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Interview with Mike Ellsworth about social media for B2B

Apr 08, 2015 - filed under social media 1 Comment
 

Today we are interviewing Mike Ellsworth, a partner in Social Media Performance Group and one of the people who really “gets” social media.  He is one of three authors of  The Infinite Pipeline: How to Master Social Media for Business-to-Business Sales Success.  It’s not just about getting shares on social media; it’s about doing business on social media, and by “business”, I don’t mean just selling.  And that’s where we ask Mike…

What motivated you to write the book?

My business partner, Robbie Johnson, has had great success using social selling techniques in his business. Back in 2011, when the first version of the book was written, social selling was not as well known as it is today, and we thought that a book would be a good way to help sales people understand how social media could drastically improve their sales results. As we got into the writing, it occurred to me that just learning how to use social media for business-to-business sales might not be enough to ensure that company sales efforts would be successful. That was when we combined social selling techniques with internal and external social business communities, a concept we’d written about before, in our Be a Person series.

Social Business Communities

What’s the difference between internal and external social business communities?

The Infinite Pipeline concept involves creating communities and adopting organizational changes to enable sales people and sales management to make social selling sustainable. In the Infinite Pipeline, not only do sales people get trained on social selling techniques, but the company creates two communities: an internal, sales-oriented community for everyone who touches the sales effort (like marketing, communications, product management and so on); and an external, problem-solving community to help customers and prospects resolve their issues.

The internal community foster communication about sales opportunities, customer problems, and encourages anyone in the company to contribute leads and information about possible sales influencers.

The external community is just about solving customer problems. A company may want to ensure their sales support and customer service people are heavily involved in this community along with sales people.. The idea is that, if the company becomes known for solving problems, sales will follow. Typical selling behavior is prohibited in the external community.

The book contains a long list of external B2B communities developed with the tremendous help of Vanessa DiMauro of Leader Networks, who is experienced in setting these communities up.

Have you found this to be successful?

Without the organizational commitment that Infinite Pipeline requires, we expect inconsistent application and success with social selling techniques. In fact, we predict that in five years, fewer than 20 percent of sales organizations will have realized the benefits of social selling.

Sales people, as a rule, aren’t early technology adopters. Their skill set is more on the relationship side, and so that’s what we emphasize in the book. We compare and contrast old-style sales techniques like Eat What You Kill and Farming to the Infinite Pipeline and show how our system can work with each.

We’re readying for publication two more Infinite Pipeline books: a sales executive version that goes deeper into how to lead the social selling change, and a deluxe sales executive version that has lots more practical implementation advice.

Why did you go with three authors?

Social Media Performance Group has three principals and all three of us contributed in some way to the book. I am the primary author and worked closely with Robbie, the subject matter expert, and Ken Morris, who helped give a sanity check based on his extensive experience as an HR executive.

Is there a real-world example, a company that has followed your process?

There is no company that has followed our process as of yet. There are plenty who have implemented external communities, and we have a list of them in the book. The list was created by us in collaboration with Vanessa DiMauro of Leader Networks, who is an experience community builder.

There are plenty of companies that have internal communities, many of which are dedicated to sales, and some of them have done social selling training. A good example is Oracle, where our contributing author Jill Rowley let a social selling transformation a couple of years ago. She used Jamie Shanks’ Sales for Life social selling curriculum to train hundreds of Oracle sales people and used Oracle’s internal communities to reinforce, along with Shanks’ standard training followups.

But the innovation proposed in the book—our Infinite Pipeline Relationship Development Process combined with both and internal and external community—has yet to be implemented fully anywhere.

What tasks would the internal, sales-oriented community typically undertake?

One key to the internal community is to leverage the relationships company employees already have. So a sales person might ask a question such as, “I’m looking to engage Hugh Bigend of XYZ Corp. Anybody know him or an influencer?” Employees might also volunteer information about target companies and people they know who work there.

Another use of the internal community is to solve customer support issues. I wrote a blog post on transforming the help desk, that talks about integrating social media into customer support processes. An issue could come in to the external problem-solving community and be taken care of there by customer service people. They could alternately turn to the internal community to elicit the help of other parts of the organization, such as product development, production, or marketing.

The internal community also offers a collaboration space where sales people can ask marketing for materials to curate to their customers and prospects or to jointly work on messaging based on what sales people find in the field. We’re under no illusions that just having a space like this will end the war between sales and marketing, because that’s the biggest transformation that we propose in the book, and one that requires a revamping of compensation for all parties involved in influencing sales.

A fourth use of the internal community is to keep everyone up to date with the latest in their industry, in social media or social selling, and in what people are saying about the company by contributing the results of social listening.

What tasks would the external, problem-solving community typically undertake?

SAP is a great example of using external communities to solve customer problems and also to enable customers to help find solutions. We use SAP as a key case study in the book because they’ve been doing this for 12 years. Here’s the case study from the book:

Infinite Pipeline CoverIn the B2B space, since 2003, SAP has pioneered using external communities to create and prototype new products with their Idea Place and SAP Research Prototypes communities. Their framework integrates their third-party social presence with their community presence.

A key to succeeding with Infinite Pipeline external problem-solving communities is to ensure that your goals for the community support your company’s goals. SAP’s strategic goals include:

  • Build and Harness Communities—of prospects, users, developers and partners
  • Amplify awareness and purchase consideration—to bring SAP into purchase consideration set
  • Enhance demand generation—by enhancing lead gen and nurturing programs
  • Accelerate adoption and end-user nurturing—via richer and proactive engagement of end-users
  • Extend market coverage—by enablement of developer & reseller partner community

As you can see, this is a mature strategy. SAP has laid out the following goals that support this strategy:

  • Awareness—evangelize SCN
  • Immediacy—real time
  • Reach—broaden audience
  • Engagement—connections
  • Reputation—social media leader
  • Conversion—to contributor, customer

SAP has successfully involved thousands of members from their customers in rich, problem-solving communities.

You can tell these guys have been working on this stuff for more than 10 years by the complexity of their vision. The communities have paid off, yielding:

• 2.4 million members from 200 countries in 2011

• 2,500+ Top Contributors in 2011

• 2 million topic threads and 7 million messages in 2011

• 100 SAP Mentors

• 7,180 ideas contributed, with 183 turning into actions
SAP gets results from their community, including 750+ SAP solutions sold and also lots of little victories for their customers:

• “Siemens resolves NetWeaver-related technical problems using SDN 50% faster than through other channels.” Richard Hirsch, Senior Portal/SAP NetWeaver® Consultant, Siemens

• “SAP EcoHub is an easy to use single source that will streamline the process for identifying trusted, relevant solutions that meet our business needs and work within our existing SAP installations.” Matt Stultz, Vice President, Global Information Technology, NewellRubbermaid

• “SCN offers SAP partners like us the opportunity to get connected with 2 million members of the SAP ecosystem, who live and breathe SAP, to exchange know how and to demonstrate our thought leadership. It’s a great way to connect directly with SAP customers, partners and SAP employees.” Ross Moris, Director of Alliance Sales, Sabrix

The idea of the external community is simple: Solve customer and prospects problems and they’ll naturally gravitate to your products. Don’t be salesy or you’ll scare them away.

Another great example of an external community is SPS Commerce’s Retail Universe. SPS does EDI and other electronic communications infrastructure that help companies communicate with their supply chain. They got the brilliant idea to set up a community where partners could find one another. So a big retailer could find someone to drop ship a special order from China, for example.

The only requirement to join this community is to sign up and be vetted by SPS. You don’t need to be a client or use their network. But naturally, it leads to sales for SPS because small suppliers or retailers who don’t have an EDI solution are naturally going to consider SPS. They do no selling on this community. It just solves problems.

This is only for B2B sales…what if a B2C company picked it up? Would they find it useful? Are there parts they could benefit from?

Most B2C companies have a B2B component. They generally have trading partners or suppliers or other type of purchasing that is B2B. So that’s a natural fit.

Beyond that, many of the concepts of the Infinite Pipeline can be adapted to work with consumers. A company may want to create an external community for their consumer customers. In the book, we recommend caution for any company wanting their own community. Just because you create it, doesn’t mean people will use it. You need to determine that your customers need a place online to communicate with each other and with you. In many cases, B2C companies will opt for public social media communities like LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook.

TEASER ALERT!

However, we have a case study in the upcoming executive edition of the book about GM that illustrates the change in mindset needed to have an effective external community.

If you haphazardly approach this task, you can spin your wheels without gain. No one will hear your message. And you might conclude, as some companies have, that social media doesn’t work.

That’s what General Motors concluded in May 2012 when they pulled their $10M a year ad budget from Facebook, initially indicating that their ads weren’t giving them the return they expected. But check GM’s Facebook posts even today. They’re mostly self-congratulatory, “Look at our new Chevy” types of posts. How likely are fans to engage with this old-style advertising approach?

They’re treating Facebook as just another channel for their advertising and marketing messages.

Don’t make the same mistake with your external Infinite Pipeline community. You’ll want to keep the salesy promotion to a minimum and tie your implementation ideas directly to your external social media goals.

GM is a great example of a company that we would call B2C, since the people who buy their cars are consumers. But in reality, GM sells to dealerships, which are businesses, and thus they’re really a B2B company.

It’s the same with food companies like General Mills. They sell to wholesalers, not you and me. Both companies, though, drive consumption via B2C media. We talk more about marketing with social media in our Be a Person book series.

Mike Ellsworth

Who should be reading The Infinite Pipeline?

This version of the book is targeted at sales people. We hope these sales people will pass the book along to their management, or recommend that their managers get the executive version, our next book, which is all about leading the social selling change.

Ultimately, the transformation of the sales force to using social selling techniques is inevitable. The value proposition is just too compelling. Here are some stats from the book:

i. In 2012, Aberdeen Research measured the effectiveness of social selling and found a 15 percent increase in team attainment of quota.

ii. LinkedIn reported a result from an IDC study that showed social media use actually increases with the seniority of the buyer— 84 percent of decision makers at the VP level or higher use social media when making a purchasing decision.

iii. LinkedIn research shows that 86 percent of buyers would engage with sales professionals if they provided insights or knowledge about the industry.

1. PayPal

a. Achieved almost 3000 percent ROI

b. Reduced sales cycles by 25 percent

c. Multiple threading allows access to several key contacts within a company

2. WeightWatchers

a. Achieved 100 percent ROI in one month

b. Tripled database of leads in the first six months

c. Response rate increased to 20 percent with improved conversion rate

3. Epicor

a. Achieved greater access to companies in their target market, 500-1000 employees

b. Enhanced credibility

c. Dramatic growth in networking

As we know, change is hard. And salesforces are an even harder sell for new methodologies. That’s why we predict it will take many years for the majority of salesforces to transform into social selling organizations. Infinite Pipeline lays out the roadmap for this change, but it will take commitment and investment for a company to complete the transformation.

So is this book of interest only to large companies?

We feel that the concepts in the book are useful for any size company. Smaller companies may not be able to execute all the strategies in the book—such as creating the communities. But any company with sales people can benefit from using the Infinite Pipeline Relationship Development process.

And that ends our interview

Social selling is a topic I expect we’ll all be hearing more of, probably too much of, in the years to come. Companies who do it right will not be “selling”, as much as networking, as suggested in The Infinite Pipeline. How many companies will follow this advice? Let’s not ask GM.


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SEO Fundamentals – Some things never change

Feb 02, 2015 - filed under SEO 10 Comments
 

The more things change, the more they remain the same. That is in large part true with SEO. Here are some fundamentals to grasp for long-term SEO success.

OK, everybody panic. Google just changed its algorithm again.

Just kidding.

But it is believable, because Google is constantly changing its algorithm, and websites wax and wane in the wake of the changes. Panic is often what you hear in chat rooms and mastermind groups and forums – wherever website owners and bloggers congregate.

SEO fundamentals remain the same

In such an atmosphere of anxiety and ambiguity, one might be tempted to assume that SEO (search engine optimization) techniques change vastly each year, perhaps even on a weekly basis. Well, they don’t. The fact is that there are some trends over time, but if you were doing good SEO in 2010, or even in 2005, very little is different in 2015. So much is still the same. Not much of what I wrote in my SEO FAQ back in 2010 would I change today.

Let us pause for a moment to reflect on this to the melody of Bob Seger.

 

Some things have changed, no doubt about it. But much remains the same, and that is the subject of this blog post.

Get into your target market’s head

The very first step when you set up a website and want to capture the leads that search engines might send you is to get inside your target market’s head. You want to figure out how they think at the moment when they are about to search. Here are some questions to ask yourself:

  • What words do they use? Would they tend to use “home” more, or “house”. Never mind what keyword research says nationally or even regionally, you should know your audience well enough to know what word they use most. If not, the best keyword research you can do is to get out of the office and meet some customers.
  • Are they more likely to search with plurals or singular? Again, you should know your customers. If you don’t, you can always test this using an A/B split test with Adwords.
  • What qualifiers might they use? Would they be more likely to search for “buy house” or for “house for sale”?

Don’t rely on keyword research for this. What the public does when searching matters less than why the rubber chicken crossed the road; the words your target market searches with is what really counts. This was true in 2005 and it was also true when I took the Tardis back to 2025.

What really matters in SEO

Do keyword research

OK, so I lied. What the public does matters. For instance, if you find that 80 percent of searchers in your city use the word “home” rather than the word “house”, there’s a pretty good chance that your target market does, too.

When you do keyword research, just be careful about the sample size. The more local the search and the more long-tail the keyword, the less reliable the data. As a rule of thumb, if you don’t have at least 100 results pointing the same way, it’s pretty sketchy data. Even if you have more, take it with a grain of salt.

Keyword research is good to give you a general idea of what to optimize for. It might not tell you for certain which is more popular, “homes” or “houses” if one gets searched only 15 percent more than the other, but it might tell you whether people are searching for “condos” or “property” at all.

Once again, keyword research has always been an important task to take with a grain of salt. That has not changed.  There are a couple good explanations of keyword research here and here.

Use the keywords

Now that you have your keywords – the terms you want to optimize for – you need to use them on your page. You need to include them in your title tag and your meta description tag and your H tags and in the body of your text, bolded if possible.

Nothing has changed.

Don’t overdo it. In 2005 we erroneously called it over-optimization. Now people don’t even talk about it; the keyword stuffing that got people amazing, but ephemeral, results in 2005 are now understood to be toxic.

Position still counts

The title tag is still the most valuable SEO spot on the page. H tags still come in second place and bold text is still a very important spot to include keywords. These are the words that jump out at readers, so these are the words the search engines value most to determine what your page is about.

As Nate Dame put it last year, “The search ranking factors that have stood the test of time are typically those that do, in fact, benefit real users, and we can only expect that those are the factors that will continue to deliver a return over the long haul.”

Over the years, the search engines have grown smarter, incorporating more signals today than in 2005 to determine the topic of the page, but the basics have not changed.

Above all, make sure there is some text on your page. Yes, some sites get by without any text, just images, but that is a huge ranking disadvantage. Text with keywords deftly weaved into the wording makes a big difference, just as it always has.

Write for visitors first

I remember back in 2005, and even to some degree in 2010, how many people in the SEO community failed to understand this very simple concept. If you stuff keywords all over the place and you do manage for a while to trick the search engines, you will win that pot of gold.

Yes, you will win the pot.

But somebody else will walk away with the gold that should have been in it. Stupid SEO wins the pot of gold; smart SEO wins the gold in the pot.  Which do you prefer?

SEO gold or just the pot?

What is the point of ranking at Number One if your stilted language turns off all those visitors that the search engines send your way? It’s fine if you want to collect a bunch of empty pots. Hey, who am I to question your goals? But if you want to win yourself some gold, you have to write for your visitors. That is something that has not changed. It was as true in 2005 as it is in 2015.

And you still want to make sure your keywords are there for psychological continuity. The visitor searched Google for “buzzing dog collar”, Google sent them to your website, so they subconsciously expect to see “buzzing dog collar” prominently displayed on the page. That’s how they intrinsically know they are in the right place, and are therefore more predisposed to buy from the moment they arrive. That basic psychology has not changed over the years.

Variety is the spice of SEO

If your page about “suitcases” never uses the singular “suitcase”, that is a dead give-away that you are purposefully trying to game the search engines. How could someone possibly have a page of text about suitcases that never mentions “suitcase” or “travel” or “baggage” or “bag” or “luggage”.

The importance of natural writing cannot be stressed enough. Write for the reader, and make sure you have variety, or else you will bore the reader – and Google doesn’t like to send people to boring web pages. Google wants to send people to useful pages. If there are 100 pages about “suitcases”, and and some mention “luggage” and “travel” while others don’t mention either of those words, which ones will Google think are most relevant to a search for “suitcases”?

Historically, most webmasters have not thought this way. It’s OK, I’ll wait while you think it through.

The search engines have become much more adept at playing the word association game, so that has changed to a great degree. And it is true that in the early days, variety was not needed to rank well. But by 2010, the Web was all abuzz about semantic search, as synonyms and plurals and variations had already become a significant aspect of good SEO.

Get top quality links

I must concede that in 2005 one could rank their website quite well by article blasting to hundreds of article directories and by massive link exchanges, even automated ones in many cases. That has changed; today that would be like feeding yourself untreated sewage for breakfast. But it only worked back then because so many competitors were also building crappy inbound links. Remember that SEO is a competitive sport.

If your website was getting regular links back then from USA Today and Harvard, you can be sure that competing websites getting links only from “links.html” pages and article directories were not ranking above you. Quantity might have counted for a lot back then, but quality did, too. Quality links count more now than ever.

Still the same

I still have Bob Seger’s tune playing in my head as I close off this article. Much has changed over the years, but most of the fundamentals are still the same.

By the way, one other thing that hasn’t changed since last century is the panic, as slide 34 in this deck will attest to.

There are surely many other things that have not changed since 2005, or have changed only to a small degree. However, these seven SEO basics remain the same. Ground yourself in these fundamentals, and I’ll see you still at the top of the SERPs when I land my Tardis in 2025.


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The Newbie’s Quick-start Guide to Success on Tsu (or any other social network)

Nov 10, 2014 - filed under social media 8 Comments
 

So you sign up for Tsu (or any other social network) and you don’t know what to do next.  Maybe you don’t know anybody.  Maybe you don’t know how to find great content.  What do you do?  Here is my 5-step process to not only find your way, but zip waaaaay ahead to the front of the pack before you know it.

Create a follow-worthy profile

Whatever your reason for being in a social network, the key to success is to have a big network.  But nobody will want to friend you or follow you if you look like a spammer or your account looks inactive.  It stands to reason that you should have as complete a profile as possible, but there are three crucial elements that make the biggest difference:

  1. Your profile picture or avatar.  This is critical.  Without a profile picture, you are a ghost, a void, a non-entity.  Get that up first.
  2. A header picture.  Not everyone puts up a custom header image.  If you do, you are telling the world that you are for real, that you are here to stay, and most likely a top quality user.  You are immediately much more followable.
  3. Start posting good content to your wall. Never mind if nobody sees your first few posts.  You will need to have multiple items on your wall before there is any point to attracting people to check you out.

Invite old friends

This is important on any social network, because friends are a great seed for your eventual larger network.  On Tsu, inviting friends is even more crucial because they form your family, and you will earn money for their activity as well as for your own.  If you don’t care about the money for financial or entertainment reasons, then this step is no more important on Tsu than anywhere else (but it is still important).

Join Tsu

Ask for help from the person who invited you

The person who invited you already knows people on the social network, so they can make introductions.  They will probably be happy to do so, just to be neighborly.  On Tsu, they have added incentive; if one of their “children” (somebody they invited, such as yourself) is successful, they share in the monetary benefits.

I am happy to help my children – those who sign up through my invitation.  One thing I have been doing is to feature profiles of some of my more active children.  This gives my other followers a chance to get to know them and hopefully they will gain a few new followers and friends as a result.

Here are a couple examples of profiles I have featured:

TSU profile

By the way, I am not doing these just for my children.  I am also doing profiles of other high quality users in my wider network – people I am proud to recommend to others for following or befriending.  This is social media, and part of being social is supporting others. Which leads us nicely to the next section.

Make new friends

There are good ways and bad ways of making new friends.  A whole bunch of people have already had their accounts banned for doing it the bad way.  They were dropping comments on people’s posts that were nothing more than hashtags like #follow4follow  or #followback or otherwise begging for follows.  Seriously, if you show yourself to be a spammer, is that really what will motive people to follow you?

There are some very specific tactics you can use to earn followers and friends:

  • You can comment on people’s posts.  “Cool.” or “Nice post” won’t probably get you much attention.  But a thoughtful response of substance usually will.  People will check you out, and if they like what they see (remember how important your profile is?) they will follow or friend you.
  • You can share or reshare their posts to your own wall.  People love it when you do that.
  • You can send a friend request the official, non-spammy way by pushing the button that says “Add Friend” on Tsu.  On other social networks there are official ways to add people, too.

Draw the crowds

Once you have “completed” all the steps above, you are ready to draw the crowds.  I put “completed” in quotation marks, because you never really complete those steps.  You want to keep inviting old friends and making new friends.  But once you have some friends, you have some visibility, and you can get likes, shares and comments to your posts.

The better your posts, the more shares you will get.  The more shares you get, the more new people will see your content.  The more new people see your content, the bigger your network will grow.  It’s a wonderful circle, as long as you keep coming up with amazing content.  From my experience, there are three types of content that people want to share:

  • Cute or funny viral stuff.  People love to share jokes and memes and funny GIFs, as well as pictures of cats, dogs and babies.
  • Motivational stuff.  People seem to really like to share motivational images with a message about being strong, chasing your dream, staying positive and such.
  • Authoritative stuff.  If an issue is hot, and everybody else is posting short messages about it, the person who really goes into detail and gets to the crux of the matter gets shared.  If you can establish yourself as an authority in an area, your stuff on that topic will get shared.

By the time you reach the fifth step, you are no longer a newbie.  You have a following to interact with and a base on which to grow.  It’s building that initial base that’s often the toughest for most people.

The Newbie's Quick-start Guide to Success on Tsu


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How a TSUnami might drown FaceBook

Oct 28, 2014 - filed under FaceBook, social media 10 Comments
 

FaceBook is under attack. Can its hegemony stand against up-and-comers like Tsu and Ello?

Of course, the answer is…maybe. FaceBook might seem like a Rock of Giberaltar, solid and unmovable. But so was the Soviet Union (for you younger readers, that’s what they called Russia and a number of its vassal states before the fall of the Berlin Wall ended the Cold War).

Tsuccess - success on Tsu social network

There was a time before Google, too, when Lycos and Alta Vista and Excite and Looksmart ruled the Web.

And FaceBook itself displaced MySpace in the social networking space, which in turn displaced Friendster. The question is not if FaceBook will be replaced, but rather when and by whom?

2014 has seen the launch of two contenders with a better chance than most so far.

Ello is the media darling, which launched in beta mode early this year with its promise never to sell user data or to post ads. It has positioned itself as the anti-FaceBook and has attracted some good capital funding to stake its claim. But it is still in beta and you still need an invitation, so I will report on Ello some other time.

Tsu is less than a month old, and distinguishes itself from FaceBook by sharing its revenue with users. Like Ello, it appeals to people’s sense of fair play: you put content on a social network, you should share in the profits.

Each of these social networks has a captivating Unique Value Proposition. The question is whether either of them will displace FaceBook, or at least make a stand side-by-side with FaceBook.

I use FaceBook and there is nothing specific that bothers me about the site, at least not enough for me to quit. Nothing specific. But there is something just a little shifty about the changing terms of service, the blocking posts from users that we want to see, the privacy concerns… It’s like that guy you meet who always seems to have something to hide.

So I have signed up for Tsu and I am committed to being active there; I am closing in on 500 friends in under a week. I do not expect to get rich from Tsu, but I do spend time on social media. If that time can be converted into a couple extra pizzas each month, that’s a nice little bonus, right?

Tsu has the basic layout and functionality of FaceBook, but feels more fun – the community is somehow more like Google Plus (and that is a good thing). Tsu has hit the ground running, going public before all the features are live, the opposite strategy from Ello. To be viable, at very least Tsu will need some form of groups or communities, so we can assume that will be coming shortly. To compete with Google Plus, Tsu will probably need something like circles and hangouts, or something else uniquely its own.

How you can be be successful on Tsu

  1. Share awesome content – things that are useful, entertaining or newsworthy.
  2. Build a large network of friends, so that your content gets seen and shared.
  3. Be sociable – comment and like other people’s posts, and share them when you really like them.
  4. Forget about the money. Seriously, you need to be social because you have reasons to interact for fun or to build a community for your business.
  5. Be an early adapter. This is key to the whole making money part. Invite people. This is the ONLY thing you should do for the money. A year from now, thousands of people will be banging their heads on the wall for not getting in right away and inviting their friends.

Tsu early adapter

The more people you invite, the more “children” you will have and the bigger your “network” will be. Tsu will share with you its revenue based on your activity and the activity of your children and grand children, so it is important to invite A) lots of friends and B) active friends.

I can’t stress enough the “active” portion of all this. You are not paid for the number of people you recruit; you are paid for the activity you and they generate. Being an early adapter means that you have a better chance of inviting active people who have not yet joined.

This brings us full circle to “forget about the money”. Invite people and encourage them to be active. Then, just go ahead and do what you would be doing on FaceBook or Google Plus anyway. Did you notice that those first three points are the same as for any other social network? Yes, Tsu is much like any other social network in that respect, just that you get a share of the revenue that your activity generates.

If you try too hard, you’ll become a spammer. And as I pointed out in the Social Media Sun, nobody wants to share their revenue with a spammer. Spammers will not get far on Tsu.

Already Tsu has taken measures to prevent spamming and encourage quality sharing. Anyone posting or sharing “Share this to earn more money” posts will have their accounts terminated. And there are daily and weekly limits for posting and friend requests, to keep spammers from running amok.

I hope Tsu stays vigilant on the matter of spamming, even if it makes things occasionally inconvenient. That is what makes it a great place to be – good quality content with a really fun atmosphere.

HOMEWORK: Join Tsu today, then invite three social media friends to join, too. You will sooooooo thank me for it later.


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Google Authorship – the 3 reasons why it failed

Sep 30, 2014 - filed under Google 7 Comments
 

Google intended Authorship photos in search results to convey trust. The average Joe didn’t buy it. Here’s why.

There are so many theories floating around the Internet about why Google Authorship was canned, but let’s begin this article by quoting right from the official announcement:

“Unfortunately, we’ve also observed that this information isn’t as useful to our users as we’d hoped, and can even distract from those results. With this in mind, we’ve made the difficult decision to stop showing authorship in search results.”

In other words:

A) people were not clicking more on search entries with little author pictures attached, and;
B) in some cases people were clicking away from search entries with little author pictures attached

And this was predictable from the start. Hindsight is 20/20 vision, so let’s put on our hindsight goggles and review the three reasons.

  1. Trust and authority differ for different types of searches.
  2. People trust institutions more than strangers.
  3. People select between news and opinion.

The 3 reasons Google Authorship failed

Trust and authority differ for different types of searches

To really discover how the faces in the search results affected the average Joe (not us webmasters and online marketers), we have to reverse engineer it back to the actual searches and their intent. There are various reasons people search

  • They search for something to buy
  • They search for entertainment
  • They search for information

Let’s look at each of these three searchers one at a time.

THE BUYER is looking for a product.  In most cases, the only “authority” on that product is a known brand name.  A face next to a search result means nothing to a buyer.  If he pays any attention to it at all, it is to skip over somebody’s opinion of the product or somebody’s report on how they used the product to play a prank or make Thanksgiving dinner.  Google Authorship kindly flagged your blog post as unhelpful, so that people could skip over it. The buyer is looking to buy.

Unless, of course, the buyer is looking to first research the product, which is the case sometimes when:

  • The product is fairly unknown
  • The product is fairly expensive
  • The buyer is picky or indecisive

The fact is that most people won’t even research a real estate agent before trusting her with their most valuable possession.  Most shopping searches are not looking for reviews.  But some are.  Are they looking for one guy’s opinion, or are they looking for several people’s opinion in one place?  Yes, the big LAZY in all of us searches for a forum thread or a review site like TripAdvisor or ePinions where we can quickly see what several people have to say.  All those search entries with a single face next to them look like a whole lot of extra work for nothing. Google Authorship kindly flagged your blog for people to skip over and save time.

But wait!  What if you saw a trusted face that you recognized?  Someone you knew to be an expert on that product?

Exactly.  How many trusted experts on birdhouses or cookware or hose extensions or bedding or winter boots do you know?  I suppose if you saw Oprah’s face or Martha Stewart’s face or Consumer Reports face…  But two of those are true celebrities, and the other is an institution.  People don’t know your face, so your opinion means nothing to them.  The average blogger’s face in Google search results means nothing to 99.9 percent of searchers.

STOP THE PRESSES!

Who qualifies as a trusted source that most people would click on?  At very least it needs to be someone they know.  Here is a good first triage step: if their name is not in Wikipedia, most people don’t know them.

But even if their name is in Wikiepdia, that does not mean the average person knows them. How many country music stars are listed in Wikipedia? Now how many of them would you recognize if you saw their face in passing among the search results?  (If you are a big country music fan, feel free to replace the words “country music” above with “gastric bypass” or “LEED certification” or “contract negotiations”.)

You see?  There are very few people who are so famous that they are universally known outside of their field, and even fewer whom people might consider to be an authority on a given subject.

RESUME THE PRESSES!

Nobody cares what some blogger or journalist has to say, except those few people who actually know that blogger or journalist. Google Authorship kindly flagged those blog posts for people so they could skip over them.

THE RELAXER  is looking for a video, for humor,  for something to entertain her and help fill some down-time.  She does not want to think.  She does not want to read about entertainment.  She wants to be entertained.  If the faces next to a post are not Lady Gaga or Jimmy Fallon or Scarlett Johansson, it’s just some irritating blah-blah-blah clogging up the search results.  Nothing irritates someone in the mood for a party more than somebody who wants to just talk about partying. Google probably had to dump Authorship just to avoid being called a party-pooper.

THE RESEARCHER is looking for information.  There is some overlap with the other two categories here.

She might be researching to buy something, in which case (as I have already mentioned), she wants good, solid information from the company itself, from a trusted source like Consumer Reports, or from a review site where there are multiple user reviews at once. She couldn’t less what some unknown blogger has to say, and Google Authorship kindly flagged your blog so she would not waste any time clicking on it.

The researcher might be looking for information about entertainment.  Perhaps he loves watching Jimmy Fallon, but right now he wants to know the latest gossip on him.  If that gossip is coming from another well-known entertainer or from Perez Hilton, the face might stop quite a few searchers, and they might click through.

But if they don’t know you (Remember the Wikipedia test?), your face in Google’s search results just flags for them that this is something they can feel free to ignore, since they don’t know you and therefore don’t give a hoot what you have to say.

Many people doing research are not seeking information about entertainment or about products.  Many people just want information, and they want the most accurate and quickest information they can get.  Typical searches for information, and this list is far from complete,  might be:

  • for a recipe
  • about symptoms they are having
  • about nutrition
  • for fitness tips
  • how to build, repair or maintain something
  • for translation or definitions
  • for the latest in a current event (such as a war or a natural disaster or proposed legislation)
  • to fix a computer or software issue

If I am looking for a specific recipe or a recipe that combines certain ingredients or what spices go well with something, I want a recipe site, where there are multiple options all in one place.  I do NOT want to go through a dozen blogs about different people’s personal experience with the ingredients.  Google Authorship kindly flagged those pages, saving me the time I would have wasted clicking on them.

I will skip the one-by-one review of searches about medical information and how to build or repair things and updates about current events, etc.  I assure you that it will get repetitive.  People want solid information that they can trust, and to understand how Google Authorship repels researchers, let’s get straight to the second reason that Authorship failed…

Does a stranger's face convey trust?

People trust institutions more than strangers

You can say that you distrust institutions.  Most people do.

They say don’t trust government.  Yet, they are more likely to believe government information than information from an unknown source.

They say they don’t trust the media, that you can’t trust something just because you read it in the newspaper or see it on TV.  But if they do read it in the newspaper or see it on TV, most people will just automatically assume it’s true.  In fact, there is a whole “As Seen On TV” retail sector based on this simple premise.

They say they don’t trust big business, but ROI on advertising proves them wrong.

On the one hand, people distrust big institutions because they suspect there might be a hidden agenda.  And there often is. On the other hand, they assume that anything big institutions say is based on testing and experiments and scientific proof. And it often is.  At the same time, they assume what some random person says is not based on science or fact, but just some fool mouthing off.

Here would be an interesting experiment (Google, are you listening?):

Imagine a split test in the search results, for a few articles from USA Today or The New York Times. Half of searchers are served up results that include the journalists’ faces.  The other half are served up results with the New York Times or USA Today  logo next to them.  Everything else is random; the actual search queries, time of day, geography, etc.

I wonder how many more people would click on the logo article than would click on the face article.  Remember – it’s the same article, only the visual image would change.

Back to Google Authorship and how people reacted to it, let’s look at an example from the list of information searches in the section above. For medical information, whom would I trust?  I’ll bet you some people would recognize Doctor Weil. Or Doctor  Oz.  Or Doctor Phil.  And many of those people would therefore trust them. I’ll bet you that more people would recognize each of their names than their faces (so the picture probably doesn’t really help increase clicks to their own named websites).   And I’ll bet that many people would not clue in even on their names, much less their faces, so the picture might even detract from them.

As for anybody else, like some health blogger or health reporter for a daily newspaper, would you trust the unknown face over:

  • The Mayo Clinic?
  • A government department with the word “health” in it?
  • A university site with the word “health” in it?
  • A site with the word “doctor” in it?
  • A site with the word “clinic” in it?

Most people will look for some sign of authority, and an unknown face just doesn’t count as a medical authority.

People select between news and opinion

The same goes for other searches, such as updates on current events.  It might be very handy to pull up the results of that New York Times research project I suggested in the previous section. Although I am quite sure I know which of the two identical entries would get more clicks, the important question is who would click more on the entry accompanied by the New York Times logo, and who would click more on the entry accompanied by the journalist’s face?  And, lucky for you, I look into my crystal ball and I know the answer.

Drum roll please….

  • People searching for the latest news – the hard facts – of what happened, will click more on the entry accompanied by the media outlet’s logo.
  • People curious about what the latest developments mean, what the implications might be, what political slants there might be – opinion and analysis -  will click more on the entry accompanied by the journalist’s face.

How do I know this?  Because we have decades of training on how to read newspapers.  The Internet might be a new medium, but we take online our assumptions passed down in the offline world. We have always looked to newspapers to deliver us the news, and we will read the headlines and some of the articles to get the information we want.

There are never any faces attached to those articles.

But there are faces attached to regular columns on politics, international affairs and other topics.  We expect a less”journalistic” style when we read these.  We expect to be challenged to think about the news, not to just read it and accept it.

Flash forward to 2014 (before Google canned authorship, of course) and people searching for news would be predisposed to click on an entry that appeared to be from a trusted news source, such as CNN or BBC or The Globe and Mail. People searching to dig deeper – those prepared to invest some effort thinking about what it all means – will be predisposed to click on an entry with a face.

Big caveat: there are many other factors that will lead people to click through to a given result, including the title and the domain/URL of the article.  But in aggregate, Google authorship would have helped people choose between news and opinion.  Whether it would have done so accurately, I cannot tell.

And whether more people would have chosen to click on news, without the faces, I cannot tell (although I suspect that more people would search for news from a trusted media outlet than opinions of people they don’t know, even if they are interested in opinions).

If my suspicions are correct, Google would have incorrectly seen this as a failure of Authorship.  They likely assumed that faces are not helpful if fewer people click on articles with faces, rather than seeing this as a means of triage helping both news-seekers and opinion-seekers better find what they want.

The Future of Authorship

The real future of Authorship, should there in fact be one, lies in Google better understanding how people view authority for different types of sources.  You and I do NOT have authority beyond out limited niches and networks.  But some people do.  And many institutions do.

I did say a short time ago on a UK marketing blog (My Online Marketer) that:

“Unless Google creates a new “Opinion” search (like the News, Videos and other searches), I suspect that authorship is dead. “

I might not have been completely accurate at the time. If Google can harness this understanding of what “authority” means for various searches and flag individual author expertise and institutional expertise accordingly, it might still be able to help people find the most trusted authorities for a given search.

Or here’s a novel idea: Google could do what it is already doing: trying to float the most trustworthy authoritative pages to the top of its results, where people tend to click through the most anyway.  The face, or the logo, would not give the entry authority – it’s ranking would (and does).

 


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How will Google’s new HTTPS and SSL rules affect WordPress websites

Sep 08, 2014 - filed under SEO 13 Comments
 

Google shook the webmaster world with its HTTPS announcement. Guest blogger John Feeney tells us what WordPress site owners should do to take advantage of Google’s announcement.

Google is constantly changing its algorithm to reflect what it believes to be the best ranking signals for websites in the search results. The search engine understands how important search traffic is to marketers, and in turn Google wants those marketers to use the best techniques available to promote their content.

So when Google told the search engine marketing world that the presence of HTTPS and SSL would now be used for ranking sites, this obviously rankled a few feathers and motivated some website owners to get off their butts to get it done. After all, Google asked nicely.

Google loves secure sites.

What Is HTTPS and SSL?

Before we get into how these new ranking factors affect search results, let’s take a moment to explain the terms.

HTTPS stands for Hypertext Transfer Protocol Secure. This strengthens a website’s privacy and adds an extra layer of security to the Web.

SSL stands for Secure Sockets Layer. This encrypts the link between a website server and a client. An SSL certificate secures the site, so your website shows as an https site.

HTTPS: The Good!

Let start off with the best part of this idea. By using HTTPS and SSL, your website is technically safer for users. That’s another good thing to tell people when they come to your site. “Hey! Glad you got here from Google. Due to our new HTTPS protocol, you will not be hacked. Even better, with our SSL certificate you can safely purchase products from our site.” Yeah!

HTTPS: The Bad!

Switching over can cost money. While the prices are not exorbitant, they do add up. GoDaddy pricing on SSL certificates start at $69. HostGator’s SSL certificates start at $39.95. Shop around to make sure you have the best certificate for your website’s needs. Remember if you have more than one site, you will spend more on the certificate.

Furthermore, the site’s speed does decrease slightly. Also some parts of the site can become more difficult to access.

HTTPS: The Ugly

Google immediately implemented this new change. However, they do not have a way to change the address of the website from HTTP to HTTPS. Right now, they are telling webmasters to use 301 redirects. However, why implement something without giving a way for web developers to quickly move their site over to the new standard?

In fact, many sites have seen a slew of SSL errors since Google made the changes to the algorithm.

How To Switch From HTTP To HTTPS

Are you ready to make the switch to a secure website? Then you’ll need to know how, and this part of the article helps you do that if you have a WordPress website. While the process is not as hard as it seems, sometimes snags do come up along the way. If you need some professional help with moving your site, contact a digital marketing agency like us (Shout Web Strategy).

Below we discuss three different ways to change a WordPress website’s security. While some of these strategies might work for other websites, keep in mind that the syntax and the process might vary from this.

First, you will need to get an SSL certificate. Most major hosts have SSL certificates available. While you might not want the cheapest one out there, you can get a good certificate for $20-$50.

Second, you have three options to change the links on your site to the new, secured website.

  1. Change your WordPress settings link
  2. Create an .htaccess redirect
  3. Use WordPress Plugins

WordPress Settings Link

The easiest way to change the links on your website is to go through WordPress General Settings. Go to your settings in the admin area. Then open up the General settings. You will see the default URL for your site. Change both the WordPress address and the Site Address by adding an “S” at the end of http. Reginald Chan has a simple explanation of how to do this on his Smart Internet Lifestyle blog.

.httaccess redirect

If you have the slightest amount of coding chops, you can copy and paste the redirect code for your new https access to your server. Below is the code from StackOverflow.Com. Remember that you need access to your .htaccess files, either through your cPanel or via FTP access (Filezilla, for example).

#redirect all https traffic to http, unless it is pointed at /checkout

RewriteCond %{HTTPS} on

RewriteCond %{REQUEST_URI} !^/checkout/?.*$

RewriteRule ^(.*)$ http://mydomain.com/$1 [R=301,L]

WordPress Plugins

A few WordPress plugins do exist to help you. Specifically, WordPress HTTPS and Yoast SEO both can help you move your site from HTTP to HTTPS. Note: Yoast, while a stable plugin, is not reliable for moving over your site. Double check that it went through.

The ultimate outcome of the new security standards

The reality is that Google is making it tougher for websites to be listed on the first page of their website. Using an updated security profile is just one in a string of changes to ensure the highest quality sites get access to Google’s golden goose of traffic.

The HTTPS and SSL addition just make it easier for them to separate the winning from the losing websites in an ever changing battle of quality and rankings.

Furthermore, websites who use this standard have a higher rate of confidence from their readers – readers who care and search for secure payment. In that sense, Google only sped up the transition.

Guest blogger John Feeney is an employee of Shout Web Strategy. They believe that SEO is essential to every businesses success. Priding themselves on being Australia’s leading digital marketing agency, they can help grow your business by delivering more targeted traffic to your website. For more information visit www.shoutagency.com.au.

 


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Could your Twitter buddy be a bot?

Aug 08, 2014 - filed under social media 2 Comments
 

Bots are making their presence felt on social media. But can you tell a bot from a real person?

Anyone who’s been playing the social media game for a while should know that not all of their followers bleed when they are cut. In fact, many followers don’t even exist – they are just bits and bytes.

Bots.

“Bot” is short for robot, in much the same way “shroom” is short for mushroom. A bot on a social network is no more than a virtual presence created by a set of automated instructions.

The bots are following you.

And, more than likely, you are following some of them, too.

Does any of this matter to you? Some people really don’t care. The more the merrier, whether human or otherwise. Others care a great deal, sometimes being quite consumed over whether a follower is a real person or not.

I am in between. I don’t really care who follows me, but I am a little pickier about whom I follow.

So it was with interest that I read an MIT story about the bot named lajello, who (Can I say “who”, or should I say “that”?) became the second most popular “person” on the Italian social network aNobii. A quick glance at the “Italian” social network, which is all in English, makes me wonder if the whole community is made up of bots, but that is not the point of our investigation today.

Today’s investigation is how to tell if you are following a bot, or more to the point, how to recognize a bot or fake account on a social network like Twitter before accidentally following it.

Could your Twitter buddy be a bot?
Check out their smile

The most obvious way to quickly do triage between bots and real people is to check out their smile.  If they are smiling, there is a good chance they are real.  If they are frowning, they are likely real, too, although they might just be real trouble.

But if they are not smiling because they have no head, that’s another matter.  Real people don’t walk around without heads.  If you see a generic icon for an avatar, chances are the account is a fake.

What if you see a company logo for an icon?  Real, although it might not be just one person, but rather a team of company staff – sort of like a virtual group hug for profit.

What if the avatar is something else, such as an animal or a famous character?  Could still be real.  Or it could be fake.  Best to check out other factors, which you should do anyway, because there are fake accounts with real faces (ah, the wonders of modern virtual face surgery!).

Check out their elevator speech

Every account has an elevator speech – a short summary of who they are or what they do.  If that little snippet includes a link to a blog or company website, they are probably real.  If there is something meaningful written, it is probably real.

If the snippet tries to sell you Twitter followers or FaceBook likes, who cares if it’s real?  You don’t want to follow an account selling fake followers, even if the account itself is real.  You could end up being a bot by association.

If the snippet is just a quote or a pithy saying that looks like it took no effort to create, that is another clue that the account might be fake.  If the snippet is left blank, there is an even greater chance that it is fake. The again, some people don’t have much imagination and just leave it blank.

Do a quality assurance check

Check the tweets of the account.  If they are all ads or all promotional or all meaningless or all just don’t feel right in some way or another, don’t follow them.  Many accounts will have some meaningless tweets; most people post some drivel. Many will have sponsored tweets, because they get some money for that.  Many will pitch products and services.  All of that is fine.  But if that is all they do…well, it’s up to you to decide whom you wish to follow.

Check out whom the account is following.  If the “person” is following all real-looking accounts, then it is probably a real person.  But if the account is following a fair number of fake accounts, you might want to stay away from them.  Bots follow bots, and you probably don’t want to tag along at the end of a bot konga line.

Check out who is following them.  This is less accurate, since even a good account can be followed by lots of bots.  But it can give you one more signal as to the quality of the account.

Follow me on Twitter.  I’m not a bot!

Ultimately, there is no way to be 100 percent certain that an account is real, unless you came to the account from someone’s blog post, from their email or from some other place where you know they are real.

And all these guidelines still might erringly identify your next door neighbor, who hasn’t added a pic or a blurb to his profile, as a bot.

Don’t feel bad if you discover that one of your online buddies really is a bot.  As the MIT story says:

It is not hard to see the significance of this work. Social bots are a fact of life on almost every social network and many have become so sophisticated they are hard to distinguish from humans. If the simplest of bots created by Aiello and co can have this kind of impact, it is anybody’s guess how more advanced bots could influence everything from movie reviews and Wikipedia entries to stock prices and presidential elections.

 


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What if email isn’t dead?

Jun 24, 2014 - filed under email 13 Comments
 

Mark Twain is famous for saying “The reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated.”  The same could be said for email marketing, and here is why…

It’s a refrain you might have heard a lot of recently (actually, going back at least to 2009): “Email is dead”.  After all, the evidence is all around us:

  • Today’s youth are texting instead of emailing.
  • People message each other on FaceBook
  • Students want to tweet their professors.
  • People “chat” through Skype and iMessage and other chat tools.

Obviously, email is in decline, right?

But wait.  Email marketing is flowing faster than ever.  How can this be?

Email marketing is flowing faster than ever.

Perhaps the “evidence” above is misplaced.  Could we be comparing apples to pineapples?  Texting is a form a chatting – a two-way conversation where several messages go back and forth, often in less than a minute.  FaceBook and Twitter messages are also “real time” messages, that can also be quite rapid-fire.  Similarly, Skype and iMessage are instantaneous.

While messages in some of these formats can be saved for the long term, they are all meant to be instantaneous.  They tend to share the following characteristics:

  • Instantaneous communication.
  • Optimal for short messages.
  • Not ideal where attachments are needed.
  • Not ideal for storing over the long term or for keeping track.

In short, these tools are ideal for conversations, not for correspondence.  Email, however, is ideal for correspondence, not conversations.  Yes, some conversations take place by email, but the lag between one person posting and the other person downloading makes it less than ideal.  However, email can easily be filed and tracked.  It is ideal for long messages and for attachments.

If email has replaced a lot of paper correspondence of days gone by, texting has replaced phone calls, not email.  The headlines should not read “Email is dead”.  They should read “phone calls are dead”.  This could herald in the prospect that we might someday use our phones for every purpose except as phones.

As Brett Moneta reports in Digital Pivot:

“Everything has its purpose and place. If you’re sending a timely social message, you’ll send it as a text. Need to be clear? You’ll probably call. Social messages that don’t need an immediate reply go as social media. And finally, when you need to send an official message, it goes as email. The younger generation isn’t doing heavy business yet. That’s why they prefer texting.”

Social media certainly is not replacing email.  If anything, more social media usage means more email usage.  I know when somebody has commented on one of my G+ posts or wants to message me on FaceBook or DMs me on Twitter because I receive an email telling me so.  If there is a login issue, I need an email address to send a reset-password URL to.

Email as a marketing tool

As marketers, one lingering question might still remain. If people are communicating more by texting and messaging, are they still reachable by email?  Does the younger generation care about correspondence at all?

Numbers don’t lie.  Email marketing continues to grow. A 2013 study by Custora reveals that email marketing is the fastest growing customer acquisition channel, quadrupling from 0.88% of customers acquired in 2009 to 6.84% in 2013.

Email marketing is becoming more sophisticated, more targeted.

As email marketing continues to grow, it also remains an effective way to deliver messages. According to a 2013 GetResponse study, the ROI on email marketing is $28 for each $1 spent.  In the growing mobile marketing segment, 41% of emails are open on mobile devices.  Simon Grabowski, CEO of GetResponse email marketing services, says:

“Email marketing is becoming more sophisticated, more targeted.  We see continued growth as more and more businesses are realizing that a website is not enough to be ‘online’, that they also need some means of communicating with customers.  Email is usually the best way to do that.”

There is some compelling evidence that people still want email, and especially that once they start their own households it will become increasingly important to them. Even in a “paperless” society, documentation is still required.  Nothing demonstrates this better than the delivery of utility statements.  As utilities try to eliminate paper statements and bills, they are giving consumers incentives to receive them by email.

In fact, any elimination of paper almost universally requires a replacement of some form of electronic documentation, and email is still the most assured and effective medium available.

So consumers can still be reached by email, even if other platforms are also being used. And email is still the best way to reach individuals personally.  You can broadcast your latest special on Twitter, but you can send a “Dear Justin” personalized message via email.

To reach business customers, email is even more important that to reach consumers.  Businesses don’t chat; they send documentation.  Email remains their chief electronic means of communication, so for a business audience, email will likely be your most effective means of marketing.

In fact, a 2014 survey found that on average, companies attribute 23% of their total sales to email marketing.  That is up from 18% in 2013. That same survey found that email marketing gives the best bang for the buck, edging out SEO for best ROI, and well ahead of affiliate marketing, offline direct marketing and other channels.

Steve Chou agrees.  He teaches people how to make a living selling goods online, and he teaches them that email marketing is essential.  A few months ago, he revealed his own success with email marketing in an article entitled How I Made Over $300K These Past 2 Years With An Email Autoresponder.  He says:

“Email is definitely not dwindling.  It is an essential tool to any business that wants to succeed online in 2014, and for many years to come.”

Here are a few additional statistics about email marketing from Wolfgang Jaegel that you might want to consider:

Email markiting stats

So next time you hear that email is dead, you can say, “Email is dead.  Long love email!”

 


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Choosing the Best Social Sharing Platforms

Jun 09, 2014 - filed under bookmarking, social media 19 Comments
 

Which social platforms are worth adding to your activities, beyond the obvious?  Let’s look at this blog’s traffic as a case study.

Those who know me for a long time, know that I have had a reputation as social sharing addict, often seen at all the social bookmarking websites, large and small.  And people often ask me questions:

  • Is it worth it?
  • Do you get good traffic from them?
  • Do you get good SEO links?
  • Do you get customers?
  • Do you get engagement?

Everybody is after a different metric.  I plan to address only one of them directly.  But before I do, I should provide just a general response to these questions.

Yes, it is worth it, but you have decide how much effort to spend on social sharing and how much time on each site.

I suspect that SEO links are no longer much of an issue, except to the extent that you get traffic and engagement (and therefore links from blogs and news websites).

Choosing the best social sharing sites

I doubt I have gotten any customers directly from social sharing websites, but I know that I have earned myself clients as a result of networking on these sites.  A funny thing happens when you vote for and comment on and share somebody else’s labor of love – it opens up the doors to all sorts of valuable collaboration, including occasionally some new clients or subcontracting opportunities.  So engagement and traffic would be good metrics to help decide where it is worth spending your time.

In this post I will not rehash the relative value of being active on Twitter versus FaceBook versus Pinterest versus Google Plus versus LinkedIn.  At least 57 other bloggers are at this very moment rehashing those mysteries of the universe for you.  I won’t ignore them, but instead I want to share with you some of the other social websites that bring me traffic, either as stand-alone social communities or as sharing tools I use to extend my reach on the big social sites.

METHODLOGY

I like to add a “methodology” heading because it gives this blog post an air of scientific je ne sais quoi.  Truth be told, the methodology is simply that I have looked at my Google Analytics traffic sources so far in 2014 for this blog, for another business blog, and for a “simple lifestyle” blog that covers self-help, personal finance, health and fitness, and entertainment.

Here are the social sharing websites that have sent the most traffic to this blog, among the top 20 referral sources over the almost 5 months so far this year, in descending order (with my comments):

Twitter (No surprise, as Twitter is the ultimate link-sharing platform and I am very active there. This is my account.)

Viral Content Buzz (Wow!  This is a platform I use to extend my reach on Twitter, FaceBook, Pinterest and StumbleUpon.  But the direct referrals alone are worth being active there.)

Google Plus (I am very active on Google Plus, especially in the communities, where I find engagement to be fairly strong. This is my account.)

FaceBook (No surprise)

Blokube (Big surprise!  Older and more established than DoSplash, Klinkk and Kingged, I nevertheless would never have expected Blokube to outpace BizSugar, Pinterest and Triberr, especially since I am more active on all of those platforms.  Clearly I need to pay much more attention to Blokube.)

BizSugar (Small surprise.  I love BizSugar and I am active there, although not quite as active as I would like to be.  Yet it is sending almost as much traffic as Pinterest and Triberr combined!)

Pinterest (Considering the effort I put into creating highly pinnable pics, I am somewhat disappointed that Pinterest is not proving a better source of traffic.  I suppose if I ran an Etsy store…)

Triberr (Like Viral Content Buzz, this is a platform I use to extend my reach on Twitter, and  have found it also a great venue for forging relationships with other bloggers.  I would rank it quite highly for engagement.)

JustRetweet (Another platform I use to extend my reach on Twitter, and to some degree FaceBook and Google Plus, and again worth using also for the direct traffic.)

Scoop It (Content curation platform, and obviously I am getting some traffic from it.)

Gentlemint (One of four “male” answers to the female-dominated Pinterest, it is sending me more traffic than Manteresting, Dudepins and DartItUp)

Kingged (One of the newest social sharing communities, probably with the narrowest range of topics – just internet marketing – but with the most engaging users, both on the site and in comments on this blog.  If your blog fits this niche, it is worth the time and effort.)

DoSplash (Similar to Blokube and Kingged, fairly new and with a slightly wider set of niches.)

I won’t run through the same details with the other two blogs, but I will offer a few outstanding observations from their referral stats.

First, I should note that if a post or two goes hot on StumbleUpon or Reddit, it can dwarf all other social platforms, as traffic takes a ridiculous spike for 24-48 hours.  On the other hand, it can really mess with your bounce rate and time-on-page stats. I shall ignore those aberrations.

Secondly, considering the niches of the other two blogs, you won’t be surprised to hear that I get much less traffic from the likes of Blokube, BizSugar, Kingged and DoSplash.  But in their place, Gentlemint figures much more prominently, in one case ahead even of FaceBook, Pinterest and Google Plus (Wow!).  Three others also featured: Snapzu (quite strongly), Social Buzz Club (moderately) and Manteresting (barely).

If part of your marketing strategy is to reach out to other bloggers, to collaborate more, to extend your reach on the major social sharing platforms and to build a well-engaged following, this should give you an idea of which venues would be worth your effort.  Of course, your results might not be the same as mine; nothing is more accurate than your own results by trial and error.  This guide is meant strictly to help you make the best educated guesses as to where to start or expand.

 

 


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How to choose a website platform – the only guide you’ll need

May 22, 2014 - filed under web design 6 Comments
 

Like choosing a suit, you have options when building a website.  Do you go custom-tailored or off-the-rack?  This is your guide to making that decision.

There is a derisive expression in English called “off the rack”.  It means to buy something premade, and it more specifically refers to men’s suits.  There are two ways to buy a suit:

  • Custom tailored, so that every measurement exactly fits your body.
  • Off the rack – premade at a factory in a number of sizes, one of which should be pretty close to what your body requires.

I don’t know about you, but I have never bought a custom tailored suit.  For starters, it costs a lot in time.  In addition to choosing the fabric, you have to stand there to get pinned.  Then you have to return to the store to pick it up.  Two trips to a store instead of just one – not fair!  More importantly, a custom tailored suit costs more money.  The price for custom-tailored is measured in thousands of dollars; the price for off-the-rack is measured in hundreds of dollars.

Build your websiteThat’s a big difference.

What does all this have to do with building a website?  You can get websites off the rack or have them custom built, too.  And the same factors apply to building a website as apply to buying a suit.

Some people will scratch their heads and ask, “Are you nuts?” to get a website built from scratch, because the cost is so much higher.

Other people will scratch their heads and ask, “Are you nuts?” to buy a ready-made website, because their discriminating eyes can see a difference in quality that many people would not notice.

The fact is that most websites these days are a hybrid of off-the-rack structure and custom-tailored design.  Many sites are built on WordPress (originally just a blogging platform that has recently been adapted to other types of websites), Drupal, Magneto or Joomla.  These content management systems (CMS) have all the structure in place; you just have to add your own custom design, and choose features to add as modules or plugins.

Many other sites are offered as ready-to-use programs, or “hosted solutions”, such as IM Creator, Weebly or Shopify.  In other words, you take one of their templates and customize it with your graphics, maybe pick-and-choose from certain features, and you are ready to go.

To the end user, a website built from scratch, a website built on a CMS, and a website built from a hosted solution don’t look any different.  What is different is the back-end, the amount of effort required to maintain the website and the pricing. According to Erez Zundelevich, VP Online Marketing of  IM Creator.

“Our users create websites that look and feel just like they have been custom-built, without all the hassles of actually having to build a website. Our market is people who don’t want to spend money and time running a website, so that they can focus on running their business.”

Custom built website

Obviously, the most expensive option is to build from scratch.  There are some excellent reasons to do this, and if you have the financial means, why not?  Like getting a custom suit made or like designing your own house to your exact specifications, why not design your own website?  Assuming you have the money.  And the time.

Quote - Joshua AlexanderIt is not just the upfront cost to factor in.  You will also have to manage your own hosting and look after your own security, you will be fully responsible for your own SEO and whenever you want something fixed, changed or added, you will need to hire someone to do it for you.  If you have the money, these are not issues, of course.

A custom-built website is not always just a matter of prestige, as is a custom-tailored suit.  Nor just a matter of preferences, as is a custom designed house.  There are things you might need to do to run your business that just don’t come in a box.  Just as exceedingly tall people or very portly people might need to have custom-tailored suits, some businesses are doing things differently enough that they just need a custom-built website.

Joshua Alexander, who does custom coding, explains the advantage of building to custom specifications:

“It allows them to build a system with understanding of potential growth into the future. I always ask clients what they can see themselves needing in the future so I can see if we can plan that into the initial design and development.”

Custom coding is ideal for someone who wants to do something really different and can afford to do so – someone who doesn’t mind being fully responsible for all aspects of the website, and can afford to be.

CMS based websites

CMS based websites cost less than custom-built websites, because the architecture is already in place.  If you use WordPress, the platform is 100 percent free, and most of the optional features (called “plugins” in WordPress) are also free, although there are some that cost money.  Drupal, Joomla and several other lesser-known CMS platforms operate on a similar basis.

Although the structure of the website is free, there is still some tailoring involved.  You will still have to hire a designer, and in most cases you will want a “theme”, which might be free or might cost money, and  which is not always easy to install without some basic programming knowledge.  A “theme” in WordPress is more than just the look; it is a coding structure of how elements of the page appear.  Some themes are easy-peasy to use, others hijack your interface and actually require some pretty advanced programming skills to navigate.  Yes, I’ve been there.

If you have some coding skills, and are willing to spend the time, a CMS based website might be for you.  You will still be responsible for your own hosting and for the site’s security.  If you want to make changes, you can always get plugins or hire somebody to do custom coding.  The CMS is free, but customization of both the design and the features still requires hiring somebody (or learning a fair amount).  Basically, it is a lot like taking a huge short cut to a custom coded website.

Here is a great video leading you through the process…

CMS based websites are ideal for people whose pockets are not too deep and who are willing and able to look after their own website or hire someone who is capable.

Hosted Solutions

Unless you can do your own coding, the cheapest path is a hosted solution.  Like a CMS-based website, there are rarely any up-front fees, although you might want to hire a designer to do custom design work so that your website looks like yours and nobody else’s.  When we spoke with Erez Zundelevich, he said IM Creator connects customers with designers familiar with their code structure on request.

Henri Goldsmann of Blunt Pencil, recounts how he built his custom website on the IM Creator platform:

“I built the site myself. Though the templates looked very professional, I wanted to see how far I could take this. I used a template, and deleted all the elements, kept the basic frame in order for the site to display well on a tablet and smartphone as well.”

However, if you are really strapped for cash and don’t have Henri Goldsmann’s skills or interest level, the major hosted solutions all offer very nice templates that you can use until you can afford to replace or tweak them with custom artwork.  Just double-check that you are allowed to do so before signing up.

Quote - Erez ZundelevichSome offer free plans, but in most cases you’ll want to pay for at least a basic upgrade. For eCommerce there are often transaction fees.  A transaction fee might be when you sell clothes or crafts or gadgets through the shopping cart on your website.  This would obviously not be a cost if your website is for a cafe or a tattoo parlor or a motel.

Where you really save money, time and headaches with a hosted solution is on maintenance, such as security, fixing things that break, adding features, updating things that seem to change so ridiculously fast on the Internet, etc.  You don’t have to learn to code and you don’t have to hire anybody, and for the most part you don’t have to monitor such things.  That is all taken care of for you.  In most cases, the monthly price is less than what it would cost to have a coder taking care of things, and you don’t have to worry about managing any of the technology.

Erez Zundelevich explains:

“The biggest benefit of a hosted solution like IM Creator is that a small business can have a professional looking website, without having it drain their time and energy looking after it. That is worth more financially to an entrepreneur than the actual cost savings of design and programming.”

Here is a short video he shared with us about how a hosted solution works:

 

Hosted solutions are ideal for people who don’t want to invest the time and energy in becoming web savvy or in taking care of a website, and don’t want to spend the money to hire someone who can.

Are hosted solutions too good to be true?

Does this sound too good to be true?  In life, you get what you pay for.  You save money and save time looking after the website, but you do lose flexibility.  For instance, if your business eventually grows to be as big as Amazon, you will eventually have to fork up for custom programming, dedicated servers, etc.

And there are some risks with hosted solutions, so make sure to cover your backside on just a few critical items.

Make sure you legally own the content.  A reputable hosted solution will not claim ownership of your text or images.  Of course, if you use one of their templates, you won’t own that.

Make sure you practically own the content.  Some businesses are riskier than others.  For instance, if you run a tattoo parlor, who knows when an image might be seen as offensive by someone and the site gets taken down for a terms-of-service violation.  And any business can lose its website if the hosted solution goes out of business.  When Windows Live Spaces shut down, they gave a six-month migration period, but there is no telling what might happen if some other hosted solution shuts down and doesn’t give users any options.  In other words, keep a back-up copy of all text and images and anything you actually own.

According to Jeremy Wong, of all the hosted solutions, only Weebly and IM Creator allow you to export your website from their platforms, so if you need to go elsewhere, you have more than just the images and text on file.  There is a good comparison of these two services here.

Make sure they cover all the bases.  You want a site that is HTML5 compliant, so that it shows well on all devices, one that has SEO built in (that does not mean you will rank well, just that the fundamentals are there, on which a good ranking can be built) and that there are good security measures in place to protect against hacking and other threats.  Ask these questions before signing up for any hosted solution, because these are some of the tasks you are delegating to them when you sign up.

Own your domain.  Make sure that when you set up your website, regardless of platform, that you own and you control your domain.  That is your business real estate and your business identity on the Internet.

The bottom line

I think it’s fair to say that all three approaches have worked well for many happy people, and there are probably plenty of nightmare stories that can be told from each option.

Quote - David LeonhardtJoshua Alexander told me the story of having to rebuild an exact replica of a website because the designer/ programmer had control of the site…until he died in a car crash.  The owner had no access, and the man who did was dead.

That story reminded me of a time I had to fight to get control of the domain name on behalf of a client, because the programmer had registered it in his own name and had subsequently vanished off the face of the Earth.  Funny story, because I actually went to knock on his door in Akron, Ohio…and discovered that his address did not even exist.  I finally tracked down a former partner of his in Chicago (by phone) and somehow recovered the client’s domain.  Once again, the importance of owning your domain, both legally and practically, is evident.

In short, even if you hire people to do custom work, you still need to make sure you own everything.

I have worked on many websites that have been custom built and many that are CMS based.  I have not worked on any hosted-solution websites, because they just don’t need me.

So which is better, custom tailored websites, CMS-based websites or hosted solutions?  As with suits, that’s a no brainer.  But that is the wrong question to ask.  The question is which approach is right for your business?  And that depends on your budget and how much time and effort you want to invest in your website.

 


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