Client-friendly SEO guidelines – Part 2

Welcome back to the middle portion of the Client-friendly SEO Guidelines show. If you missed Part 1 you can catch up here:

http://www.alchemyunited.com/2011/06/29/client-friendly-seo-guidelines-part-1

The one caveat I’d like to repeat from Part 1 is that the intention of this series is to build understanding and confidence—not paralyze a novice with perfectionist expert level details. If you feel there’s a flaw that’s too flawed given the context, please feel free to share your thoughts in the comments. Just please keep in mind the intention here is SEO 101 for the time constrained SMB and NPO.

4) Headline Tags

Sometimes referred to as “H tags” since they begin with an H and are then numbered 1 to 6. If you view a web page’s source code and see: <h1>some text here</h1> or <h2>some other text here</h2>, etc. those are headline tags. These tags are part of the page’s design and are applied to the content on a page to tell the search engine what’s most important (h1), a bit less so (h2), and so on. Contrary to popular belief, headline tags need not be used to set type display characteristics (e.g., font size, font color, etc.) Typically they are styled but that’s not their true intention.

Be aware that not everything can be equally uber important. If you get carried away with the Headline tags the search engines’ algorithm might just decide to ignore your headlines all together. Therefore, headline tags should be used with some discretion. It is always best to be objective and honest when tuning your site to be “search engine friendly.”

While h1 is typically applied to the visible (and often generic) page title, h1 might instead be better used if you also have a sub-headline that describes the page’s content in more objective detail that makes better use of your keywords. For example, the headline might be creative and somewhat subjective so it catches a reader’s eye. While the sub-headline would be more objective and thus more “search engine friendly.”

If the design of your site doesn’t include a sub-headline or short page description, then you probably want to consider it. You might not feel you need it, but if it’s written and tagged properly Google will appreciate it. Headline tags are a tool to help make your content friendlier to your match makers. And again, keep in mind that there need not be any correlation between what you define for search engines as h1 and how that h1 is styled for the human reader. Regardless, your site’s first priority is to be user friendly. SEO friendly is second.

Although they can be applied more broadly, there should also be correlation and consistency between page URL, page title and the headline tags. These parameters don’t have to line up perfectly but they should be reasonably close. On the other hand, you do want to have a sense that you’re creating a general impression, a cloud if you will. That cloud is made up of various keywords and content that accurately reflects your site/brand/company as well as the content of a particular page. Hopefully, you’re starting to get a feel for how search engines “think” and how you can use that awareness to tip things in your favor. Be precise. Be specific. But also keep in mind that sometimes “long tail” keywords are effective too.

5) Page Description

The page meta description does not appear on your site. When you do a search, it does however appear in the list of search engine results pages results (SERPs) that are returned for the searcher to read. The page meta description should be honest and objective but none the less a bit enticing. If you have something the searcher is interested in, you want them to read your description and click through to your site. Don’t over promise, but don’t be too understated either. For example, if price is a critical decision point then be sure to address that in your page description.

The standard recommendation is to keep the page description to less than 160 character. This is going to be read by real humans so do use proper English. You can exceed 160 characters, however most SERPs will only display the first 160 characters. Evidently, matchmakers prefer brevity, as do most searchers.

6) Page Content

Rule number one is that your content should be written to be read by real people. Writing copy that is search engine friendly but user unfriendly is a no-no. In fact the latest release of Google’s indexing algorithm (code named: Panda) will penalize context it believes is unnatural.

When writing your content, refer back to your keyword list and be sure to also use the lower priority keywords. Search engines are not going to match you to searches unless your site contains those words too. Feel free to repeat keywords you have used in the previous steps but don’t over do it. In 2011, “stuffing” your content with keywords is also a no-no. If you’re interested in more depth in this area do a search for: “SEO keyword density.”

7) Link Anchor Test

Link anchor text are the words within a link that are clickable. Yes Virginia, these words matter to search engines. The search engines assume that if the words are part of a link to a page, then they are important and also descriptive of the page receiving that link.

Whether linking within your site or out to other sites try to avoid things such as “To do ‘blank’ click here” where “here” is the only anchor text in the link. Try to use wording that is descriptive of the site/page being linked to, and be sure that wording is part of the link anchor text.

And while we’re on the subject of links, it’s worth mentioning that the best way to improve your SEO impact is building in-bound links. That is, links from other sites to your site. Since that’s not always something you can have a direct and immediate impact on, it is considered to be outside the scope of these guidelines. None the less, building in-bound links is something to be aware of as you add tools to your SEO tool box.

Alright then, that’s it for Part 2. Hopefully you’ll share this with your friends and colleagues. Part 3 should be published some time next week.

Client-friendly SEO guidelines – Part 1

A few weeks back I was commissioned to create a brief but through set of user-friendly SEO guidelines. The objective was not to explore every nook and cranny to the Nth degree. (In other words, there are some known imperfections in this list.)

Instead the goal was  a bit less ambitious. This set of guidelines would keep the ideas bite-sized and layman/laywoman friendly. In doing so the hope was that the majority of desired actions would be more likely to take place. “Build understanding and confidence—not paralyze with perfectionist expert level details,” was the directive.

I’ve been given permission to republish this and have decided to break it into three parts. Here is Part 1 of 3:

Introduction

SEO is an acronym for Search Engine Optimization. Broadly, the intention of SEO is to optimize a website’s structure and content in order to increase the accuracy of a search engine’s indexing of that site. Metaphorically, it is helpful to envision a search engine as a match maker. A suitor searches with a keyword/phrase with the intention of finding something. It is up to the match maker to interpret those needs, compare the stated needs to its massive number of indexed pages, and then based on a top secret algorithm pull out the pages that seem to matter most. The match maker then returns a list of results to the suitor with its best guess for a match at the top of the list, second best guess is the next one down, and so on.

If the person searching is in fact looking for a site such as yours then it is in your best interest to help the match maker make that connection. There is nothing to be gained in playing hard to get. The more “search engine friendly” a website is, the more likely it is for that site to be listed on relevant search engine results pages (also know as SERPs).

Overview

SEO is as much of an art as it is a science. Since the algorithms that search engines (e.g., Google, Bing, etc.) use are highly proprietary, much of what is understood about SEO is based on reverse engineering that black box. In other words, Google (for example) does not publish a document that specifies exactly what matters and what does not. Instead, there is a whole industry built around trying to decode the black box and then providing services based on that distilled knowledge. To further complicate matters, search engines are constantly refining their algorithms. So while there are quite a few knowns (read: best practices), the nature of SEO is such that there are also always a certain number of unknowns.

Rather than get bogged down in technical details and other advanced concepts, the intention of this list is to provide a high level overview of the some key elements of SEO—SEO 101 if you will. This guide is by no means every trick in the SEO book. It’s meant to be a simple but thorough primer so there’s no need to feel intimidated.

If this all sounds like extra work, think again. The fact is most of this list involves things that need to be done regardless. For example, no matter how you cut it your site is going to need content. You can’t launch with blank pages. Your pages will need titles and they will need URLs too. With this in mind, the purpose of these guidelines is to help you look your best with a minimal amount of extra effort.

1) Keywords

As they say, content is king. Start by making a list of keywords and key phrases that you would ideally want to be associated with your site/brand/company. (Note: Throughout the rest of this discussion, the word “keywords” will be used as a short substitute for “keywords and keyword phrases.”) In other words, when people search using these keywords ultimately they would probably be interested in finding your website. These keywords could be the type of services you offer, the geographic areas you serve, or even specific brands or products you sell/service.

Just keep in mind they should be searcher-centric. Ultimately, this is about making yourself more attractive to them. Not showing up unshowered with a take it or leave it disposition. If you don’t want to prepare for the date (i.e., doing more business) then don’t bother trying to fake it. It doesn’t work that way.

If you want to take it a step further, Google also offers a keyword tool that helps you determine the approximate number of times a given keyword has been used in a search.

https://adwords.google.com/o/Targeting/Explorer?__c=1000000000&__u=1000000000&ideaRequestType=KEYWORD_IDEAS#search.none

Yes, this tool can be helpful. However, you should be aware that in most cases keywords with a high number of searches are typically broad (i.e., not focused), as well as have quite a bit of competition associated with them. That is, you probably won’t be the only site wishing to be connected with such high exposure words.

More importantly, a high number of search does not necessarily mean all those people would be interested in your site/brand/company. This is especially true of broad keywords. For example, “web design.” Is the person using that keyword looking to learn web design, hire a web design outfit, see examples of web design, buy a web design book, looking for a web design job, or maybe even researching web bots? Broad, high traffic keywords are necessary, just be sure to understand the limitations inherent in their vagueness.

Depending on the nature of your business you might wish to consider geography as part of your keyword selection. For example, you might be more interested in being strongly tied to “web design nj” or “web design princeton” or “web design princeton  nj.” The number of searches for these keywords aren’t going to be as high but the objective of this exercise is quality and not quantity. If you’re a Jersey based guy then a California girl might not be a good match for you.

Once you compile your list, identify the primary keywords, verses what should be considered secondary. Having this list prioritized is going to help as you move forward.

2) Page URL

Search engines like URLs. The logic being, if the word(s) is in the URL then it must be important and somehow directly connected to the content of the page. Therefore, be reasonably descriptive and use relevant and appropriate keywords in your Page URLs. Also you can’t use spaces in a URL. Instead be sure to use a dash (-) and not an underscore ( _ ) between the words. SEO industry experts say dashes, also known as hyphens, perform better.

Most people don’t bother to read the URLs. Therefore, you can often take advantage of this opportunity and be hyper-descriptive. You also do not have to worry about proper English either.

For example—

Bad: FauxHonda.com/service_dept

Good: FauxHonda.com/service-dept

Better: FauxHonda.com/car-repair or possibly FauxHonda.com/car-repair-nj

So while the links to that page and the text on the page might say Service Department, the URL can be a bit less site user friendly and more search engine friendly. That being said, if you have a page where you often share the URL with others, you might want to be sensitive to that fact and make that URL user friendly and possibly shorter. You have to find a balance, and that is part of the art mentioned earlier.

Finally, don’t over do it. Google likes focus. Trying to make it seem like your page is everything under the sun is not helpful. KISS (i.e., Keep it simple stupid) is a good rule of thumb for SEO 101ers.

3) Page Title

Similar to the page URL is the page Title, also known as the page meta title. This text doesn’t display on your site per se, but it does display in your browser. Typically, at the very top of the screen you’ll see what often looks like a brief description. That is the page meta title.

Your page title should be no more than 60 to 70 characters—depending on who you ask—and spaces are allowed. Longer page titles are acceptable but search engines only look at the first 60 to 70 characters. The rule of thumb is that search engines consider the words on the left to be more important than the words further out in the “sentence”. Stick to this approach the best you can. Proper English isn’t required but in terms of aesthetics it’s probably a good practice to try to follow. It is frequent enough that people do read page titles. You don’t want to look or sound unprofessional.

There should also be a fair amount of correlation and consistency between page URL and page title. The search engines are assuming that anything in the title is also important and highly relevant to the content of the page. One should reinforce the other and vice versa.

That wraps up Part 1. Part 2 will roll out in about a week and then finally Part 3 about week after that. Naturally, if you have any questions or comments in the mean time please feel free to ask.

Maximizing The ROI From Your FB Fan Page

“70% of Local Businesses Use Facebook For Marketing” by John Paul Titlow (ReadWriteWeb.com, 8 March 2011). It’s safe to say I spend quite a bit of time online. Reading, looking, analyzing, working, searching, testing, conversing, evaluating, collaborating, etc. I am a champion of technology and innovation as a means to enabling David to take on Goliath. Or at least to let David be less of a dull boy in the sense of what all work and no play can do.

That said, I am also a believer in the fundamentals—both online and offline. My philosophy is that technology and innovation are tools. They are a means to an ends, not the ends itself. While occasional they can be panacea-esque game changers, the majority of the time using any given means is much more basic than that. Often it comes down to two things: finding the right tool and using that tool correctly to its full potential.

Based on my experience of interacting with brands on Facebook, I am willing to say that the title of John Paul’s article should instead be, “70% of Local Businesses Use Facebook for Messaging. 10% of Those Are Actually Marketing. The Other 90% Are Probably Wasting A Lot of Time.”

Coincidently,  a couple days ago I decided to check up on the FB Page of a local e-commerce company that I have had some discussions with over the last year or so. The initial meeting centered on technical changes they were making to their CDN and from there they were planning to ramp up their marketing. “We want to be in the Internet Retailer Top 100,” I was told by the owner of the company. A noble and impressive goal indeed.

The time had come to check on their progress.

Facebook Fan Page 101 - Screen shot 1Sadly, this outfit is a text book example of the 90% who are not actually marketing. At the very least they are not using the tool to its full potential in spite of having a significant number of Fans (i.e., people who Like them), as well as (from what I recall) sizable revenue.

It’s time for a free AU makeover:

Recommendation #1—The Page’s profile image should always be the brand’s logo. That image, as small as it might be, is what catches people’s eye when Page status updates show up in a fan’s News feed. Marketing 101: The logo should be consistently associated with every message delivered by the brand.

On the other hand, if the primary image is always in flux then there is no easy and consistent way for a FB News feed skimmer—we skim updates in Facebook, and then we read, don’t we?—to pick out this brand from that stream.

Recommendation #2—Don’t assume that people are taking the time to visit your page. It’s better to assume most people are digesting their fire hose of updates via their News feed. That is, what FB plops in front of them once they login. When they spot something worth stopping for they do, else they just keep scrolling. Unless there’s a good reason for them to go to your actual Page chances are good they aren’t going to make that extra effort. It’s just not necessary.

Here is a representative sample of Status updates I pulled from the Page:

Facebook Fan Page 101 - Screen shot 5Facebook Fan Page 101 - Screen shot 4Facebook Fan Page 101 - Screen shot 3Recommendation #3—Always provide a link back to the specific page/product being mentioned in the message. Since this company uses Google Analytics on their website they should also be using Google URL Builder to tag their links. I am of the belief that each URL that is pushed out is a “campaign” and should be treated as such.

As it stands now it is almost impossible to measure the effectiveness of their Facebook Page as a sales/marketing tool. Analytics might show Facebook at the source but that’s too vague. By definition, no measuring means they are not marketing. At best they are merely messaging. (Note: In the not to distance future I am going to do an article on how I like to use Google URL Builder.)

Recommendation #4—Stop doing Status updates and instead post Photos. The caption to a photos doubles as status update. The benefits are two fold. First, when you post a photo to a Fan Page, Facebook also includes the Share link when that photo shows up in a fan’s News feed. Making it easy for people to Share your brand’s message forward to their friends is one of the most powerful tool of social media in an online marketer’s tool box. Second, this is where flyers and other special one-off images can be distributed (instead of using the page’s profile photo). For example, in the first Status update above, there should be a photo of the Everywhere Knit Pant.

Recommendation #5—Adopt the usage of a third party tool (e.g., Postling) so Status updates can be scheduled to be pushed out throughout the day. One and done isn’t ideal. It appears as if someone is doing an update first thing in their East Coast morning and then that’s it. It easy to imagine that a fairly high percentage of their fans probably aren’t even seeing their messages.

Also, depending on how they decide to use URL Builder, this company could make the hour scheduled one of the tag values. This would allow them to identify the most productive time(s) to post. Maybe lunch time and/or evenings maximize results? Maybe there’s a time of day that generates less clicks but more sales?

Facebook Fan Page 101 - Screen shot 2

Recommendation #6—I would give serious consideration to reducing the number of times the exclamation point is used. I am a passionate and excitable person by nature and even I found the excessive usage to be tiring. Based on what I understand their target market to be I would add that exclaiming almost everything is probably inappropriate as well.

Recommendation #7—There’s got to be a more inspiring tag line than, “Happy Shopping!”

Recommendation #8—Also adopt the use Twitter. It certainly can’t hurt. Worst case it would add a minute or two per message being sent. Yes, those URLs should be tagged such that Twitter campaigns can be differentiated from FB campaigns. That extra step takes some time but it’s the different between truly marketing and merely messaging.

As you can see there is significant opportunity for improvement. The good news is, most of these recommendations can be done with minimal additional investments in time. That said, an outfit of this size and brand of this stature should probably have someone dedicated to being responsible for their social media marketing efforts. I’m not suggesting that this is worthy of a full-time position. At this point there’s probably not enough incremental sales to justify that amount of budget. On the other hand, I am suggesting that just winging it for a couple minutes a day is leaving quite a bit of sales on the table.

Happy Birthday Robin’s Nest Rhythm & Blues

Screen shot of RobinsNestRhythmAndBlues.comCongratulations! Alchemy United client Robin’s Nest Rhythm And Blues recently celebrated their one year anniversary*. RNRB is a Linden, NJ based Blues club, or as they like to call themselves, a juke joint.

AU designed and built RobinsNestRhythmAndBlues.com. We also developed their social media infrastructure and strategy.

Highlights of Phase 1

—All of the RNRB’s content, including home page slideshow, is maintained directly by RNRB via ExpressionEngine (EE). EE is a robust content management system (CMS) that some even consider to be a framework. The programming for RNRB makes considerable use of EE’s categories functionality. Categories enables the CMS to be programmed to deliver the right content at the right time. With EE the idea of a traditional page is replaced with “widgets” of content being pulled together on demand, assembled on the fly, and finally pushed down to the browser making the request.

—SEO-friendly design and architecture: Every page has a unique URL, page <title>, meta tags, etc. These too are defined by RNRB via ExpressionEngine.

—The website is not an island. Instead it serves as the hub in RNRB’s broader social media strategy.

—Notice how the colors and the box shapes are randomized on page refresh. A subtle but fun feature that also helps keep the site feeling fresh.

AU’s Contribution

—Project management.

—Analysis of business needs and defining of business requirements.

—Wireframes, as well as recommendations on UI and UX.

—Website design by Stephanie Bayard (StephanieBayard.com). Stephanie is a member of The AU Collective.

—HTML and CSS coding.

—Expression Engine architecture and development. Pages are defined through a collection of custom coded widgets. This modular approach makes the site easier to maintain and enhance as RNRB’s business needs evolve. For a complete list of EE’s features please click here.

—Selection and incorporation of jQuery plugins.

—Development of the RNRB social media infrastructure and strategy.

*AU recognizes and acknowledges that RNRB should have been added to the AU portfolio sooner, rather than later.

Make Your Next Website Your Best Website

“Tips for Successfully Managing a Website Redesign” by Phil Edelstein (WebsiteMagazine.com, February 2011). At this point there are plenty of organizations that are on their second, third or maybe even fourth iteration of their website. What’s interesting is that there still seems to be a noticeable number who are not satisfied with the results they are getting. This article on Website Magazine makes a number of good points. However, I’d like to take a moment to supplement and refine Phil’s recommendations.

First, let’s start with the idea of redesign itself. To simplify what is now such an essential tool to be just a matter of “design” is understating the context and significance of the matter. While I’m certainly not going to belittle the skills and education of my design colleagues and friends, developing an effective iproperty in 2011 takes much more than attractive aesthetics. I would suggest using a term like “re-launch” or “re-architecting” over the misleading “redesign”.

Once you have embraced that shift in mindset, inventory your business needs, expectations and short and long term objectives. Phil suggest you figure out what you want. Frankly, I’m not a fan of wants. There are plenty of organizations that got what they wanted but not what they needed. I firmly believe the goal is to figure out what you need.  Remember, this next investment isn’t just about design. This means that your resources—both on your internal team, as well as anyone from the outside you might engage—should be capable of defining and discussing business needs. It is also ideal that you have some internal discussion and agreement about needs before you reach out to anyone else. The list you compile will serve you well when you’re building your team.

However, don’t do too much before you pull in a vendor. Ideally the vendor you hire should be able to add value by being both objective as well as offering new ideas. They shouldn’t just listen and take notes (i.e., about your wants). They should be able to participate and help you move past wants and define your needs. The better your business needs are understood and universally agreed upon, the more likely they are to be met. There’s no panacea here other than communication and collaboration. This step is essential so don’t focus on how long it takes. Focus on getting it right, whether that’s two weeks or two months.

For the sake of brevity, I’m going to skip over the idea of wireframes and how that fits into the process prior to actual design. I will say, yes do wireframe. Even if they are sketches on the back of the proverbial envelope. Nowhere is it written that wireframes have to be formalized in Visio or a similar tool. The point is to take your needs and render them visually without being distracted by a formal design. Sure, there are some great tools for testing the actual interactions but let’s not go there today.

At some point things will progress and you’ll be ready to discuss and define the design slice. Some of you might scold me for saying this but don’t be afraid to look at the gazillion templates and themes that are already available. I’m not suggesting you purchase some generic off the shelf design. I agree that brand and branding is important. However, I am suggesting that it makes sense to collect multiple reference points and give your creative proper direction. They should have to start in a complete void. Be sure to look at site in other industries as well. Quite often you can pick up an idea or two that will help. And finally, when evaluating a design don’t look at it from your perspective, look at it how others are going to see and use it. Often you might be making a first impression. For example, the flashy Flash intro might be cool but those get tired pretty quick.

Most of all, be available, be willing to participate and communicate, and never lose sight of the fact that you are making an investment. This isn’t going to just happen overnight, nor is it going to be all fun and games all the time. Chances are good you’ll have other priorities you’ll have to juggle. There will be some difficult decisions and probably even some rattling of swords. But this is serious business with what should be a fairly healthy budget investment behind it. Don’t underestimate the need for teamwork, agility, participation and communications. Ultimately, you’ll only get out what you’re willing to put in.

In most cases a website is marketing and/or selling something. It might be a product. It might be a service. It might an idea or a non-profit’s mission. But ultimately, it’s selling. In order to get your ideal salesperson and/or marketing manager you’d invest a reasonable if not significant amount of time. You’d be thorough and diligent. You wouldn’t just take the first person that walks in off the street. Nor would you just throw your new hire at a desk and say, “Okay, get to work.” Start your relaunch process with the hope of hiring the employee you never had but always wanted. There’s no doubt that’s going to take more than just “design.”

Dispelling Myths About Facebook Fan Pages

“Facebook Fan Pages: 7 Dos and 7 Don’ts for effective Community Development” by Dimitris Zotos (WebSEOAnalytics.com, 24 January 2011). A couple days ago this article popped up in an RSS feed. I read it, left a somewhat skeptical comment, and moved on.

However, over the last couple days I realized that wasn’t enough. In my quest to rid the world of misinformation and myth as generated by “social media gurus” I felt a more thorough response was in order. Please note, I’m not trying to discredit Dimitris as much help others not be misled. With that said, let me run right down his list:

7 DOs for Facebook Community Development

1. Focus on the Content – Upload images, videos, texts and other media types around your brand, focusing on the interests of the community you want to build.

Yes of course. Focus on keeping it relevant and don’t over do it. Yes Virginia, you can tweet too much. If you’re a smaller one-man/one-woman show don’t mix personal with business. For example, if you the person wants to tweet then have a separate account for that. Business feeds that chatter about the weather, lunch, etc. are annoying.

2. Encourage Discussions – Try to engage users by asking and answering on various updates. People are more likely to interact to a human tone of voice instead of a cold corporate talking. Tip: Use @ before a user name to mention specific users –like twitter).

Yes, but again don’t over do it. For example, Mashable uses the old ask a question trick with each and every update on Facebook. After a while that gets tired and in turn counterproductive. If your public wants to chat they’ll chat. But don’t judge success by the amount of small talk you inspire. If people are following you to satisfy certain information needs and you’re doing that, they very well might not have anything to say. They’re busy too, remember

3. Setup Contests and games – Be creative! Motivate people to participate and add entertainment value to their online experience.

Again, another overused cliche so be careful. If you elect to try this out make sure you stay true to your brand. Make sure the contest/game is relevant to your brand and the expectations of your community. People might not embrace your brand to be entertained.

4. Reward your fans – Why should I hit the “Like” button? Do you offer only information for your company and products? A way to attract more “Like” thumbs is to offer something special for your fans. (Vouchers, special offers etc).

I strongly disagree. A Like is ubiquitous and vague as it is. If you want to trade Likes for some special offer that’s fine. Just understand that that changes the meaning of Like. If you start to get disLikes will that mean they don’t like you? Or is it someone you baited to Like you and now they’re just returning to where they should have been in the first place? Don’t believe the hype, a Like is a pretty meaningless measurement.

5. Promote your Fan Page – Add your Fan Page’s link in your website, blog, e-mail signatures newsletters and printed media.

Yes, of course. But also be mindful that Facebook might not be around forever. For example, look at MySpace. A lot people invested quite a bit of time and energy in their MySpace presence. Once that bottom dropped out that investment was gone. You should have an overall web presence with a hub (i.e., your own freestanding website) and social media should be the spokes that feed that hub. Not the other way around.

6. Create Custom Tabs – Create custom tabs with compelling images or videos. This could be a presentation of your company, a contest announcement or even an application.

See point #1 about content. This might be a great idea, or it might be a waste of time. Add value, not novelty.

7. Be prepared to respond to negative reviews – These days people are more likely to express their negative reviews and comments straight to the brand. You should always be prepared to respond a negative review and you should not just try to hide it by deleting the post. This requires a specific policy and the right.

The better recommendation would be, “Be prepared to listen.” The new paradigm is about conversation. Naturally, there are going to be things you’re not going to want to hear. Should this happen then learn from that interaction. Chances are good that if the person was truly dissatisfied they wouldn’t have said anything to you/your brand at all. They have something to say so listen. In most cases you’ll be happy you heard from them.

7 Don’ts for Facebook Community Development

1. Don’t invite all of your friends – You should not invite all of your friends but only the ones you believe that are interested in the page. It is really annoying to receive notifications and invitations from things you are not interested in or even dislike.

Actually, not really. First, in the context of some of the Dos it sounds awkward. Baiting with a contest is okay but inviting friends is not? Aside from that, the beauty of FB, etc. is that the receiver is empowered to decide. In other words, invite them and let them Like you, or not. Or maybe they’ll Like you today and then unLike you tomorrow. It doesn’t matter since an invite is far more authentic than baiting.

2. Don’t leave the spam posts – Don’t let spam posts and links within Fan Page’s wall. This kind of moderation is not against freedom but it ensures that users will respect the community members.

Translation: Use a service like Posting (www.Postling.com) to help monitor and manage your Internet presence.

3. Don’t post from the same source – Don’t keep on posting only your website’s feed, even if you have a news media website.

Do what you feel most comfortable with and let your fans be the judge. Ultimately, quality and relevance is more important than source.

4. Don’t spam your users – Don’t send promotional notifications every day. It is not effective but annoying.

Agree 100%, finally.

5. Don’t forget the Privacy issues – Don’t upload images or videos and don’t tag users without a given permission. Privacy is a sensitive part that you must be extra careful.

Yes, it’s a fine line. But again, people can police when they have been tagged and detag themselves. If the photo is of questionable value (read: it’s risqué) then maybe your brand shouldn’t be posting it to begin with.If you’re not sure how your community might react just tag a couple photos and see what kind of feedback (or not) you get. And of course, if you do decide to be proactive expect an occasional complaint.

6. Don’t create fake accounts – Don’t create fake accounts to represent or support brands. Your target in a social media campaign is not to collect tons of fans or friends but to build relationships.

Should you have faux identities to post on your own page? No, of course not. On the other hand, be aware that when you are the admin of a page you can not interact with that page as your own identity. For example, if a small biz owner sets up a page for his/her business then that owner’s comments on the Page will always appear to be coming from the Page (not the person). If that person/brand promotes “personal service” then the expectation might be to see interaction coming directly from the owner. If that is the case then a second faux account should be used to set up the Page. Note: Faux accounts are a violation for the FB terms of service so be careful. Maybe your “newborn” or “great great grandmother” needs a page. Understand?

7. Don’t be so serious – For the community managers: Don’t take yourself so serious. People always enjoy a cool attitude.

Disagree! What you should be is brand appropriate. Humor is similar to politics and sports, in that it can be easily misinterpreted. The goal is to be authentic, and don’t confuse “business casual” with bogus attempts at being “cool”.  I certainly wouldn’t want my lawyer or my doctor to be focused on having a “cool attitude”. Would you?

Bottom line…Once you jump into the social networking and social media pool there are plenty of “experts” out there with snake oil to sell. Always be on the lookout for new ideas. But also be aware of the fact that there is plenty of noise as well, and don’t assume that just because you read it on the Internet that it’s true.

To Blog or Not To Blog

In the event that you haven’t been following my more granular work stream site Chief Alchemist (ChiefAlchemist.com), I’ll recap a bit. A couple months back I was commissioned by Trenton, NJ based Association Business Solutions (ABSNJ.com) to do a guest blogging series. The topic? Blogging. Yes, blogging on blogging.

Below is Part 5, the final chapter in the series. To read the prior four chapters just follow the linked titles back to the ABS blog.

Blog or Not To Blog: Part 5 (It’s as easy as 1, 2, 3, 4)

Hard to imagine that you started down this road to blogging bliss less than two months ago, isn’t it? What once seemed to be an insurmountable unknown has evolved into a 2011 must-do. In the spirit of you have to start somewhere, just embrace your inner athlete and as Nike says, “Just do it!” But maybe you’re feeling just a bit under-inspired? If that’s the case then how about a quick recap?

Part 1: The Four Letter “B” Word?
The best place to start is at the start. What we learned here was that blogging isn’t as bad as many interpret it to be. In fact, blogging is just another fairly simple way to communicate.

Part 2: Self-Publish or Perish
Things picked up a bit on Part 2. I explained that as marketing evolves from being one directional to conversational a blog is the perfect way to embrace your public, and they you. Regardless of simplicity, for those organizations that want to reap the benefits, blogging is becoming the new business card. That is, it’s a necessity.

Part 3: Social networking friends with blog benefits
You asked for more benefits and you got ‘em. The content in a blog can be instrumental to improving your website’s SEO (search engine optimization). In short, Google’s bots and algorithms like blogs. A blog is also a great way to disseminate information by harnessing the power of social networks and the “share culture”.

Part 4: They say, “Everyone has at least one blog in them.”
And then in the previous chapter we resolved your final set of fears. “I don’t know what to write about,” and “I’m not that good of a writer,” and “I’m too busy,” were all resolved. Another answer was the soft sell – contact Karla or Paula at ABS and they’ll work with you to develop a solution to meet the needs of your business. Done deal!

Regardless of what your personal feeling are about the Internet, I think it’s pretty safe to say that it’s here to stay. It’s certainly not going to go away just because you ignore it. Whether it’s blogging, using photos & video, tapping into social media or whatever other innovative trend or staple is ahead, your brand is going to have to participate in some way. There’s no need to overwhelm yourself, just chip away at it. The more you do, the more you’ll learn. And of course there are also resources such as myself to guide you along the way.

When it comes to business and marketing what I like to say is, The Internet. You can figure it out now, or you can figure it out later. But you will need to figure it out.

Maybe Net Neutrality Is A Non-issue

“Long Live the Web: A Call for Continued Open Standards and Neutrality” by Sir Tim Berners-Lee (ScientificAmerican.com, 22 November 2010). Excellent thought provoking stuff, eh? And in the spirit of Sir Tim’s lead (i.e., simple and to the point) let me just add a couple more things for you to chew on.

First,while in theory I agree with Sir Tim, the reality is he’s fighting against human nature itself. History is littered with example after example of mankind trying to control that which should not (and often can not) be controlled. Whether it’s Mother Nature, or other human beings, man’s will to power is well documented. Some might even argue that the battle for control is the basis for all history.

Second, I believe Net Neutrality might be a non-issue. Here’s my scenario:

(Unique) Content Owner A (CO-A) notices that (commodity) Access Provider 1 (AP-1) is “limiting” access in a way the compromises the quality of the CO-A experience. CO-A decides to launch a preemptive strike and block traffic being served via AP-1. CO-A also initiates a marketing effort that spins the positioning of AP-1 as evil for undermining the quality of CO-A. The people side with CO-A. And being that AP-1’s access is the commodity, AP-1 has to comply or suffer customer push back and/or customers jumping ship to another access provider.

I’m not going to suggest this argument is perfect. The only major flaw would be if all the APs conspired to limit access of the same content in the same way at the same time. Obviously, that’s illegal.

I think it’s worth noting that we’ve already seen this game of chicken with cable channels and cable access providers. The channels that have run into negotiating issues simply took their fight to the people. So now imagine the “terror” if Facebook blocked a particular access provider.

Okay, your turn. What do yo think?

New Technologies Can’t Save Old Business Models

“Is the iPad Really the Savior of the Newspaper Industry?” by “Amy-Mae Elliott (Mashable.com, 19 October 2010).  The short answer is, no. The iPad will be of benefit to a handful but it is not the savior of the (print) newspaper industry. The main reason is, the old publishing model was based on geography, barriers to entry, distribution, etc., and not so much on content (as is the prevailing myth).

Consumers were forced to buy from their local (news) provider because there were no other options. The reality was, aside from local news and sports, and significant percentage of the content was identical / similar to the next market over, etc. The newspaper model was based on taking what was essentially a commodity, repackaging it and charging for its ease of availability. Once the access limitation was eliminated so was the value add. The fact the barriers to entry (to become a publisher) also dropped significantly only made matters more difficult. For example, look at what Craig’s List did to the newspapers’ local monopoly on classified ads.

The problem right now is that the supply of news greatly exceeds demand. This could explain why we’re increasingly subjected to so much non-news. As many publishers are scrambling for original – but what is ultimately crap – content, they’ll “print” anything. What’s sad is that each individual newspaper still believes they are in the content business. They are in collective denial and refuse to admit they were in the distribution business. Regardless of their stack of journalism degrees, etc.

In short, there’s no needed for the same story to be “reprinted” hundreds of times in an all access, all the time world. It seems unlikely the iPad is going to change that. Some will survive. Many will not. And a handful will morph into something else.

All that said, the magazine model might be a different story. With a higher percentage of original content that often address a niche interest and/or target market. There certainly seems to be a possibility the iPad can help that model.

Conquering Business Superstition

Quite often business life is not much different than personal life—although it should be.  When off the clock,  cause & effect applied incorrectly is called superstition, myth, etc. Yet the same misdirected correlations between 9.00a and 5.00p is called a project, or worse still insight. Same use of illusion but a different belief in its legitimacy.

Let’s discuss an example. Over the last couple weeks I’ve been in two and a half conversations centered around e-commerce. Each conversation naturally touched upon shopping cart abandonment. Before I continue I want to state that I agree that shopping cart abandonment is an area online retail outfits should study and certainly be aware of. That said, some seem to pursue it like the holy grail. Unfortunately, in many cases obsessing on the myth means something else is probably not being addressed.

  • Specifically, the checkout process is not rocket science. If the overall process is that complex then keep rehashing it until it’s concise. Good enough isn’t good enough. Yet somehow we all continue to wade through crummy checkouts.
  • The truth is, regardless of venue/medium, people don’t buy everything they pick up. I believe they call it window shopping.  Online it’s probably even worse. There’s no getting dressed and driving across town. It’s just a matter of clicks.
  • The truth is, people will have to leave a site sooner later. Sure, if there’s a problem on a particular page it should be fixed. But staying indefinitely is not going to happen.
  • Focusing on abandonment is only half the picture. What about all those who didn’t add anything at all? Granted, I’m more casual about my commitment to e-comm but in all my reading and meeting no one seems to discuss such a measurement.
  • What if marketing is driving in leads with the wrong expectations? For example, “free shipping” is not free if there’s a handling charge. While the difference might be correct on a technical level, to most guests it probably qualifies as sticker shock or bait & switch. Yet there are sites that advertise “free” shipping. It’s certainly possible the targeting and/or message is wrong.
  • What if the site just kinda sucks? (Yes, I purposely used kinda.) That is, once the visitor stays a while reality sets in. They don’t like the look. The don’t like the feel. The might not even like the product. Doubt (aka the sales killer) arises and the sale is lost. Let’s face it, abandonment is a function of commitment and some sites just aren’t worth committing to.

The truth (as opposed to the superstition) is that in the 2.5 cases mentioned The Guest Experience of each site is “loose”. The sites do not qualify as awful but they are not tight in a 2010 sense either. If a guest was determined or already comfortable with the brand/site then each are sufficient. One the other hand, it terms of an experience that might inspire someone to part with their money, all three fall under the average column.

Guests want an experience. They want a story. For many, buying online is still a special event. By that I mean when someone asks, “Where did you get that?”, they want to respond proudly and with something meaningful.  Simply throwing some goods online might have worked 5 or 10 years ago. It’s not where expectations are today.

Believe what you want to believe. That is your right.  However, if that belief does not bring about the necessary change (read: results) then it’s probably time to admit you’ve been on the short end of a superstition and/or a myth. Not to worry, the solution is to stop and look at the details of the challenge objectively. Don’t get sucked into the accepted and standard convention just because it’s convenient to do so. There are plenty of people and websites willing to sell superstition and myth (because it was what was sold to them).

A Classic Case of Shopping Cart Abandonment

While typically this blog is not for venting, this experience is worth sharing. Besides, it’s not so much venting as trying to prevent such things from happening in the future. Preventative e-comm medicine if you will.

As the story goes, I received an email from Barnes & Noble this past Thursday. It had a mystery coupon. By that I mean, you wouldn’t know the amount of the discount until you entered it during the check out process. Too cute (and vague) for me, but maybe it A/B tested well for them. None the less, I left the email in my inbox just in case.

Earlier today while reading CopyBlogger.com  I spotted a book that looked interesting, “Success Secrets Of The Social Media Marketing Superstars”. When I visited the book’s web site I noticed the B&N logo, remembered the emailed, did the math and went to buying work. The fun ended there.

Faux pas #1 – Of the five step check out process, the coupon code entering didn’t come until the last step. In fact, I thought I missed it. When I went back and didn’t see  it I almost gave up. I didn’t want to get suckered into paying full price. Why should I? I suspect my feelings are atypical, so what does the coupon come last instead of first?

Faux pas #2 – As it turned out, the coupon was expired. The problem was the coupon code was in the lower left corner/area of the email while the mention of the expiration date was in the upper right. In other words, being focused strictly on the coupon code meant I wasn’t going to see the expiration. Obviously another good reason for the coupon being earlier in the process.

How do you say, “Duh?”

The bottom line is, not only didn’t I get the book but I wasted unnecessary time. About the only positive aspect of the experience was the inspiration for this blog post.

Tomorrow Is Here, Now

“Master the upcoming culture change” by Paul Glen (ComputerWorld, 23 August 2010). While on one hand this article was encouraging there are also some fundamental oversights.

1) What upcoming change? It’s already here. To believe that it’s coming is a recipe for missing it. Anticipate proactively and don’t just stand there flat footed waiting.

2) The purely technical has been a commodity for some time now. Again, realizing this is the first step to moving forward.

3) Business and technology have always been tightly integrated, or should have been. Business is and always will be an exercise in holistic understanding and approach. The sad irony here is this divide isn’t closing. Article after article, writer after writer all continue to say the same thing: The gap between the business and IT need to close. Yet, that doesn’t happen.

4) One of the smartest things IT (Information Technology) can do is change it’s name. Aside from being dated, it’s encourages a mindset that continues to leave IT out of sync with business. The bottom line, IT needs a serious re-branding.

5) While it’s not Paul’s fault this article could have been written 10, 20 or maybe even 30 years ago. What’s shocking, given the historic trends,  it will probably written again and again in the future. But let’s hope otherwise.

To finish on an upswing, this really isn’t only about IT. It’s about business, period. IT and Business must work together and circle up. All involved have to make an effort to prepare for the future. That responsibility can’t just sit on IT’s shoulders. IT needs to understand and embrace Marketing. And Marketing needs to understand and embrace Technology.

Yes, but maybe your brand just kinda sucks

“Are You Listening?” by Mary Brandel (ComputerWorld, 12 July 2010). Yes, all good points. But let’s just cut to the chase… Maybe your brand just kinda sucks.

For example, take the Domino’s Pizza YouTube incident. A few months ago I responded to an article by an (old school) PR type. Evidently, she was appalled that one person and a video could do so much damage to a brand. While it was unfortunate, the fact was,  in terms of quality and stellar brand reputation Domino’s was already in questionable territory.The video was a symptom.

I’m not trying to imply that guy did with the video was right. One the other hand, the management at Domino’s made a conscious effort to built the brand around, “Delivered in 30 minutes of less.”  Not, “The best damn pizza without leaving the house.” Nor was it, “Domino’s Pizza — Quality delivered.”My contention was that the video had meaning because to enough who viewed it it was feasible.

Long story short, Anne and I went a couple rounds until eventually the discussion ran out of gas.  However, it should be noted (in a last laugh sort of way) that Domino’s latest campaign is about quality. Why? Because, yes Virgina, the perceived quality of the product, including taste, impacts how one perceives the overall brand. Yes, that video was low. Low enough to strike Domino’s right between the eyes.

Or maybe you kinda suck in a different way…

Twice in the last week or so I’ve been told by two different outfits, “…but we meet with our perspective clients…” That’s great, provided that’s how the merchant/client wants to be approach. Maybe that cold call walk in is an interruption? Maybe, much like myself, they want to gain all they can online and then if interested schedule proper meeting to get right to the meat of the matter?

I agree that in today’s world pounding the pavement and the flesh is a great differentiator. But it’s not a panacea. It’s not a one-size-fits-all solution.

Online reputation management is important in a reactive sense. But don’t stop there.  Don’t overlook the possibility of being proactive and ensuring best you can that your brand doesn’t kinda suck to begin with.

Be BI smart and respond (but that includes proactive listening too)

The journey of this post starts here: “Business Intelligence Meets BPM: Using Data to Change Business Processes on the Fly” by Kim S. Nash (CIO.com, 17 June 2010). On one hand this is fascinating stuff — collecting data, analyzing it and distilling information that objectively drives business action. The business side of my brain goes, “Wow!” But then reality sets in and that, “Wow” turns to, “Wow, scary.” This freight takes two forms:

1) The private person in me shutters to think that Big Brother is not only watching but he’s storing, tracking, cross referencing and analyzing too. This is taking place at and unimaginable level of granularity.

2) The business side of my brain also appreciates the fact that Guests are people. They are not just data points on a graph or cells in a spreadsheet. Analysis is certainly essential but one would bet there are plenty of companies over-valuing this new found power. They are forgetting that they are in business to serve people, not just respond to ones and zeros. As a matter of fact, read this article first: “Superhighway to Hell” by Stephen Saunders (InformationWeek.com via InternetEvolution.com, 19 June 2010).

Back to the first article by Kim Nash. There are some bits to this article (pull out of the context of the whole article) that beg to be addressed AU style:

As Kilcoyne and Coyne learned, modern business intelligence and analytics tools can extract data from enterprise software, populate pre-built statistical models and quickly produce insights that used to take weeks. “In the past, doing predictive analytics needed a PhD in statistics to build a model and interpret results,” says Aberdeen’s White. But newer analytics tools “hide the underlying statistical nerd details,” he says. “Business people don’t have to worry about how the sausage gets made.”

One word: Derivatives. No one needed to understand those either, correct? Information is only as good as the understanding the business people have of the data that was used to compile it. A report without caveats and context is no report at all. If BI is about removing assumption then that thoroughness should be part of the end to end approach.

Key to game-changing decision making is the ability to detect and respond to market changes, taking into account historical knowledge. DirecTV uses analytics to save customers who want to cancel their television service. The company started the program two years ago when it sought to cut churn rates.

What’s interesting is that the examples sited are all reactive. There is some action and then analysis is used to define the appropriate way to respond. Maybe this should be supplemented with a proactive approach as well? That is, avoid upfront engaging customers who don’t meet the good customer profile. For example, for a fitness club, membership retention would be less of an issue if the right customers were attracted in the first place. Waiting to see who leaves seems archaic, no?

How hard agents press depends on how valuable the customer has been to DirecTV, Gustafson says. “There are some people we just do not want to lose.” About 60 percent of customers who want to depart are deemed worth trying to save, he says. The company uses tools from Teradata and SAS to analyze past behavior, evaluating data such as the average annual revenue the customer represents, her payment history and how many pay-per-view shows she buys.

This is a perfect example of forgetting that we’re dealing with real people here. Maybe I am a marginal customer. But if I have 500 Facebook friends and 1,000 Twitter follows then that should be a factor too. To simply place a value on an account (notice I did not say guest or customer) is at best dangerous if the evaluation is this superficial.

Every customer saved is one less customer the company has to try to win back weeks or months later—an expensive process, Gustafson says, that can involve mailings, e-mail and telephone calls as well as sending someone out to reinstall the service. “When the customer first calls, they have a certain mind-set: They want to cancel,” he says. “When we call back, they’re unprepared. It’s a little psychological advantage we have.”

Oh no he didn’t! Forgive me if this sounds insulting but only an idiot would go on record saying such a thing. But again, Mr. Gustafson’s statement is another example of forgetting that guests are real people, not rats to be manipulated.

Now, though, the My Coke Rewards program has helped the company develop more in-depth knowledge about loyal customers. The inside of every bottle cap is printed with a 12-digit code that customers can text or type into a website or desktop widget to accumulate points that can be exchanged for prizes and other awards. Those who opt in to e-mail marketing receive regular offers to gain more points, as well as other marketing pitches. Each is customized based on segments created from demographic information and behavior collected by the site. On average, 285,000 customers visit per day, entering an average of seven codes per second. Information embedded in the codes may include a region or location where the bottle was sold and whether it had special packaging, such as an Olympics logo, that Coca-Cola uses to tailor its pitches.

Read that again… It’s not a 12 digit number, it’s a code. In other words, you can’t drink a soda in peace without wondering when and how Coca-Cola is going to watch you. Scary, right?

After four years, My Coke Rewards is among the longest-running marketing programs in Coca-Cola’s history. And as the program has grown, the company has changed the way it runs in response to insight from analytics, Rollins says.

First, of all the programs Coke has ever had four years constitutes “among the longest-running”? MyGawd, has their marketing department been thinking or just rolling the dice and hoping to find something that sticks. Must be nice to have that type of budget. Furthermore, this reads as if they are responding to analysis, not guests. Not good.

Coca-Cola uses the FICO Precision Marketing Manager suite of statistical analysis tools to study data from its websites. Marketers look at which come-ons elicit the most and best responses, says Thomas Stubbs, Coca-Cola’s interactive marketing director in global IT. Coca-Cola also exchanges data with companies that supply prizes, including Nascar, Nike (NKE) and Sony. “As technology has evolved, we’re able to do more and have a relevant dialog with customers, not just push our ideas out there,” he says.

“A man might not want to admit that he’s a Diet Coke drinker. He will say in a survey that he prefers Coke. But we see he enters only Diet Coke PINs and market accordingly.”

Danger Will Robinson! While it’s true that Coca-Cola might want to know more about who consumes their products, Coke is treading on thin ice if they believe that their definition of the guest is better than the guest’s himself/herself. Do such details constitute useful information? Yes, of course. Might they also be making over-confident decision, and possibly insulting the guest? Yes, that’s very true too.

The idea is not just to save business but to create new business. Successful projects spark new ones. Analytics tools help companies create more money-generating interactions with customers and shave costs from internal operations. CIOs should connect analytics technologies with ideas about refining business processes, says Aberdeen’s White. “Meld them together and that’s very powerful.”

Bottom line… it’s about The Guests, not data and analysis. This shouldn’t be about “refining business process” but about improving The Guest Experience. Same ends? Maybe (but probably not). Different means? Yes, very different means. One puts The Guest first and one does not. If you could analyze the two approaches which would you bet to be the winner? Of the companies you deal with which try to improve The Guest Experience and which are more concerned about their processes and their bottom line?

And finally, to help get it all back into perspective: “It’s Not Your Relationship to Manage” by Lauren McKay (CRM Magazine via DestinationCRM.com, May 2010).

The darkside of PPC

“Fight Click Fraud on Pay-Per-Click Ads” by Kim Boatman (Inc.com, 7 July 2010). As they say, “It’s all fun and games until someone gets hurt.” PPC (pay per click) might not land you in the hospital but it can take more out of your butt than necessary. A couple quick points to add:

1) While Kim gathers plenty of good points, the best and often most overlooked is the one about limiting a PPC campaign geographically. I wish I had a buck for every time I saw an AdWords ad in search results that was obviously for a local based business well out of my area. Wasted impression add up. In turn, CTR (click throught rate) effects ad placement and bid price.

2) Keep in mind, (typically) PPC is *not* like old media. It’s not about impressions and trying to be everywhere all the time. PPC is about quality. That is, ads and keywords that draw in quality leads and customers. CTR is a handy guide but ultimately it’s about conversions and the quality of the lead/customer there of. In short, PCC isn’t a shotgun, it’s sniper fire. However, you have to take the time to draw the right bullets to your target, else you’ll be spending more than you should.

Have you ever been the victim of click fraud? And what are your PPC tips and secrets?

Clay Shirky: How cognitive surplus will change the world

Just plain damn interesting. As found on TED.com. Watch, listen, ponder a bit and enjoy.

A trillion hours is a lot of hours, eh?

Ya can’t find what isn’t there

“Here’s Looking at You – Make your site a better search engine target by optimizing your company’s images.” by Mikal E. Belicove (Entrepreneur Magazine, June 2010). At a high level SEO isn’t rocket science… “But wait! What is SEO?” you ask. Opps, sorry.

SEO is short for search engine optimization. SEO is the art and science of trying to think how search engines think and making adjustments to your website to fit that M.O. That thinking is how search engines crawl and index your website’s pages. It’s how and why search engines exist — to match search queries, best they can, with a list of web pages that might satisfy that query.

Search engines are like high tech matchmakers using sophisticated algorithms to spark a relationship. These top secret black box algorithms evaluated countless characteristics of a web page and a website and then rank the results of that evaluation. In short, if it’s on your website, then as far as search engines are concerned it matters.

One of the easiest and most overlooked SEO best practices is properly naming the files that are the images on your site. For example, file123.jpg is probably not going to be as effective as seo-tips-and-tricks.jpg (if someone is searching for: SEO tips and tricks). Again, search engines are going to use any insight possible in order to make the best match between searcher and site. Makes sense, right?

If you’re looking to be smarter and get more out of your website by making it more “SEO friendly”, please check out Mikal’s great article on image file naming.

Content? Or production & distribution?

“Are We Ready to Play With Pay? The Content Value Reproposition” by Steve Smith (EContent Magazine, April 2010). As the internet allowed islands of content to drift together, the cost of being an info consuming traveler  fell, drastically. Aside from the benefit of no more dead trees, it doesn’t get any cheaper than free, does it? But now what? How are content providers supposed to survive on a business model based on free?

In the end, Steve’s article inspired the letter below. The stellar news is, the editors of EContent printed it in the July/August 2010 issue. It’s always nice to see the AU State of Mind get more love. Enjoy!

Hello Steve

I just wanted to take a moment and mention that I thought your article was very well done. However, there are two things that I would like to mention:

1) I was surprised you did not make mention of iTunes. About the only thing more ubiquitous than music is air. That said, the general belief is the content (i.e., music) is the loss leader and ol’ Steve J. & Co make their money on the hardware. Maybe “value add” is the model to follow? That is, content providers don’t just publish, but consult, host seminars, etc.

2) Early on you wrote, ” Traditional media made their ad models work because they controlled both the supply and distribution of content around a limited set of brands.” I’m not so sure this is as accurate as it could be. The advantage traditional media once held was for the most part based on production and distribution. Supply had little to do with their advantage. It was the barriers to entry (read: cost) that sustained that biz model. The People have always been willing to self-express and self-publish. It wasn’t until the early 90’s with desktop publishing software and relatively
lost cost copies from Kinko’s did that really become feasible and “mainstream” (in an underground, not quite mass market ‘zine sorta way). Today, even outside of the internet, digital printing is getting
more and more reasonable. And then there’s something like MagCloud that uses the advantages of the internet to let people self publish on demand. In short, the content has always been there.

One step further, I would argue that this is somewhat the problem with traditional media. They are under the belief they were in the content biz. They were not. The reality is, they were in the production
and distribution biz with much of their “content” coming from wire services or just regurgitating the details of events. Today, I would bet for most ball games I can get play by play via Twitter. So why watch the 11 o’clock news? Let alone read the morning paper? Those mediums are slow and costly.

Again, for the most part they have not been “creating” content, just moving it around.

Thanks again for the article.

Mark Simchock
Chief Alchemist
Alchemy United

Content is Queen. “Quality” is King.

“Interview: Ricky Van Veen – College Humor CEO Shares His 10 Web Content Urban Legends” by Brenna Ehrlich (Mashable.com, 8 June 2010). A quickie worth sharing. Three universal themes worth noting are:

1) Content isn’t king — quality is.

2) But it is the receiver who defines quality. Quality is relative and based on perceived value of the experience.

3) Based on the perceived value it is the receiver who makes it viral, or not. It doesn’t matter how much you try to spin it.

The more things change, the more they stay the same, eh?

Track… Analyze… Adjust… Repeat…

“Evaluate Editorial Impact Using Google Analytics” by Lars Johansson (WebsiteMagazine.com, May 2010). A thorough, if not somewhat technical article on the finer point of Google Analytics. Let’s just jump right to the AU value add:

AU 1 – There is also another way to filter out internally generated traffic  and that’s by using cookies. Details can be found on this Google Analytics support page. (btw, Thanks Lars!) This is especially handy for when your “staff” is not in a fixed location and/or use multiple devices to access the same content.

AU 2 – Another must-use tool that extends and integrates with GA is Google URL Builder. In short, when you place banners and other content (e.g., links) on other sites, URL builder is a tool for building custom URLs for each placement. The clicks back in from those URLs can then be tracked via GA.

AU 3 – Semi-related to URL Builder is AddThis.com (and similar sharing services). AddThis is nice because it will log the shares going out as well as the clicks that come back in from those shared links. In addition, you might want to consider using your CMS (content management system) to integrate and customize your AddThis button with URL Builder formatted URL so you can pull in even more data.

AU 4 – And finally, there’s bit.ly. With URL shortening being all the rage (and absolutely necessary the Twittersphere), bit.ly will take a long URL and shortens it. The bonus is that it too logs that request and tracks the clicks on the shortened link. While in some regards the analytics might be overkill, the use of a URL  shortening service is often necessary. bit.ly is the current king of that hill. And if branding of your shortened URLs sounds appealing then then be sure to check out bit.ly Pro as well.

Congratulations! It’s only Tuesday and already your head is ready to explode with more essentials. Success, it doesn’t come easy, does it?