Create Evergreen Content for Your Site

Evergeen Content

Content that’s “evergreen” has continued value over time.  For example, it’s not an announcement that an important deadline is looming and you better take action; rather, it’s general advice on how to do something.  Evergreen content can deliver visitors over a long period, and it helps in search engine rankings because visitors who click on it will tend to stay on the page for a while, and over a long period of time.  It’s just the sort of content that you’d want to put on page one of search results if you were Google!

As a practical matter, evergreen content doesn’t have to be replaced as quickly on your site, so it also reduces the workload for busy people who work in small businesses.  But that’s not an excuse to put content on your site, decide that it’s evergreen, and then leave the site alone–Google, not to mention your visitors, want fresh content.  Supply your site with a continuing flow of new content.

The Ingredients

For evergreen content to have impact on your search position, and be most effective, here’s what it needs to have:

  1. Continued value–As in the example above, write copy that will have value over time, that isn’t tied to some specific event.  Luck plays a role here.  It’s possible to recommend some specific SEO technique that ceases to be useful the next week.  However, if you try to provide good advice to your readers, that’s not tied to specific events, in general that will have some staying power.
  2. Hold the user–provide enough information so that the reader spends some time on the page.  Google measures how long until the reader goes on to the next page, and long times help your search results position.
  3. Write for SEO–Use important keywords early in the text, in the middle of the text, and at the end of the text.  Also put important terms in the heading and in internal links to the page.
  4. Sell the content in the heading–Have a descriptive heading that draws the reader in
  5. address a need–Address a real need that your audience has, so that they’ll be interested in the content.

The Bottom Line

Write durable, quality content for your site.  And keep adding to it on a regular basis.  Over time, you can develop an authoritative site that will rank well in search results.

 

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Structuring a Multi-Language Web Site

Multi-Language Sites

Suppose you’re a physician in practice in a major city.  You want to serve both English-speaking and Spanish-speaking patients.  So, naturally, you have two Web sites built, one for English and one for Spanish.  Or do you?  What’s the right way to structure your Web presence if you want to present a multi-lingual face to the people you serve?

Note that here we’re talking only about the problem of multiple languages in a single location.  If you’re a multinational organization, and want to serve people in different countries who speak different languages, then you will most likely want to have distinct Web sites, each tailored to its own country, not just by language but by content and by incoming and outgoing links.

The Alternatives

There are three alternatives to consider:

  1. Two distinct sites, one for each language, with the same or very similar structure, each with its own domain name.  So your URLs will look like example-en.com and example-es.com.
  2. A single domain name, with different subdomain names.  You’ll have two sites, but the same domain name will work for both.  Your URLs will have the form en.example.com and es.example.com.
  3. A single domain name and a single site, with separate subfolders for each language.  Your URLs will have the form example.com/en/  and example.com/es/

Two Sites, Two Domain Names

For search engine position, this is the poorest approach.  First, Google awards more authority to sites with more content–and this divides your content between two sites.  In addition, your incoming links will be split between the two sites.  Finally, from a visitor experience perspective, could this give a visitor the impression that you are less than completely open about how you serve people who use different languages, since the same business is using two different domain names?  For all these reasons, this is not an attractive alternative.

One Domain Name, Two Subdomains

When you have two subdomains you have two different sites.  Each subdomain will be indexed separately by Google, so you still have the SEO disadvantages of the first approach.  You will have two separate sites to maintain and promote, so there’s extra work compared with a single site.

One Domain Name, Separate Subfolders

This is the most attractive approach from an SEO perspective, because all of the credit for incoming links in any language will all accrue to the single site, as will all authority for the content you put on the site.  And all the of the new content in any language will benefit the overall site for all languages.  You can provide flags on each page that link to the content in that language–in this case, for example, a U.S. flag and a Spanish flag.  A visitor can easily toggle back and forth between the two languages, so that an English speaker can find content for a Spanish speaker and then just click to show the Spanish-language version to the Spanish speaker.  With this approach, the bilingual nature of the site is featured rather than hidden.

The Bottom Line

For a site that serves multiple languages but for a business that operates in a single location, use a single domain with subfolders for each language.

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When Should You Update Your Site? Why It Matters

Many small businesses have what could be called a “build it and forget it” approach to the Web.  They work hard when the site is built, then let it sit undisturbed, hoping that it will draw traffic.  This is not a sound approach!  To discover why, read on.

Google and Currency

Google dominates search, so our first attention goes to what Google does about this issue.  Google’s goal is to deliver search results that are relevant to a user’s query.  They’ve decided that one important aspect of relevance is currency.  Their users don’t just want just information, they want current information.   First-time visitors to your site want information that’s current, and repeat visitors want to find something new.

Google’s response to this assessment of their customers’ desires is to include currency as an important ranking factor.  When you create a new site, currency will be in your favor, but over time this will degrade as you don’t add new content.  You can no longer just set up a site and have the traffic roll in; you need to keep supplying it with current content.

This is not unreasonable on Google’s part.  When you get the newspaper on Monday morning, do you want to see last week’s news?  Sure, you might see some stories that go back in time, but what grabs your interest is the latest news.  Similarly, Google is particularly interested in giving its searchers the latest information.  How does Google do this?  By moving sites with more current information–that have received new content recently–higher in search ratings.

I Don’t Have Time to Write for The Site

In a small business, everyone is doing lots of things.  You’re busy.  You can’t take time to write articles for the site!  But do you take several people to go to a trade show?  And spend all the money to get a booth in a trade show?  What if, for much lower cost, you could get more leads from your Web site, just from an hour of writing once a week?

Making effective use of your Web site is the best marketing expenditure that you can make, because it’s working to connect with people who have expressed an interest in what you offer by searching for it!  These are all prospects, you’re not just printing paper and spreading it around, hoping that someone who is interested will see it.

You need to take the time to write for the site.  If it means doing less of something else, that’s fine.  Find some marketing activity whose productivity is doubtful, and write for the site instead.

What To Write

A good starting point if you aren’t writing much for your site is a blog.  Find short articles that you can write that provide useful advice to your target customers.  In these short articles, indirectly convey your selling message, whether it’s product quality, customer support, great service, or whatever your key selling message is.

A blog is a good place for these articles.  They can also be used as newsletter fodder as well.  This is an example of just such a blog/newsletter article.  It’ll go on the site in Web Marketing 101, which is my blog, and it’ll also be sent out as a newsletter.

The Bottom Line

Get writing!

 

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Common Small Business Web Mistakes

Today, small businesses understand that they need a Web site.  However, often their goals extend only to “having” a Web site, so they don’t ever realize the considerable revenue benefits that a Web site can bring.  Using a Web site as the hub of your marketing strategy is the best advertising investment that you can make.  Here’s why.

Interruption Advertising

Traditional advertising can be called “interruption advertising.”  For example someone is reading a newspaper, and you pay to put an ad near an article that’s being read, in hopes of attracting the reader’s attention, interrupting what she actually wants to do.  On radio and television, it’s the same thing–but there, you actually interrupt the program in hopes that the viewer or listener will pay attention to your interruption.

If you purchase a mailer such as a postcard or an add in a mailer for several companies, you’re paying to buy a lot of paper–thousands of pieces of paper–and lots of ink, to print your ad on the paper.  And lots to distribute this printed material, again in hopes that someone who happens to be interested happens to see your ad at the right moment.

All of this is expensive per person who is reached, which you well know if you’ve priced even a small ad in a newspaper.  You’re buying a lot of paper and a lot of ink and a lot of delivery in hopes of reaching someone who’s interested.

Inbound Advertising

Promotion on the Web, particularly through search engines, is fundamentally different from interruption advertising.   Someone who is looking for your product or service does a Web search as part of their seeking someone to meet their needs.  What we seek to do with search marketing is to make that connection between the person who wants what you offer and your offering on your Web site.

For example, if you’re using pay-per-click advertising, your ads will appear on the right side of a Google search result.  The people who see those ads will be searchers who’ve entered a term that you’ve (carefully!) chosen, that indicates an interest in what you provide.  If they click on your ad, then they’ve shown their interest twice–once in the search, and then again, after reading your ad, and clicking.  You pay only when they click on your ad and reach your site.  So your payment is to present your site to someone who is actively looking for what you’re offering.

The work you do to rank well in search engines is also “inbound advertising”–you’re trying to appear on page one or page two of Google search results for the products or services that you offer.  This, too, is worth time and effort, and investment, because you’re seeking to present your case to people who are actively looking for what you offer.

Often small businesses don’t want to write a regular newsletter.  It’s work!…and everyone is busy.  But a newsletter signup on your site is a way for someone to say “Please remind me that you’re around.”  They’ve been to your site and for some reason this isn’t the time to buy.  But they’d like to be reminded!  So don’t throw away that visit–that you’ve worked and paid to get.  Instead, use it to start building a relationship through your newsletter.

The Bottom Line

Don’t just “have” your Web site.  Make it work for you; it’s the most effective, least costly form of promotion available to you.

 

 

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Welcome New Newsletter Subscribers

Importance of the Welcome Email

It’s easy to overlook that welcome email that you send to new subscribers to your newsletter, but that’s a big mistake.  Why?  Because, as an Experian white paper shows, welcome emails have an open rate that’s much higher than typical newsletter open rates.

Welcome Email OpensThis chart, from the Experian white paper, shows an open rate for welcomes at nearly 58%, compared with about 15% for typical newsletters.

Note also that the click rate is also much higher, nearly seven times as high.

So the welcome email is a great time to reach prospects and customers with your message.

When Should You Send It

Immediate vs Batch WelcomeYour newsletter software may offer you a choice between sending the welcome right away or in a batch at some later time.

The right time is right away!  The same Experian white paper shows the open and click rates for immediate welcomes is much higher than for later, batch welcomes–as you’d expect–when someone has just subscribed, you’re on their mind.

If your newsletter software won’t send a message to new subscribers, this advantage is important enough that you should replace it.  An excellent and very popular WordPress newsletter plugin–the one I use–is MailPoet.  The free version lets you send an immediate welcome.

The First Message

Start by thanking the new subscriber for joining the list.  Then deliver your first message–your vision and mission, told in your own voice.  What are you up to?  What do you deliver, and to which people?

This is your opportunity to tell this customer or prospect that you stand for and deliver things that are important and worthwhile, to reinforce the message that was already delivered about you, that drew this subscriber to you in the first place.

Remember the old saying that you never get a second chance to make a first impression!  This is your opportunity to deliver the basic message about your whole business and what you stand for.

Now Offer a Surprise

All of us love to be surprised!  This is your chance to delight your new subscriber with a surprise.  What sorts of things can you use to do this?  The advantage of the welcome newsletter is that you’re not setting a pattern here–this is the first one, so you can offer a welcome gesture that you may not repeat.

Because this is a special occasion, the usual caution about offering discounts in the newsletter–that they can undermine your price structure and create you a body of customers who won’t buy at regular price–doesn’t apply.  You can offer a discount coupon.  You can even offer a more dramatic special–if you’re a restaurant, offer a “bring a friend” coupon with two meals for the price of one!  Be careful to call it a one-time welcome offer so that it’s clear this will not be a regular event.

You can also offer other surprises, such as free shipping, all sorts of goodies as premiums, or even an ebook.  Whatever suits your particular business.

The Standard Outline

If you’re a regular reader of these notes, you’re aware that I recommend that you establish a standard outline for your newsletters, and follow it with each one.  This allows the subscriber to know what to expect–there will be a recipe, perhaps, perhaps an interesting client story, perhaps a description of a new product feature.  This way, if your subscriber likes one newsletter, she knows that subsequent newsletters will be of interest too.

For the welcome newsletter, forget the standard outline!  This newsletter has a very special job to do that’s different from other newsletters, so you don’t need to follow your regular pattern.

The Bottom Line

Establish a special welcome to new subscribers of your newsletter.  And in this welcome, offer them something really special.

Of course you have a newsletter!  If not, go directly to jail and do not pass Go.  Instead, read other articles here about your newsletter and get started.  It’s the best way to build your business on the Web.

 

 

 

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Bargain Web Hosting: Really a Bargain?

Bargain Web Hosting:  Really a Bargain?

We’ve all seen ads for inexpensive Web hosting.  It’s even advertised during the Super Bowl!  You can get your site hosted for $1 a month.  Or even 99 cents a month!  What can be easier?  Should you use these cheap services?  This issue digs into the issues of cheap hosting providers, based on actual experience.

We see cheap hosting services advertised on the Super Bowl.  This tells us that lots of people are buying them, and also that they must be quite profitable for the vendors, since they can afford the huge cost of Super Bowl commercials.

We’re talking here about the difference between hosting that might cost, say $6 a month, compared to first-class hosting that you can get for about $20 a month.  So the cost difference isn’t great.  Does it matter?  Is it OK to go cheap on this?

Why So Cheap?

Why is it that companies can charge so little for Web hosting?  It’s easy to pay $30 a month for hosting service.  How then can some companies sell it for $1?  Or $3?  Or $6?  The answer, as usual, is that the service isn’t the same as the $30 product.  I’ve seen three primary areas where the vendors cut costs:

• resource limitations are placed on these sites, particularly cpu time they can use and RAM that they can use to service requests;

• multiple sites may share an IP address; and

• customer support may be limited.

Resource Limitations

On one occasion I moved a site from a moderately-priced hosting service at a big company to my own hosting service, that’s more expensive but doesn’t put stringent limits on CPU and RAM resources, and the same site, with no changes, loaded twice as fast on a better hosting service.

We all know that speed to load is a factor that Google considers in assigning page rank in search results.  Why?  Because they’d like to point their customers–searchers–to pages that provide good experience by loading fast.  So although loading speed is influenced by many factors, particularly site design,

If your site is hosted on a quality service, not only Google but your visitors will have a better experience when they visit your site.

In a more recent experience, a client was paying $16 a month for hosting service from one of the big companies.  When I ran a WordFence security scan of his site to find malicious software, the memory limitations imposed by the hosting service kept the scan from completing.  As it turns out, there was malware that was not being detected by the prematurely terminated scans; when the site was moved to a quality hosting service, the malware scan ran to completion, detecting and correcting the problems that went unfixed previously.

Shared IP Address

The very cheapest hosting services will have your site sharing an IP address with another site.  Google tells us that a shared IP address will not, by itself, hurt your position in their search results.  However, if your site shares an IP address with another site that gets infected with malware, then that IP address may be classified as one containing malware and suffer in search engine rankings.  Similarly, if the other site sharing your IP address either deliberately or through malware sends out spam, your IP address may be identified as a source of spam, so that your emails aren’t accepted by many  email servers.

A shared IP address saves money, but it’s a bad idea.

Limited Service

The big companies have various ways to limit service.  One of them doesn’t provide telephone service at all–you send them an email.  If they’re really interested they’ll call you back.  Later.  But at the moment you’re panicked or having problems–and you site is not delivering your message properly–you may not be able to get help.

You also may find that there is telephone support, but you have to wait a looooong time to reach them!  How much is your time worth while you’re on hold?  The most annoying part of this is that you’re likely to hear that “Your call is very important to us…”  while you know that it’s not so important that they bothered to hire enough people to keep up with the call volume.

Perhaps the most annoying way to chisel on support is to have multi-tier support.  You explain the problem first to someone who has limited knowledge, runs you through a script of actions for you to take, to screen out a couple of simple problems.  Then you are transferred to someone else who perhaps can actually help you.  Here, too, you’re paying for the cheap hosting service by wasting your own time.

The service that you want is a real person who can solve problems for you, available 24 hours a day.

The Bottom Line

Expect to spend $20 a month for site hosting.  Use pingdom.com to measure your site’s home page load time.  Run WordFence’s security scan on your site, and if it doesn’t complete, upgrade your hosting service or move to another service.

One way to get great hosting service is to use Dave’s Super Hosting Service; there are also other competent hosting providers.

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Google’s New Requirement–You MUST Be “Mobile-Friendly”

Google and Mobile-Friendly

Google has announced that, starting April 17, they will include whether a site is “mobile-friendly” as a criteria for position in search results.  This means that starting on that date, if they don’t think your site is mobile-friendly, expect your position in search rankings to change.  Significantly.

Why are they doing this?  To meet the demands of their own customers, searchers.  An increasing number of searches are performed from cellphones, and Google wants to deliver search results that these customers can use easily.  In that sense, this change is in your interest as well–your customers, increasingly, use cellphones to search, so you need to have a site that’s easy for them to use from a cellphone.

What is Mobile-Friendly?

Happily, Google doesn’t leave any doubt what they mean by mobile-friendly.  They’ve provided us a test tool that we can use, for free, to see whether a site is mobile-friendly.   Just give the link a click, insert your URL, and Google will tell you–yes or no–and even show you a picture of what your site looks like on a cell phone.

Here’s a sample of the sort of result you can expect, for a test of this site:

Heading cell

How Can I Make My Site Mobile-Friendly?

You don’t want to be out in the cold on April 17, although you can expect Google to phase in the penalty over time–which is to say, if you can’t make it by the 17th, you can avoid the worst of the damage by acting as quickly as you can.

If you’ve used WordPress for your site, you’re in better shape.  If you site uses one of the popular themes, most of them are already mobile-friendly, so when you used the Google’s mobile-friendly tool you received the happy news that your site is already mobile-friendly.  If you have a WordPress site that doesn’t use a mobile-friendly theme, you could add mobile-friendly code to your theme, potentially at some cost and taking some time, or you could have your site changed to use a mobile-friendly theme.  The latter approach is likely to be the best approach for most small businesses.

If you’re using one of the older site generators such as Joomla, you’re not out of luck.  Check with the developers of your tools.  Joomla, in particular, has some plugins that can help you achieve responsive design with a Joomla site.  There’s a free ebook about getting a Joomla site to be responsive.

If you have a static HTML site, or an  HTML site with a lot of code, you’ll need to add code to the site to sense the type of device that’s being used to view it, and adapt the display to the size of the device.  That’s a significant amount of work, and of course you’ll need to be ready to change that code as the devices used evolve over time.  But if you have your own Web programming staff, this may be a practical approach for you.  You might also decide that perhaps it’s time to get away from the HTML approach and join the WordPress bandwagon.  I took that step a while ago with my own site, so I’ll be relaxed on April 17.

The Bottom Line

Become mobile-friendly.  Now.  Or lose much of your Google search traffic.

 

 

 

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Walmart Buys Google

Walmart Is Buying Google

In a press release today, Walmart announced that they are acquiring the assets of Google.  The announcement says “We are purchasing Google in order to protect the reputation of Walmart.  Google operations will remain as they are, with the exception of a few small changes.”

Minor Changes in Search

What are those changes?  The announcement continues “We have been concerned for some time about the negative publicity about Walmart’s wages and working conditions, and how this negative information is spread through the Internet, particularly by Google searches.  Our Board decided that decisive action is needed to defend our reputation.  As soon as the acquisition closes, negative information about Walmart will no longer appear in Google search results.  Our Board decided that this approach to dealing with the reputation issue was more economical than giving a raise and providing health insurance and reasonable working conditions to our 2.2 million employees.”

Food Service in Google Offices

The announcement stated that free meals in Google cafeterias will continue as a fringe benefit for full-time Google employees; part-time employees will need to pay for meals.  Because of corporate commitments, catering for all food in Google operations will be provided by McDonalds, starting immediately after the acquisition.  The significant savings that will result from this change are expected to improve Google’s bottom line.

Full and Part Time

Walmart has traditionally relied on part-time workers to provide up to 40% of its labor in stores.  Because part-timers do not get benefits, this reduces labor costs.  Post-acquisition, Google will be given a mandatory goal to have 40% part-time employees within six months.  This will be achieved either by converting present full-time employees, or by replacing present full-time employees with part-time new hires.  The elimination of all benefits for 40% of Google’s payroll will also produce significant enhancement of Google profitability.

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Yelp Update Reading Time 3 min. 45 sec.

Does Yelp Manipulate Reviews for Advertisers?

The newsletter on Yelp produced feedback that Yelp is not popular with site owners, particularly those who have experienced high-pressure sales tactics or have seen perfectly good reviews from customers they recognize categorized as not recommended.  This is indeed a story “ripped from the headlines,” as they say on TV.  Here are some recent developments.

A producer has shot much of a coming documentary about Yelp, called Billion Dollar Bully.  It’s being produced in San Francisco, right in Yelp’s back yard.  A number of Yelp customers have agreed to tell their tales of woe in the movie.  There is presently a Kickstarter effort underway to fund the completion of the film.

It would not surprise anyone if some Yelp salesman, in order to make quota, told a business owner that he could influence ratings even if he couldn’t.  Since there are thousands of Yelp salesmen, this could happen many, many times throughout the organization.  It also would not be a surprise if a business owner saw such a threat, and then saw a negative review the next day.  That could be just a coincidence, but of course you’d never convince the business owner of that.  Or the unethical salesman could have written a bad review!

So how does one decide whether Yelp is what they say they are, or what their critics say they are?

The Courts

One good mechanism for deciding is the courts.  Yelp attorneys on one side, building their best case, and a plaintiff’s attorney on the other side, doing his best to build the case against Yelp.  The last such case was at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, which in their ruling in Levitt v. Yelp, affirmed the dismissal of a number of extortion suits that had been brought.  Yelp cites this decision as evidence that it did not threaten to manipulate customers’ ratings if they didn’t buy advertising.

However, a reading of the court’s decision shows that it’s not completely clear-cut in Yelp’s favor.  The court found that the plaintiffs had speculated that Yelp had written bad reviews on their businesses but never provided evidence to support the speculation, and that the businesses didn’t make a claim for specific damages so they couldn’t be awarded any damages.  The decision really doesn’t clear Yelp of manipulating ratings–it just says the plaintiffs didn’t prove them.

Of course, if you have resourceful lawyers, if a company with thousands of employees is manipulating reviews to sell advertising, the smart lawyers are likely to find an unhappy ex-employee to testify about what’s happening at the company.  The several suits that were brought appear to have used co-occurrence of purchasing or not purchasing advertising and changes in how reviews appeared on the site as their evidence of manipulation.

The FTC

Yelp claims that the FTC investigated their operations, including how their software treats ratings for advertisers and non-advertisers, and informed Yelp that they did not intend to take any action.  However, no official documentation is cited.

Harvard Business School

Finally, a Harvard Business School study of Yelp was conducted.   They found that restaurants are more likely to write fake favorable reviews on themselves when they lacked a solid reputation of their own, as when they were starting, and they tended to write unfavorable reviews on their neighbors when the neighbors served similar cuisine.  More of interest to us, though, they found that “neither 1- or 5-star reviews were more or less likely to be filtered for businesses that we advertising on Yelp…”

This was an impressive study that used a very large amount of data from Yelp’s site, along with information about which companies were advertisers, from the site, and historical information about advertisers from Yelp.

The Bottom Line

Yelp advertising can be helpful–they’ll show your company name along with your competitors’ listings.  But what should you do if your Yelp salesman threatens you?  Be polite and make the business decision that you’d make without the threats.  Yes, he can personally write a fake negative review, but that one will be swamped by the positive reviews you normally get, and he will move on to his next prospect.

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Yelp, Extortion, Lawsuits and Negative Reviews–Reading time 5 minutes

Yelp is Frustrating

Yelp, the well-known review site, is the subject of complaints from all sides.

Web visitors wonder whether the reviews are genuine–have positive reviews been written or influenced by the business?  Or have negative reviews been placed there by the competition?  Can the reviews be trusted?

Similarly, businesses can be frustrated by critical reviews on Yelp.  Are they genuine, or are they from competitors or just mischief-makers?  And when Yelp chooses not to “recommend” positive reviews of a business, it can be very frustrating.  The reviews sit below the “recommended” reviews, requiring an extra click to see, with the number of stars grayed out.

Then we hear stories of Yelp advertising salespeople who offer to “fix” negative reviews if the business will buy advertising…or to accentuate negative reviews if they don’t.

This is an issue that I’ve followed closely, and here I’ll give you my considered view of Yelp and this whole issue.

Extortion

Yelp has been accused of extortion several times.  Many Yelp customers have reported that a salesman offered to help remove negative reviews if they purchased advertising, or offered to make negative reviews go away.  These reports are so numerous and so dispersed geographically that this does appear to be happening.

There have been several lawsuits over this issue, and last November a Federal Court of Appeals ruled that plaintiffs had not shown evidence that Yelp had changed ratings because of advertising payments.  This follows a pattern, where Yelp so far was won every such suit that has been filed.

It would not be sensible for Yelp to extort advertising customers.  Yelp’s product is reviews–they have nothing else to sell.  So if their reviews are dependable and of high quality, Yelp can succeed.  However, if their reviews are being manipulated and Web users learn of it, usage of Yelp won’t grow nearly as fast as it would with dependable reviews.  Because Yelp is a large organization, changing reviews for advertisers can’t stay secret very long.  We could expect to see a disgruntled employee on television, telling all about this practice, thereby becoming part of many lawsuits brought by customers.

Which is not to say that Yelp salespeople don’t offer to manipulate reviews in order to sell advertising.  It’s easy to see how a salesperson could see this method as the path to a quick sale.  And well it might be!  But an unethical salesperson–even man of them–don’t mean that the company is systematically doing what he is offering.

Given that lawsuits have never shown the company to be manipulating reviews, and given that it would be a startlingly unwise business practice, I doubt that the company manipulates results in response to advertising revenues.

“Not Recommended” Reviews

Some reviews are shown as “not recommended”, which means that an extra click is needed to see them, that their star ratings are grayed out, and their scores and not used in computing the business’s overall rating.

It’s very frustrating to a business owner who sees reviews from customers he might recognize that are classified as “not recommended”.  He’d like to respond in some way to convince Yelp to display these recommendations.

Yelp’s side of the story is that they use software that runs automatically to classify reviews, and the decision of the software is final.  They don’t provide a way for a business owner to reach out to someone who has written a review that has received the dreaded “not recommended” tag, or a way to reach out to them.

Yelp provides a general description of how they reach a decision to not recommend a review.  Mentioned several times in this material is that the confidence that Yelp places in the individual making the review is a major factor.  That is, does the person have a wide on-line presence otherwise, which tends to validate that they are a really person.  And has the person written additional reviews on Yelp that have received endorsements from readers, again providing confidence that this is a real person who writes dependable reviews.

The number of friends that a review has on Yelp is one factor that’s included in he algorithm.  So if the business owner recognizes a customer who has written a review, the business owner could search for that person in Yelp and invite that person to become a Yelp friend.  That will increase the number of Yelp friends the person has, and the chance of the review being recommended, especially if the business owner has a lot of Yelp friends.

But in the longer run the best remedy for “not recommended” reviews is to have lots of good reviews, so that a few that are not recommended will not become an issue.

Negative Reviews

We all know that the Internet is full of trolls who love to be critical, sometimes destructively so.   What should be done about a negative review that the business owner thinks is unfairly critical?

First, there’s a little gray flag below each review that lets the business owner (or anyone else) report it to Yelp as being unfair, and a menu of reasons why it’s unfair.  Will this help?  Who knows?  But the ten seconds that it takes to click the link and confirm the choice is a reasonable investment.

Second, for a recommended review, Yelp provides a way to get in touch with the reviewer.  Each negative review is an opportunity for the business to reach out to that disaffected person–who, no doubt, is telling friends the same story–and turn that person into an advocate.  A message to the disaffected customer that the company is concerned about the review and would like to set things straight, and then following up on the opportunity to take action, can both eliminate some who is hurting the business and create a new advocate who recommends the business.

The Bottom Line

1.  In order to survive and prosper in the connected age, delight your customers so that they eagerly recommend you to their friends and colleagues and on Yelp and other social networks.

2.  Respond with compassion and generosity to negative reviews, converting  detractors into advocates.

 

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Announcing!! Dave’s Review Service

A New, Important Service

I’m happy to make an announcement that’s been in the works for some time:  Dave’s Review Service.  The service will obtain for you a significant number of genuine, positive reviews from your real customers, as well as quality feedback about how your customers perceive your business.  As you know, reviews are important because review sites have become an important part of the buying process.  Today,  customers will find you on review sites before they come t your site; and if they don’t find you on the review sites they may never come to your site.

Why Do I Need This?

Yes, it’s true–prospects for what you offer may never get to your site, because first they’ll read review sites to narrow down to just a few candidates, and then they’ll visit the Web sites for only those candidates.  No matter where you appear in search results, you may be ignored if you don’t have plenty of good reviews.

As you’ve read in this newsletter and elsewhere, it’s important that review sites receive  only genuine reviews from actual your customers, and you must not incentivize your customers to write reviews.  Review sites are working hard to detect fakery, and they penalize miscreants severely when they find it.  Unfortunately, the filters they use to catch cheaters can also catch authentic reviews.

What is Provided?

The service provides you three crucial results:

  1. Genuine, positive reviews from your actual customers, on a variety of review sites that are relevant to your business
  2. Correct listings on relevant directories of local businesses
  3. Insightful feedback from your customers on their views of your business, in addition to what’s provided in the reviews

Dave’s Review Service provides you with genuine, positive reviews, on many review sites that are relevant for your business, from your real customers, using a proprietary method for obtaining those reviews.  These are real reviews from real customers, and they are all positive.  They will appear on many different review sites.  The strategy for obtaining the reviews and placing them on review sites is designed to minimize the chance that these genuine reviews will be erroneously identified as questionable by the automated filters used by review sites.

In addition, Dave’s Review Service works with over 150 sites that are directories of local services, and will work to get your site listed correctly on them.  You can expect to gain about ten of these listings per month, until you have a suitable number of listings (typically about fifty).

Whatever else you do–or don’t do–with Web marketing, Dave’s Review Service can bring you business now.

Does It Work?

The method used has been demonstrated to work with real businesses and real customers.  A psychologist’s overall rating on a healthcare site changed from a C before using the service to an A.  An apartment rental service greatly increased their tenancy rate after using the service.  This method works.

Review sites typically have a curation process that they use for reviews, so the reviews don’t appear on the review sites right away.  You won’t see the first reviews for a month or so after joining Dave’s Review Service.

Now you can use this method to expand your own business.  Starting today.

How Does It Work?

The method that’s used is a new invention, and it’s a trade secret.  It has been tested in use with real sites, and it has delivered results.  After you execute a non-disclosure agreement and become a client for this service, I can explain to you how it works.  Once you understand it, you’ll see that it’s evident that it will work.  It’s like a magic trick–the secret is simple.

There are several pieces of technology that are needed to carry out the method, and obtaining them would cost you more than the monthly price of the service.  In addition, you’d have the burden of operating it all.  I’ve made a significant investment in the service, and continue to build and refine.  So using the service saves you money and time, and delivers great results to your business.

Crazy Low Introductory Price

You can start reaping the benefits today.  There’s an introductory price of $200 per month.  You can’t do it for this price.

The Bottom Line

There’s little reason to not do this!  Get in touch for more information by clicking here.

Special Offer!

An extra special price is being offered through Yelp.  Take a look!

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Enhance Google Rankings with Google+

Google+ Matters!

You may not think Google+ is important–but it’s the third largest social platform and has more than 500 million monthly users.  And, of course, its parent is Google, about which we care a lot.

Even though Google+ doesn’t have the sheer population of Facebook, a survey reported in Forbes showed that Google+ users are more engaged, so a post on Google+ generates almost as much activity as a post on Facebook.

Start Posting

The most important step is to start posting on Google+.  If you’re not posting on this platform, you’re missing the opportunity.

About Your Posts

The usual rules about social media posting apply.  These three are crucial:

  1. Use headings to point readers to important sections of content.  If a reader doesn’t want to read the whole thing, a heading may get part of your post read
  2. Break up long blocks of text into paragraphs that appear to be digestible.  No one wants to wade into a huge block of text
  3. Use images, videos and graphics to illustrate your post and make it more interesting
  4. Include clear calls to action so that the reader is inspired to interact, to take action on the spot.  Google helps you do this by providing call to action labels.

Uniqueness

It’s OK to go ahead and post content on Google+ that you are also posting on other social networks.  This will get broader exposure for your message.

The Bottom Line

Use Google+ to help your search results.

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As we enjoy our Thanksgiving repast, it’s interesting to see what recipes interest our countrymen.  The New York Times asked Google to identify unusual recipes that are searched for around Thanksgiving by region.  Here’s a map of the result.  Note that they asked for unusual recipes; of course, turkey is probably the most frequently search for recipe everywhere.  But that wouldn’t show all the wonderful regional variation of our nation.  Here’s the map.  I’m eager to know what Mirliton Casserole is!  Not to mention frog eye salad.

Regonal Thanksgiving Recipes

Regional Thanksgiving Recipes

The Bottom Line

Happy Thanksgiving!

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Storytelling–How to Do It

Storytelling–How to Do It

A previous edition of this newsletter talked about the benefits of using storytelling in your marketing.  This newsletter talks about how to write a story–what’s the appropriate structure.  It turns out that the structure of stories, called dramatic structure, has been analyzed since the time of Aristotle, and is well understood.  There is a well-established pattern that successful stories follow, after centuries of experience that we humans have had to perfect the craft.  This issue discusses that structure.

Freytag’s Analysis

Gustav Freytag was a German novelist who lived in the mid-19th century.  His analysis of dramatic structure, now called Freytag’s Pyramid, is often cited as the definitive work on the subject.  There is usually a protagonist the main characters, with whom the audience is intended to identify.  The protagonist comes into conflict of some kind with the antagonist.  Freytag’s Pyramid, shown below, consists of these five parts:

800px-Freytags_pyramid.svg

1. Exposition–introduction of important background information, such as the setting, back stories for the characters, events taking place before the plot, and so on.

2. Rising action–a series of events that build toward the point of greatest interest.  These events are usually the most important part of the story; the entire plot depends on them to set up the climax

.3. Climax or crisis–The climax is the turning point, where the protagonist’s fate changes.  In a comedy, things may have gone badly until now, and they start going well.  In a tragedy, things have been going well and now change from good to bad.

4. Falling action–during the falling action, the conflict between the protagonist and the antagonist unravels, and one or the other prevails.  There may be a moment of final suspense whether the outcome of the conflict is in doubt until the very end.

5. Denouement, resolution, revelation or catastrophe–the unraveling of the complexities of the plot.  A tragedy ends with a catastrophe, a comedy with the protagonist better off than at the start of the story.

An Example

You may think that this complex structure, used for Greek and Shakespearean dramas, isn’t applicable to a modern story in a newsletter or Web page.  Indeed it is!  Here’s a well-know example of storytelling by Moe Levine, a famous plaintiff’s lawyer.  Juries usually listen to long closing arguments; this is the complete closing argument famously used by Mr. Levine:

“As you know, about an hour ago we broke for lunch. I saw the bailiff come and take you all as a group to have lunch in the jury room. Then I saw the defense attorney, Mr. Horowitz. He and his client decided to go to lunch together. The judge and court clerk went to lunch. So, I turned to my client, Harold, and said “Why don’t you and I go to lunch together?” We went across the street to that little restaurant and had lunch. (Significant pause.) Ladies and gentlemen, I just had lunch with my client. He has no arms. He has to eat like a dog. Thank you very much.”

As you can imagine, he obtained a large verdict in favor of his client, who had a double amputation because of an accident.

The Bottom Line

When you use storytelling, consider Freytag’s Pyramid.  It has stood the test of time and it’s a way to write stories that move your reader.

 

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Web Marketing 101

These posts have been written since 1998 and cover all aspects of Web marketing.  I’ll write one when a client situation that I’m working might be of interest to a larger audience, or when my research turns up an interesting idea.

The collection is reviewed and edited from time to time, and posts that are no longer relevant–because things really do change in this business–are removed.

If you find any posts that interest you, please share them using your favorite social network.  And consider subscribing to the newsletter, so you’ll get one of these ideas per week!

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The Box on Your Site That Costs You Money

The Coupon Box

If you have a coupon box on your site, it can be a great tool for promotions.  Offer a special discount by getting out that coupon number to the people who can use the offer.  But there’s also a cost of having that coupon box on the site–no, there aren’t any extra charges from your hosting company, the costs come from lost sales.

What Happens

When a customer is ready to buy and has put merchandize into the shopping cart, and then goes to the shopping cart to check out, what happens if they see a coupon box and don’t have a coupon?  What message is sent?  How do you feel when you get to the checkout page and don’t have a coupon?

The customer without a coupon can infer the message “You’re paying more than someone else who has a coupon!”  That’s a nicer message than the other message that’s just underneath it:  “Some other customer is more important to us than you because we gave that customer a discount that we’re not giving you.”

What To Do

What can you do?  You’d like to be able to offer coupon discounts from time to time, or perhaps offer a coupon to some special customer all the time.  Take a close look at the use of coupons.  How many sales do you actually make with coupons?  If that coupon box is on your site but you’re not giving coupons now, take it off.  And put it back when you make an offer.  Or, instead, when you offer a discount, offer it to everyone who comes to the site!

The Bottom Line

Don’t leave that coupon box on your checkout page unless you really need it.

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Design Lessons from the Apple Store

I found a wonderful blog entry that talks about six design lessons from the Apple store. It’s an old blog–from 2004–but the message is still valuable. Store design is like Web site design, and this piece makes it clear. So here is the Web context for each of the design lessons.

The Lessons

1. Create an experience, not an artifact.
Consider your site as an experience for the visitor, so that every aspect of that experience helps convey the message you’re trying to communicate.
2. Honor Context
Think about the visitor’s point of view when organizing your site, not your point of view as a business insider. Your categories don’t matter; the visitor’s do.
3. Prioritize your messages
You can’t say everything you want to say to each Web visitor. Decide what’s most important and say that–clearly and emphatically.
Institute consistency
Use all the tools you have to convey your image. Make the site design consistent with your products, if you have products, or your offices if customers visit your offices. And be sure that all those tools are consistent with the message.
4. Design for change
Marketing is the discipline of continually changing how the company deals with a changing marketplace, and this is exactly what happens on the Web. Search engines actually give higher rank to sites that change often. So design choices need to enable change.
5. Don’t forget the human element
Remember that the next step after your site is the encounter an interested visitor will have with your people. Make sure that they also reflect the message of quality and consistency and service that you want to deliver, or your visitors will quickly discover that there’s little behind the pretty site.

The Bottom Line

There are parallels between Web site design and the design of a retail store. In both cases, every aspect of the design and how our employees behave within it should be used to convey our marketing message.

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laws of marketing

Dave’s Four Laws of Marketing

Marketing is different from selling–the marketer figures out how to sell, the seller actually sells. This issue of the Newsletter gives four simple Laws of Marketing: follow all of them for success. The Fourth Law is most often not followed.

 The Laws

 Here are Dave’s Four Laws:

Keep trying new things

Don’t get into a rut!  Your prospects may be tired of what worked yesterday–or you may have reached everyone you’ll reach with yesterday’s marketing approach.  Keep looking for new ideas, and keep trying them.  But be sure to keep Laws Two through Four in mind!

Measure the results of each thing you try

If you don’t measure effectiveness, you’ll never know if it works.  There are a lot of different ways to measure–when I was sending a newsletter in snail mail, I put in a postcard into each envelope once in a while asking recipients if they still wanted to receive the newsletter, and giving some space for a comment.  This simple step provided a lot of useful feedback.

When you find something that works, do more of it

Marketing changes, and when you find a good technique, expand its use!  Don’t waste too much time, because your competition is looking for new methods also.  If you move quickly to capitalize on new marketing methods, you can play a leadership role in acquiring  prospects who are in the market.

When you find something that doesn’t work, do less of it

This Law is the least often followed.  Often companies have sacred cows, that weekly ad in the newspaper that’s gotten more and more expensive, or that direct mail piece that brings in fewer returns each year, while it costs more to send each year.  Be ready to reduce your use of methods that aren’t working as well any more.  If you don’t take this step, you won’t be able to give the proper attention and resources to new methods that are working for you.

The Bottom Line

Marketing is a process of continuous improvement. Markets don’t stand still, so your marketing can’t either. Keep experimenting and improving. And consider killing some sacred cows!

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Google’s Warning on Article Directories

Article Directories

There are many article directories.  The way they work is that you write something that’s, say, 300 to 500 words in length and you post it on the directory, including a link back to your site.  Your article is then available for others to download and post on their own sites, either for free or by paying a fee.  Users agree that if they post your article, they’ll include the link to your site.

Article directories are promoted as a good way to get additional links to your site.  Indeed, at one time this was a good way to get links to your site and boost your position in search engine results.

Google’s Warning

Matt Cutts of Google’s search engine team has recently posted a video about article directories.  He says that increasingly, Google is finding that a lot of the material in article directories is of low quality, and replicating to other Web sites results in low quality in lots of places.

He adds that Google has “algorithmic features” so that this practice would not be recommended as a way to improve your position in search engine results.

The Bottom Line

It’s simple:  do not use article directories to promote your site!

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Ron Burgundy and Content Marketing

anchorman2Anchorman 2 is now in theaters. The promotion for it is a great example of content marketing, an example that we can apply to the Web.

What is content marketing? It’s providing content that attracts and engages an audience, building a relationship that may bring the audience to make purchases at some time. Content marketing doesn’t even have to reference the product being promoted. In this case, all the content marketing consisted of Will Farrel appearing as Ron Burgundy, and in 70 YouTube videos highlighting these appearances, not once does he mention that a new movie is on its way.

For example, he appeared (in character) on Conan O’Brien’s show to promote a fictitious Ron Burgundy autobiography. The appearance was hilarious, illustrating how funny the Ron Burgundy character is, without even mentioning the movie.

As Ron Burgundy he did a series of ads for the Dodge Durango, and sales for the car increased, although it’s hard to tell which figure for the increase is real and which is part of a spoof. The commercials featured Ron doing such things as deciding that the name should be pronounced “Yodge”, talking about how many packages of gum the glovebox would hold, and so on. These ads were successful at selling cars, as well as promoting the movie.

I’ll confess to being influenced by all the content marketing–I saw the movie and thought that it was terrible! I didn’t even check reviews before seeing it.

There Can Be Too Much

When we’re developing content, there’s a danger that, knowing that we need to create a serious presence, we can produce too much. This happened with the Ron Burgundy campaign. Several weeks into the campaign, there were complaints that there was too much Ron Burgundy. The studio’s reply was that no single moviegoer would see more than a small part of the campaign, so individuals weren’t being saturated, although people in the media might think so. As someone who doesn’t see a lot of television, I personally saw only a small amount of the campaign, so it wasn’t saturating for me. However, this campaign either came close to overdoing it or they overdid it.

Good Content Won’t Rescue a Bad Product

Ultimately the movie was not a big success because of poor reviews–moviegoers who weren’t taken in by the content marketing campaign, and checked the reviews, didn’t go, in droves. So the clever content marketing didn’t save the film.

The Bottom Line

Because of the advertising results the content marketing campaign delivered, the Ron Burgundy character will continue for a long time, long after the dud movie is old history.

Like Ron Burgundy, build your content for the long term, so that your content can keep its value and contribute to the brand over the long haul.

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Evolution of Marketing Style

Things Are Changing!

In the time I’ve been involved in marketing I’ve seen quite an evolution in the style of best practice marketing.  Clearly, the Web has influenced best practice in marketing, and now social media are exerting their own influences.  In this Newsletter, I outline the stages that I’ve seen as marketing has evolved.  Different commentators may characterize the evolution with different stages, but all the accounts that I’ve seen portray the same trends.  Where is your company in this evolution?

Features

In the first days of advertising, there was a focus on features.  For example, this slow cooker has two different temperature settings, “low” and “high”.  There’s a presumption that the prospect knows that the high setting will cook faster than the slow setting.

Feature selling works best if prospects are already experts in the use of the product.  For example, a commercial laundry doesn’t need to be told that bleach will make fabrics whiter.  They might like to know that this bleach doesn’t emit gases that are harmful to equipment operators, though.

Features and Benefits

The next refinement in marketing was to point out not only the features, but the benefits associated with them.  A feature would be described in enough detail that the prospect could understand how that feature would produce the associated benefit, so the claim for the benefit would be credible.

For our slow cooker example, a feature-benefit discussion might be that it has a non-stick coating on the cooking insert, making it easy to clean.

Feature-benefit selling might take the form of a table of features and associated benefits, or advertising copy could spell out features and benefits.  Either way, for feature-benefit advertising to be effective, it’s important to focus on benefits that are important to the prospect.  If you simply present long lists of irrelevant benefits you risk losing the prospect’s interest.

Solution Selling

For particularly complex products, where features and benefits selling might be difficult, such as complex IT products, suppliers began offering “solutions” to “problems”.  The technical person who accompanied the sales person  made the elegant transformation from “sales support” to “solutions architect.”

Related to solution selling is system selling, where a product is promoted as a “system”.  For example, the Rainbow Vacuum Cleaner is now the Rainbow System, thanks to “the Rainbow’s cutting edge technology and nature’s own cleaning solution: water.”

Solution selling does involve a refinement in selling beyond just changing the name of the approach.  Selling a solution requires the seller to have some understanding of the problem; that starts with a focus on what’s important to the customer, what problem the customer wants to solve.

Content Selling

The Web allows us to view a prospect not just as someone with a problem to solve but as an information seeker.  We offer information that allows the prospect to solve a problem.  We provide content that establishes ourselves as an authority on the subject.  To help establish that authority, we show testimonials on our site, showing that others endorse our authority in the area.  And we offer a newsletter, that lets a prospect subscribe to more of this useful, authoritative content to help solving the prospect’s problems.

Of course, the content we provide supports the use of our particular solutions to the problem.  However, the approach taken is different from a traditional sales pitch, which is why the prospect should choose this particular approach; rather, the approach is to provide more comprehensive information that allows the prospect to decide on their own that the offered solution is the best one.

Social Networking

Today there’s great buzz around social networking.  Sites such as Pinterest, Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and Google+ appear to offer the opportunity to reach prospects and engage them in conversation-like dialogues.  There is evidence that some companies have achieved a certain amount of selling success directly through social networks, although there are different views about the effectiveness of social networks for selling.

A way to use social networks in our marketing today is to consider them as support for the content approach.  That is, use contact in social networks to bring prospects to our Web site, so that they can use the content that we provide there to learn how our products and services are appropriate for them.  Used in this fashion, social networks can provide high-ranking incoming links to our Web site, which improves its position in search engine results.  And, of course, the mention of our site in a social network can also directly bring visitors to our Web site.

The Bottom Line

Think about your approach to the use of your Web site and social networks.  If you’re using your site to deliver an obsolete sales pitch, consider an upgrade.  And while it’s too early to bet the farm on social networks, it’s time now start using social networks to strengthen your Web marketing.

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Dave’s Laws of Marketing

Marketing is different from selling–the marketer figures out how to sell, the seller actually sells.  This issue of the Newsletter gives four simple Laws of Marketing:  follow all of them for success.  The Fourth Law is most often not followed.

The Laws

Here are Dave’s Laws:

  1. Keep trying new things
  2. Measure the results of each thing you try
  3. When you find something that works, do more of it
  4. When you find something that doesn’t work, do less of it

Continuous experimentation is the key.  When magic happens and you find something that works, then capitalize on it and do more of it.  But the key is to not just keep adding marketing costs, but to also trim expenses on things that are not working as well.

If you have “sacred cow” marketing practices that are not delivering business, or you don’t know if they are delivering business, find new ones, measure them, and consider discontinuing old practices.  An example that’s quite current is a spend on newspaper advertising, that is becoming less useful all the time as newspaper circulation declines.

The Bottom Line

Marketing is a process of continuous improvement.  Markets don’t stand still, so your marketing can’t either.  Keep experimenting and improving.  And consider killing some sacred cows!

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Design Lessons from the Apple Store

I found a wonderful blog entry that talks about six design lessons from the Apple store.  It’s an old blog–from 2004–but the message is still valuable.  Store design is like Web site design, and this piece makes it clear.  So here is the Web context for each of the design lessons, followed by a link to the original blog about the store so that you can read it yourself.

The Lessons

1. Create an experience, not an artifact

Consider your site as an experience for the visitor, so that every aspect of that experience helps convey the message you’re trying to communicate

2. Honor Context

Think about the visitor’s point of view when organizing your site, not your point of view as a business insider.  Your categories don’t matter; the visitor’s do.

3. Prioritize your messages

You can’t say everything you want to say to each Web visitor.  Decide what’s most important and say that–clearly and emphatically.

4. Institute consistency

Use all the tools you have to convey your image.  Make the site design consistent with your products, if you have products, or your offices if customers visit your offices.  And be sure that all those tools are consistent with the message.

5. Design for change

Marketing is the discipline of continually changing how the company deals with a changing marketplace, and this is exactly what happens on the Web.  Search engines actually give higher rank to sites that change often.  So design choices need to enable change.

6. Don’t forget the human element

Remember that the next step after your site is the encounter an interested visitor will have with your people.  Make sure that they also reflect the message of quality and consistency and service that you want to deliver, or your visitors will quickly discover that there’s little behind the pretty site.

Now Read the Blog

Now you’re ready to read the blog!  Just click here.

The Bottom Line

There are parallels between Web site design and the design of a retail store.  In both cases, every aspect of the design and how our employees behave within it should be used to convey our marketing message.
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The Science of Gifting

Understanding Gifting Is Important

Retailers make much of their annual sales and most of their annual profit between Thanksgiving and Christmas.  Therefore, it’s important for them to understand gifting behavior.  Fortunately, there is some science that bears on this, that can help.

Personalization

The bulk of household holiday shopping is done by women, who, surveys show, want to put meaning into the gifting process.  42% of them classify themselves as “emotional” gifters, who buy gifts to show that they “truly understand the recipient.”  These people are looking for unique gifts.  You can provide that uniqueness through personalization.  Allow the purchaser to put initials somewhere on the product, to choose product features and color, or to put special content on the package.

The simplest–and easiest–type of personalization that you can offer is a simple note to be included with the package.

Social Proof

People who are uncertain what to do tend to ask others for advice.  You can provide this advice on your site:  have tabs for product reviews.  You can ask reviewers to provide some demographic information about themselves, so that you can categorize the reviews to make them even more useful to shoppers.  The affirmation of reviews can be important.  As a side note, soon you’ll be able to offer certified reviews on your own site that have a seal from Dave’s Certified Reviews (TM).

Scarcity

Scarcity influences choice.  You can create scarcity on your Web site through limited-time offers and limited special editions of products.  Be careful, though, about offering discounts through your mailing list–if not handled with great care, you can wind up educating all of your prospects that if they wait a while there’s no need to ever pay full price for anything you sell!  Once your price list has lost credibility with your prospects you are in deep trouble.

Give Recipients Choice

If you include wish lists and registries into your site, you provide the opportunity for recipients to tell gifters what they want–such choice can improve recipient satisfaction.  A newer idea is to tell a recipient that a gift has been selected and to allow the recipient to exchange it for anything else in the store of equivalent value before it is shipped.  This new approach can save on return costs and improve recipient satisfaction at the same time.

The Bottom Line

At the holiday season, Web retailers have more to do than just add lots of holiday merchandise and conduct holiday sales.  Understanding the science of gifting–and using it for your Web retailing strategy–can help boost sales.

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Tell a Story!

The Power of a Story

You’re absorbed in reading a great story.  Your mind is in the story–you don’t answer the phone, your coffee gets cold, you may stay up until 2 a.m. reading.  Is this what happens when visitors to your Web site read the copy on the site?  Or do they see the usual sales talk.

Sales Resistance

To keep our sanity in today’s world, where we constantly encounter sales messages we build up considerable sales resistance.  This resistance goes up automatically–we may not even notice it–whenever we hear the usual “persuasive” words of ad-speak.  Lots of evaluative adjectives can set off sales resistance–and once it’s in place, nothing else that you communicate will be accepted easily.

What Makes an Effective Story?

Green and Brock published results of their research that show that a factor called “transportation” is a mechanism whereby a story can actually effect beliefs–whether the story is presented as factual or fictional.  By “transportation” they meant the extent to which the story absorbed the attention of the reader; it involves imagery, emotion and the focus of attention.  This tells us that if we tell an effective story, not only can we grab our reader’s attention, but we can change opinions!

How Do I Write a Story?

Here are some techniques to consider–but the central idea is a simple one.  Think up a story that indirectly brings in your sales message.  That’ll avoid raising sales resistance, and let you persuade without “selling”.
  • To write an effective story, use imagery–use actual images to help portray the message, or paint a mental picture of the situation.
  • Suspense is a time-tested technique; we all want to see how something turns out.
  • To persuade your reader to change–and adopt your approach–have the story talk about that very change.

Overcoming Sales Resistance

In a story, how do you overcome sales resistance?  Think about your marketing message–what makes your offering different.  Then use a story that indirectly shows that, without trumpeting as a marketing message.  For example, if great customer service is part of your message, then tell a true story about how one of your people was able to help a customer.  This story could not only get across the idea that your support people do great work, but also it could talk about some wonderful product feature that the customer couldn’t get to work.  Now two parts of your marketing message have been delivered, without encountering sales resistance.

The Bottom Line

Take a look at your sales copy, and if it’s boring, think about telling a story.  You’ll persuade better, and who knows, you may even have fun writing it..
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This Will Make You a WordPress Believer

WordPress:  Its Time Has Come

I’ve written before that WordPress is the way to build your site, unless perhaps you are Amazon or IBM or Healthcare.gov and have a site that receives hundreds of thousands of visits.  I’ve written about how the great variety of WordPress themes makes the development of a WordPress site much quicker and less expensive than development of a conventional html-css site.

Website Magazine Agrees

Website Magazine, where I find a number of good ideas, has just published a list of 33 WordPress Themes for Every Person.  The article provides a list of 33 different WordPress themes, for every purpose from a dental office to a merchant to a crafter to a real estate specialist.

The Bottom Line

Consider WordPress as your site development platform the next time you have a lot of changes to make to your site.  You’ll save a lot on site maintenance, and when you want to add new capabilities, instead of paying to program them and waiting for them to be built, often just selection of a plugin, often for free, will do the job and be up and running in minutes.

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Learn from Banksy

Banksy Can Teach Us

Recently the popular graffiti artist Banksy opened an outdoor art stall and sold his valuable work for pennies on the dollar.  The people who bought from him were fortunate indeed!  Banksy gets attention from everyone, from the art elite to the man in the street, the media, marketing people, everyone.  His latest stunt cost him a few pieces of art but has given him an enormous amount of publicity that he could never afford to purchase, including awareness of the selling price of his work.

In case you’re not familiar with his work, I’ve included a few images of his work.  All are by Banksy.
What can we learn from Banksy?
 

Break the Rules!

Remember, Banksy is a graffiti artist; most of his work is technically a crime. However, if he does his work in places where it’s actually welcome, then he’ll go unpunished, although Mayor Blumberg may not be a fan. For example the owner of the brick wall shown on the right is unlikely to be angry at Banksy for his work.
We, too, should not be totally conventional, and we should look for places where we can break the rules and not do exactly what’s expected of us. But, like Banksy, we need to keep our rule-breaking within limits.
While departing from conventions calls attention to us, it’s important to understand that conventions govern what people expect to see, so if we go too far our message may be misinterpreted.

Let Images Tell The Story

Images are powerful story-tellers.  So if your product or service lends itself to images, use them to tell the story.  Have a beautiful professional photograph that shows the prospective guest how your hotel lobby looks like…or how one of your great apartments looks inside.
The front door of your restaurant, or the outside of your apartment building, is less important than images that speak more directly to the customer’s experience.
If you’re a restaurant show your most beautiful meal, not just your menu–and from the diner’s point of view.  And show people having a great time.  If you sell cars have beautiful photos of the cars, including a photo with the driver’s door open, ready for me to get in and drive.  Use images that let your prospect place themselves into the picture.  Show someone putting on that great-looking jacket, don’t show it on a hanger.

Be Newsworthy

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Create offerings that stand out enough to appear in the news.  You’ll never be able to afford the publicity you can get with an exposure on a news show–or even that news item that gets syndicated and appears everywhere like the Banksy art stand.

Build a History with Your Brand

Banksy’s long history is consistent and has created a brand story.  Similarly we should pay attention to the history of our brand over time and consider what we want our own brand story to be.  If we build it in a consistent way, it’ll gain more attention and have more credibility.

The Bottom Line

The huge public attention captured by this graffiti artist has lessons for us, if we will but pay attention to the free advice he’s giving us.
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Email Marketing Guidelines

Get Your Emails Delivered!

As you know, I urge you to have a newsletter to stay in touch with your prospects and build your reputation.   I’ve written several times about the sort of content to put into your newsletter and how much selling it should contain (not much).  There’s another side of using email for marketing, and that’s ensuring that your emails are delivered; that’s the topic of this issue.

Any organization, from your ISP to a specialist bulk SMTP relay company, needs to pay attention to their own reputation.  If they are seen as a source of spam, then their own emails won’t be accepted by other Internet email operators.  So those practices are reflected on you; as your mailing list grows beyond 1,000 or so, you’ll start to see more attention to these matters.  This issue tells you how to deal proactively with what’s called your sender reputation, courtesy of Dyn. 

Warm Up Your IP Address and Domain

Spammers tend to suddenly start sending a lot of emails from a new IP address or domain name.  And their patterns of sending are irregular.  So your approach should be what’s called “warming up” your IP address and domain name by sending at regular intervals, and sending a growing number of emails.  Don’t jump around in quantity of emails sent.

You’ll find as you start sending 1,000 or more emails at a time, that senders will slow up your sending operation.  As you warm up your IP address and domain, they’ll relay your email faster and faster.  For a new IP address or domain name, you may want to throttle your sends for a while until both are suitably warmed up.

Establish a Rhythm

Spammers have erratic sending patterns.  If you establish a regular routine, sending similar numbers of messages each month with a similar schedule, your mailer will be more likely to believe that you are not a spammer.  In particular, don’t have lengthy pauses between sending emails.

A regular rhythm of sending also gets readers accustomed to when they will hear from you, so you’ll have fewer unsubscribes and fewer spam complaints.  Of course, you’ll also be more effective at accomplishing the business goals for your emails as well.

Maintain Your List

Your email sender’s own reputation is at risk if there are a lot of bounces of your emails or if there are a lot of spam complaints.  Dyn recommends goals of no more than .03% spam complaints and a 2% threshold on bounces.  Be sure that unsubscribes are removed, and remove bounces after 2 or 3 successive bounces.

You may be tempted to purchase a list.  This is often the best way to destroy your sender reputation!  Most companies who use email marketing find that in-house lists, that are built over time, are much more effective than purchased lists.

Send Quality Content

This seems obvious, but it’s worth noting that the quality of what you send impacts your sender reputation, because it affects the number of complaints.  Be sure what you send is carefully reviewed and that the messages are relevant to what you’re doing and to your recipients’ interests.   Avoid more than 20% selling content in email communications, and don’t bombard your recipients with communications that are too frequent.

The Bottom Line

For effective use of email in marketing, as you build your list, also pay attention to building your sender reputation.

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Fake Reviews–The Noose Tightens!

Don’t Fake Your Reviews–New Developments

Readers of this Newsletter know that I’ve warned about the dangers of writing fake reviews for your own business.  I’ve told you that the review companies, who depend on the accuracy of their reviews for the success of their own businesses, are expending a lot of effort to find fake reviews, and they are exacting serious penalties when they find fakes–penalties that can damage or even destroy a business.

Now things have become even more serious.  As reported in the New York Times, New York regulators are now cracking down on deceptive Internet reviews.  Nineteen companies have entered into agreements to cease their misleading practices and pay a total of $350,000 in penalties.

The Investigation

Investigators working for the New York Attorney General posed as the owner of a yogurt shop in Brooklyn who wanted to acquire some good reviews.  They asked reputation management firms to cook up some favorable reviews.  Sadly, the reputation managers produced the fake reviews, sometimes offshoring the review writing to the usual places. 

It’s interesting that these firms also found review sites that had criticized their own fake review operations, and had their people write fake reviews stating that the companies didn’t write fake reviews!
One bus company, US Coachway, was receiving a lot of poor reviews.  The CEO, believing that the poor reviews were hurting revenues, hired writers and required his employees to write favorable reviews, even posting a five-star review himself on Yelp.  The company agreed to pay $75,000 in fines and stop writing fake reviews.

How to Get Good Reviews

The best way to get good reviews is to provide great products and service!  Then your customers will be motivated to give you great reviews.  You can just ask them, and you’ll get good reviews.
My clients have access to proprietary technology to automatically obtain large numbers of genuine, favorable reviews.

The Bottom Line

Treat your customers right, and ask them for reviews.  Don’t fake reviews and don’t hire others to fake reviews, and don’t incent your customers to write reviews.
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Google+ Shares Don’t Help Google Search Rankings

Google+ Shares and Search Rankings

There is fairly wide-spread belief in the SEO community, buttressed by a couple of studies that looked at correlation of rank in Google results vs. number of (incoming) Google+ shares, that getting Google+ shares is an important tool you can use to improve your ranking in search results.  Now Eric Engle of Stone Temple Consulting has conducted a high-quality causation study, where shares were introduced and the consequences measured, that shows much more conclusively than before that Google+ shares do not influence search results position.  Eric was motivated to do this study by Matt Cutts of Google, who also claims that, despite the common belief, Google does not use Google+ shares to influence search ranking.

Correlation vs. Causation

Just because two items tend to occur together doesn’t mean that one causes the other.  It’s possible that Google+ shares correlate with higher search engine ranking because people are finding the content interesting and are creating links to it.  So Google+ shares could be correlated with position in search engine results because both are driven by quality content.  A good example of a correlation that doesn’t go with causation is eating ice cream and drowning deaths–both of which tend to happen when it’s hot.

Why Wouldn’t Google Use Their Own Social Network?

An obvious question is why Google would not use their own social network for clues to importance of pages, for ranking in search engine results.  My own opinion is that use of Google+ isn’t yet widespread enough, so that Google+ shares don’t provide enough data.  Which says that we could see this information used in the future, but we do have good information that it’s not used now.

Are Google+ Shares Important?

The study also shows that Google+ shares to appear to increase discovery by Google–that is, if a page isn’t in Google’s index, a Google+ share will put it there.  But we don’t need Google+ for this–any good SEO effort regularly makes new Google site maps and informs Google of them, so that indexing of new and changed pages takes place.  This can be done automatically and doesn’t even need someone to manually establish a Google+ share.

The Bottom Line

Shares on Google+ should not be the main focus of your Web marketing effort at this time.  Given that Google is Google, expect that time to come, but don’t worry about it today.

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