Technology has tipped the scales in favor of the pirates. In l972

Congress made it easier for hardworking authors, composers, and film

producers to obtain copyrights for their creations. But that

protection was no match for the scores of software programs that allow

mouse-click downloading, recording, and redistribution of almost any

intellectual property. If you can produce it, it’s a cinch to

reproduce it.

Copyright laws do not legislate penalties for the thieves. The

responsibility for justice falls upon the copyrighted author, who must

discover the pirate, bring him to court, and prove that his original

goods were illegally reproduced. It is this final step that has

provided a conduit-size loophole for film and music pirates. The

difficulty of tracing illegal distribution and undeniably identifying

the product as their own has forced many entertainment companies to

shrug helplessly while royalties fly out the cyberwindows. Adams Media

Research recently reported that filmmakers lost $3 billion to pirates

in 2004, while music producers took a $4 billion hit.

Enter the embedded digital watermark. Hopes from Hollywood to

Nashville are riding on this new wave of detection technology. On

Thursday, February 17, at 7:30 p.m. Jeffery Lubin gives a free talk on

"Preventing Piracy with Digital Watermarking" at the Sarnoff

Corporation. Call 609-582-7086 for more information. The talk is

sponsored by the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) and IEEE.

Lubin, an experimental psychologist working at Sarnoff, has just

invented iTrace, a digital watermarking system. The creation of this

new watermark came as a somewhat tangential outgrowth of his previous

Emmy-winning creation. A native of South Orange, and the son of a

medical doctor, Lubin graduated from Swarthmore (Class of 1981) with a

degree in psychology. He earned his Ph.D. the University of

Pennsylvania, where he did work on a human vision system modeling. He

used this system in developing machine vision algorithms for robotics.

His last 15 years have been spent with Sarnoff making images look

better on screen. In 2000 Lubin lead a team which won a technical Emmy

"for pioneering equipment to provide objective measurement of

perceptible quality in digital television systems." It is one of 15

patents the inventor has to his credit.

After helping film makers produce better images, Lubin turned his hand

at helping them keep profit in their pictures.

Copy protection. "Copy protection is necessarily a

hopeless task," says Lubin. Encrypt it, codify it, add as many keys as

you like, there comes some point where a film must be shown to a

legitimate user. At that point anyone can download it, or can take a

very viable copy right off the screen by recording it with a tiny

camcorder.

With commercial Hollywood films a master is cut and then a specified

number of limited editions are produced and sent to theaters or

distributors. Within that transfer stage, anyone can pirate a copy –

and people frequently do. Both television and DVD producers have tried

a host of access controls, all of which swiftly and invariably have

fallen before the hackers’ onslaughts. If they can’t break the

encryption, they merely copy the product when it is being legitimately

played.

The telltale clue. No, watermarks are not the result of

spilling Perrier over your laptop. The term takes its name from a

practice used by paper manufacturers beginning in the 13th century.

Using a water and light chemical, papermakers would trace their

personal emblem on each sheet to brand it as their own. Today’s

digital era has borrowed the term, if not the method. A digital

watermark entails imperceptible insertion of information into

multimedia data. It might be a number or a textual change. Once

implanted, it can be detected by a special method and identified as

belonging to the original creator.

This means that if an additional copy of a movie is made during the

transfer from the master, the watermark goes right along into the

copy. If you cannot stop the piracy, catching the pirate red-handed

should become, well, elementary. A forensic digital sleuth merely has

to wave his watermark reader at any suspicious copy and if the logo

glows, that copy holder may be guilty of infringement.

Almost any embedded unique characteristic can be used as a watermark,

says Lubin. It could be as simple as a defined variation in the

voice-over of the narrator. The trick is to make it robust – that is

to make it endure through the transfer. This involves the right

implanted identity in the right location. If, for instance, the

watermark is implanted right in with the format, it will drop right

out when the format is changed and the newly formatted copy will show

no trace of the mark.

Semi-fragile watermarks, the type that are highly

sensitive to any modification, such as compression, serve some

purposes in document identification. But the movie industry needs

watermarks strong enough to withstand transfers by everything from

sensitive video to camcorders.

Another problem is watermark detection. Most commercial users seek a

private, or non-blind, reader method that requires the original work

and a specific cover signal to find the watermark in a copy. However,

other methods are currently in the works, such as a public, or blind,

reader that would require only a single piece of software. Another

possibility is what is called an asymmetric mark, which anyone could

read instantly if were provided with a single key. The former method

allows the owner to trap the pirate silently in the act. The latter

hopes to ward off the potential thief by telling every user that these

goods are stolen.

Genius of iTrace. Of iTrace, Lubin says: "I don’t know why

anyone didn’t think of it before. It’s such a simple concept really."

He is speaking of his latest watermark invention, which has

substantially raised the bar for this entire field of research.

Developed at Sarnoff by Lubin’s team, the new iTrace Watermark has

proved itself totally invisible and very effective. No matter how hard

you compress, distort, dice, slice, or chop the original, the iTrace

data survives. It even gets passed right along with camcorder or

low-bit copying.

The simplicity of the iTrace concept is perhaps more obvious to an

expert human vision scientist, however, than to the standard computer

programmer. "Human vision is amazingly acute at the mid-to-upper

frequencies," says Lubin. "Yet for the past few years designers have

been embedding these high, squeaky marks within these frequencies."

The result has been grainy film splotches or noise.

Lubin merely aimed lower and sought to dive beneath human visual

perception. Finding the video sweet spot, he embeds what he calls

"long, low blobs of light." It involves a data implanting rate of a

sluggish 20 bits per minute. Lower and slower has translated into

stronger and undetectable.

In the 18th century, the best bargains in jewelry were always found

dockside. Nobody said they came from pirates, but everybody knew.

Today, ever since the Napster became wildly popular in the 1990s,

producers of film, music, and the published word again struggle with

pervasive piracy. With Lubin’s new watermark technology, the scales

could tip back in favor of the artist.

— Bart Jackson

Changing Tax Laws: Paying Attention May Pay Dividends

Taxes may be one of the perennial certainties, but the exact mechanism

by which the government exacts its due is a moving target. As quickly

as tax lawyers analyze the implications of new tax law and advise

their clients on appropriate tax strategies, the law may change,

either incrementally or in toto. Joseph Mahon, tax lawyer at Cooper

Levenson, a firm with offices at 212 Carnegie Center, says that today

"the tax landscape is changing dramatically – with many implications

for both income tax and estate planning."

Mahon sees the current legislative environment as one ripe for change.

"While tax reform is always popular among politicians, the Republicans

appear to have the votes in the Senate to enact permanent reforms," he

says. Since 1990 the body has been stymied by the Byrd rule, which

allows a senator to raise objections to extraneous provisions

unrelated to the goals of a congressional budget resolution, for

example, any measure that creates increases in outlays or decreases in

revenues farther out than 10 years.

In an effort to avoid the Byrd rule, which may be waived only by a 60

percent vote of the Senate, the Tax Act of 2001 includes a sunset

provision that imposes an expiration date of December 31, 2010. But

now Republicans in the Senate may have enough votes to waive the Byrd

rule altogether, allowing them to impose tax reforms that may last for

a long time.

The consequence of tax reform, says Mahon, is a shift of the "tax

burdens from one part of the population to another, and as the burdens

shift, traps for the unwary can be created." To increase awareness of

the implications of changing tax and estate law, Mahon speaks at a

free public seminar on estate and federal income tax on Thursday,

February 17, at 7 p.m. The event, sponsored by the New Jersey State

Bar Foundation, takes place at the New Jersey Law Center in New

Brunswick. Call 732-937-7518 for more information.

Despite the changing environment, says Mahon, "tax benefits continue

for those who prepare appropriately." With regard to estate taxes,

these benefits can be realized principally in three ways. The first is

creating a trust to use up the exemption amounts. Current federal law

allows an exemption of $1.5 million per person, which may be

transferred either during someone’s lifetime or at death free of

estate and gift taxes. The exemption will increase to $2 million in

2006.

In order to pass down the total exemption amounts for both spouses to

heirs, the best path is to create a credit shelter trust "to benefit

the surviving spouse and still keep the property from being subject to

estate taxes when the surviving spouse dies," says Mahon. But as

exemption amounts have increased from the original $600,000, he

cautions, the income tax aspects of estate planning have become much

more significant, because the original planning for the lower

exemption amount may preserve income tax liabilities.

"Estate plans should be reviewed to determine what planning is still

appropriate and what income taxes may be avoided," he advises.

The second tactic for keeping estate tax to a minimum involves taking

advantage of the marital deduction. The marital deduction, created by

Congress in 1982, allows a person to pass his or her entire estate to

the surviving spouse free of federal estate taxes, thereby deferring

until the death of the surviving spouse any taxes owed beyond the

exemption amount. "The marital deduction can be obtained by either

giving the spouse the property outright or by creating a trust," says

Mahon. Trusts are useful in later-marriage situations, especially when

your children are not the children of your spouse, and you want to

make sure that when the surviving spouse dies, what remains will go to

the desired beneficiaries.

The third way to hedge against a large estate tax bill is to purchase

life insurance. "Life insurance is the single most tax-favored form of

investment vehicle," Mahon says. "It is not subject to current income

taxes and the proceeds are not subject to income taxes." Why? Because

Congress saw life insurance as "social policy that favors making

provisions for widows and orphans."

Especially in the case of closely held businesses, life insurance is a

tax-efficient way to set aside money on a regular basis as savings for

estate taxes. "Frequently businesses are illiquid in nature and the

imposition of estate taxes is an enforced transaction that they don’t

have funds readily available to pay," Mahon says. When an owner dies,

there are typically three options for paying estate taxes: selling the

business, borrowing money, or using life insurance proceeds.

Mahon adds that these three common strategies are merely "the tip of

the planning iceberg." The situation is even more complicated for New

Jersey residents than for residents of a number of other states. This

is so because New Jersey’s estate tax kicks in at $675,000.

"The states are also pressed for revenue currently," says Mahon. "The

ongoing tax reform is reducing the level of revenue sharing that the

federal government had given to the states." As a result, New Jersey

has raised additional revenue by way of its 2002 reduction of the

estate tax exemption to $675,000, thereby imposing its estate tax on

many more people than the federal estate tax.

Another important consideration in tax planning involves the

alternative minimum tax (AMT), which Mahon explains as "a second

income tax system that has become quite significant for many

taxpayers." Imposed at a flat rate of 28 percent, it applies to people

who have large amounts of certain types of income and deductions,

called "tax preference items," that get added back to income for

purposes of establishing a base amount for the AMT. Qualified

incentive stock options, for example, are considered tax preference

items. "While ISOs create capital gains for ordinary income tax

purposes when the stock is sold," he explains, "the value in excess of

the strike price is an item of tax preference when the option is

exercised."

The AMT, which was created to prevent people with very high incomes

from using loopholes in order to pay little or no tax, is an extra tax

some people have to pay on top of regular income tax. This tax is

reaching more people yearly, even some who don’t have very high income

and don’t have special tax benefits. A report by the Joint Economic

Committee of Congress issued in May 2001 states: "Unlike the regular

income tax, the AMT is not indexed for inflation. Over time, inflation

and economic growth have made the AMT affect more and more taxpayers."

In New Jersey high property taxes also push taxpayers onto the AMT

rolls. The report estimated that in 1990 the AMT affected only about

132,000 taxpayers, whereas in 2010 it would affect 17 million; other

estimates place the number of AMT payers in 2010 as high as 33

million.

Mahon received a B.A. from the University of Pennsylvania in 1977, a

J.D. from Rutgers University School of Law in 1980, and an LL.M. in

taxation from New York University in 1983. He joined Cooper Levenson

as a partner in 2001 and his practice concentrates on matters

involving trusts and estates with emphasis on the preservation and

transfer of individual wealth and property while minimizing estate,

gift, and income taxes.

Looking to the future, Mahon observes that the federal estate tax is

scheduled to be totally repealed in 2010. "If the federal estate tax

repeal goes forward, it will be replaced by a broad-based federal

income tax on capital gains that will apply to many more people than

the estate tax has ever applied to," he predicts.

Mahon’s advice is to stay on top of things and plan for the future.

"The best thing to do in this changing tax environment is (1.) to be

aware of all the taxes that may apply as they increase in number; (2.)

to plan for the taxes as they now exist; and (3.) to review the

planning frequently – once every year or two – and to remain flexible

to be able to conform to potential changes in tax law.

— Michele Alperin

Maxing the Return On Your Ad Dollars

Ellen Silverman wants to educate business people on the value of

advertising. "I’ve been in business over 23 years and whether I work

with someone who is new in business or someone who has been around for

a while they usually don’t understand the media," she says. To address

that need, Silverman teaches a class on "The Art of Advertising" at 6

p.m., on Thursday, February 17, at Raritan Valley Community College in

North Branch. The three-hour workshop is designed to teach

participants "when and why to integrate advertising into a marketing

plan." Cost: $42. Call 908-526-1200, ext. 8515.

Silverman is the founder of ESA, a full service marketing and

advertising firm located in Bedminster. Her firm offers "coaching,

consultation and strategic planning, and creative promotions," says

Silverman, who has an extensive background in all phases of marketing.

She also does a number of workshops, seminars, and telephone seminars

on a variety of marketing topics and recently earned certification as

a Guerrilla Marketing Coach, one of only approximately 100 certified

coaches in the United States and Canada.

Silverman worked in marketing for a publishing company and other

businesses before opening her own firm. She sees herself "as a writer

and an idea person."

Not learning about advertising rates and contracts is one of the

biggest mistakes most advertisers make, says Silverman. Many business

owners don’t know that "open rates," the rates for one-time ads, can

be significantly more expensive than the rates for advertising

contracts, which specify that an ad be run a number of times. She also

notes that advertisers should consider both display and classified ads

when planning their advertising budget.

"I had a client who was with a $10 million company," says Silverman.

"They’d been in business long enough that they should have known what

they were doing. They were running newspaper ads on a contract and

after I’d been working with them for a while I found that their HR

department was running help wanted ads on regular basis and being

charged the open rate. No one had ever asked about a contract." By

changing to a contract, the department was able to save over 30

percent on the costs of its classified advertising.

What should advertisers know before making that all important decision

on where to spend their dollars? Silverman lists several items to ask

about:

Media kits. "Every newspaper, magazine, radio, and cable

company has a media kit," says Silverman, and every advertiser should

study it before deciding on what to buy. The kit should contain a rate

card that shows the demographics for the publication or station,

including total circulation, geographic information, and information

on the target market it reaches, such as businesses or households,

women, or teenagers.

"If a newspaper reaches a half a million people but they aren’t in

your target market, you’ve just wasted your money," says Silverman.

"If I am a business-to-business company and I’m in a publication that

is targeting homeowners, I’m not reaching my market. You have to know

your own target market first, before you can make educated decisions."

Rate cards. It is important to note that every publication has

different options available. Checking one rate card does not

necessarily give you any idea about another publication, even if you

view them as similar. "Some publications go by column inches, others

have preset sizes," explains Silverman. In addition, many publication

companies own more than one newspaper or magazine. "Sometimes you can

pick and choose which ones you want to be in." Here again it is

important to know the geographic area of each publication to make sure

that it matches your target audience.

Contracts. In most cases a contract lasts for a year, so

that the advertising can be spread out over a period of weeks or

months. It’s better, says Silverman, to run a small ad several times,

rather than a large ad one time, and it will often cost about the same

amount. "The first level of any contract is usually 15 to 30 percent

less than the open rate," she says.

Running the same ad over and over increases your name recognition,"

says Silverman. "People don’t respond to strangers."

Segments. While advertising in magazines and newspapers

can seem confusing, radio and television advertising is even more

complex because there are so many variables. Radio divides the day

into segments, such as morning drive time, afternoon, and evening

drive time. "At one station the rates can vary not only with the

different times of days, but with different disc jockeys," she says.

The station may have two different DJs during the morning drive time

period, for instance, with ad rates higher for one DJ than the other.

"It depends on the popularity and the ratings of the particular

program," says Silverman.

Demographics. It is possibly even more important in radio

and television to know the demographics of the station you are

advertising with. "If the newspaper comes in the house and it isn’t

read right away, it sits around and maybe it is looked at later. If

the right people aren’t listening when your ad comes on the radio,

they just don’t hear it," Silverman says. "You’ve thrown your money

away."

"If you want to reach mothers you should probably be advertising in

the afternoon. If you want to reach business people, advertise during

the morning drive time and afternoon drive time."

In addition, she says, "if you don’t have a lot of money to spend,

don’t scatter your ads throughout the day to get a better rate. Try

fewer ads during one particular period; say every day between 6 a.m.

and 9 a.m."

Cable. Cable has increased the complexity of advertising

on television. "You have to know which cable systems reach your market

area," says Silverman. "In a lot of areas you have to advertise with

more than one cable company to reach your entire target area."

The most important thing that Silverman wants advertisers to

learn is what questions they need to ask when talking to an ad

salesperson. "I can’t repair my car, but I do know what questions to

ask my mechanic," she says. To get a return on an advertising

investment, the business person must be able to make to make an

informed decision. "If not," she cautions, "you might just as well

light a match to your ad dollars and burn them."

— Karen Hodges Miller

Banking 101 for Women

‘Shopping for a bank is like shopping for anything else you buy," says

Tina Orben of Yardville National Bank. "You need to look at the

services that are provided and seek out the institution that fits

those needs."

Orben speaks on "Banking Relationships and Financing" at the Women and

Money Series on Thursday, February 17, at 6:30 p.m. at the Mercadien

Group, 3625 Quakerbridge Road. Other speakers are Marguerite Mount and

Sherise Ritter, partners in the Mercadien Group. Their topic is

"Having a Strategic Plan." Call Gail Hudson at 609-689-2401 to make

free reservations.

Banking needs vary from person to person and business to business,

says Orben, who is starting her seventh year at the Yardville National

Bank. "Some people are looking for state-of-the-art technology while

others are looking for the personal touch."

Yardville National Bank is an independent bank that was founded in New

Jersey in 1925. It now has over 20 branches in Mercer, Huntington, and

Burlington counties in central New Jersey and Bucks County in

Pennsylvania. "It is harder today to be an independent bank," says

Orben. "There is a lot of regulation that makes it difficult for

independent banks."

When looking for a bank for either personal or business banking, Orben

advises people to look at several of the banking institutions in their

area before making a decision. "Find out what their customer base is.

Talk to your friends and associates and see what bank they use and

what problems they might have had."

After you have narrowed your choices, Orben suggests visiting a nearby

branch to meet the manager. "If you are a business owner, at some

point you will need to borrow money. It is good to develop a

relationship with your banker before that time," she says. She says

that it’s a good idea to spend time talking with the branch manager,

and socializing with him outside of the bank as well. "If he invites

you to lunch or to play golf, take him up on that," she says. That

way, when it comes times for a loan, you already have a banker who

knows you.

While sharing a drink at the 19th hole can open make a banker more

receptive to a financing request, it is far from a guarantee. When

bankers consider underwriting a loan they often use "the five Cs."

Orben defines them this way:

Conditions. The banker will look at a variety of

conditions surrounding the loan, including current economic

conditions, the local real estate market, and issues – some of them

beyond the control of the individual borrower.

Capacity. The banker will consider the borrower’s capacity

to repay the loan on time. "It is important the borrower have a plan

A, and a back-up plan B," says Orben. For example, an individual who

is starting a new business may still keep working at his old job, or

have a working spouse who can help to repay the loan if the business

fails.

Collateral. Collateral, or property used to secure a loan,

can be part of a back-up plan. Fledgling entrepreneurs often use their

homes as collateral. Stock portfolios are another popular option.

Cash Flow. The cash flow of the business is another way in which

bankers insure that the borrower will have the ability to repay a

loan. "I know people don’t understand why they need to give the bank

all that information. They think it just goes into a black hole

somewhere, but bankers really do use it," says Orben. "The cash flow

analysis is used to help them decide on a person’s ability to repay a

loan."

Character. The final "C," character, is often the area

where "the banker has some leeway," says Orben. "Banking is a heavily

regulated industry, with both internal and external regulations. We

have to be able to show that we do not discriminate when we lend

people money, that we use the same criteria for everyone.

"Everyone has something in their background that can affect their

credit. Maybe a divorce or medical bills. Whatever it is, talk to your

banker upfront. Don’t let them find out later," she says.

If you are turned down for a loan, always ask why, says Orben. "It

might be something as simple as the bank not seeing that you have

enough collateral to pay off the loan. Maybe you have forgotten a

piece of property or something else you can use as collateral, or

maybe you have a parent or another person who will secure the loan for

you."

Once you have the loan, continue talking with your branch manager. "If

you have a problem, make sure you tell your banker before you are late

with your payment. That way it may be possible to work something out."

Before joining Yardville National Bank, Orben worked for "a multitude

of organizations." She began in banking right out of college, where

she received a business degree from Fairleigh Dickinson University.

She "fell into banking through a summer job" and found she really

enjoyed the work.

"I like helping people, whether it is an individual to find an

investment, or helping a business looking for a loan," she says. She

also enjoys educating people, especially women, about banking and

finances. A member of the Mercer County Chamber of Commerce, her

interests have also gotten her involved with the chamber’s Women in

Business committee.

"I like passing my knowledge on to women," she says. "Men are much

better about passing knowledge about finance and banking and business

on to others. That old boy network really works."

In banking, a male-dominated profession, women often feel at a

disadvantage; a fact she discovered several years ago when giving a

seminar on banking for women. "I had 50 women show up on a Saturday

morning and they had a flood of questions," she says. "A lot of women

are afraid to ask questions if they aren’t comfortable with the

person. They need to find a banker they can be completely open and

honest with to meet their needs."

— Karen Hodges Miller

At Home on the Web

A business on the web is just like any other business according to

Suzanne Engels. Whether a website is the main selling tool for a

company, or part of a larger strategy, it needs the same care,

attention, and professionalism as a "brick and mortar" business.

Engels, a website designer and information architect consultant, is

the guest speaker at a seminar on website design and management hosted

by the Marketing Club of the Middlesex/Somerset chapter of NJAWBO (New

Jersey Association of Women Business Owners). The seminar, "Design

Your eBusiness Marketing Plan," takes place on Tuesday, February 22,

at 8:15 a.m. at Arbor Glen in Bridgewater. Cost: $25. Call

732-868-1300.

The workshop focuses on how website content affects marketing, along

with options for reaching potential customers on the Internet, and how

to evaluate the effectiveness of banner ads, paid search engines such

as Google and Yahoo, and other Internet directory listings. The

Internet is definitely not one-size-fits-all, and Engels talks about

tailoring ‘Net marketing to individual business goals and budgets.

Everyone attending has an opportunity "to complete a plan,

step-by-step, using the handout, the presentation material and class

discussion," says Engels. "In just over an hour, you have a realistic

plan of action to build your business on the web."

Along with her consulting and web design business, WebArtNTech, Engels

holds seminars on website design and marketing throughout New Jersey

and is an adjunct professor at the Rothman Institute for Entrepreneurs

at Fairleigh Dickinson University. She studied sculpting at the

University of Illinois, and graduated with a degree in fine arts.

"When I realized I couldn’t make a living at sculpting I went back to

school in electronics," she says. She received an AAS degree in

digital electronics and an MS in computer science from Boston

University. She worked for Bell Labs and then Lucent Technologies for

21 years, first in CAD (computer aided design) and later as a software

engineer. When Lucent offered an early retirement package in 2001,

Engels took it, and opened her own business, WebArtNTech

(www.webartntech.com) in 2002. It is based in East Brunswick.

Engels’ niche includes affordability. She says many small business

owners come to her after talking to a full service web design company

and hearing that it will cost several thousand dollars to get

something basic on the web. She says that her background in both art

and software makes it possible for her to "offer something that looks

professional but doesn’t cost a mint."

In addition to her teaching and her work with small businesses, Engels

also acts as an information architect consultant for several large

corporations. An information architect, she explains, helps to

organize and build site strategy for large web sites. "Things have to

flow and work together on the site and that gets tricky sometimes,"

she says. "I visualize what the site will look like and build a model

of it before the site is built so that it will all flow together."

Search engine optimization. The most important thing for a

small business owner to be aware of is the recent change in search

engine strategies, says Engels. "Search Engine Optimization, or SEO,

is something we’re hearing a lot about these days," she says. In the

last six to eight months, the large search engines, such as Google and

Yahoo, have made major changes to the way in which they search for

websites to list. "The smaller search engines obviously will go right

along," she says.

"It used to be that the search engines only looked at keywords coded

inside the website that the average person didn’t see," she explains.

While keywords and metatags are still used on websites, they are not

relied on as heavily as in the past. Today the search engines are

looking at "textual content" of websites to decide on rankings.

To increase your chances of a higher ranking on the search engines you

should use identifying names to describe your product or service

multiple times in your website, Engels advises. "The number of times

the same word or phrase shows up now has a lot to do with the

rankings. That didn’t used to be true."

While it may seem confusing to many business owners who thought they

had just gotten a handle on those tricky keywords, Engels says the new

system actually "levels the playing field" for small business websites

and makes the websites easier for potential customers to read.

When developing a web page, Engels suggests using keywords and phrases

multiple times throughout the site. "The number of times phrases show

up has a lot to do with the rankings," she says. "Think about what the

person searching for your product will look for. What words would they

type into Google if they were looking for your product?" Use those

words over and over throughout the site. "Repeat words and phrases

much more often than you would in a printed promotional piece for your

business."

Primary products. The second tip that Engels suggests for

website owners is to focus on their business’s primary product or

service. Primary products. The second tip that Engels suggests for

website owners is to focus on their business’s primary product or

service. "Because most people have a limited budget, they can’t

present everything that they sell or every service they can provide on

their website," she says.

"Think about ‘what do I sell the most of’ and feature it prominently

on your website," she says. Another method involves deciding which

product or service has the highest profit margin. "That’s what you

want to be featuring, because that’s where you’ll make your money,"

she adds. If you have space, you can feature a second or third

product, but if not, a list of "other" products, along with

instructions on how to contact your company will work.

Defined sales region. The Internet brings small business

the ability to market to the world. However, if you only work within a

certain region, make sure you state that prominently on your website

so that your potential customers can find it. "Make it clear what your

target market is," says Engels. "If you only work in one region, make

it clear, or if you are able to sell something nationwide, make that

clear, too. The person in Chicago wants to know if he can actually buy

your product, even though you are in New Jersey."

Well thought-out strategy. One of the best ways to come up

with ideas for a website is to take a look at what other companies in

your field are doing. Says Engels. "Look at all types of companies,

large and small. Decide if you want to look like they do or if you

want to look different."

Budget. Websites, says Engels, are one of the most

affordable ways for people to get into business. "There are a lot of

costs you cut out, and you can still reach a much bigger market," she

says. "A small business can now reach the whole country."

— Karen Hodges Miller

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