semi-clever URL won’t do the trick. There are, however, five simple things that you can implement to move the traffic needle up and improve your metrics.

Search Engine Optimization: Search engine optimization, otherwise known as SEO for short, is one of the hottest topics in website development today. Not in the know? Here's a quick rundown. According to Wikipedia, it’s “the process of improving the volume or quality of traffic to a web site from search engines via “natural” or un-paid search results as opposed to Search Engine Marketing (SEM).” It's like tidying up your website and filling out all of the appropriate forms so that search engine crawlers will get the most context from your site and reward you with a higher page rank.

The SEO game is constantly evolving and is a bit tricky, but there are a few basics methods you can utilize to get yourself started. Alex McArthur lined up “5 Easy Ways To Improve Your Search Rankings” right here. Looking for more? Search our blog with “Search Engine Optimization” and you’ll have plenty to go on from there.

The World Of Work Is Changing... So Why Isn't Legislation?

As pioneers of The New Way To Work, people on Elance are well aware of the benefits associated with our emerging work model. However, independent professionals in the United States face new government legislation. We have asked Regan Parker, responsible for government affairs at LiveOps, to share her perspective on regulatory issues that freelance and contract professionals in the U.S. should be aware of.

As a provider of services on Elance, you’re part of a much broader global movement that is changing the way the world works. At every level, the national media is recognizing the new world of work – a world where work doesn’t mean a long commute through traffic, a time clock, or a desk and cube in a big office building. Businesses like Elance and LiveOps are powering a new economy where workers are taking control of their schedules and their lives, trading in traditional “employment” and becoming independent freelancers and micro-business owners.

We’d all like to see government support this movement and encourage the sort of freedom and opportunity that this new freelance economy is bringing to modern workers. Unfortunately, government is often slow to react to change, and at times is even resistant to it. As the head of government affairs for LiveOps, I’ve been invited by the Elance team to share with you information about proposed legislation in Washington that would ultimately discourage companies from contracting with independent workers such as yourself and to let you know how you can get involved. This legislation is part of a growing trend in Washington to set us back decades in the name of worker protection reform and threatens your ability to provide freelance services and earn a living on your own terms.

Instead of providing the certainty that the classification test desperately needs, this legislation seeks to change the tax code to make it more difficult for companies to engage independent contractors. The bill, HR 3408, proposes to take away one of the safe harbors from the existing code, introduces classification status reviews, and automatic appeals for workers found to be contractors. In addition to these burdensome and costly processes, the bill also increases the fines for misclassification. Companies who engage contractors on a large scale and who have begun crowdsourcing work will face significantly higher risk if this legislation passes, resulting in a chilling effect on companies willing to engage a freelance workforce.

We can all understand the good intentions that motivate this legislation. There have been widespread abuses of contract labor and many people have been taken advantage of and denied a fair wage. Legitimate companies have been undercut by unscrupulous businesses who put forth a lower bid for a job by denying workers benefits and wages. Independent contracting cannot and should not be a way for companies to get a competitive advantage or to deny the basic rights that workers deserve.

But what some people in Washington don’t seem to understand is that for some, this independence is, in fact, a choice. For a growing minority, freedom, flexibility and the ability to work on one’s own terms outweigh any relative benefits that being an employee may bring. Unfortunately, in an effort to right the wrongs of worker abuse, Congress has failed to look at all of the positives taking place in the realm of workforce innovation. The world of work has changed. The securities that we once depended on are gone, and a new way of working has taken hold in this economy. Traditional employment is no longer the only viable option.

The New Way To Work Highlight: Victor Cheng

It’s October, and that means we’re about a third of the way in to our “The New Way To Work” contest. Our Facebook Fan Page and the #new_way_to_work hash tag are heating up, and we’ve already seen a number of great submissions come through (expect a lot more highlights coming soon.)

Today, we’re spotlighting an entry from “America’s Business Coach” Victor Cheng. His written blog entry dissects what The New Way To Work means to him personally, how it affects the “Traditional Success Paradigm”, how you can define your own new way to work, and how you and make the transition. Here’s an excerpt (from www.victorcheng.com):

A New Way to Work – Shatters the Traditional Success Paradigm

If money doesn't buy happiness and money doesn't even buy more free time, then what's the point of focusing exclusively on making more money? And if it's pointless to focus only on making more money, then what else should one focus on instead?

After reflecting on this one for a while that I came up with the concept of the Lifestyle Business — which is really an entirely new way to work.

In a traditional business, the entrepreneur works like a dog and whatever time and energy she has left over is devoted to her personal life. And surprise, surprise, the entrepreneur has the rude awakening one day that she has no life!

San Francisco Meets "The New Way To Work"

This past Tuesday, the Elance team took the 50-minute trip up highway 101 to go from sunny Mountain View to the bustling city of San Francisco for two very special events.

The sixth floor of the Small Business Administration building in downtown San Francisco was where we held our first event of the day, otherwise known as Elance 101 – How To Find, Hire, Manage, and Pay Online Experts To Get Work Done. The event was a two-and-a-half hour working session showing potential users the benefits of using Elance to get the work they need done as well as a real-live demo.

Jackie Pettus, founder of productivity / e-commerce site Habitudes.info, volunteered her business to be under the microscope and be the case study for our workshop. After searching high and low for answers, Jackie was in dire need of a revamped Search Engine Optimization strategy. Together, we performed a real-time play-by-play of how to post a job on Elance, what happens immediately thereafter, and how you use the features of the Workroom to manage and pay experts to get the job done.

Immediately after, we packed our things and headed down to the SOMA district for our first-ever Elance “Meet and Tweet”. Providers, employers, and fresh faces all joined us at Varnish Fine Art to unwind, have a glass of wine, and talk about “The New Way To Work”. Check out the festivities over at Flickr. (Huge thanks to Michael O ‘Donnell for the fabulous photography.)

Miss out? The Elance Team is planning on hitting BizTechDay later this month. For more information, visit the BizTechDay homepage – you won’t want to miss it.

A Message To Our Community

Many of you in our community are already aware of the several natural disasters in Southeast Asia affecting millions, namely the recent earthquake in Indonesia and the series of typhoons hitting the Philippines and other countries in the area.

As the Elance community truly is a global one, events like the recent natural disasters are felt all over the world, online as well as offline.

To all of our Elance providers currently in the region: Our thoughts are with you in this unfortunate time. We hope that you and your family are safe and unaffected by the natural disasters.

We have notified your clients that there may be a disruption in communication this week due to the disasters. If you have access to the Internet, please log in to Elance and let your customers know of your status.

To all of our Elance employers currently engaged with providers in the region:
Due to the recent natural disasters, there may be a disruption in communication with your provider.

We have sent a message to providers who have potentially been affected requesting that they contact their clients. However, on the behalf of affected providers, we request your patience during this time. If you are experiencing significant delays in your project, please contact us directly and we will do whatever we can to assist.

Our hearts and thoughts go out to all of those affected in Southeast Asia.

Sincerely,
Fabio Rosati
CEO, Elance

Authenticity: A Key Trend In Marketing

In a world where market trends change by the millisecond, it's difficult to stay on top of what technologies, services, and other external forces are affecting business trends today. Rich Sloan, co-founder of StartupNation and its "Home-Based 100" contest, gives us a quick peek in to his latest findings in the StartupNation Q3 Marketing Trends e-Report.

One of the hallmark trends we’ve highlighted in the just-released StartupNation Q3 Marketing Trends e-Report is the value and effectiveness of “authenticity.” People are tired of being “marketed to.” Instead, they want to connect with real people and real companies that care about the world and care about people.

Part of this may be driven by the plummeting economy, providing people an opportunity to reflect on what really matters in their lives. With an economic downturn, it’s natural to hunker down, spend less and look for real meaning in what we do.

And with the proliferation of social media and social networking platforms, the online conversation is growing louder and louder. In such an environment, it’s difficult for any company to hide behind its walls and present a faceless voice.

Instead, you would be wise to adapt to the trends of openness and authenticity and to show your customers the real you.

This trend is evidenced in the way that company leaders are getting involved in the online discussion through Facebook, Twitter and other similar online vehicles. As examples, look at the success of Tim Berry, President of Palo Alto Software, or of Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos, both of whom blog and Tweet regularly.

Similarly, look at the success of StartupNation member Heather Nolte, founder of the baby clothing company Glamajama. Heather is the face of the company, appearing in numerous YouTube videos, maintaining a Twitter feed and Facebook page, and blogging for StartupNation and Mom’s Can Launch.

Microsoft Ignites Elance Web Pros

Web architects, Web development teams, and Web designers, lend me your ears. Today, Microsoft brings WebsiteSpark to Elance, a new program designed to provide the latest Microsoft software development and support solutions for those who need it most: you.

As a WebsiteSpark member, you’ll have access to a software package worth thousands of dollars that includes the latest Microsoft Web development tools available on the market, like Visual Studio 2008, Windows Web Server 2008, and more. Also included in the WebsiteSpark program is access to a robust support program, which provides both live and online support for technical and non-technical issues.

There are a number of great reasons to join the WebsiteSpark program, but the best one is that it’s free to participate. Yes, free. If you and your web development business qualify, you’ll have access to everything mentioned above and a whole lot more at no cost to you.

Are you interested yet? Visit the WebsiteSpark program page for more information.

Elance Work System Part 5: The Workroom

This is a continuation of the Hands-On With The Elance Work System by Matt Katsaros. To read the previous part, follow this link here: Hands-On With The Elance Work System: Part 4.

One of the best parts about doing a job with Elance is using the Workroom, a virtual workspace that you can use to collaborate with others to get your work done. Think of it like this: It is a way of taking the 20, 200, or 2,000 miles between you and your provider and putting them in the workspace next door.

Using the Workroom, you can do a number of things like post messages, share a large number of files, and even chat in real time. Now, not all jobs are going to require all of the features available in the Workroom, so you are free to pick and choose whichever you see fit. I suggest using each feature at least once to see how it could help you for your job.

The feature used most often is the Workroom Messages system. This is where you can message your provider directly with information or instructions and also upload relevant attachments from your computer along with the messages. Any messages received from providers (depending on your settings) are forwarded to your email address on file where you can respond from your email client directly to the Workroom. This is a very nice feature as you can respond to Workroom messages through whatever you're most comfortable with, like Outlook, Hotmail, or even through your BlackBerry.



Last night, amstudio did his first take at a full mockup of the site and sent it to me via a Workroom message. He had a few questions and wanted to get my input on it before moving forward on developing the site. I looked at it and thought it was pretty good, but I felt like it wasn't going the direction I was looking for. There were a couple things that didn’t come out the way I had imagined, so I messaged him back with my comments to make my according changes.

The file share area lets you upload files that you can put in a private folder (for you to see) or a shared folder (for you and your provider to see). You can also view the files from the original proposal and terms here. In addition to this, anytime you send a file to the Workroom, it is automatically placed in the public folder of the file share area. You are given 500 MB of free storage place per project to store all of your necessary files, which should be more than enough space for any job.

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