Are social networking sites really good for business

Miami web manager's social media marketing comicBusinesses and entrepreneurs have joined the masses of teens and young adults who connect through social networking web sites such as Facebook and MySpace.

Companies use the sites to communicate with customers, promote themselves, recruit employees and conduct market research. Because the sites are usually free and reach millions of people worldwide, they are a cost-effective marketing tool for companies with limited financial resources.

The sites give businesses a direct connection with the end-user, whether that be a potential customer or a future employee, said Sarah Lacy, an author and a business reporter and columnist in Silicon Valley.

Lacy said the sites have a powerful impact because they are based on human interaction and relationships. "People's purchasing decisions frequently aren't based on the cheapest or best choice, but on the product or company to which the buyer feels most connected", she said. So establishing a social relationship could have an advantage.

"But businesses must tread carefully", Lacy said. "Consumers don't want to be hounded by sales pitches, they want to be engaged in a conversation that is relevant to them."

Amy Boesen, owner of an Omaha interior design business, Decor & You, said she uses LinkedIn to update her contacts on the services she offers. LinkedIn, which has a service center in Omaha, is a networking site for business professionals.

"Postings on the site build awareness of Decor & You, which could generate more clients", she said.

Marketing consultant Brian Smith said he uses his personal Facebook page to help promote events that he plans, and sometimes he uses social networking sites to assist with planning his events. For example, he recently tapped into his LinkedIn connections to find a location and keynote speaker for an event.

"Some businesses use social networking sites to monitor customer feedback", Lacy said.

Lacy said she recently posted a bad review of an office supply store in San Francisco after an unpleasant experience there. "The store's owner saw the review and contacted her to apologize", she said.

"The personal exchange and resolution to the situation would have been a lot less likely without the help of social networking", Lacy said.

"Social networking sites are an effective way to conduct focus groups because participants tend to respond more honestly online than in person", said Mary Ann O'Brien, owner of OBI Creative, a strategic marketing firm.

"It's a nonjudgmental way to get input", she said.

"Sites such as Twitter allow users to post updates, ask questions and collaborate instantly. These sites can be used to throw out ideas and ask for feedback", O'Brien said. "It's zero-cost collaboration."

Adam Nielsen, owner of Bi-'stO Design graphic and Web design firm, said he uses Twitter to schedule business meetings and stay updated on his colleagues' work.

"You can easily reach a large group of individuals at once, which saves time and money," Nielsen said. "It's great for keeping up to date with events, or scheduling your own."

"Businesses can quickly inform customers about new products, changes in hours or special promotions", he said.

"Social networking sites allow users to connect with people beyond their immediate circle", said Boesen, the interior designer. "Those contacts may even be as far away as other states and countries", Nielsen added.

"LinkedIn won't replace [my] face-to-face networking efforts", Boesen said, "but it does make [my] in-person meetings more meaningful."

Smith, the marketing consultant said connecting online has led to valuable business relationships for him. For example, he recently submitted two marketing proposals with partners, including Nielsen, whom he befriended through social networking.

Smith said he was acquainted with Nielsen and another web designer but hadn't considered collaborating on a project until they started communicating on Twitter and built a rapport.

Social networking allows you to "tap into the people you know to get to the people you want to know," said O'Brien, which makes it a great tool for entrepreneurs just starting out.

"Small businesses are always looking for cheaper way to get a leg up," Lacy said.

Smith said, "[People] think the sites are only for teens or college students. But they are much more in-depth than that and have a wide appeal. Anyone can use them to improve their business's reach."

The Bottom-Line: "The opportunities for social networks are immense. You can manage your brand's reputation, follow brand activists / loyalists, reach out to nay-sayers and put a face to a brand quite easily. Even Barack Obama uses social media ... and let's not forget about YouTube", said Ivan. He added, "Like anything else however, social media marketing isn't the magic cure-all. If you haven't got something remarkable to 'socialize' about, don't bother."

Video(s): N/A
Image(s): Geek&Poke
Source(s): Stefanie Monge for Omaha World-Herald; Read the article here

Kevin Rose beats McCain and Barack Obama beats them both

Miami web manager's picture of Kevin Rose, founder of Digg, etc.Up until last night, the person with the most followers on the micro-messaging service was Digg founder and Web celeb Kevin Rose, with 56,482 other people following his every public mind burp. It took none other than Barack Obama (or, rather, Obama’s campaign machine) to take the Twitter crown away from Rose. Obama can now finally stand tall knowing that 56,791 people subscribe to his campaign Tweets.

How do the two top dogs on Twitter differ? While Obama auto-follows everyone who follows him and more:59,474 people in total. I’m sure he reads every Tweet (no 2000-person limit for Presidential candidates). Rose is more stingy with whom he follows. Only 97 people — but one of them is [Barack Obama].

While Rose likes to tell everyone what he’s drinking (nice unicorn background image, Kevin), Obama invites his followers to sign up so they can be the first to find out who his VP pick is going to be. How about Rose? He knows how to get the vote out and seems ready for a new gig.

Note to the Obama campaign: you might want to change the background image from your nondescript campaign button to a picture of Obama.

And John McCain? He’s not in the top 100. In fact, he’s nowhere in sight on the TwitterSphere (it’s not exactly his constituency). Or at least, I can’t find him. There’s this unofficial account, JohnMcCain2008, which has attracted 1485 followers. But then, McCain doesn’t even use a computer, so you cannot very well expect him [to] Twitter.

Not that it matters. This may be the Internet election, but Twitter still won’t be a factor until at least 2012. Or will it prove to be a more powerful influencer in the elections than its early-adopter pedigree would suggest?

The Bottom-Line: "Barack has an incredible marketing machine that leaves nothing to chance", says Ivan. He added, "When it comes to Twitter, you either 'get it' or you don't. Ditto that for most of social media. If you don't, you will, eventually... but at your own pace. Barack Obama's supporters get it... as does his campaign marketing team."

Video(s): N/A
Image(s): MotherJones.com
Source(s): Erick Schonfeld for TechCrunch; Read the article here

iContact's 4 tips to an effective sign-up form

4 Tips to an Effective Sign-up Form
by Ryan Allis, CEO, iContact

Customers who you can't meet in person should still be able to join your contact list. That's why it's important to have an effective sign-up form on your website. Here are four tips to creating an effective sign-up form.
  1. Positioning: As with everything else in email marketing, you want your form to be visible without being overwhelming. I've found that the best spot for a sign-up form is on the top-right of the page, on the left navigation bar or at the bottom of the page after your content.
  2. Enticement: Whenever someone signs up for your newsletter, he must know why joining is a benefit. Remember, it's an exchange: you trade valuable content for a customer's time. It's a good idea to provide a tag line with your form. It shouldn't be anything fancy, just a simple explanation of what the newsletter provides. Try something along the lines of "Subscribe to the Garden Tips Monthly Newsletter now to receive tips, tricks and techniques from experts."
  3. Offer Opt-in Incentives: Another way of providing value is to offer some kind of incentive for joining a list. Customers are likely to sign up if they receive bonuses like whitepapers, discounts or special reports.
  4. Form Design: Make sure that your sign-up form is clear and straightforward. I've found that it's best to keep requested information to a minimum. Many sites initially ask for first name and email. You can always request more information if you need to segment your list.

Can you be inspired here?

Miami web manager's Greek dream home / inspiration spotI imagine that if my house were anything like Paola Novone's, that it would be pretty easy to be inspired to design!

The Bottom-Line: "Me too", agrees Ivan. He added, "Think she'll let me stay there for a week or two this winter?"

Video(s): N/A
Image(s): Atelier A+D
Source(s): Michelle Linden for Atelier A+D; Read the article here

Hooking up, retention and lifting weights

Online, some eRetailers are jumping into Web 2.0 with online forums, aiming to create customer loyalty

Miami web manager's Web 2.0 forumsFour married couples in the U.S. all met at the same place. They weren't high school sweethearts. They didn't find each other in college or at church or at a bar. They met in the online forum of BodyBuilding.com.

"Opposites attract" is not the rule in online forums. The goal of a forum operated by an eRetailer is to bring together people who share the same interests and in turn create a customer base so loyal it rivals the strongest marriages.

BodyBuilding.com built its online forum just two months after it opened shop in 1999, and the forum now has more than 1.1 million members who create 1.3 million posts and 67,000 discussion topics, or threads, every month.

"It's about becoming the place where people come to talk and learn and meet," says CEO Ryan DeLuca. "We want to be known as the destination not just for product and content but also to meet others interested in the same things. If I had to pin our continued growth as a company on one thing it would be on building our community online."

Retailers like DeLuca who have created online forums say they generate traffic, provide valuable customer feedback and build loyalty. They are relatively inexpensive to build, and successful forums are not costly to maintain, in large part because engaged forum members take responsibility for monitoring content.

But forums aren't for every merchant. They have proven most successful for eRetailers that sell products to people with a passion—pet owners, for example, versus office supplies buyers.

"Enthusiast businesses have a more passionate relationship with their customers," says Jon Holmquist, chief marketing officer at J.C. Whitney & Co. and general manager of its Stylin' Trucks eCommerce business, which is testing an online forum and plans an official launch in the fall. "Still, every business has a relationship with its customers, and customers want to have a voice, and businesses need to hear that voice. Online forums are a way to accomplish this."

Before the dawn of the Internet, people looking for others with similar interests had limited options. Guys into body building could make acquaintances at the gym. Quilters could meet through a local quilting club.

But the web made possible discussion boards, forums and social networks that attract likeminded people from around the globe This ability to bring people together is at the heart of online forums, which are read by 28% of consumers on at least a monthly basis, according to Forrester Research Inc.'s 2007 Social Technographics Online Survey, which canvassed more than 10,000 U.S. Internet users.

Forums are inexpensive to build and maintain, retailers say. The build is easy because the structure of an online forum is inherently uncomplicated—text entries that branch out from other text entries with slots for uploading images.

Fabric.com paid what it describes as a minimal amount for forum software from vBulletin to create its Sew to Speak online forum. Ongoing costs primarily are a bit of time each week from staff sewing experts who monitor the forum and provide answers and guidance. "The forum has not been a drain on financial or human resources," says Laurie Eady, marketing director at Fabric.com, which launched its forum in early 2006 and averages 20 new threads and up to 100 new posts a month.

"Overall it doesn't cost much at all," Holmquist says. Stylin' Trucks used software from ONESite Inc. to build its forum. "We have to devote some resources to it like staff monitoring and I.T. maintenance, but this amounts to a very small amount of money."

Because it runs one of the largest online forums, BodyBuilding.com spends more. About $50,000 a year goes into I.T. maintenance, staff time and additional servers. DeLuca says the gains a retailer will realize from an investment in an online forum can only be measured over an extended period.

"When you're helping people find what they want and understand what they need to know and meet new people, you're creating goodwill that you just can't measure," he says. "This is a long-term investment that will take some time and a relatively small amount of money, and it's worth far more than you invest."

Building a community

When launching a forum, there are many ways eRetailers can prime the pump to elicit participation by customers. First up is promoting the forum on the eCommerce site and in e-mail marketing, retailers say. From there, in-house staff must take the lead by seeding the forum with content as well as questions.

"In the beginning we had employees start a lot of threads, especially about controversial topics to get people talking," DeLuca says. "One topic was: ‘What do you think about female bodybuilders?' That got people all riled up."

BodyBuilding.com then reached out to pros and industry experts, asking them to create topical threads and be active members of the community. "This only helps them because it gives them more of an audience to show their expertise," DeLuca explains. "The audience benefits from that expertise, which helps fulfill our mission of helping people reach their goals."

Fabric.com launched Sew to Speak without a name. It decided it would let customers name the forum as a way of creating buzz and getting the ball rolling. Results exceeded expectations, Eady says.

"We used different spots on the web site and in e-mail marketing to advertise the contest, linking customers to a spot in the forum where they could suggest names. Then we set up a poll in the forum where people could vote for the top five we selected. Letting customers name it gave them more ownership of the forum," she says. "We primed with posts, as well. Our expert sewers on staff got in there and did seeding."

During the test phase for Stylin' Trucks, 100 staff members, family and friends are using the forum, seeding it for when it launches to the public in the fall. It also plans to promote the forum on its MySpace page. Additionally, it will be pressing the flesh.

"We've printed cards we'll hand out at shows and races that promote the online forum on one side and the MySpace page on the other," Holmquist says. "We'll also use answers from our customer service staff and content from our FAQs to create posts to prime the pump."

Holmquist adds that for retailers of products about which people are passionate, customers will begin adding material quickly. "It's primarily a matter of getting them there," he says.

Monitoring the crowd

Once customers are there and posting, eRetailers must monitor forums to make sure questions are answered, delete inappropriate content, and harvest insights into what customers like and dislike about the company, its offerings and its web presence.

There are five staff members at Fabric.com monitoring and participating in the forum. They come from the marketing, merchandising and customer service departments. Some were selected because of their extensive sewing experience, enabling them to best relate to forum members and their needs, Eady says.

Members routinely answer other members' questions, a fundamental of all online forums. It's up to the eRetailer to watch for posts that members cannot answer, or posts for which it wants to chime in. It is also common on forums for members to monitor posts for inappropriate material. After a time, members feel a sense of ownership of a forum and want to protect it, Eady says.

BodyBuilding.com has two people dedicated to its online forum, one full-time and one part-time. It also has 20 forum members who work as volunteer moderators. Many forum members are so enthusiastic that the post of volunteer moderator is a coveted spot, and DeLuca says he routinely gets e-mail requests from members who want to play that role.

To become a moderator, a BodyBuilding.com forum member has to have been a member for at least a year, have posted at least 10,000 times—posts range in size and can be brief comments or responses—and have a good reputation in the community. DeLuca rewards volunteer moderators with discounts at the eCommerce store.

Sharing power

Moderators have the authority to delete posts and ban users. But the forum system backs up all entries and tracks what all moderators do. If a moderator makes a mistake or a call the eRetailer disagrees with, posts can be restored and members reinstated.

Members must provide a valid e-mail address linked to a user name to become a member of the BodyBuilding.com forum. To ban a member, BodyBuilding.com staff or volunteer moderators remove the user name from the forum system and ban that e-mail address. BodyBuilding.com also tracks the IP addresses of those banned to prevent them from re-registering under a different e-mail address.

Fabric.com follows a similar protocol for removing abusive forum members, but Eady says there have been few problems. "We don't really interfere; we haven't had to," she says. "People who sew are a pretty tame crowd."

Tame or lively, forum members can be a boon to eRetailers in several ways. These include insights into products carried, increases in site traffic, improvements in customer service and improvements in natural search results.

For example, in a couple of cases customers reacted strongly to new products at BodyBuilding.com, saying they could be abused by teen bodybuilders. "The manufacturers' guidelines said nothing about that, but forum members felt strongly," DeLuca says. "They said we should put a warning on them and say very specifically what the product is really intended for. And that's what we did."

Enthusiasts often link to forum threads, which can boost traffic and search engine rankings. "We've been getting people who post a link on Digg.com to an interesting thread," DeLuca says. "This gets us not just more traffic to the forum and the store but more registered users who post more content, filled with keywords and inbound links for the search engines to crawl."

Ultimately, online forums are first and foremost a tool to engender powerful customer loyalty, retailers say. "The implementation of Web 2.0 tactics, creating a solid community, sets you apart from your competition and keeps your customers coming back," Eady says. "Our goal is to be first in their mind. If they have a question about a fabric or an issue to be resolved or a sewing tip to share, we want them to feel Fabric.com is not just a great place to buy a product but a destination where they can find a like-minded community."

The Bottom-Line: "Any online venture that isn't including their audience's participation in a real way, or at least planning to, will have a very difficult time keeping up with the times", says Ivan. He added, "From a branding perspective, audience participation drives enthusiasm for the brand and that's what advertisers, shareholders and potential buyers look for in any business. I mean, you can't build your brand if theres no audience, right?"

Video(s): N/A
Image(s): CONTEMPORIST
Source(s): Bill Siwicki for Internet Retailer; Read the original article here

Alternative credit card processing / payment eCommerce solutions

Fueling eCommerce with convenience, security and innovation

Miami web manager's eCommerce credit card processing alternativesAs U.S. online transaction volume grows from $150 billion in 2007 to a projected $355 billion in 2012, the online shopping population will change attitudinally rather than demographically, according to a Javelin Strategy and Research report. The report indicates that existing online shoppers with convenience needs and security concerns will influence the evolution of alternative payment [and credit card processing] methods. These systems will be built and tailored to those with online shopping experience, rather than those unfamiliar with or new to online shopping. The Javelin report also indicates that online alternative payment methods such as PayPal and Bill Me Later — traditionally used by early adopters — will become more mainstream as others temper their use of credit cards and embrace these new online methods.

Implemented correctly and with reasonable expectations, alternative payment solutions provide lower cost and a higher yield for those looking to get their feet wet with eCommerce. So what are these alternative payment opportunities? There are many, some of a very traditional nature and some that break the mold entirely.

Miami web manager's ClickandBuy logoClickandBuy is one of the more interesting alternative payment systems on the web. The German Internet-based payment and billing system is a market leader in Europe and is expanding its horizons to serve online merchants in the U.S. Much like competitor PayPal, consumers create a ClickandBuy account and fund it with money using a credit / debit card or from a checking account. A hosted payments platform, ClickandBuy includes an active fraud server, live customer care and multi-currency capabilities that could help U.S. merchants expand their operations overseas. More than 7,000 merchants utilize the service in 26 countries, including 21 different currencies and 43 different payment methods. ClickandBuy is used by Apple iTunes, Skype, MSN, T-Online, Electronic Arts, Meetic, Playboy, SanDisk, Yamaha, UNICEF and many more.

Miami web manager's GreenZap logoGreenZap is a global online payment service that is shaking up even the alternative payment solution model. Members can send money to anyone with an email address (registration is free to accept payments) and can also accept payments from other members. The company offers merchant tools, allowing online retailers to use the solution as a payment method. Transaction rates vary based on method of payment (bank transfer, credit card) but use a flat fee rather than a percentage of each transaction. Payments can even be free if received through a GreenZap account.

Miami web manager's Amazon Flexible Payments Services (FPS) logoAmazon FPS (Amazon Flexible Payments Services) is a set of Web services APIs that allows for the movement of money between two entities, humans or computers. Amazon FPS functionality includes the ability to send and receive money using credit cards, bank accounts or Amazon Payments balance transfer as payment method. Most exciting is the ability to aggregate micro-transactions into a single, larger transaction using Prepaid and Postpaid capabilities and one-time, multiple, or recurring payments on behalf of customers. Developers interested in testing the platform can utilize the Amazon FPS sandbox to build and test applications without using real money or incurring any transaction charges.

Miami web manager's CDG Commerce logoThe payment solutions offered by CDG Commerce are not really alternative by definition, but what makes the 10-year-old company worthy of note is that many of the associated fees are eliminated — making the offering attractive to established online retailers as well as those testing the waters of eCommerce. CDG offers no initial setup fees and has removed the monthly gateway fee (savings of $15-25 per month) as well as the per gateway transaction fee ($.05-.10 on every transaction). Coupled with an impressive list of strong fraud prevention services and solutions (Verified by Visa, MaxMind), serious online retailers will see the possibilities. CDG offers an alternative in price to other vendors while maintaining a consistent level of support and functionality as is found elsewhere.

Alternative payment solutions are evolving and will be a major factor in the continued growth of eCommerce. It’s important to choose a solution that works for your business and, more importantly, works for your customers. Some solutions may be better suited for experienced online shoppers while other, more traditional methods will serve those new to eCommerce. As the busy holiday season approaches, find out where your customers stand and what solution they feel most comfortable with. Whether accepting payments through email or by processing credit cards, making the process easy and trustworthy will ensure a positive experience for your customers and help your business take advantage of a booming Internet commerce.

The Bottom-Line: "There are a lot of choices and there's no excuse for a shoddy payment solution", says Ivan. He added, "These days I am really looking forward to a solution that'll allow U.S. merchants to safely transact abroad ..."

Video(s): N/A
Image(s): PayPalSucks.ORG, ClickandBuy, ChrisDoelle.com, Acumantra Solutions, Website Magazine
Source(s): Website Magazine; Read the original article here

SiCKO, the anti-marketing campaign

Miami web manager's thoughts on SiCKOI recently saw the movie SiCKO. I was deeply moved and although I wanted to write about it immediately, I didn't. I wanted to collect my thoughts and talk to others about what I learned. Today, Oprah dedicated her show to SiCKO. Like me, Oprah was naive about the problems we [potentially] face. Thinking back to my first reaction after seeing the film, probably the same as many, was can living in France or Norway really be that bad?

If you saw SiCKO, you'd know that France and Norway were two countries highlighted for thir exemplary healthcare. There were others but realistically, not many people would willingly move to Cuba and Canada and England are both too far of a stretch for me. I bring this up because, well, the film could have been the best piece of marketing for those countries. Additionally, it could have also been the nail in the coffin for basically every insurance company in the U.S. SiCKO is the anti-branding, anti-marketing, anti-EVERYTHING for the U.S. healthcare industry and one thing is for sure, their answer is absolutely on my What NOT To Do list.

The Bottom-Line: "... do yourself a favor and watch the trailer here then go out and get SiCKO here. You'll be moved one way or another", says Ivan. He added, laughing, "And yes, I catch Oprah evry once in a while, when my wife clues me in on a good topic and I'm not afraid to admit it!"

Video(s): N/A
Image(s): dcist.com
Source(s): N/A; Sign up for the newsletter here

J.Crew's back to [yoga?] school specials

Miami web manager's thoughts on J Crew's back-to-school marketing directionJ.Crew really dropped the ball on this one... Okay, so I'm shopping online for the last of [my son] Nico's school clothes and I see a paid search ad for J.Crew on Google. I like J.Crew but haven't shopped there since I lived in New York because there aren't any stores here in Miami (at least not closeby).

The thought of J.Crew selling kids clothes also makes me happy because until I saw the ad, I figured they only sold adult clothing. I click the link and it sends me to a splash page for yoga gear.

Yoga gear?! WTF?!

I wasn't even 'feeling' going deeper into the website to check if they had clothes for my 5-year-old. I hit the back button and kept searching!

Why should J.Crew care about this? Simple. That click I made was not free. Someone paid to have me click that link. Further, someone paid someone else to create the ad, monitor it, maintain it and ultimately optimize it. That little ad cost someone a pretty penny and I'll bet a lot of people are doing exactly what I did and costing J.Crew a lot of money and brand-damage!

The Bottom-Line: "A good many people don't find what they need on their first couple of searches and it's aggravating", says Ivan. He added, "You can either be the brand that aids in pissing off potential lifetime customers or you can be the brand that does their dilligence and ensures people are getting what thy came for by going over website stats and getting to know your visitors / customers and giving them more of what they want."

Video(s): N/A
Image(s): Dan's Hamptons
Source(s): N/A; Sign up for the newsletter here

How to handle rejection with grace

Miami web manager's 'dealing with rejection' tipIt's hard to be gracious when a prospect tells you that you were not chosen for an opportunity or position you desperately wanted.

Yet, your grace under fire is important. One reason is that it's a small world, and the fact that you even qualified for the short list puts you in a relatively rarefied atmosphere. Out of all the people in the world, you were one of the few who made the initial cuts!

More important, taking the time to thank your prospect for the opportunity of talking with them keeps you in the running for future opportunities. Circumstances change. The candidate selected may have received a better offer elsewhere, or may not work out as well as hoped. Other opportunities at the firm may open up for you.

Never burn a bridge or fail to acknowledge a rejection with a Thank You. Your Thank You is the first step towards ensuring your consideration for the next opportunity to come along.

The Bottom-Line: "In life, there are few things harder to accept than rejection and let's face it, we've all been rejected", says Ivan. He added, "I'm the first to admit I don't always take rejection well but I am a gentleman none-the-less and although not every rejection requires a 'thank you', a respectful follow-up will generally boost your likelihood for success about 20%. It has for me!"

Video(s): N/A
Image(s): Start Up Blog
Source(s): Guerrilla Marketing International; Sign up for the newsletter here

Search engine optimization (SEO) for dummies

Miami web manager's search engine optimization (SEO) for dummiesPeter Kent is a renowned SEO expert responsible for a number of books and articles, as well as CEO of a successful consultancy firm. He talks of his frustrations at an industry he believes is now mostly scam, and of how small businesses can achieve great results without having to rely on expensive or time-consuming content.

If you are unfamiliar with Peter Kent's name, just check your bookshelf. Remember when you bought Search Engine Optimization for Dummies? Well, he's the guy responsible for that book.

Kent's book is going from strength to strength, with the third edition published in June. In many ways he's a breath of fresh air because he doesn't just theorize about SEO — Kent practices it every day in his consultancy work.

Like a lot of people in SEO, it wasn't his first love. Throughout his mixed career Kent has collected a number of job titles; geologist, oil industry worker, nearly a dot.com millionaire, author, web developer, online marketer and now SEO consultant.

SEO scammers

It took Kent 18 months to convince his publisher to let him write SEO for Dummies back in the early [90's] when it was a little known technique. Today it's popularity continues to grow, but SEO still has an image of 'anybody can do it'. This, Kent says, has led to the industry being hijacked by charlatans.

"Over the last few years as I speak to more clients and hear their stories, it has led me to believe that 80% of the business is scam." Kent qualifies this remarkable statement by adding: "By that I mean that 80% of people in the business doing SEO consultancy are either running an outright scam, or they thought it was good to get into SEO because it's a hot area - but they don't really know what they're doing."

This conclusion comes from Kent's own experiences of hearing business owners come to him with 'horror stories' of how they have spent large chunks of their budget on optimizing their [website], only to find that little if nothing has been done to achieve better rankings.

SEO for Dummies allowed people to learn techniques quickly but Kent admits that for a long-term strategy, businesses would need someone else. That 'someone else', in Kent's eyes, must not be a web designer. When Kent talks about web designers attempting to do SEO the frustration in his voice is clear. "I have never met a web design company or web design consultant who understands SEO," he says bluntly.

For Kent the use of web design companies for SEO are the main source of those 'horror stories'.

Kent says it is common for him to take on clients who have already received SEO from web designers. "I'll look at it (their website) and I see that it hasn't actually been optimized in any kind of way. Or, someone will say to me 'Is my site search engine-friendly?' I have a look at it and then go back to them and say, no. A few days later I'll hear back from the company telling me that the web design firm is now charging them $2,000 to make it search engine friendly."

So what's Kent's advice? "Don't trust web designers as far as search engine optimization goes — even if they tell you they understand it, they don't. I used to say that a few understand it but I'm still waiting for them."

Content is king... sometimes

It's clear that Kent is someone who talks from experience — he knows what works, but not only that: he can tell you why it works. His time working on the coal face of SEO has led him to be creative with those clients who cannot rely on the traditional methods of boosting search engine rankings by generating content for their site.

Kent gives his top tips on how to conquer SEO without content:

"If you have a store that sells candles, you can play a few games to get links; like creating a software download library, for instance, and anybody who wants to be in the download library has to link to you. Let's be honest - if you have a candle site, are you going to be able to build something that is going to attract millions of links pointing at your site? Probably not.

"The reality is that you need to go out there and build links."

Ways to do this include registering for web directories and issuing press releases and syndicated articles.

It's not all SEO says Kent, only one of the techniques he has used (with great success) in community marketing, as he explains.

"This guy I was talking to had a sports equipment store. He doesn't think he has a lot of competition because this is an up-and-coming sport in the US.

"He said there were people blogging about this sport, so I recommended he go to the bloggers and to those on forums, and strike up a rapport with chatty messages that don't look spammy. Introduce yourself and your site, tell them your story and say that your site will be of interest.

"Some of those bloggers will check the site out, write about it and link to it. Once that happens go back to them and tell them about your services, your products, or a promotion you are running.

"Ask if they would be interested in using or reviewing the product and send them a sample. Keep hitting them in that way.

"If it's a big blog you can ask them if they want to run a competition for their readers and no one else. There are so many ways you can work with these people."

SEO for Dummies has long been regarded as a great starting point for people. We asked Kent to give the quickest and best SEO techniques that can be done instantly:

  • The local concept. If you have a local business, put up a contact page where the local area is listed. If you have a business in Denver, Colorado you should put your address on the site. But you don't just want traffic from people in Denver, you want it from around the state. I often tell clients to say at the bottom of a page 'serving other towns and cities', and name them.

  • Understand your keywords. Do keyword analysis, don't assume. I always tell people to spend a few bucks and get Wordtracker, spend a few hours, dig around, and do it properly.

  • It's interesting to hear that people are obsessed with abbreviations. They think it's important but when they do proper keyword research they often find that the same abbreviation means something different to a different group of people.
About Rachelle Money: Rachelle Money is a freelance journalist based in Scotland, UK. She graduated from the Scottish School of Journalism in 2005 where she was awarded an internship with two national publications — The Sunday Herald newspaper and The Big Issue magazine. Rachelle has been working with Wordtracker since August 2007 and is a regular contributor to the newsletter.

The Bottom-Line: "Search engine optimization is not easy", says Ivan. He added, "Can anyone do it? Yes, so long as they are extremely detail-oriented, thorough and observant, love metrics (and know what to track), have a keen ability to analyze your metrics, etc., etc., etc. I spend more time reading industry publications than most physicians do and I guarantee that I do not make as much as them. Leave SEO to the professionals. It costs less that way."

Video(s): N/A. Image(s): Wordtracker. Source(s): Rachelle Money (read the article here)

Convert better today ... here's how

Miami web manager's conversion rate tipsI’ve been in the web design business for 7 years and I’ve seen a lot of websites that stand out. I can honestly say that I’ve designed some kick@ss looking websites but at the end of the day it doesn’t [matter]. At the end of the day it’s all about [conversions] and how well that website converted those visitors into clients.

If you’ve got a kick@ss looking website but it’s not turning visitors into cash there are a couple things I would look at.

  1. Do you have a toll free number in the header on every page?

  2. Is the content easy to read?

  3. Is there a call to action in the top right corner of the page?

  4. Is every page on your site set up as a landing page?

  5. Do you have a logo?

  6. Is the content written so it is easy to understand?

  7. Did you get your website designed by a professional? Good companies might charge slightly more than your friend, but in the long run, the benefits directly affect the conversion ratio.

  8. Did you design the ordering process keeping in mind that the average potential customers might have minimal internet skills?

  9. Is there a call to action, such as asking to place the order, or sign-up for email should be used at every possible conversion point?

  10. Did you make the information about ordering the product is easy to understand and find?

  11. Did you place the questions that your visitor might ask in the FAQ section or as small tips during the ordering process?

  12. Does your copy instantly connect with the visitor and speak in a personalized and persuasive way?

  13. Make your web forms short, sweet and easy to fill. Most importantly, do not ask for unnecessary information.

  14. Place endorsements from reputable organizations to build customers trust.

  15. Where are the visitors coming from? Are you sure they are looking for what you are selling?

  16. What colors are you using for your website?

    Yes, one of the most interesting things to me is how colors affect the way we think and feel. They affect us whether we are aware of it or not. Some colors affect us more than others but they all have their own individual properties that affect us.

    All colors don’t affect all people in the same ways, however, there have been extensive studies done that show how colors effect the majority of people in the same ways. As with all rules, there are exceptions, but to ignore the power of colors would be to ignore an essential element of a good website design.

    Another extremely important element to colors is not only the properties or emotions each color conjures up in each of us, but also how combinations of colors make people feel. And to further complicate your perfect color selection you also have to be concerned with the fact that people have to be able to read your content or the most beautiful color in the world will be for nothing.

    No matter how important you feel the content on your site is, if they can’t read it due to bad color selection they will leave in search of another site to serve their needs.
The Bottom-Line: "The prettiest girl at the dance isn't worth a damn if you can't convert, err pick her up", says Ivan. He added, "I laugh when people tell me about how great their websites are and then begin to show me all this functionality and pretty buttons while their pages are in desperate need of calls-to-action and their contact information is virtually impossible to find or better yet, they themselves need a GPS to navigate their way around their own web pages. Show me a site that converts well and then we can talk about the bells and whistles. Until then, let's not waste time or money on [secondary] add-ons!"

Video(s): N/A; Image(s): Whatever; Source(s): Janeth for Your My Rant (read the article here)

This works, use it

Miami web manager's conversion rate tipsLet's face it; there is no easy part to being a [web manager] and trying to sell products online. So many [website managers] spend all their time trying to market their site, attract customers and stuffing it full of keywords that they forget to make their web site user friendly and ascetically pleasing. No matter how many visitors your site has, if it is not designed well you will never have more than a 1% or 2% conversion rate, and many sites are happy with this.

If you want to get the highest percent of conversions possible, your website has to be designed to look professional, keep buying simple, and have the customer in mind. What are the secrets of websites that convert the highest percentages of visitors to customers? They won't tell you but I will.

Keep your website's checkout process simple. The easier it is for visitors to complete a transaction, the more purchases you will see and the instances of cart abandonment will decrease. Customers get frustrated easily and the more steps it takes from the time they select a product to the time they pay for it, the higher the chance they will give up all together.

Always provide your contact info loud and clear on your website. Customers are much more likely to purchase from you if your website displays contact information in a conspicuous area. Put it at the top of every page and your customers will have confidence that if they experience any problems they can contact you.

Give your customers a clear idea of where they are throughout the checkout process. Everyone knows how the big websites do it. At the top or bottom of the page, there is a list of the steps in the checkout process with the customer's current step highlighted. This allows customers to know exactly where they have been and where they are going and decreases frustrations because the checkout process is clearly mapped out for them.

One of the worst things that can happen to any [eCommerce] website is when customers abandon their cart midway through the purchase. Customers do this for many reasons and one way to increase the number of transactions that are finished is to put product pictures in the shopping cart. This shows customers what they are buying and reminds them of why they want to complete the transaction.

Lastly, always design your website so that links from the cart open in a new window. This allows customers to check their purchases and make changes without leaving their cart, and will increase the number of transactions that are completed. On a totally different note, found this good resource for all those serious bloggers — well worth a peek.

The Bottom-Line: "The quick and easy is to start by emulating a site you know is successful. Early on, I followed Amazon as far as eCommerce went. They were really the only online store that people trusted and they did an excellent job of bringing the traditional mass retail shopping experience online. Moreover, everyone knew of them and could navigate the site easily", says Ivan. He added, "Modeling my sites' architecture like Amazon's meant people would automatically recognize the site (even on their first visit), know that they were on an online store and navigate easily to find what they were looking for. Trying to 'figure out' the best approach when someone else already did it for you... just focus on customizing what works for their site on yours."

Miami web manager's conversion rate tips

Image(s): Core77 and Amazon. Source: DesignGuruRyan.com. Sign up for the newsletter here.

Tips to increase your web page's conversion rates

As [a web manager], you need to understand the fundamental importance of optimizing your conversion rates. If you are fairly new to the world of [website management / marketing], you may not be entirely clear as to what conversion rates are. Conversion rates simply refer to the percentage of consumers who take action of some sort in response to a communication or solicitation that you have presented to them. For example, if you communicate with a consumer in some fashion asking them to join your emailing list, and if a consumer has done so, who have initiated a consumer conversion.

If you really do want to ensure that you are able to up your conversion rates, you need to take a proactive approach to doing so through the use of a comprehensive action plan. By this it is meant you will want to rely upon a number of different approaches to boosting your conversation rate. Historically, many business enterprises and [web managers] focused on one approach to attracting customers or clients and getting them to take a step towards the purchase of a product or service.

The fact is that you really need to approach increasing or boosting your conversion rates with the same directness that commanders do on a battle field. First, these generals create a thorough battle plan which provides the direction necessary to march towards victory. And, second, whenever possible, these military leaders work to open up more than one front, an approach that also is helpful in marching onwards to glory.

There are also many different tools that are available to you when it comes to developing a comprehensive (and proactive) approach to besting your conversion rates. By way of example, these tools include emailing, squeeze pages, sales pages, blogging, article writing and marketing and even the homepage of your Internet website. Once again, you will want to take advantage of all of these tools in order ensure the most effective program to increase and then maintain a high conversion rate.

By following these pointers and by utilizing these tactics, you will see a marked improvement in your conversion rates in a very short amount of time. In the end, this advancement of conversion rates will translate into more customers or clients for your business which ultimately means more revenue and profit for you.

The Bottom-Line: "Any web manager knows that half of marketing is getting traffic, the other half analyzing it and taking action to keep improving results", says Ivan. He added, "[These] conversion rate tips are a great starting point for a growing website."

Image(s): Website Optimization. Source: DesignGuruRyan.com. Sign up for the newsletter here.

How Randy Pausch touched MY life

Miami web manager's good-bye to Randy PauschRandy Pausch, a professor of computer science at Carnegie Mellon University and a good friend of Google, passed away [the night of July 25th, 2008]. In addition to being recognized as a pioneer in virtual reality research, he became widely known as a gifted teacher and a mentor to many. Millions of people saw his inspiring "Last Lecture" on YouTube. Read more about Randy and his contributions on our Research Blog.

The Bottom-Line: "Randy Pausch was an inspiration to millions. I first heard of him when I was feeling down one day and my wife starting telling me about his great positivity in spite of his situation.", says Ivan. He added, "I saw him a short while later on Oprah. Truth be told, I actually canceled a meeting and went home early to catch him on TV. He continues to inspire me to be a better husband, a better dad and a better person. I still constantly remind myself to 'be a Tigger'."

Image(s): 精品外文翻译. Source: Google. Read the full article here.

Support Christmas in July

Miami web manager's Christmas in JulyChristmas in July is a [web] marketing-influenced pseudo-holiday infrequently celebrated in the United States.

Perhaps you can conjure up a bit of holiday spirit while huddled around a bowl of ice cream and watching reruns of "The Simpsons" Christmas episodes. Those who actually celebrate Christmas in July prefer frozen margaritas and daiquiris served poolside instead of eggnog shakes and reruns of network TV holiday specials.

Miami web manager's Christmas in JulyEven thinking of Christmas in July is a bit of a nightmare for most [web managers]. Not only is it hard to get into the holiday swing of things, it's also a bit disruptive for natural search [engine] optimization. But it doesn't have to be if you keep the spirit of Christmas alive throughout the year. Then it can actually work to your advantage when the real holiday season finally rolls around again.

The Bottom-Line: "Christmas in July is nothing more than a marketing hoax turned not-a-bad-excuse-to-generate-extra-revenue holiday. Honestly, I'm not ure that anyone outside of sales celebrates it (I don't!) but that doesn't mean you can't benefit from it. After all, you are in business, right?", says Ivan. He added, "Click on over to PJ's article and read her secrets to holiday SEO including bringing old URLs out of hibernation and harvesting inbound links to seasonal landing pages [here]."

Image(s): Layered Technologies and Greg's Lounge. Source: PJ Fusco for ClickZ. Read the full article here.