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Nov 14 / bschwartz

Thankful Thursdays: Homes For Our Troops

logoHFOT_H4H_snowingHomes for our Troops is a national non-profit organization founded in 2004 which is strongly committed to helping those who have selflessly given to our country and have returned home with serious injuries since September 11, 2001. This top rated non-profit assists severely injured Veterans and their families by raising money, building materials and professional labor, and by coordinating the process of building a home that provides maximum freedom of movement and the ability to live more independently. The homes provided by Homes for Our Troops are given at NO COST to the Veterans the organization serves.

Homes for Our Troops exists to restore the gift of freedom and independence to our nation’s most severely injured veterans through the gift of a specially adapted home. Homes for our Heroes has completed hundreds of new homes throughout the country, and currently has 31 ongoing new constructions.  Please view the interactive map for more information on their projects.

Your donation to Homes for our Troops helps build homes for service veterans like Army Staff Sergeant Luke Murphy.

photo1006Army Staff Sergeant Luke Murphy the Squad Leader of an 11 man Reconnaissance Team with the 187th Infantry Regiment, a component of the 101st Airborne Division was on his second deployment when he lost his right leg above the knee and severely injured his left leg in an Explosively Formed Penetrator (EFP) blast in Sadr City, Iraq on April 25, 2006.

Transported by truck, and thanks to the lifesaving measures by his men, 18 minutes after the blast SSG Murphy was in a field hospital being prepared for medevac to the Baghdad ER where he received several units of blood. Stabilized for transport to Landstuhl, Germany, SSG Murphy arrived at Walter Reed Army Medical Center within days of his injuries and remained there for a year enduring nearly thirty surgeries. SSG Murphy is grateful for the support he has received from the Tallahassee community.

When asked what he would like to say to those who will make this specially adapted home possible SSG Murphy stated, Thank you for helping to make my life easier. The daily obstacles I face will be greatly reduced with a home built by Homes for Our Troops. Your actions will help reduce the stress and pain I deal with which in turn will make me very happy and comfortable…I will be empowered by the independence I will have and will be pleased to be a functional citizen again.

Read more about SSG Murphy’s story

VHT Studios has made a donation to help give severely injured veterans homes, and here is how you can too:
You may make a donation using your credit card online here , by calling the Homes for our Hereos office from 9 am to 5pm EST at 866-7-TROOPS or print out the form and mail in a donation to the office at:
 Homes for Our Troops
 6 Main St.
 Taunton, MA 02780

Learn more about Homes for our Troops mission of ‘building homes, rebuilding lives’ and where your donation goes here:


Nov 7 / bschwartz

Thankful Thursdays: PAWS Chicago

November is the perfect month to be thankful for what we have, but it is also the perfect month to give back and help others.  This November, VHT Studios will be highlighting as well as giving back to four charities that support the mission of finding homes for those in need. First up in our Thankful Thursday series, PAWS Chicago!

PAWS Chicago is the city’s largest No Kill humane organization and their mission is based on working to build a No Kill Chicago — a city where pets are no longer destroyed just because they are homeless. Since their founding in 1997, homeless dogs and cats killed annually in the City of Chicago has dropped more than 70 percent and Paws has united more than 25,000 cats and dogs with new forever families.

The PAWS Adoption Center is located at 1997 N. Clybourn Ave Chicago, IL 60614, but there are always life-saving adoption and fundraising events going on throughout the city and suburbs. Check out the list of events here:

One recent event was an emergency response trip PAWS volunteers took to Moore, Oklahoma after the devastating tornado in May 2013. On this trip PAWS Chicago saved the lives of 79 cats and dogs, with 10 volunteers driving five vans to transport the animals back to Chicago. Read more about the trip and how the rescued animals are loving life in their new forever homes in Chicago!

Visit PAWS website to see how PAWS Chicago’s programs are working to create a no kill Chicago! . Or better yet, donate to PAWS Chicago or purchase items off their Amazon wish list and become a voice for homeless pets. and

PAWS in the news:

Pippen Fasseas Adoption Center
1997 N. Clybourn Ave.
Chicago, IL 60614 – Map it
773-935-7297 (PAWS)





Oct 8 / bschwartz

Google’s Hummingbird update explained – what should it mean for your SEO?

birdLast week Google announced its new Hummingbird algo update, putting lots of SEOs into doubts and concerns – what should this algo change mean to you and your website? To make sure you don’t get down into panic and plan your SEO strategy wisely, we’ve put up this short guide to explain what Hummingbird update is, how it affects your rankings and how to adapt your SEO strategy to benefit from the changes.

So, what do we know about Hummingbird?

Though announced on September 26 only, Hummingbird was in fact released a month before that and is said to affect 90% of search queries.

Unlike Penguin and Panda, Hummingbird is not a penalty-based update (aimed at cleaning the SERPs from low-quality content), but a change in the way Google reacts to different types of queries, which lets the search engine now get the actual meaning behind a query, rather than the separate terms in it.

Besides, the algorithm is called to better deal with conversational queries, considering the growing number of mobile search users and voice searchers.

So Hummingbird is all about Google being able to catch users’ actual search intent and find the content that matches this intent the best.

But what does this mean for Internet marketers and SEO?



Oct 8 / bschwartz

Why Google Authorship Is More Important Than Your Website

t_471_0Now, more than ever, it is important to note that Google tracks your authority within your industry and will follow the trail of your footprints as you move around from place to place on the web. Then it will aggregate everything you do and put it all together. Your unique content  will ultimately get ranked by the ‘authority’ that you, the author, has, and by the value that others deem relevant in your content. This means that an author who has been well ranked by Google will help to raise the profile of any website that they are associated with.

In fact, Authorship is more important than your website because Google is now grading and ranking authors more consistently than they arewebsites. However, the one thing that has not changed is the importance of quality content; this is how you will build your authority. This means that the old methods of link building will not be as important as the credibility of the content that you author.

The best way to showcase your authority within a specific niche or industry is by associating your personal or business profile and website to every relevant piece of content you’ve ever written. Google Authorship is an easy way to connect your content through your Google+ profile and benefit from that association. If your name is listed as the author of the content, you can associate it. You may also hear people calling Google Authorship markup as the ‘rel=author’ tag or “rel=publisher’ tag.

Rel=Author ties your personal Google+ profile to individual pieces of content found online. By claiming your content with Rel=Author, you will see your head shot show up in the search engine results pages when your content shows up. Here’s an example:

relauthorRel=Publisher ties your business Google+ page to your website. By claiming your website content with Rel=Publisher, you will see your Google+ page summary in the search engine results pages when someone searches for your brand name. Here’s an example:


Using authorship helps searchers discover great information by highlighting content from authors who they might find interesting. If you’re an author, signing up for authorship will help users recognize content that you’ve written. Additionally, searchers can click the byline to see more articles you’ve authored or to follow you on Google+.

While there hasn’t been a comprehensive study on how much additional traffic a person can receive from a photo appearing in search, but by building up your authorship, blog posts and articles that you have written will get displayed in the search engine results pages along with your author bio photo, which can increase the click through rate of your listing by as much as 150%!

Google algorithms are constantly trying to discover the best content on the web created by true authorities on various subject matters. Brands and marketers can no longer fake their way into better search engine rankings. They have to deliver compelling content in many different forms, to the right customers, at the right stage of the buying cycle. And Google Authorship is one way to do just that.

Straight from Google’s mouth, here is how to add a Google Author Tag and Google Publisher Tag to your website, as well as answers to any other important Authorship questions you may have.


Sep 24 / bschwartz

Grow Your Business Through Google Maps

VHT Studios’ founder and CEO, Brian Balduf, has been quite busy recently being interviewed, filmed, and providing information on the company’s newest service, Google Business Photos!

The new service is designed to help all types of retailers grow their customer base by letting Google’s millions of users ‘See Inside’ and get a preview. High-quality virtual tours allow consumers to compare different businesses on Google so they can zero in on the ones offering the types of experiences and merchandise that suit their needs.

Find out how else you can help your business ’Be Seen’ by watching Balduf”s recent interview with NBC 5 Chicago.


For more information about Google Business Photos, listen to Balduf’s radio interview on WBEZ’s Afternoon Shift and visit VHT Studios’ See Inside Photography website!

Sep 3 / bschwartz

Google enlists VHT to enhance StreetView mapping

VHT Studios, the nationwide leader in real estate photography and digital marketing, recently announced today the launch of “See Inside Photography for Google.” The new service combines VHT Studios’ stunning photography and Google’s Street View virtual tour technology. It offers retail shops, restaurants, doctors’ offices, salons, gyms, and other small businesses throughout the Chicago area a powerful way to stand out on Google search results and attract more customers. And those in the business technology world are taking notice.

John Pletz of CRAIN’s Chicago said of VHT Studios’ Google Business Photos Launch:

AR-130839979.jpg&maxw=368&q=100&cb=20130924020431VHT Inc., which has been helping real estate agents sell homes online with better pictures, has been enlisted by Google Inc. to shoot spiffier images of commercial properties for its maps service.

The Rosemont-based company, which now calls itself VHT Studios, has built up an army of more than 150 professional photographers nationwide who work on contract.

Google is partnering with VHT as well as other photographers and agencies nationwide to get more pictures from inside local businesses as part of its StreetView product, which allows Google Maps users to see buildings as well as find their locations.

The effort, branded Google Business Photos, is part of the search-engine giant’s broader business of local search, in which location becomes a bigger part of electronic commerce. When someone searches for a local restaurant, for example, both a map and photos will show up.

VHT has launched the service, which it calls See Inside Photography, in Chicago but will expand to 20 cities over the next 12 months, CEO Brian Balduf says. The cost to provide pictures of products and the interior of a business, including a virtual walk-through, is $595.

“We shoot thousands of properties across the country every month,” Mr. Balduf says. “It’s what we already do, just a different market.”

He says it was always part of the plan for VHT to move into other markets. “We started with real estate because there are 5 to 10 million homes sold a year. Everything else is smaller.”

The company already shoots hotels for Orbitz Worldwide Inc., vacation rentals for and funeral homes for Service Corp. International.

Mr. Balduf, who recently returned to the CEO role after Alex Zoghlin left to become head of global technology at Hyatt Hotels Corp., says the Google partnership could help VHT double its business in the next 12 to 24 months.

He declines to disclose VHT’s revenue, but its sales are thought to be more than $10 million. The company launched 15 years ago and raised about $6.5 million in venture capital, though it’s been self-funded for the past six years.

VHT has about 50 employees, but Mr. Balduf says it will be staffing up for the new business, which will be labor-intensive because it involves serving large numbers of small companies.

“This will double the photography network, so we’re aggressively recruiting,” he says. “And we’re expanding the marketing side.” He plans to recruit about 100 college students and recent graduates on contract for the product.

See the Crain’s article here.

To learn more about how Google Business Photos can help your business attract attention on the web, visit VHT Studios’ See Inside Photography website or read our press release.

Jul 30 / Nick Teel

Linksanity Continues: Google’s Disavow Tool

Disavow links tool

Link building is all the craze this past couple of years.  This year has proven no exception after Google launched the mysterious Disavow Tool.

What it is and what it does

Google’s Disavow tool was rolled out last October. Its purpose was simple: If you have done all that you can to clean up your link profile and there are still some unsavory websites in your link profile, linking to your site, Google’s Disavow Tool can help you clean them up. The tool lets you submit a list of links or entire domains for Google’s consideration in discrediting them from your link profile. Disavow will not remove the links, but it lets Google know you’d like the search engine algorithms to ignore them when it comes to your search ranking calculations.

Basically, you can ask Google to ignore links you do not control if you believe they could be harming your website’s rankings. But not so basically, you should know that this tool is not a cure all and you should proceed with caution if you plan to use it as a means of cleaning up your link profile.

Why Google Disavow

In the aftermath of Google’s Penguin 2.0 update, released May 22nd 2013, and websites being unable to discredit spam links, more attention is being paid to the link profiles of websites and blogs.

In the past, many SEO’s would boost the rankings of websites by building links on irrelevant sites, particularly by submitting their domain to web/link directories. When Google cracked down on irrelevant means of building your SEO, many sites that relied on these directories for rankings were hit hard and their rankings plummeted, negatively impacting the company’s search engine ranking position (SERP). Now many webmasters are trying to clean up the mess.

This is where the Google Disavow tool comes in. Google’s link disavow tool allows publishers to tell Google that they don’t want certain links from external sites to be considered as part of Google’s algorithms that calculate link trust, authority, and equity. Some sites want to do this because they’ve purchased links, a violation of Google’s policies, and may suffer a penalty if they can’t get the links removed. Other sites may want to remove links gained from participating in bad link networks or for other reasons.

As the Disavow Tool continues to grow in popularity with webmasters who were hit with Penguin 2.0 penalties, the real estate industry should take note, as it was one of the industries hit the hardest by Penguin 2.0.  Penguin 1.0 focused solely on the link equity and external backlinks pointing to a website’s homepage. Penguin 2.0 looks at all sub-pages coming from a root domain or homepage and could potentially penalize a site accordingly. If your brokerage site has a sub-page for every agent and every listing in that agent’s inventory pointing back to the brokerage homepage there is a lot of potential for bad links to negatively impact the brokerage site as a whole.  Especially if agents, admins, staff have bought in/purchased/taken part of any  false claimed link building programs, that assert they will get their listings and their vanity sub-domains to the top of the search engine rankings.  The disavow tool is just a way for brokerage webmasters to give Google a hint that they have done what they could to get rid of these tactics, and there are still some lingering sites that will not remove their links back to the brokerage domain.

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Here are three major takeaways to understand about Google Disavow

1. The majority of websites will never need this tool
If you are the average website owner, you follow good guidelines or a simple mom-and-pop shop, there’s a good chance that you will not need this tool. This tool will only be used by those who participate in SEO efforts and have spammy link profiles that they would like to clean up or that are lingering from outdated SEO tactics.

2. Clean up as many links as possible directly with the website first
Google always recommends to work directly with the website to get all the spammy links taken down before using this tool. They suggest only using this tool as a last resort if you cannot get a hold of the website or cannot get it taken down.

3. Take your time, do research and be cautious when using this tool
You must really take your time to use this tool correctly, if you don’t, you may be doing more harm than good. Use Google webmaster and Open Site Explorer to download your inbound links and carefully research all the spammy links.

Use Google’s Disavow Links Tool the Right Way

Ultimately, Google’s Disavow Tool can be a powerful resource that complements Google’s recent link preference updates and offers sites options beyond spammy former practices.  Used in moderation, this tool will shape the way in which websites develop and ideally help to usher in an age of integrity-rich link building strategies. Be proactive in managing your link profile.

But for truly successful SEO it is important to keep looking forward. If you continue to focus on generating good, organic content that people want to link to and share, future Google updates will have little effect on your website.

Jun 10 / bschwartz

Picture Perfect

VHT Studios in the press! New York based photographer, Elizabeth Dooley, explains to Fox & Friends why bad photos may be preventing you from selling your house. This is information every agents and home seller should know.

May 30 / bschwartz

Getting Local With Google+

find-8-marketing-digital-solutions-web-design-seo-get-found-1If you’re a small local business, having a Google+ Local profile is imperative to putting your brand – quite literally – on the map. A decade ago a basic website with a phone number and an e-mail address would get enough attention to generate new business.

Then, everything got local.

Instead of projecting a global presence, today’s best SEO targeting techniques encourage companies to dive deep into their neighborhoods. Prospects, especially in real estate, identify more closely with businesses who have established themselves as part of their communities. This is because real estate agents are relied on to be experts in their community, especially for those who are relocating to a new city. Agents need to know what each neighborhood can offer potential home buyers.

Google+ Local is a powerful tool for small businesses targeting local customers because it combines customer reviews and local search into one platform. Google Places was recently replaced with Google+ Local – a merging of Places and Plus that serves up your Google+ Local listing in Search and Maps results on mobile devices and traditional browsers.

Yet, many small businesses still aren’t sure how to take advantage of Google+ Local. How do you, as a small business owner, unlock the full potential of this tool?

Get Found

Over the past few years, search engines have started automatically applying more localized filters to users search results. These localized filters are apparent by the search results that appear on the map to the right of the “google+ box” results, when executing a search. Listing and claiming your business properly with Google+ local is the most important step to improving your local search rankings.

Google+ Local needs some special attention to be effective. Google wants to provide searchers with the best results so focus on making your page as informative and appealing as possible. Pictures, custom business descriptions, and videos are just a few of the ways Google+ Local listings stand out from the others. For a good Google+ Local crash course, check out this article on Search Engine Watch.

Get Friendly

Today’s best organic search engine optimization techniques require you to meet your neighbors. And everything you do, both online and off, can be leveraged for SEO. Are there any local events you can participate in/contribute to that will help with your local branding AND build a few links to your website? That coffee shop will improve its search rankings when it posts blog items about the pizza shop that moved in on the corner, or about the new bookstore up the street. A neighborhood with local businesses that link to each other create a rising tide that lifts all their boats. The more, the merrier!

When you live and work in a local area, social media is a fantastic way to connect with your community, especially when you have a claimed Google+ Local profile. Post updates about what is going on in your store, share other local events, have conversations with your customers and local leaders and more!

As a business owner, you should be harnessing the power of reviews. Executing a localized SEO strategy doesn’t necessarily mean devoting yourself to blogging about your neighborhood. The best testimonials about your business have always come from your customers. Today, your customers are writing about you online, whether you know it or not, and those reviews have an affect on your Google Local rankings. Embracing those conversations and inviting them onto your site and your Google + Pages can help your business maintain its commitment to serving existing customers while discovering new ones. Real customer reviews are essential for local SEO.

Furthermore, managers and owners who take the time to resolve complaints in public can earn repeat business by building trust online. In return, they can reap the benefits of comments, tweets, and blog posts attesting to the quality of their business—all of which factor into the latest search engine rankings.

To sum up, here are the key ways that will help you maximize the power of Google+ Local:

  • Make sure you have a Google+ Business Page for entry into the Local space
  • Once its claimed, merge your Business Page with your Google+ Local Page
  • Update it with marked up business information + engaging content
  • Build rank for your Google+ Local Page by optimizing the most important ranking factors (on-site/offsite factors, social media/mobile factors, reviews)
  • Consistently publish value-charged content and engage with your online communities

Ultimately, when your customers live and work in a very specific community it’s important to go after that location in as many ways as possible with your SEO. The stronger presence you can build online and off the better success you’ll have over time.find-8-marketing-digital-solutions-web-get-found


May 22 / bschwartz

@Properties Selects VHT Studios!

Integration of VHT floor plans and photo services creates robust marketing package that sells more homes.

logo_lowChicago, IL – May 21, 2013 — VHT Inc., a leading provider of visual and digital marketing services, announced today that @properties, a leading Chicago-based real estate brokerage, has chosen its Professional Interactive Floor Plans Service to enhance its marketing of real estate listings.

VHT Studios’ Professional Interactive Floor Plans Service is integrated with its photography capabilities, providing real estate professionals with the same high quality, consistency and convenience they have come to expect from the nation’s leader in real estate imagery. Photographs and expert room measurements are taken on-site by VHT specialists in one easy appointment. Both photos and floor plans are delivered within 2-3 business days.

The combination of interactive floor plans and great photos creates the ultimate shopping experience for buyers and a robust marketing package that sells more homes.

“In today’s competitive marketplace, selling real estate is all about the visuals,” said Brian Balduf, VHT Chairman. “Having great photographs and videos of a property is critical in creating an emotional connection with potential buyers. But the addition of a professionally-drafted floor plan enhances a buyer’s viewing experience and helps them understand dimensional aspects of a home that aren’t apparent in the photos.”

“It’s almost irresponsible not to make floor plans available when it’s so easy to do with VHT’s new service,” said Thaddeus Wong, co-owner of @properties. “Properties can be equivalent in location, and number of bedrooms and bathrooms, but that doesn’t mean they’re all the same. You need to have a full grasp of how all the rooms relate to one another to help you determine a property’s value and if it fits a buyer’s needs.”

Wong said @properties is committed to providing interactive floor plans and high-resolution photos free of charge to sellers on all properties listed at $500,000 or higher, and will soon extend the service to those at $300,000 or higher.

“The majority of our listings will soon have floor plans included,” Wong said. “It’s crucial to give buyers as much information as possible.”

“The addition of interactive floor plans is yet another innovation by @properties that gives our agents and clients an advantage in a competitive marketplace,” said Erin Mandel, agent for @properties.

VHT Professional Interactive Floor Plans show all walls, partitions, doors, windows, staircases, columns, recesses, chimneys, major appliances, floor levels and room dimensions. Measurements are taken by experienced professionals.

VHT also offers a Floor Plan Reconstruction service to produce new floor plans from architectural blueprints that may be difficult for buyers to read and interpret.