Good Traffic vs Bad Traffic

If I had twenty dollars for every time I heard, “My site isn’t getting enough traffic,” I wouldn’t  have to be here writing to you now. Of course, I’m joking. Mostly.

None the less, use your imagination a bit and let’s play through…

Sometimes it goes a step further and we move on to the topic of A/B testing. What a great technique / tool, right? Yes, but how often is the tool used correctly, in the complete and holistic context of the brand?

If you’ve limiting your view to traffic; if you’re limiting your view to the effectiveness of a given A/B test; well then there’s a good chance you’re well, um, limiting your view. There’s nothing wrong with that per se, as long as you’re aware you’re wearing blinders.

Good Traffic vs Bad Traffic

Solving for today does not necessarily mean your individual solutions, lined up end to end, will over the long term translate into a sum of their individual successes. For a 21st century minded brand, 1 + 1 + 1 could equal 3. It’s possible it could equal 2. It’s also possible it could equal 4, or more. The point being, instead of solving for one (and only one) repeatedly (as easy as it might be), doesn’t it make more sense to ask, “What does it take to get to 4 or more?” That’s where the magic happens.

More specifically, you might find that after an A/B test, call to action A is less effective than call to action B. For example, B gets more email list sign-ups than A. Going with B makes sense if your view is limited to building the size of your list this week. However, it’s certainly possible that after six months or twelve months, the net number of subscribers is better with A than B. In other words, B triggers more sign-ups, but it also has a higher percentage of people eventually going for unsubscribed. Is B still superior to A?

Another possibility is A, over time, might have more opens; more clicks from those opens; and/or actually results in more sales. Again, B tested great for sign-ups—and that’s what was tested for—but then B comes up short for other more important metrics. The same can be said for the pursuit of traffic. That is, some traffic is better than other traffic. Growing traffic, even for sites based on a traffic model (i.e., they sell ads), should be done with care and consideration. Are you blowing up or on the cusp of blowing out?

The bottom line…Over-focusing on the wrong things can get you to where you want to go today. However, it might not get you to where you need to go next week, next month; or next year. Once you decide what you want to measure, always be sure to pause and ask why, and if it’s a long term plan builder or a short-sighted feels-good fix.

“In the end, it takes you.”

How about some quick post three day weekend inspiration to get you motivated today? This savory bit was pulled from the new (and free) mini-ebook “Innovation Begins Here: How to Become the Hero in the Hero’s Journey” by Mr. Brian Solis (http://www.BrianSolis.com).

“Innovation begins here. Innovation begins with you.
You are the change agent. You will help influence an uprising that overturns the prevailing
culture of management into that of leadership and innovation.
It’s not easy, but it’s within your ability and reach.
It takes courage to do what others will not.
It takes vision to see what others can’t.
It takes empathy to feel what others experience.
It takes persistence to overcome resistance.
It takes patience to allow the time necessary for your work to bloom.
In the end, it takes you.
Where you are and where you need to be is separated only by your vision and also
your actions and words.
Savor this moment. And then do something about it.”

Solis is also the author of “WTF [of Business]”, “The End of Business as Usual”, as well as “Engage!”. For more info and links to your favorite book provider: http://www.BrianSolis.com/books

Free Download: “Innovation Begins Here: How to Become the Hero in the Hero’s Journey”

Online Marketers: The Most Important Article You’ll Read All Year

If you follow my online business writing you’ll already know I’m a dedicated disciple of the ideals of the Avinash Kaushik School of Analytics. Not only does he understand the data and how best to derive information from it, but he’s also spot on when it comes to broader business and business culture issues that compromise the promise that analytics can deliver.

His monthly-ish blog articles are consistently exceptional. This one rises to the top of that:

Eight Silly Data Myths Marketing People Believe That Get Them Fired.

Highly recommended for all marketers—online or offline.

Who is Your Competition?

Recently I was a participant in a conversation / brainstorming session and someone else proclaimed, “If your competition is doing it, you have to do it too.” While my teeth slowly came down on my tongue I thought, “My Gawd, NO! Me-too isn’t a viable strategy. Follow the blind leading the blind? No way man. Where you should be is where your Guests expect you to be.”  However, that does raise the question: Who is your competition?

Back story: In the 90’s I owned an (offline) retail store that sold music (i.e., vinyl records and CDs), as well as clothing and some other things. The “prevailing wisdom” back then was that other businesses similar to Planet X (the name of the store) were the competition. In retrospect that perception was off-target. The competition was not my music retail peers as much as it was the other interests of my customers. For example, video games. When someone spent $50 on a video game then chances were good they didn’t have that $50 to spend on music (or clothing). The competition wasn’t another store in the next town but that the customer believe the best value for his/her buck was something other than what we offered.

Here are two articles that touch upon the new ideal of competition:

“A Winning Playbook” – Kim S. Nash and Lauren Brousell (CIO.com)

“Disrupt of Die” – Kim S. Nash (CIO.com)

With the internet that effect gets magnified, obviously. Pardon me to stating the obvious but at any given moment you are just a click away from losing the attention of your customers to someone or something else. Your competition is now everywhere, 24/7. Obviously, you can not—and should not—be everywhere. In addition, the people (i.e., The Guests) you are trying to reach have a finite amount of time and a finite amount of attention. The possibilities are endless. The answer is to redefine what competition means in decade two of the 21st century.

Here are the new rules for the new game:

  • Step 1: Abandon the myths of the 20th century, especially those that were never true to begin with.
  • Step 2: Think like your Guests. What are their expectations? What does their ideal experience look/feel like? Obsess over that, not the illusion of individual competitors.
  • Step 3: Spend some time in the mirror asking why and when you are your biggest enemy (read: competition). How are you preventing you from identifying and delivering the ideal experience?
  • Step 4: Repeat.

Ready? Set? Go!

Stanford and Entrepreneurial Thought Leaders: Tim O’Reilly

Every now and then you come across something that begs to be shared. This podcast is one of those moments:

Standford’s Entrepreneurship Corner Thought Leaders Series presents Tim O’Reilly

Yes, that’s Mr. Web 2.0 of O’Reilly Publishing fame. While I trust you’ll take the time to listen to Tim, these are the ideas that intrigued me. (Note: Some are quotes, some simply paraphrased, and some are O’Reilly quoting others.)

 

  • Edwin Schlossberg: “The skill of writing is to create a context in which other people can think.”
  • Implicit context
  • Embrace hardware as well as software
  • Software above the level of a single device
  • A system in the space between devices…not just a single application
  • The Law of Conservation of Attractive Profits
  • Software is a commodity. Data is the new currency of value.
  • Rethink workflows and the experience
  • Think differently about human / machine symbiosis
  • We don’t have better algorithms. We just have more data.
  • It’s a fairly hard AI problem to pick a traffic light out of a video stream. It’s a trivial AI problem to figure out if it’s red or green if you already know that it’s there.
  • Reputation systems
  • Close the loop
  • What loops can you change? How can you make things smarter? And close the loop?
  • Enable an economy
  • Create more value than you capture
  • Make other people successful
  • Work on stuff that matters
  • Idealism is good for your business
  • Work on things that are hard. Find hard problems.
  • Look a little sideways
  • Code For America (http://CodeForAmerica.org)
  • O’Reilly AlphaTech Ventures (http://OATV.com)
  • It’s an ongoing process
  • Find interesting problems that are relevant locally
  • It’s about narrating your work in public
  • Sometimes it takes a long time, keep at it
  • Who do you want your customers to be
  • Subscription is an important business model
  • Sensors (hardware) are talking to software
  • The Maker Movement
  • Square enabled coffee shop

Share this! And listen to it again and gain. You’ll hear a little more each time.

Design + Science = Design Science

Time flies when…well…um…time flies. I blink and “next week” somehow morphs into couple weeks behind me. Is it just me? It’s not just me, right? In short, too much work, too much to do, and not quite enough time to share quality content here with you. Sorry. I acknowledge my faults and promise you I’ve got processes running in the background to remedy this. Thanks for your understanding. Let’s move on.

About a month ago I picked up the book “Trillions” by Peter Lucas, Joe Ballay and Mickey McManus. I was inspired to read “Trillions” after attending a presentation followed by a book signing at Princeton University by Mr. McManus. You can read more about that event here: http://www.alchemyunited.com/2012/10/26/a-million-millions-is-trillions.

If you’re interested you can follow my “Trillions” chapter by chapter efforts here:
http://chiefalchemist.com/source/trillions-maya-design-lucas-ballay-mcmanus

Typically, as I’m consuming a book, I do a chapter by chapter “key takeaway” blurb (read: brief) on my Chief Alchemist “workstream” site / blog. That said, Chapter 6 (Design Science on Trillions Mountain) of “Trillions” has a number of insightful gems that demand to be shared.

  • Beyond Design Thinking To Design Science: [Buckminster] Fuller called his approach Comprehensive Anticipatory Design Science.
  • Design Science rejects a purely relativist view of traditional design thinking. In Design Science we avoid notions such as “liking” a design for personal or superficially stylistic reasons. There will always be a variety of good designs—some better than others; bounded rationality and the sheer diversity of problem situations suffice to ensure that. But there are also wrong designs…But it is to say that, give a proper statement of goals and a sufficiently broad and careful consideration of the entire situation—technical, human, and market—it is possible to establish principled, professional, systematic techniques that rationally select some design over others.
  • The goal was to understand the whole ecology of people, places, documents, and information, and to model it early, before degrees of freedom had been used up in designing individual pieces of the system…Making—through, iterative, frequent, parallel prototyping—is a design method that turns indistinct dreams into tangible goals in record time.
  • Make The Right Thing: The Crystal Palace exhibition of 1851 exposed the human weakness for celebrating what can be done with technology, with little thought about what should be done. We need to remind ourselves that even though we may have some prowess in making things right, we need to put equal emphasis on making the right things. What goals, processes, and guidelines will lead us to the right things—made right?
  • Action at the Interstices (by Pete): I like to visualize all human knowledge as a giant jigsaw puzzle, where each academic discipline is a puzzle piece. In some sense, there is only one picture, and the cuts that we made to the puzzle pieces are artificial and arbitrary…So, the interstices between disciplines are always where the action is. It is where the best practitioners go to invent the future.
  • If we are going to design for Trillions in a way that is human-literate, rather than forcing people to become ever more computer-literate, we need to keep the human at the center of the process. We need a vision of how we will come to understand not just people and their needs and desires, but also how they will be affected by the myriad devices that will become intimate parts of their everyday lives.
  • Studying one product in isolation, unconnected from its “social life,” will no longer suffice…To add to the challenge, the range of potential products that have become technically feasible is becoming nearly boundless…Sizing up the market to decide where to invest one’s efforts and capital has always been a core challenge of business, even when the range of possibilities was severely bounded. Now that so many of the bounds have been lifted, the challenge is that much greater. Remember the stuff in the Crystal Palace.
  • If “ship early, ship often” is interpreted as the willingness to expose not-quite-feature-complete but well-tested products to the healthy pressures of real users, everybody wins. But if it is used as an excuse for shipping half-baked, flaky products; using your customers as unpaid quality-assurance staff—and counting on ever-lowering expectations of quality in a slipshod marketplace numbed by crashing TVs and bug-filed software—it is another matter entirely.
  • Antoine de Saint-Exupery suggested this way:”A designer knows he has achieved perfection not when there is nothing left to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.”
  • What’s happened is that the complexity didn’t disappear. It shifted.
  • All of science is based on cycles of Hypothesis >> Model >> Test >> New Hypothesis, and Design Science is no exception.
  • Progress in science is paced not just by advances in theory, but also by advances in methodology. Design Science is no exception.
  • Our collective goal must be convergence toward a unified user experience. A common interaction physics is the golden path to this goal. Consistency builds confidence, and confidence provides feelings of control, security, and comfort…Our ability to build civilization itself would be called into question if everything were as plastic as most software products.
  • Informatin-Centric Interaction Design: It is possible to identify four distinct states in the evolution of human-computer interaction. Command-centric. Application-centric. Document-centric. Information-centric.
  • We are on the verge of building system unprecedented both in their scale and in their very nature. It is one thing to design a usable computer program. Is is quite another to design a usable environment when that environment compromises innumerable semiautonomous devices mediating an unbounded swirl of constantly flowing information. Usability, or the lack thereof, will be an emergent property of such a milieu.

You might also be interested in this on TheAtlantic.com:

MAYA Tames Complexity in the Age of Trillions

By Kathryn Hawkins

Yes! I agree, you should go buy the book already. Chapter 6 at double the price would still be a bargain.

A million millions is…Trillions

The future is here, almost, and it looks nothing like the present and the past. Or so is the vision / prediction of Mickey McManus (CEO of MAYA Design, http://MAYA.com). Earlier this week to promote his new book, Mr. McManus spoke on the Princeton University campus as part of the Keller Center’s ongoing Events & Lectures series (http://commons.princeton.edu/kellercenter/2012/10/mickey-mcmanus-trillions.html). He, along with Peter Lucas and Joe Ballay (also from MAYA Design), are the authors of “Trillions—Thriving in the Emerging Information Ecology”.

Yes of course, I bought the book (as well as had it signed). If you’re interested you can follow my chapter by chapter “key takeaways” here:
http://chiefalchemist.com/source/trillions-maya-design-lucas-ballay-mcmanus

This was not your typical mid-week late afternoon session sprinkled with takeaways of hard and fast (business) rules. Instead the focus was on ideas and concepts that were abstract and thought provoking, if not mind-expanding. I mention this now so you have the proper context for my notes below. Please adjust your expectations accordingly. Also, perhaps consider buying the book to fill in any blanks you might suddenly spawn.

  • Seconds, the measurement of time. 1 million seconds is ~1.5 weeks ago and 1 billion seconds goes back to the mid-70s. But 1 trillion seconds is 30,000 BC!
  • There are 50 to 100 trillions cells in the human body.
  • Malignant complexity
  • Five cloud services currently store most of humanity’s information.
  • Cascading failures
  • The mountain we’re on is nothing compared to the one that’s coming.
  • Nature is the ideal model (for managing complexity).
  • Beautiful complexity
  • Generativity (Ref: Wikipedia)
  • Conway’s Game of Life (Ref: Wikipedia)
  • Generativity + Human Centered Design + Parametic Model
  • Bill Joy (Sun Microsystems): “There are always more smart people working for someone else than working for you.”
  • There’s a bubble coming…
  • Luck is not a plan.
  • Become a student of what’s coming.
  • Count the cards. Learn the tricks. Learn the patterns.
  • A crisis of creativity (i.e., not enough of it).
  • We must pivot from making things right to making the right things.
  • Dream bigger.
  • Brands will become transparent whether they want to or not.
  • Patagonia (company) is a model for the future.
  • There are electrical codes. There are plumbing codes. There are no codes for computing and technology.

Wow. Right?

“Figuring it out is the fulcrum,” said the man with the billion dollar smile

Luck favors the prepared, as well as those who keep their eyes and ears open for “opportunities”. (Colleagues who do the same is a big help too.) The truth be told I consider myself quite fortunate to have made time for Steve Papa’s appearance at Princeton University late yesterday afternoon. Aside from being a graduate of Princeton (1994), Papa was also one of the founders of Endeca Technologies. Less than a year ago Endeca was acquired by Oracle for around $1.1 billion.

Here are some of the highlights from my notes:

  • Rule #1 – Ignore the experts. When you’re doing something new there are people who just won’t get it.
  • Learn to succeed despite the odds. Have faith, it’s part of the process.
  • When financial times are tight, sell a painkiller (i.e., a product that increases revenue).
  • Recession, reinvention & re-organization.
  • Main lesson: Ideas <–> Figuring it out <–> Execution. There’s more to it than just ideas and execution. The fulcrum (that few talk about) is figuring it out.
  • “Survivorship bias”—Don’t let early customers over-influence your product / direction. The customer is always right, but not every customer is the right customer at the right time for your company.
  • Being entrepreneurial is the relentless pursuit of credibility.
  • Fact: Entrepreneurs don’t create risk, they mitigate it.
  • Be aware of macroeconomics
  • “It’s always a good time to innovate but there’s not always time for every innovation.”
  • You will hire people who will not do what is good and best for your company. This is particularly true of sales people.
  • With regards to hiring:
    – Repeaters vs creators
    – Doers vs leaders
    – Intellectually curious vs focused
    – Experience vs potential
    – Credibility vs talent, or both?
  • Where the company / product is in the development cycle will drive the specifics of your hiring needs.
  • Key to sales: Timing, territory & talent in that order. [Note: He made it a point to highlight that timing and territory come before talent.]

The two best gems came towards the end of the presentation:

  • Luck plays a bigger role than most will admit. But luck favors the prepared.
  • “I figured out the right approach by process of elimination.”

Needless to say, Steve knows his was around the playing field. Yet much like Jack Dorsey, there was a quiet confidence in Papa’s persona. No chest thumpin’ or other Thump-isms, just simple honest ideas, opinions and facts. Strictly business—humble, human and with a smile.

Whatever happened to business common sense?

“Disruptive Innovation Made Easy” by Paul Michelman (Harvard Business Review, 7 June 2012). Since launching my work-streamy Chief Alchemist website (http://ChiefAlchemist.com) I’ve tried to reserve Alchemy United for more “original” proactive content, and less in-response-to content. This post actually started on CA but as it developed I decided its thoughts qualify as Alchemy United material. I hope you agree.

This is the comment I left on HBR:

“Each industry has practices that drive customers crazy,” write the authors of Smart Customers, Stupid Companies. Take technology providers’ technical support, with its long hold times “hopelessly complex interactions.” Is there something companies in your industry do that’s just as stupid? “Identify these types of practices, and wipe them out.”

With a fair amount of certainty I believe I can say we’re all in favor of innovation. With that being said, it’s still no substitute for good old fashion execution. Execution that meets Guest (aka customer) expectations. Forget “wow”, today I’m just shooting for “thanks, that’s great.”

Let me give you a perfect example. A couple days ago I was on the deals site Slick Deals (http://SlickDeals.net) and spotted a product at a particularly great price from Adorama (http://Adorama.com). For those who don’t know, Adorama is a well established retailer of (mostly) camera gear. I was so impressed with the price that I ordered ten—shipping was free.

In the end, they only shipped me one (out of ten) and for some reason they charged me for shipping. Other than the traditional “your order has shipped” email I received no out of the ordinary communications from Adorama with regards to my order. This morning I returned to the SlickDeals thread to find I wasn’t the only one who was short shipped as well as mistakenly charged. The short shipping is acceptable. Adorama elected to make more people (probably) less happy. I’m not selfish, I understand. (Note: Some others might not be so kind.)

On the other hand, clearly Adorma knows about the shipping charge glitch, or should know. My (read: everyone’s) expectation is simple…if you want me to want you, don’t make me take time to ask for something that you (the brand) should be proactive to acknowledge and provide. Surely HBR is not suggesting that such things require innovation? Would anyone like to bet that this was not the first time Adorama encountered an exception in their process? Yet, there’s nothing in place to catch that exception and resolve it? Really?

To top is off, I did notice that Adorama had taken liberties to start including me in their email blasts. Again, unacceptable. How about a “You should have received your order by now. Is everything alright? Is there something we can help you with?…” email first? I mention this because my company did just that when I owned a small (seven figures in revenue) e-comm company.  Every new customer got a follow up a day or two after they received their order. Note: That was something we did ten-plus years ago.

My point is, when business common sense is being passed off as innovative then we are all in a lot of trouble. Customers aren’t patting themselves on the back for clicking the Order Now button, or dialing a number on their smart phone. I think it’s time companies stop glorifying themselves about ideas and “innovations” that in 2012 should be as ubiquitous as air.

Social Media ROI: Alchemy United vs Google URL Builder – Part 4

Here we are again, face to face with social media and ROI. A question for the ages, is it not? The original plan was to introduce you to the Alchemy United vs Google URL Builder (Google Docs) spreadsheet in Part 4. I have since refactored the path to that goal. Instead (per a couple requests), I want to add a little bit more flesh to the bones of Part 2. Consider this Part 2 of Part 2, if you will. Since 2 + 2 = 4 let’s pretend we’re still on course.

Social Media ROI: Alchemy United vs Google URL Builder – Part 1

Social Media ROI: Alchemy United vs Google URL Builder – Part 2

Social Media ROI: Alchemy United vs Google URL Builder – Part 3

There are tens if not hundreds or perhaps even thousands of opportunities where a link back to your website is shared. The more thorough you are in managing the tagging of the various sources of inbound traffic, the better you’ll be able to segment your data once that traffic arrives. As the great analytcis evangelist Avinash Kaushik (Kaushik.net/avinash) likes to say, “Segment or die.” (He also says, “Experiment or die.” If you don’t want to die—at the hands of Avinash?—then you should probably double-down on your daily dose of segmenting and experimenting. You’ve been warned.)

Just don’t over-think it. We’re looking to optimize this process. That doesn’t necessarily entail we perfect it. Typically, there’s too much flux and uncertainty for perfection. In other words, no matter how thorough you try to be there is going to be some traffic that will remain somewhat of a mystery. The objective is to force that slice of the pie to be as small as reasonably possible. The less unknowns the better.

Full disclosure: Writing this series has forced me to revisit and rethink my ideas, strategy and implementation of URL tagging. That said, I’m going to forge ahead warts and all, eventually share with you the spreadsheet mentioned, gather input and then re-execute. “Experiment or die”, right?

Some of you might be thinking, “But we don’t really share that many links in that many places.” To that I reply: Really? How about…Email signatures, leaving comments on industry blogs (both in the comment itself and via the avatar’s link), social media profiles (individuals/employees), social media status updates (individuals), social media page URL (in the info section), social media page status update, Flickr (i.e., in the photo’s caption), Pinterest, email blasts, guest blogging on other websites, QR codes, print ads, print brochures, web banner ads, links sent by sales to a prospect, and press releases. These were just the obvious ones that come to mind fairly quickly. Ideally, many of these strike you as Source and/or Medium for URL tagging.

Now imagine a Z dimension if you will. That is, you could have two or more employees participating in these numerous efforts. Without tagging you would just see a mish-mash of traffic in Google Analytics and not really have a firm idea where it came from or why. Helpful none the less? Probably. But far from optimal. On the other hand, if you take your tagging seriously you could—in theroy—see that:

  • Sue, the “average” employee in HR, was actually pulling on the most traffic to your site with her daily tweets. Not even marketing’s tweets were doing as well as Sue.
  • Bill, the guy on the pink slip bubble you caught “screwing around” on Pinterest last week, was sharing photos of company products that were actually resulting in leads and sales.
  • The QR code marketing paid uber top dollar to be published on the back cover of a local publication didn’t generate any meaningful traffic. In fact, the sales it did generate were low margin and high churn customer.
  • The company tweets on evenings and weekends actually produce a higher quality of traffic than the tweets what go out during normal business hours.
  • Posting multiple times per day to your company’s Facebook page does well. But the guest blog post you do one per quarter does twice as good. Actions: Perhaps pull back on Facebook; speak to the blog owner about doing a monthly article; seek other guest blogging opportunities.

Perhaps the URL Builder parameter Name could be employee name, or an assigned code? Or maybe you assign that identifier to Term or Content?

Granted, getting your entire operation to embrace URL tagging is easier said than done. Yes, perhaps that’s too high of an expectation? However, at the very least sales/marketing should be required to follow such a regiment. Also, difficult or not there might also be an opportunity to develop a process for URL tagging such that employees who participate are given an incentive to do and/or a reward based on the results they produce. Maybe “average” Sue isn’t so average after all?

Contrary to popular belief social media is not “free”. Time is being spent. Quite often money is being spent. There’s no doubt different activities by different people are going to product different traffic profiles on different days based on different messages, platforms, etc. URL tagging might not be Nirvana but it certainly has the potential to lower noise, increase clarity and identify opportunities for data-driven action.

Google AdWords: Paying Paul to rob Peter and…you

A few weeks back I received a direct mail offer from Google AdWords. It read: Come back to AdWords and get $100 in advertising credit on us. In the past similar offers were in the $50 to $75 range so this $100 credit certainly caught my attention. My first impression was that Google obviously loved me and that they were sticking to their “Don’t be evil” mantra. I bet you have the same impression.

However, that warm and fuzzy feeling didn’t last very long. About a week ago a client asked me to do another on-demand review of their Google PPC account. I checked this. Tweaked that. And adjusted the next thing. The usual routine. Everything seemed in order except for one thing. All the minimum bids for first page ad placement were up. There seemed to be increases even for campaigns and keywords where there has historically been little interest and movement.

Bingo! And then it hit me.

What’s misleading is that the credit promised isn’t on Google. The reality is that money is coming out of the pockets of anyone else who advertises on AdWords. Think about it. There are a finite number of ad slots/placements. That is, supply is more or less fixed. Suddenly Google injects a large number of $100 credits into the market. That is, Google artificially increases demand. So what happens when supply is static and demand increases? Prices go up.

Bottom line: What Google might lose in giving away that $100 they make it back because those same $100 injections drive up prices across the board. Isn’t being generous with someone else’s money somehow evil?

Launch: TANAHome.com

Website launch: TANAHome.comCongratulation to owner Tiffany Brigante on the launch of her new & improved website TANAhome.com.

Full disclosure: The TANAHome project came to AU via Meridith Feldman and Skylographic Design (http://skylographicdesign.com). SD created the design, AU executed the web development.

Highlights of Phase 1

—The TANA site is built on the open-source CMS platform WordPress. All content can be managed and updated by Tiffany.

—By re-appropriating the native WordPress functionality the TANA portfolio is easier for her clients and prospects to browse. TANA can assign a given portfolio project to more than one area of expertise. This ability to add-one-use-many lowers her workload and increases her ability to market her areas of expertise.

—The design and the UX (user-experience) are best described as brand appropriate. Not only does the site visually convey Tiffany’s sense of style but its user-friendliness is indicative of what it’s like to do business with TANAHome. As they say, “The medium is the message.”

AU’s Contribution

—Consultation and collaboration on: IA (information architecture), UI (user-interface) and UX (user-experience).

—WordPress development. To expedite the process, the WordPress theme Twenty Eleven was used as a leaping off point. The theme was fully customized—gutted, re-skinned and enhanced—to meet The Guest expectations as well as business needs of TANAHome. The result speaks for itself.

—Additional functionality was added to the website using two of our homegrown WordPress plugins: WP ezSlider and WP ezWidget.

—The TANAHome website is also further enhanced using WP plugins for: SEO, site map generation and scheduled automated back-ups.

—In order to optimize potential SEO benefits, we also consulted Tiffany on various SEO best practices. We expect to see her further develop her SEO awareness as she uses her site to grow her business.

—Naturally, we also installed Google Analytics and Google Webmaster Tools.

Congratulations Tiffany!

And thank you Meridith for bringing Alchemy United in to participate in developing the TANHome iproperty.

Social Media ROI: Alchemy United vs Google URL Builder – Part 3

Welcome back. Quickly, let’s recap. By the end of Part 1 you understood and embraced the value of tagging links with Google URL Builder. In Part 2 I drilled down, spread out and discussed the various tagging parameters. In addition I made suggestions and recommendation on developing a strategy for implementing those parameters within the context of how you might wish to measure your online marketing efforts.

Social Media ROI: Alchemy United vs Google URL Builder – Part 1

Social Media ROI: Alchemy United vs Google URL Builder – Part 2

Before I continue I want to emphasis that this level of thoroughness with the links you share does admittedly entail time, effort and dedication. At this point I presume you’ve also noticed in your social media marketing travels (since read Part 1) that the majority of links shared by brands—both large and small—are in fact not tagged. Conclusion: If you’re looking for a competitive advantage, as well as a deeper understanding of your online marketing efforts then there’s plenty of opportunity right in front of you. Like it or not, victory does not always come easy. Whether online or off the adage, “No pain. No gain.” is as true as ever.

Good news: After Part 3 we’ll be past the half way mark.

More good news: In Part 3 we move away from (what could be considered) the theoretical and into hands-on execution.

Still more good news: Part 3 is somewhat shorter than either of the previous two parts.

Today’s “insider secret” will add a tool know as a URL shortener to your toolbox of tricks for executing and measuring your online marketing efforts. For example, bit.ly and TinyURL.com are both URL shorteners. Chances are you’ve seen shared links using both of these shorteners. It doesn’t matter which URL shortener you use as long as the platform you select offers analytics on the links you shorten. In other words, we want to have access to data that tells us which of the shared links—whether back to your own site, or to any other site—has been clicked. My primary focus for the sake of this discussion will address using bit.ly.

“Why bit.ly?”

There are plenty of free/low cost URL shorteners. I’m going to focus on bit.ly mainly because of bit.ly pro. Wih pro, for the price of a domain name you can have your own vanity URL shortener. For example, Alchemy United’s AUtd.us is done via bit.ly pro. You don’t have to go pro. Nor do you have to go bit.ly. Perhaps I’ll do a round up of URL shorteners sometime soon?

By the way, yes it’s a lower case b in bit.ly. Also, please keep in mind that the only difference between plain vanilla bit.ly and your own bit.ly pro domain is the domain name. The back-end functionality and features are exactly the same. Think of your own domain when using pro as a “mask” or “alias” that just sits in front of  standard bit.ly. Therefore, when I write bit.ly, it’s really just short for saying, “bit.ly and bit.ly pro.” For all practical purposes they’re the same thing.

Now for the tip, tricks and caveats:

(1) When you shorten URLs with bit.ly the stats on that URL are accessible to anyone, not just you. All you or anyone has to do is take the bit.ly URL and add a “+” (without the quotes) to the end. For example, if the shortened URL is http://bit.ly/lo0k1tsShrt then to see the stats page you would use http://bit.ly/lo0k1tsShrt+. When bit.ly sees the “+” at the end it will redirect that request to the analytics page for that URL instead of redirecting you on to the web page of the de-shorten URL.

The concern is your competition could monitor your shortening activity pretty closely. That is, provided they know about the “+” trick. Frankly, most people don’t seem to be aware of this feature. It is however an important “feature” to consider.

(2) You do not own your data, bit.ly does. You get a free service. They get to monetize your data. It’s a fair trade?

(3) Getting your analytics data out of bit.ly isn’t easy. You can not simply export all the links you’ve shortened (with the associated click data, etc.) and then crunch that data locally. This means you have to look up each URL individually. I agree, in some/many cases that might not be practical. Sometimes using the free version of a service isn’t ideal, but in this case it’s a start and it’s better than nothing. bit.ly does give you day by day click stats at the link level so if you have nothing now at least a broad view at 50,000 feet is better than guessing in the darkness. It’s just not easy to get aggregated data without visiting the stats page for each link you’ve shortened.

I would like to mention that bit.ly does offer an API for accessing their data. However, (at this time) I do not know of any service that lets you upload a list of URLs, uses the API to grab the data for those URLs, and then returns what’s been grabbed to you in a consumable format (e.g., .CSV file). Perhaps I should add such building such a service to my to do list?

(4) Since harvesting the analytics data is less than ideal I recommend you use two different bit.ly accounts. One account would be specifically for links back to your own site. The other account would be for links to other sites. This way, when you log into each account your apples won’t be mixed with your oranges. This won’t get you to ground level granularity but at least it’ll drop you down to 40,000 feet from 50,000. Again, not perfect but certainly better than the guessing game you’re playing now.

Technically, your Google Analytics will be tracking any traffic that comes to your site from your tagged and shortened links. Therefore, the bit.ly stats might not be necessary. None the less, I still prefer to use bit.ly to get a quick bird’s eye view of what’s been shared and what’s been clicked. Let’s face it, shortening is good internet manners too. Nobody wants to be faced wit a long winder URL. Therefore, if you’re going to tag, shorten and share links not to your own site, you might as well shorten the tagged links to your site as well. What’s nice is shortening will to the untrained naked eye mask the fact that you’ve become a connoisseur of link tagging. Perhaps this is something you don’t wish to telegraph to your competition?

(5) When you take a shortened URL and post it directly on Facebook, Facebook will automatically de-shorten it (i.e., make it long again). This means that the page request won’t pass through bit.ly since it’s not really a bit.ly URL anymore. In other words, you won’t capture any click stats in bit.ly for those shares.

Not to worry, there’s a workaround for this. It’s simple. Don’t do your page’s updates (with shared links in them) directly on Facebook. Instead, you can sidestep the de-shortening problem by posting updates via the API (e.g., using a service like Postling.com) or by using the update via email option FB provides to pages. (To find the send to email address for your brand’s FB page, log into your page as the admin and then look under the mobile tab.)

(6) There are a couple other minor points but I am honestly trying hard to keep this brief. If possible, I’ll fit these other tips & tricks in before the end of this series.

Conclusion: If 1, 2 and 3 are a major concern then I recommend you strongly consider hosting your own URL shortener. For example, as an “experimental” side project, AU implemented VT802.us using the open source URL shortening PHP script from YOURLS.org. The primary advantage of setting up your own YOURLS.org install is that you retain complete control. It’s your site, your data and only you will see the analytics. You’d also have direct access to the backend database for exporting and more extensive crunching of your data.

Frankly, if I knew about YOURLS.org when I was signing up for AU’s bit.ly pro I probably would have gone with a YOURLS.org based solution. In my defense (if you will), it wasn’t until after using bit.ly for a while did some of these it’s-free-but-it’s-not-quite-perfect caveats come to light. As they say, live and learn. Lucky for you, I’m willing to share these insights. Obviously, if you’re interested in a YOURLS.org based shortener then you’ve come to the right place. We can do that. Else, run with the free version of bit.ly and make the best of it. bit.ly is a viable solution and it’s free. YOURLS’ is great but there are set up and maintenance costs involved.

If your social media marketing budget is $15,000 – $20,000 or more a year than the benefits (read: ROI) of a private YOURLS.org base shortener is in all likelihood easily justified. (Note: The budget figure includes time and well as hard dollars. If you value your time at just $50 per hour that’s approximately $1,500 per month. I trust you can do the math.) After all, if you’re not measuring, you’re not really marketing, yes? The internet and social media marketing is here to stay. The competition for people’s attention online is forever increasing. It’s going to take quality (and occasionally quantity) effort to rise above that fray. The analytics insights from a self-hosted shortener have the potential to be the difference between good and great.

Of course you could also market your public facing URL shortener as a branding tool. With some enhancing YOURL.org could be configured to disallow the stats of selected URLs from being exposed to the public.

So there you go. Imagine that…You share a link that goes to a site other than your own and you can tell how much engagement it pulled with your followers. If you tag that link—and we know you should—you’ll also be able to measure which platforms pulled best, which topics or end sites pulled best, or what day of week and/or time of day pulled best, and so on. It all depends on the parameters you use for tagging. Tagging and shortening adds time but it also adds significant value. On the other hand, not doing so tells you nothing. As they say, you can’t get something for nothing.

The tools are there. Now it’s up to you to use them. Please add your questions and comments below.

Social Media ROI: Alchemy United vs Google URL Builder – Part 2

In Part 1 of this series, I introduced the idea of link tagging (and Google URL Builder), why it matters to your website analytics, and how these tools are essential in the context of social media and measuring online marketing effectiveness. I also ended Part 1 suggesting the more curious check out these two Google resources:

Tool: Google URL Builder

Google Analytics Help: How do I tag my links?

Well, now the party is over. These two links are now required reading. No problem, I’ll wait.

Ready? Let’s go…

In short, by setting the various URL tagging parameters “correctly” you’ll be able to better analyze the traffic your link sharing efforts pull in. While Google only specifies that three of the parameters are required, I typically suggest you try to take advantage of all five. It’s rarely a bad idea to do so. Setting more of the parms means more data details to analyze.

What’s open to interpretation here is “correctly.” Let me explain. In order to tag your links correctly you have to develop a game plan for how you want to analyze this traffic once it arrives to your site and the resulting data into Google Analytics. Not ever business has the exact same needs. This is why correct is subjective and as much art as it is science. For example, do you want your Campaign Source to be social_media or perhaps you want Campaign Source at the social network platform level (e.g., facebook, twitter, etc.). It all depends on your reporting needs and how you might what to aggregate or dis-aggregate your traffic as it relates back to Source.

I’d like to mention that Google Analytics has many powerful custom reporting features. In many cases, the only limit is your imagination and your time. However, these power-user capabilities often require an added level of expertise. So (for example) while in theory it’s possible to aggregate multiple Sources into one or two buckets the process for doing so isn’t always as transparent (read: easy) as you might like it to be.

Therefore, I recommend you spend a reasonable amount of time upfront thinking about your tags, as well as doing some exploring of Google Analytics and how it lets you manipulate, pivot and parse the data from your website’s traffic. The better your tagging strategy is structured upfront, the easier it will be to pull the information you need from your GA data.

Important: If you’re looking for quick & easy then you might want to stop reading now and resign yourself to being yet another member of the legion of wanna-be online marketers who still believe you can fake it to make it. On the other hand, if you want to do this correctly (or at least strive for a higher level of thoroughness) and you appreciate the ROI from making the investment then please continue reading.

Ironic, isn’t it? To understand your marketing ROI, you have to invest time & effort in using and understanding the tools for doing so. If it were easy then everyone would be doing it.

Aside from Source, below are some ideas on the other link tagging parameters available. While it’s certainly not rocket science, there’s plenty to keep you busy and thinking hard as you’re developing your social media/emarketing URL tagging strategy. Trust me, it’s worth it. If your current employer doesn’t appreciate the attention to detail, your next one certainly will.

Campaign Medium – You could go with social_media_update for all links posted to any social media page (in the event you share a link to your site but the share is not on your own page). But in all likelihood you’d want to differentiate between links posted on your brand’s pages/accounts and links posted elsewhere. The nature of the traffic certainly could be different.

There’s also the possibility—which I’ll cover in Part 3—of shared links that go to other sites, not just your own, and being able to track engagement with your followers at a link clicked level for those shares. Obviously, that traffic isn’t going to show up in your Analytics. None the less, I’d still recommend you use different a Campaign Medium (or some other tagging parameter for identifying shared links pointing to other sites).

Note: The set of values for Campaign Medium is probably going to be selected from a finite and fairly static list. The same applies to Source. That is, there’s always room for a new value as your business needs evolve but you shouldn’t be making new ones up on the fly every time. It’s best to think about how you have been posting updates and sharing links and then reverse engineer those experiences into your URL tagging process.

Campaign Name – In terms of required parameters this is the third and final required tagging parm. Typically, I envision Campaign Name as being some sort of code. For example, you sell clothing and have an annual Spring Sale in April. A few weeks prior you rev up your marketing engines and begin to seed awareness. Those status updates and shares would be coded for that particular marketing effort (read: campaign).

Once you assign a unique code also be sure to log it somewhere. You not only want to be consistent as you’re running various campaigns but you’ll also need to matrix the code to your analytics data later. Yes, it’s certainly possible to have multiple campaigns running at the same time.

On the other hand, an example at the other extreme of granularity are the social media updates pushed out from the Alchemy United website. In this case, each article is treated like a unique marketing campaign. As a result, along with the other parms, Google Analytics is able to show which article via which social media channel pulled best. On another site I work on, blog article author ID and article category are both added to this mix. As you can imagine the vectors for crunching the data across just those various parameters is both robust and insightful.

Campaign Term – Again, sticking with the clothing example. Perhaps you’d like to track incoming traffic by the nature of the post. For example, gender, type of clothing (e.g., pants, tops, shoes, etc.) or nature of the post (e.g., new arrivals, sale, clearance, fashion tip, etc.) On the other hand, I’ve also seen Campaign Term assigned the time of day (i.e., morning, afternoon, etc.) an update was posted. The idea being, most social media updates have a very brief shelf-life. The client felt that time of update might be valuable to track. The jury for time of day is still out. It all depends on the project, the audience and what the you/the client believes is going to help them answer most of their marketing analytics question better.

Campaign Content – Similar to Campaign Term this too is fairly open ended. In one case we assigned (an encoded version of) the customer’s ID from the client’s database and used that to tag links via a mail merge over a series of mail blasts. As that campaign (of emails) went on, we were able to glean an understanding at a very granular level.

Another example might be for Campaign Content to be the product ID of the product/service mentioned in the post/update. Perhaps promoting Widget Q on social media has zero engagement. Perhaps promoting Widget X as increases (or decreases) sales of Widgets Y and Z. Or maybe mentioning Widget X leads to more conversions (e.g., sign up for email list). The point of setting any of these parameters is to attempt to turn parameter value into Google Analytics data, and then that data into useful marketing and business information. If you’re flying blind at the moment then things can only get better, right?

Finally, while it would be nice to think otherwise, this series is by no means capable of being the be all and end all on the subject of link tagging. Hopefully it’s raising your awareness, increasing your curiosity and inspiring you to progress beyond the usual social media guru cliches. You’ve made it this far, so please spend some time (between now and the next article) doing some digging on your own.

Also, as I mentioned, take inventory of your current social media usage and other online marketing initiatives up until this point. Consider the URL Builder parameters, how those relate to who, what, where, when, why, how, etc., and then mash that up with your marketing efforts and the questions you’ve been needing to answer. With each twist, iteration and jotted note your tagging strategy will take form. Social media ROI happiness is just around the bend.

In Part 3 I’m going to discuss how using a URL shortener (e.g., bit.ly) is going to supplement your linking tagging efforts.

Social Media ROI: Alchemy United vs Google URL Builder – Part 1

Social media and online marketing in general continue to be the blessing and the curse of marketers big and small. The change is constant and the noise ever increasing. New this. UI change that. It’s endless—and exciting. If Sisyphis has a modern day cousin it’s the 21st century marketing aficionado. Yet regardless of who, when or where there is one question that seems to remain constant: How do I measure the effectiveness of my social media marketing well as other online marketing efforts?

The answer is simple: Tag your links using Google’s URL Builder*.

Before we continue let me add some additional context that should help make embracing this extra step a no brainer. In the pre-social media days, link tagging (with URL Builder) was primarily intended to help measure the effectiveness of banners ads on third party sites, as well as for email blast tracking. For example, you might have placed a number of banners across a number of different “partner” sites. By properly tagging the links associated with those banners you could slice & dice your website analytics to see which banners drew the most clicks, longest visits, most conversions, etc.

Think about it. What are links shared via social media but banners ads without the banners? Right? Right! They’re across different sites. Check. Over time they are advancing different messages and pages/content. Check. People (hopefully) click on them. Check. And finally, you’d like to understand the nature of those visits. Check. Check. Check!

True, there’s a loss of context with social media. That is, in most cases you won’t know gross impressions for a given shared link (i.e., status update). None the less, at least you’re gaining an understanding of the effectiveness your social media efforts are generating. Are you getting 5 clicks or 500 per status update? Is that traffic leading to 1 conversion of 100? Which status updates are getting the most clicks? Chances are that (even without the context of impressions) answers to these questions are a lot more than you know now.

Truth be told, it’s a pet peeve of mine—and a major emarketing faux pas—when brands will highlight a particular product, service or article and then try to lead me to it with a simple, “Check our website” and a link to their home page. No! I will not check your website. If you want to read a particular section of a book would you just toss the book at me and say, “Find it”? Of course not.

Perhaps for you it’s a given. You are already particular about the URLs you share. If not, in 2012, it’s time to stop being that brand. The one that still thinks it’s okay to waste my time, as well as screw-up their own analytics. Because if you’re not measuring then you’re not really marketing.

If it helps, think of link tagging as a way to make your analytics more granular and more filterable, if you will. So instead of just gleaning, “We got 500 visits from Facebook” with link tagging you’ll be able to segment that 500 by the status update (i.e., link shared) and when done correctly, even the social media platform that update was shared on. Sounds good, yes?

Finally, this is the first part of a series of articles on the topic of URL Tagging and how to use it in the context of (mostly) social media. If you’re the type who likes to explore and wants to get ahead of the curve a bit then you might want to check out these two links:

Tool: URL Builder

How do I tag my links?

Else, just sit tight and wait for the next release in this series. I’m going to drill down deeper, as well as share a spreadsheet I use for making the link tagging process easier. Naturally, if you have questions and comments in the meantime you can leave a comment below.

*Note: This article presumes you’re using Google Analytics as your website’s analytics tool. That said, similar tools often have some sort of equivalent tagging methodology. These concepts should still apply. You just might have to implement in a slightly different manner.

How YouTube and Facebook are Killing Innovation and Success

We’ve all heard the stories. The twenty-first century equivalents of Daniel Boone, Paul Bunyon and Paul Revere. Amazing and larger than life.

First, there’s YouTube. Three former Pay Pal employees sketch out an idea on the back of a bar napkin (so to speak). They proceed to pursue the idea. Why? Because they can and they’re the types to do so. They launch quickly, continue to tweak, etc. and the site goes viral before the word was in the mainstream lexicon. As the story goes, less than two years later they sold to Google for well over a 1.5 billion dollars. Billion,

And then there’s Facebook, as “documented” in the film “The Social Network.” Mark Zuckerburg & Co whip together an idea, or stole it depending on who you ask. From there they rocket from stuffy East Coast Harvard to West Coast “swimming pools and movie stars” and onto billionaires and millionaires in less than two hours of running film time. With a little help from naiveté and Sean Parker, of course.

Both stories are impressive and inspiring. In that context, it doesn’t get much better.

Unfortunately, they are also both an exception to the rule. And not just small exceptions but are probably at the extreme edge of the exception scale. Winning the Power Ball lottery or dating a super-model is probably going to happen to you sooner than your idea becomes the next (me-to?) YouTube or Facebook. Yes, these thing can and do happen. I’m not here to squash dreams. But is looking to score the equivalent of back to back to back hat tricks in the World Cup a wise and realistic use of your energy?

Presuming you’re going to put some life-saving on the line, add stress to your life and your family (where before there was none), etc. perhaps there’s a better way? Perhaps, a business plan, or at least the draft of one?

Please note: I’m not a big fan of a business plan, as a plan per se. On the other had, the process of: collecting ideas; writing them down; organizing them so they make sense; flipping them upside down to look for holes; fully vetting your ideas; a draft a mission statement; assessing the size of the market and how you’re going to motivate and communicate with that market; defining goals and success and how those will be measured; sketching wireframes (if it involves a website) or the offline equivalent; formally and thoroughly analyzing the competition; reasonable and objective estimates of the resources required (i.e., time, talent and money); best case(s) and worst case(s); showing this collection of organized ideas to colleagues; and then stepping back yourself to see if the reward warrants the risk…

Well, there’s something to be said for a business plan forcing you to accomplish that.

The point of this exercise it’s only to prove yourself right, it’s to prove yourself wrong. You’re probably going to go forward anyway&mdash;as most entrepreneurs do&mdash;just make sure you know what you’re up against. The fact is, plenty of top flight squads have swaggered onto the pitch presuming victory over a less  worthy opponent and gone home humbled and without the victory. Yes, over-thinking it can be dangerous. However, I’m willing to bet that the non-victorious under-think more than they over-think it. Do you believe there’s no scrapheap of failed YouTube, Facebook, etc. wannabes? Just because that heap isn’t good Hollywood material doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.

That said, I’ll be the first to admit I have a soft-spot for spontaneity. I appreciate being quick to market. I embrace the agile mindset. When it’s time to run, I’m ready to go. Foolish! Hungry!! On the other hand, when it’s asked, “Nice. Which direction is this next YouTube/Facebook headed?” and “How are you going to get there?” the answer should be more than a couple pages of bullet points, most of which are the usual pages (e.g. About Us, Contact Us, etc.). Frankly, that type of swagger raises a red flag. Your opponent, the devil & his details, are probably smiling. The W is all but theirs.

The bottom line…Odds are you’re going to need to put the uber long-shot myths aside if you want Justin Timberlake in your “based on a true story” dream come true movie.

Finally, I’d like to end this with this thread from Quora.com:

http://www.quora.com/Startup-Advice-Strategy/As-first-time-entrepreneurs-what-part-of-the-process-are-people-often-completely-blind-to

Some serious food for thought in that one, yes?

Launched: VT802.us

Every now and then an idea/project comes along that’s too good to pass up. Maybe the appeal is its off-beat nature. Maybe it’s the challenge. Maybe it’s the potential for fun. Maybe it’s the chance to shine. Maybe it’s the bragging rights. Maybe it’s more productive than Big Bang Theory reruns on TV. Our homegrown VT802.us is all of the above and then some.

Background: Some months ago, in the process of purchasing some other domain names, I grabbed VT802.us. Call it pennies for a rainy day if you will. But at the time I had no idea how I might spend that cash cow. It just seemed like a good idea. Oh! Let me explain: VT is for Vermont and 802 is the telephone area code up there. Yes, they only have one area code. Make sense so far?

Long story short, I passed on the idea of a bit.ly Pro account. That was too mundane and too obvious. I waited. Then approximately six months ago I came across YOURLS.org. YOURLS is an open source project—thanks Ozh!—for doing your own URL shortener. Before you could say bazinga, a brand was born.

VT802.us – The World’s First Vermont-centic URL shortener.

Key Features & Innovations:

  • Submitted URLs that are already “shortened” will be unshortened and then reshortened with the VT802.us base domain name. This includes redirects. In other words, if a URL is a redirect to another URL, VT802.us will get to the end point and then shorten using the actual final destination URL.
  • Along with the to-be-shortened URL a short message for sharing to social networks can also be entered. Once the shortened URL is returned, the Guest has the option to share to any service supported by AddThis.com. Shorten once, share many. Neither bit.ly nor TinyURL offer this feature.
  • The AddThis code was heavily customized. In fact, in the process of trouble shooting a couple of bumps in the web development road even AddThis.com’s tech support admitted that the innovative configuring was an “unanticipated use” of their service.
  • Contact form (icon in upper right) is AJAX and jQuery. The main form and the contact form also use the jQuery Validation plugin.
  • Screen resolution is detected using Javascript in order to display the appropriately sized background image. Image dimension and quality helps them to load faster while not compromising the UX. (Note: Our photographer friends insisted we accept a bit of load time for a higher quality image.)
  • Images are selected randomly on each page load from a pool of files and meta data managed via the admin config.
  • The admin config has a number of fields for each image including: title, description, photographer and others.
  • Top message bar is done with the free version of HelloBar.
  • Banner ad is served with Google’s Doubleclick for Publishers. This feature enables us to analyze impressions, as well as allows advertisers to A/B test their banners. Pursuing advertisers is a Phase 3 pursuit. For now it was a matter of getting to play with Doubleclick again. That said, better to be ready sooner rather than later.
  • Logo and website design is also by Alchemy United. The markup uses HTML5 and is best viewed in Firefox or Chrome.
  • VT802.us also has its own Twitter account and Facebook Page. Please feel free to follow as well as Like. Thanks.
  • And yes, of course, Google Analytics too.

In short, VT802.us is a full-service end-to-end project, envisioned and realized by Alchemy United. As short and simple as it might appear to be this project still entailed quite a bit of attention to detail as well as thoroughness across a number of disciplines. Please let us know what you think about our “little” work in progress. Thanks.

Special Thanks:

I would personally like to thank Burlington, VT photographer/photojournalist Seth Butler (SethButler.com, @SethButler) for embracing the VT802.us vision.

Not only was he the first volunteer shooter to license a couple of images to the project but it was also his idea for the longer more detailed descriptions for the images. As a result, not only does VT802.us promote the visual side of the Green Mountain State but there’s a bit of education/insight as well. He also inspired AU to add the Image & Photographer information “page” (icons in the upper left).

Well done. Thanks Seth!

Relevant Links:

No pain. No gain. No memory.

“Come On, I Thought I Knew That!” by Benedict Carey (NY Times, 16 April 2011). I’ve been intrigued by plenty of things in my day but this article put me in a semi-permanent ponder. All the way back from the end of April as a matter of fact. What if…just keeps repeating.

I understand that the focus here is on how the brain learns. That is, the research mention is specific to learning and education. However, what if this is also insight in how the human mind learns and retain other things? Certainly there has to be some broader implications and relationships. The brain might be not be a one trick pony but even if has patterns and habits.

Specifically I’m thinking about web sites, web design and usability. The current rule of thumb is to make such interactions super easy and painfully obvious. But maybe too easy is a detriment? I’m sure I’m not the only one who has been on a web site and thought, “Oh, I’m sure I’ll remember this.” A couple of hours later, that memory is long gone. Mind you, that hiccup isn’t exclusive to web sites. None the less, I’m just wanting to point out that maybe too “user friendly” is actually a bad thing. Heresy, yeah I know.

Read the article and let me know what you think. Moi? I’m thinking there’s even more truth to “No pain. No gain.”

Client-friendly SEO guidelines – Part 3

If you missed either of the two previous installments you can start by catching up here:

Client-friendly SEO guidelines – Part 1

Client-friendly SEO guidelines – Part 2

And without further delay here is the conclusion to this three part beginners’ guide to search engine optimization basics.

8) Image File Names

Believe it or not, search engines also index the names of your image files. Therefore, it is wise to  take advantage of this and give your images file names that are relevant and informative. Don’t be cryptic or lazy. We already know that playing hard to get is not going to help the match maker work for you. The rules for naming image files are very similar to page URLs. That is, use keywords, be descriptive and use dashes (-).

For example—

Bad: photo225.jpg

Good: rose.jpg or flower.jpg

Better: flower-red-rose.jpg or red-rose-flower.jpg

If you have keywords that are sometimes misspelled, using the misspelled version within image files names is a good way to get those misspellings indexed and associated with your site. Since 99.99% of all visitors to your site probably aren’t going to view a page’s source code just to see your image file names, the risk of a misspelling reflecting negatively on your site/brand/company is next to none. While it’s unlikely this trick has a major impact on getting traffic to your site, it is none the less worth mentioning.

9) Analytics

In terms of free tools, the industry standard is Google Analytics. It might be free but it is very robust. So much so there are a countless number of books dedicated to Google Analytics, as well as thousands of people who’s profession it is to understand and use it. Don’t let that intimidate you. Start slow, make an effort to pick up the basics, and then expand your understanding of Google Analytics as you feel is necessary. It is also recommended you consider utilizing Google Webmaster Tools.

One of the main things to know about using Google Analytics is that it is very good at telling you what happened. On the other hand, it’s not very good at telling you why. When making decision based on analytics be sure to put some effort into trying to interpret and understand the why. Avoid jumping to conclusions, quite often you’ll find there are at least two sides to every story.

10) The Process – The conclusion is the beginning

Last but not least, always be mindful that SEO is not a set it and forget it project. While your pursuit of SEO has a start, it does not have an end. The possibilities are endless…Search engine indexing algorithms continues to evolve. A competitor launches a new website and/or makes a conscious effort to build in bound links. Or maybe your product mix changes. Whatever the case may be, change and SEO go hand in hand. This isn’t the end, it’s the beginning of your love affair with SEO.

Granted, you might not have the resources to obsess over SEO on a daily basis. However, it is recommended you consider scheduling different levels of commitment on a weekly, monthly and quarterly basis. For example, maybe you review Google Analytics weekly, and revisit your keywords quarterly.

SEO is like any relationship—it takes work to make it successful. Either you’re committed to it or you’re not. And what you get out will be direct function of what you put in. Don’t expect SEO to help you, if you’re not making time to help yourself.

A Classic Case of Sisyphean Marketing Strategy

For starter, I want to acknowledge that this is not “Client-friendly SEO Guidelines – Part 3″. Yes, I had promised that next. However, I decided to push it back a week and slide this one in instead. Call it agile planning, if you will.

As the story goes, I had lunch with a colleague earlier in the week. JK—not his/her real name—is a fairly hardcore SEO aficionado. JK’s motto is:  Tune it. Tweak it. Tighten it. Repeat. JK is also fond of: Mo’ traffic. Mo’ traffic. Mo’ traffic.

We got past the usual formalities, as well as rejoicing over the USA Women’s soccer victory over Brazil and then shifted into talking shop. JK had just started with a new client/project a few weeks back. It was for an e-commerce outfit. I had seen the site and it appeared then that it was going to be quite a challenge. I was curious and asked how it was going.

JK’s quick and boastfully proud reply was:

“Great. Traffic is increasing. Alexa ranking is improving. We’re adding pages to farm in more traffic. And thus far the impact of Google’s Panda update seems to be minimal.”

I wasn’t surprised. JK does good work. We talk SEO all the time. But then again we both knew there are a handful of standard tricks to grab the low hanging fruit. Not that there is anything wrong with that. You’ll understand my positioning here in a moment.

I toasted JK’s accomplishments, paused and then queried, “Mind if I ask some Guest-centric and business fundamentals questions?” JK smiled and firmly nodded affirmative. Here are some of the things that were discussed over the rest of the meal. Mind you for some of these it might be too early to tell. That is, there’s not enough data yet. Also, admittedly not all are JK’s area and/or role. None the less, we needed to discuss  something and JK’s project was this afternoon’s feature.

  • Churn rate: Up? Down? No change? What are the top reasons for churn? Are there particular keywords, PCC campaigns, etc. that are more prone to churn?
  • The marketing sweet spot: Is price the sole driver? Might emphasizing value be a better play? Would value attract a less churn-ful buyer?
  • Conversions: Was increasing traffic also increasing sales? Was the average size of sale increasing? Why? Why not?
  • Cross-selling and up-selling? Does influencing the buyer’s profile of purchases reduce churn and/or increase a Guest’s value over time?
  • The Guest Experience: What was being done to improve the UI, UX, design, service, etc.?
  • Building the brand: Does more traffic, more customers and more sales equate to establishing and building an actual brand?
  • Guest expectations: Were they being addressed? Can you have a brand in 2011 and not address Guest expectations?
  • SE Old: Is the nature of SEO changing? Are not social networks becoming the “search” tool of choice? Then that?
  • Exit Strategy: The ultimate question is, is anyone else willing to pay to acquire this business as it is currently modeled? Is the strategy sustainable?

After numerous volleys the conclusion was simple. It is a classic case of what I’m going to call a Sisyphean marketing strategy. In other words, X amount of traffic is going to convert; Y number are going to churn out; in order to meet growth goals Z, there is a simple minded (if not one dimensional) objective to just keep increasing traffic. The fact that there are quite a few other vectors that all intertwine didn’t matter. The best practices of great brands’ seemed to be nowhere in sight. Or should I said, in site?

Truth be told, JK said the client was comfortable with the Sisyphean marketing strategy. Said formula was what established them and they were convinced the formula was the key to future growth. The fact that just about every other parameter on the pitch had changed in that time frame didn’t seem to be a concern. In terms of doing their best, yes within the narrow context they defined they seemed to be doing their best. While I certainly do appreciate simplicity and focus I would think that those in similar historical circumstances probably have other lessons to teach. JK just mumbled something about mo’ traffic, mo’ traffic, mo’ traffic. The cheque came, we ponied up our credit cards and went back to working.

But there seems to be an alt-moral to this story. Sometimes doing your best isn’t good enough—that is, eventually it can become less and less appropriate. Sometimes doing what’s right, what needs to be done is what’s in order. Granted, that can be difficult because it means letting go of a “sure thing.” I also means taking up a new cause, a new learning curve and that too can be a bit frightening. Or in JK’s case it might actually mean less billable hours.

Being focused is great. However,  it’s not always as simple as running full speed ahead with blinders on in the same direction. This type of determination can be dangerous for a business. Hopefully you’re thinking of the same VW car commercial that I’m thinking of right now. If not, pop over to YouTube and watch this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B-Vdb9yON-E.