PPH gets a makeover

June 30, 2008

As you may have already noticed, we have launched the new design of PeoplePerHour.com earlier today.

PPH new design

While many of you had given us positive feedback in the past about the old design, we wanted to give a more “modern” feel to the site while maintaining the way the site is structured so that it is still easy to find information and use the site.

Hopefully, you will agree that the new look is a positive change but as always, we welcome any feedback – positive or negative – so please get in touch and let us know your thoughts on the new design.

We have done our best to iron out any bugs and ensure that the new design works well on all major browsers (e.g. Internet Explorer, Mozilla Firefox, Safari etc) but if you have noticed something that does not work/display as it should on your machine please give us a shout and we’ll fix it asap.

Being able to make the right choice between hiring a full-time employee and outsourcing a function or activity is crucial for growing small businesses and by no means an easy choice in a lot of cases.

We have put together a list of important criteria to consider before making such a choice.

How long your need will continue for?

One of the most important questions to answer is how long your particular need for the skills in question will continue for. If you are unsure or you are looking to staff a particular project, outsourcing to a contractor or freelancer is the best way to go.

The other parameter that should be examined is flexibility – if you need to remain flexible and being able to easily and quickly divert resources and budget where needed, a freelancer or contractor will be ideal.

Independent contractors and freelancers can be particularly suited:

  • During economic downturns – using a contractor allows you to easily scale back on expenses by terminating the contract. This is not the case with full-time employees as it is legally (and emotionally!) more difficult to terminate, as well as most costly.
  • When you need more help during a particular season/period. Hiring contractors or freelancers is a good way of dealing with seasonal needs while keeping your company flexible
  • What your company is growing but you are not yet at a stage where you can confidently predict future revenues and hence able to justify a permanent hire.

Does it make financial sense?

Before hiring an employee, it is a good idea to do a cost comparison exercise. Depending on the geography, hiring an employee adds an extra 30%-45% to your cost because of the benefits, pension, holiday pay, training, NI and other expenses associated with a permanent appointment.

The above exercise will enable you to compare like-for-like when it comes to comparing the cost of a contractor to that of a permanent employee. It will also enable you to work out the point at which you will ‘break even’ if you were to hire a full-time employee i.e. how long it would take before hiring a contractor becomes more expensive than paying for a permanent hire.

Typically, a lot of small businesses start by outsourcing to a contractor and freelancer and then transitioning to a full-time employee as they are nearing this break even point or as they are confident of future needs/revenues. This is generally a sign that your company is outgrowing the outsourcing arrangement.

What skills do you need?

If you need specialised skills and extensive experience, hiring an independent contractor or freelancer is the easier and most cost-effective way of getting the skills you need.

Small businesses can more often than not struggle to find and attract highly-skilled and experienced staff as they cannot beat the salaries offered by the bigger players or offer the same level of security and ‘CV building’.

If you are a small business, you are also most likely to need a number of different skill sets, making it virtually impossible to find a permanent employee with all the required skills. By hiring freelancers with the necessary skills, you can cover all your needs in a financially viable way.

How much management time can you afford to invest?

A lot of small business owners often underestimate the time they need to devote in managing permanent staff. Trying to grow a small business and properly manage permanent employees can be extremely challenging, so it’s important to only hire when absolutely necessary.

Hiring a permanent employee and not having time to manage them properly will almost certainly result in losing that employee after a few months so it’s important to be realistic when it comes to taking on permanent staff.

Handling performance and personal issues, training, defining work assignments, team-building and similar necessary activities can quickly take up a lot of your time whereas outsourcing to an external provider does not require day-to-day management or assistance as freelancers and contractors get paid to deliver and are expected (and used to) working independently.

How search engines rank websites

Before any Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) work takes place, we need to understand how search engines work. A widely-held misconception is that search engines rank websites; they don’t!

Search engines rank web pages – a common mistake is to assume that if your website is optimised for a number of keywords, all the traffic will go to your homepage. While the homepage is usually the most prominent page within a site, the search engines will also look at your web pages individually and determine which ones are most relevant for the keyword search for.

This concept is something you should always have in mind when undertaking any optimisation work, since collectively the ‘other’ pages on your site can easily attract considerably more traffic than your homepage. This is particularly true for any sites with regularly updated content e.g. sites with user-generated content, blogs etc.

Getting your new site noticed

While most search engines will sooner or later find your new website, this can take some time. Luckily, you can speed up the process by getting inbound links from trusted, popular sites. When Google and other search engines crawl these sites they will follow the links to your site and add the content from your site in their database.

You can also submit your site to the most popular search engines (Google and Yahoo offer this facility); this will place your site in a queue of sites to be crawled but as this approach can sometimes take months it is recommended to focus on placing relevant links on high-traffic sites instead.

Classifieds sites like Craigslist or Gumtree can be particularly good for this as they are crawled very often by the search engines due to their popularity and changing content and can often result in your website getting crawled within a couple of days. Just remember make sure that your listing contains a proper hyperlink to your site (writing the full URL of your website will usually automatically make them into a hyperlink e.g. http://www.PeoplePerHour.com).

Basic Optimisation of your web pages

This is usually referred to as ‘onsite’ optimisation work, as it involves working on structuring your web pages (or the information on your web pages) in the most effective way to ensure that they achieve the best possible ranking in the Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs). Unless you have technical skills, you will most probably need the help of a webmaster or SEO expert to implement some of these changes.

This is by no means an exhaustive list since search engines will take a lot of factors into account when ranking web pages, but should get you off to a good start:

  • Page Title: The page title is the text that appears in the top blue bar of your browser. This is one of the key parameters used by search engines to determine the relevance of a page, so make that an appropriate page title is placed on each of your pages. Ideally, you would like the page title to be as relevant as possible to the content of the web page and contain keywords or key phrases that you would like to appear for in the SERPs. The Page Title also appears in the SERPs, so having a good, relevant page title will increase the chances of your link in the SERPs being clicked.
  • URL: The URL is simply the web address of a web page – having relevant keywords in the URL can help your rankings. To achieve this, you will need to work with your web designer/developer to insert these keywords in each page. A word of caution; avoid excessively long URLs as they can have a negative impact.
  • Text: An SEO saying states that ‘content is king’, meaning that no other SEO technique can beat good, relevant content. While SEO is a combination of many factors it is true that if you do not have the relevant content on your website, it will be very difficult to appear in the SERPs. A lot of people place emphasis on the ‘keyword density’ of the pages but search engine algorithms change constantly so you are better off creating the text with your users in mind while trying to include any keywords you consider important for your site.
  • Metadata: Meta tags are not as important as they used to be but it is still worth ensuring that the right keywords are entered on each page of your site. Again, you will need to work with your webmaster to insert this content on each page and ensure that each page has metadata which is specific to it (as opposed to generic for the site).

Building relevant Inbound Links

Inbound links are links from other web sites to your site. It is important to try and obtain relevant links to your site, meaning that the sites linking to yours have a related ‘theme’ to your site. If you are selling books online for example, an inbound link from a website with book reviews will be very relevant while a link from a mobile phone web site will not.

Broadly speaking, the more relevant inbound links you have the higher your page rankings will be so you should be aiming to get as many of these links as possible. Strictly speaking, different links carry different ‘weights’ (depending on how ‘important’ the page the links are placed on is considered by the search engines) but for the purpose of this article let’s assume that they all carry the same ‘weight’.

However, it is worth noting that links from irrelevant site or sites that are just there to facilitate link building (as opposed to being genuine sites ‘with a real purpose’) will not help your rankings so they are best to be avoided as you can even get penalised for having these inbound links.

There are many strategies for increasing your inbound links; common ways of doing so including contacting other sites to ‘exchange’ links or simply pay them to place a link on their site, finding relevant blogs and contacting the person in charge to see if you can get a relevant link to your site (you might be asked to submit an article on a particular topic etc) and placing links in directories (e.g. Yahoo directory) and classifieds sites (e.g. Gumtree).

Link building is considered to be very important in SEO and apart from improving your search engine rankings, will also drive relevant traffic to your site.

Leveraging Internal Links

While inbound links are key, the importance of internal links should not be underestimated. Internal links are links from pages on your web site to other pages on your site. Your search engine rankings can be improved by creating these internal links by using keywords in your site as the link text.

You will notice that many sites (e.g. Wikipedia) use internal links extensively; every time a word appears and a relevant article exists on Wikipedia, the word is linked to the relevant article. Apart from increasing internal links, this also makes it easier for users to find their way to relevant content on your site.

Analysing Competitor strategies

A useful exercise to conduct is the following: search for the key terms you are interested and note down which pages rank highly in the SERPs. You can then analyse these pages to see how many times are the keywords mentioned in the text, what page title has been used and what keywords have been included in the URL.

Additionally, you can also check to see how many links these websites/web pages have and what sites are linking to them. Each search engine uses different notation but, for example, to achieve this on Google enter the text ‘link:www.peopleperhour.com’ (of course replacing ‘www.peopleperhour.com’ with the URL of the site you are interested in)

Getting crawled

If your site has hundreds or thousands of pages, it is unlikely that the search engines will store all the pages in their database. Search engines will try to determine which pages have unique, different content and include those in their database. The way your site is structured and the internal links (or absence of them) will also determine how easy it is for a search engine to find all your web pages/content and stored them.

You can check how many of your pages Google is storing by entering ‘site:www.(nameofyoursite.com)’ on Google. If most of your pages are not stored by Google it’s time to get some help on making the right changes on your site to ensure that more of your pages are indexed by the search engines.

Also, the size of your site and frequency of change of your content will determine how often your site is visited (‘crawled’) by the search engines; this can be important, particularly if you have content that changes frequently on your site (e.g. daily news on a particular subject) that you would like people to find on the search engines.

Do not forget your visitors

A lot of effort can go into SEO and into trying to make web pages more ‘search-engine friendly’ but at the end of the day, you should not forget to design your pages with real users primarily in mind.

Google and the other search engines are constantly changing their algorithms so SEO should be viewed as an ongoing process. This also means that it is not worth trying to ‘trick’ search engines as they will quickly catch up and possibly penalise your site.

Instead, focus on creating good, relevant content for your visitors, laid out and structured in a way that makes sense. Search engines want people to find what they are looking for so create your content with ‘human users’ in mind and your search engine rankings will improve over time.

We often get asked to provide help with bidding and advise on how it’s best to write proposals and how much to charge. While there is no ‘magic formula’, we have compile a short checklist of what we believe you should have in mind. While some points might seem fairly basic/obvious (e.g. having a comprehensive, up-to-date profile), a quick glance at the site shows that it’s easy to overlook these especially when you are going through a busy period at work. 

  • Your profile – review your profile to make sure it’s complete and all your skills have been added (these are also important so that buyers can find you when they are searching). The numbers speak for themselves – incomplete/poor profiles hardly win any work! Make sure your profile is always up-to-date and your online portfolio contains a good selection of your best work; revisit your profile periodically to add your latest projects, skills and clients. 
  • Feedback – a recent study that we conducted revealed that providers’ success rates in winning work had increased at least 10 fold after winning their first positive feedback on the site, with the top providers’ success rates reaching 15%-20%. Make sure you always ask buyers to leave feedback for you as soon as they pay for the invoices you have raised through the site. Invoicing through PeoplePerHour.com is the only way to build feedback and stay protected against bad debts.
  • Cover all bases – ensure that you give comprehensive proposals, explaining clearly why you are equipped to do the job, highlighting relevant previous experience. Look at relevant accepted bids on the site to refine your proposals and get a feel for the pricing if you are unsure what to charge. While it may be good idea to start with a template for your bids, ensure that you put in the time to customise each bid and address all the particular requirements of the project in question.
  • Be specific – be as specific as possible in your communication with buyers, not only in providing verifiable examples of relevant work you have done in the past but also on costs and timescales. If the buyer has not provided enough information for an accurate quote, do your best to provide a realistic quote if possible and state clearly your assumptions to the buyer or, even better, ask for the relevant information before committing to a final price.
  • Offer a free sample – make the first step and proactively offer a small, free sample of work to the buyer – it’s the best way of convincing them that you are capable of doing the job; results speak for themselves! For example, if a buyer needs their website to be redesigned you could offer redesigning 1 page for free as a sample. This approach can work for a number of sectors; translations, copy editing/writing, design are only a few of these. Most buyers will even be happy to agree to pay for the ‘free sample’ you have provided upfront if they end up accepting your bid.

This list is by no means comprehensive but should get you off to a good start – feel free to share your suggestions and experience with others, either here or in the ‘Bidding Q & A’ discussion group (you will need to log in with your Provider credentials).

We are continuing to look for and arrange relevant deals for PPH users and this week, we are excited to be able to offer a 15% discount to any PPH user wishing to attend the forthcoming Future of Web Apps conference, which will be held on 8-10 October in London.

Registrations for FOWA London will be opening up at the end of this week – to receive the 15% discount, please register with the promo code ‘PPH-15’.

I have attended last year’s conference myself and I would highly recommend it to anyone interested in Web 2.0 and the web technologies and business trends of the future. It’s particularly relevant to developers, designers and entrepreneurs as well as anyone working for an internet company.

This year’s array of speakers is even more impressive and the event promises to be even bigger and better. than last year’s. This is the perfect opportunity to learn from the best!

A big thank you to Ryan Carson at Carsonified (the FOWA organisers) for this kind offer.