Sunday, January 25, 2009

How pet sitters can help homeless animals


It seems like every time an animal needs a home, I hear about it. I try to remind myself that it is not my responsibility to take on all these rescues, but my heart goes out to each and every pet that faces rehoming. In this economic environment, we hear of too many pets facing abandonment. 

Someone called me a few weeks ago to tell me about some dogs needing homes. She said, "If they don't find a home by the 19th, something awful will happen." Once again, I said to myself "that's not my deadline, and I refuse to be guilted into taking the dogs." But I can help spread the word. 

As pet sitters, many of us know clients who have recently lost a pet to illness or old age. I have placed several animals in new homes this way. As an added bonus of course, I re-acquire a pet sitting client. 

Spread the word
I have long lists of fellow pet sitters, horse people, dog lovers, and clients that I can tell about homeless animals. I hate to pester them, but sometimes an email blast actually gets results. I also post the animals' story on my facebook page, email discussion groups, and Zootoo in a journal entry. 

Yes, I adopt them
Occasionally I have fallen prey to a sad story, and I'm never sorry. My neighbor died, and the family was going to euthanize the dog. I took her sight-unseen and Sandy lived with me for over four years before dying this past fall at 18 years of age. My dachshund, Desi, came to me when  a client passed away. My two cats, Sterling and Whisper (yawning in her photo), were adopted by a friend from the Bonita shelter. Her dogs kept trying to kill them, so they came to live with me while I found them a home. They found a home all right! I've had them about 7 years now.  

As a volunteer for Lab rescue, I adopted Cody (see photo), an un-Labrador, from the Escondido Humane Society. He moped at adoption events and refused to even look at prospective adopters. I caved in and kept him. I loved him to pieces; he was a wonderful, sweet old dog.

Your clients' wills 
Some of my clients have asked me to be responsible for their pets if something happens to them. I am in the will of horse owners, cat owners and dog owners. I don't always promise to keep the pet, but I do promise to find it a good home. One owner provided a fund to build a cat kennel on my property to house her elderly cats. Thankfully, she has outlived both of them. 

Advice for owners
What do I tell people that can't keep their pets? 
• I tell them which shelters are most likely to keep the pet rather than euthanize it.
• I tell them to contact no-kill shelters NOW and get on the waiting list
• Get dogs vaccinated against kennel cough at least a week before giving them up to a shelter, so the vaccine has time to work
• Be sure to visit the animal's new home so you are assured the pet won't be sold to a research facility, or a horse for slaughter
• Check up on the animal after placing it
• If your pet has bitten someone, it won't be considered adoptable. Don't blame others for saying no; we can't save them all
• There is no such thing as "a home in the country where he can run"

We can only do our best. In the past week I have heard about 20 malamutes from a breeder, 32 foals in South Dakota, a 2 year old quarter horse (gorgeous), 2 doxie mixes in San Diego, and an abandoned cat in Temecula. Sigh... let's just count our victories.  

About that cat (photo at right) in Temecula... http://www.anitapetsitter.com/

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Optimize your business web site for search engines


How do you get your site to come up when people search the Web for a pet sitter? Without buying advertising, your site will come up higher on the list if your site designer follows a few simple rules. Even if the designer knows what to do, you should provide some input as to what "key words," titles and descriptions are important to your business. 

Key Words
Key words are the phrases that people type into Google (or whatever search engine they use) when looking for your business. For example, "pet sitter, San Diego." This is more important than your business name because someone who doesn't know you will not search for the business name; they will be looking for the service they need, probably based on the area served. Other key words might be "dog walker," "dog boarding" or "cat sitter." Use lower case for your keywords. If you use upper and lower case, only sites that also do the same will come up. Use lower case, and search engines will give you both upper and lower case words. NEVER use all caps in key words or on the site.

Try entering different search terms into Google and see what comes up. The results will give you an idea of what are the best words to use. Remember, the first four or five entries are paid advertisers – companies who pay for their name to come up when someone uses those specific key words. You can pay too, but optimize your site before you even think about buying words.  

Headings and alt tags
Once you figure out what your most important key words are, what do you do with them? Incorporate them into your site. The main headline on your first (index) page should include your most important keywords. For example: "Poway Pet Care: pet sitter, dog walker in Poway, CA." The secondary heading, or subhead, might be "Dog and cat care in your home while you are on vacation." Then the following paragraphs could include key words like birds, fish horses, etc. 

I will assume there is a graphic header at the top of each page (The blue box at the top of my page shown above with script type is a graphic). If it's a graphic, the search engines can't read it, so you need to add an "alt" tag in the hidden code. The alt tag will restate what the graphic shows, like "Poway Pet Sitting by Terry Albert." You can't see it, but the search engines can. Also, visually impaired visitors to your site will have an audio set-up that reads the alt tags to them. You sometimes can see the alt tags if a photo doesn't load, or while a page is loading.

Give every photo on your page an alt tag that helps sell your business. "Floppy is eating carrots" doesn't cut it. "Poway Pet Sitting cares for rabbits" gives the search engines some useful information. 

Meta description and key words
Every site should have meta tags embedded in the code. This is an approx. 75 word description of your site that comes up on the search engine listing, under the name of your site. If you don't do it, the first couple of sentences on your index page will come up. Also add meta listing of key words in the header of your page code. Meta tags don't show on the actual page, but they help describe your site. Write these yourself, and have your designer incorporate them into every page of your site.

Yes, I said every page. Optimize every page of your site so the search engines will list more pages and give you more exposure. You can use different meta tags on every page. 

Page titles
Another trick is to name each page carefully. "aboutme.html" tells nobody anything. "about-terry-albert.html" is more descriptive, and can increase your rankings. Each page also has a unique title that shows in the tabs at the top of your browser, and across the top of the browser window. Look at each page of my site; the title tells you what each page is about.

Site map
One page of your site should be a site map. Mine is at http://www.terryalbert.com/site_map.html This list helps the search engine figure out how your site is organized. 

Use links to your advantage
Use text links to other pages on your site as well as graphic links. If you simply must have cute little graphic dog bones with the name of each link, add text links across the bottom of every page. Give the links a descriptive name, for example: "Dog boarding," "Dog day care," "Pet sitting prices" rather than "Boarding", "Day Care" and "Prices." And of course, add an alt tag for every dog bone graphic link. 

The more outside links that come into your site, the higher you will rank in the search results. Get other people to link to you: friends, family, your site designer (on their portfolio page :). Better yet, get listed on some referral pages through whatever pet sitting associations you belong to. Start a blog or post on other people's blogs, and include a link to your site. Include your site address at the bottom of every email you send so you'll get more visitors and gain credibility.

Last, and most important, submit your site to the different search engines so they will find you, review the site, and include you in the rankings. Here is a link to Google's: http://www.google.com/webmasters/start/

Click on the title at the top to see the search results and where my site comes up in the listing. I'm very happy to be on the first page of the results.

Monday, January 5, 2009

A name for your pet sitting business


What to name your business? I recommend that you choose a name that helps you market your company. In this age of the Internet, search engines will drive traffic to your web site, and the right name will help your business come up first if it contains “key words” that people are searching for. 

“Terry’s Pet Sitting” tells a potential customer that it is a pet sitting business, which is a good start. “Terry” personalizes the company, and because this is a service, you will want them to get to know you and what you offer. But you may want to hire others to work for you, so a personalized business name may not be the best idea.

“Loving Paws”, “Wags & Whiskers,” “Pets R Us” and other names are cute, but they don’t tell anyone what your business is. You could just as easily be a groomer or own a pet store.

Poway Pet Care” is my business name, and the main headlines on my web page are: Pet Sitting by Terry Albert, Daily visits in Poway and Rancho Bernardo, and Dog boarding in my home. Search engines read headlines and text, and using certain words that people search for helps you move higher up in the results that come up. 

Poway Pet Care: the name says it all – what I do and the area I serve. And it leaves open the option of hiring others to work for me, or boarding dogs , which I added a few years after I started the business.

If I had it to do over, I would say Poway Pet Sitting or Poway Pet Sitter, because that is what people type into Google when they are searching. But my friend named her business Poway-Bernardo Pet Sitting, so I didn’t want to be too close to her name.

I will talk more about how to optimize your site for search engines in future posts. 

Photo: Summer the German Shepherd and Bonnie, my sheltie, enjoy a little sunshine during the cold December days.