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Rochester, New York

« October 2006 | Main | December 2006 »

Choosing the Right Online Market

Yesterday I went out with one of my good friends for dinner.  We discussed possibilities for creating additional revenue streams. My friend is already doing well with one of his side businesses.  He's known as "The Gumball King!" The King wants to expand his empire with other business ideas.  As always I pushed my online agenda.  One thing I mentioned was that he needs to choose the right market before expanding his ambitions.

Ken McCarthy, an online marketing guru, makes an excellent point when it comes to choosing the right market.  Success for many online businesses comes down to one simple thing. Are you choosing the right market?  Mr. McCarthy stresses that the right market should also be an easy market.

Ken McCarthy's list for an easy market:

  1. Easy to reach
  2. They have a burning desire for what you have to offer
  3. Based on past behavior a willingness to spend money on what you have to offer

If your online market exemplifies the above characteristics you should be in for a much easier journey.  Too many people fail the day they start their online business because they choose the wrong market.

The most immediate example I can think of is the fast food industry. Millions of dollars have been spent to ensure my brain associates fast food with McDonald's.  Yes, there are a number of other companies.  But unless you have very deep pockets, it is going to be very difficult to compete with all the fast food chains that are already established.

Are you in an easy market?

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Are You Targeting The Correct Search Keywords?

People always ask me about keyword research and why it is important to their web site.  Not targeting keywords and optimizing for those terms is a missed opportunity at getting more targeted traffic to your site. You start most SEO projects with basic keyword research.  It involves finding terms that relate to your web site or product and to what extent those terms are searched on search engines.  You optimize for those terms in your title tags and body copy. 

Many companies misunderstand or overlook keyword research.  Sites that rank well in search engines are targeting and optimizing for a set of keywords.  Some of the most successful companies online target specific niche markets. Keyword research is also an ongoing process. You can't just do it once and forget about it.

Are you targeting the right keywords for your web site? There are a number of web sites and companies who choose to target the wrong keywords or not target at all.  This isn't intentional, but most likely because of a lack of knowledge.  I know of one major US Corporation that is missing massive opportunities because they are targeting the wrong keywords.  They are missing out on millions of dollars in potential sales.

Continue reading "Are You Targeting The Correct Search Keywords?" »

Thomas Edison & Highly Successful People

This article is based on Michael Michalko’s research into the creative thinking exemplified by Thomas Edison. Mr. Michalko is one of the world's foremost experts on creative thinking.

Try, Try Again . . .
Would you be willing to try something thousands of times to make your web site or business successful?
If Thomas Edison was still around today he wouldn’t flinch at making that many mistakes with his business, event, or online endeavors. If you want to be successful online, focus on being tenacious and determined. Where you start and where you end up are usually worlds apart . . .

"Thomas Edison, while pondering how to make a carbon filament, was mindlessly toying with a piece of putty, turning and twisting it in his fingers, when he looked down at his hands, the answer hit him between the eyes: twist the carbon like rope.

B.F. Skinner summarized a first principle of scientific methodologists: when you find something interesting, drop everything else and study it. Too many fail to answer opportunity's knock at the door because they have to finish some preconceived plan. Creative geniuses do not wait for the gifts of chance; instead, they actively seek the accidental discovery."

Michalko, p 228, Cracking Creativity: The Secrets of Creative Genius

Far From Perfect
Edison was considered a genius, hence most people don’t think they’re capable of the same level of thinking.  In fact, Thomas Edison never had a true formal education (didn't go to university), most likely had ADD, and was almost completely deaf in one ear.  What separated Edison form other people was his creativity, tenacity, and approach to problem solving. You don't need to be a genius to try something multiple times.

Young Thomas Edison The Edisonian Methodology
Thomas Edison’s methodology falls directly inline with the biggest  internet success fundamentals.  Try as many times as it takes until you achieve your online goal. If you don’t succeed analyze the failure and try it another way.  Most people respond with “I won’t waste my time trying to figure this out” or the classic, “I don’t have the time.” Those simple statements separate the successful people from the unsuccessful online and elsewhere.

You can try many things with your web site that don’t cost you any additional money, just time. Take a lesson from Edison's methodology: “You can only fail at something so many times before you are successful.” There aren't mistakes, only lessons to be learned.

My personal friends, who are doing amazingly well online didn’t get it right the first time or after the hundredth time. They stuck at it - Focus on being tenacious and determined.  One friend gets over 40,000 visitors a day to his web site. On his best day he’ll pull 60,000 visitors.  Another successful friend sells t-shirts online and converts leads at a rate of over 30%.  The t-shirt business is a highly competitive online market. Their success didn't come overnight. It took years to get both their web sites where they are today.

Be tenacious and determined with everything you do in life!

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Event Marketing and Search Engines

My involvement on both sides of the air show industry, performing and producing, has taught me a great deal about event marketing. Specifically how user search for a given event online.  Traditional advertising and brand awareness definitely come into play.  But for users who lack brand awareness or aren't in a local advertising market, the ability to search and locate information online is a critical.

Make Finding Information About Your Event Easy
One particular event this year illustrated the frustration users can endure.  A few days before leaving for the event, I went online to try and find out who else would be performing at the air show.  My first stop was the search engines.  I tried standards search terms and some abstract search terms.  In the end I couldn't find any information on the event.  My total time searching had been about 30 minutes and no information to be found.  It was a very frustrating experience. They had a web site, unfortunately you couldn't find it in the search engines.

Is Your Site Easy to Find in Search Engines?
One of the first places any users looks to find information about your event is search engines.  The following advice is predicated on you having a web site for your event. At the top level people will typically search for the type of event (air show) and location (Rochester).  Secondary search terms include your event's main attraction (Snowbirds, Thunderbirds, Canadian Harvards) and event performers (Sean Tucker). I believe the same methodology can be applied to most event marketing. Never work from the assumption that because you have a web site you are easy to find.

Look At Your Log Files
If you have a web site that has been up for at least one subsequent event, analyze your server log files
. This is the single best place to find keywords people are using to locate you online. Concentrate on finding the top search phrases and keywords and optimize for those terms.  At the same time don't discount relevant search terms that might not be in your log files.  Always be on the lookout for good keywords.

Not every event is branded or advertised outside local markets.  People looking to attend your event are looking for information online.  Make sure information for your event is easy to find.  Optimizing for search engines is one of your best forms of low cost or free advertising.

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Online Video Explosion

It seems like many people are jumping on the online video bandwagon.   With Google's recent purchase of YouTube more people are looking to integrate video in to their web site.  As with everything else in life, with every virtue comes a vice.  There are a number of things you should consider before using video on your web site.

Wilbur_small_1The virtuous side of video is that almost anyone can easily post their videos online.  In years past video production was a very expensive process.  Today people with camera phones are capturing video and quickly posting it online.  Video allows you to easily present messages in different ways.  A number of companies and organizations are pushing online video through their web sites.  You can show your users or potential consumers something that words might not always be able to convey.  Video also allows you to pass along sound and music with your imagery.  George Lucas, states it best: "sound and music are 50% of the entertainment in a movie."

How can video be a vice?  With so much video going online very little of it is high quality content.  The quality has nothing to do with how nice the video looks, but the quality of the information you convey.  The more time passes, the more low quality video makes it online.  How many times have you sat through a two minute video and found it to be a complete waste of time?

Use video responsibly.  If you are going to post video on your web site make sure it relates to what you are trying to convey on your site and to your target market.  Tease people with your videos.  There is a reason why movie trailers are only a minute or two long.  They want to get you wrapped up in something without boring you or giving too much away.  Many people forget to optimize their online video presentations. They'll post large files that take a while to download even with broadband connections.

Take a look at how YouTube.com presents video.  After you select a video to watch, featured video is presented in the main window with related videos (presented as static images) off to the right.  You don't want to overload your user with options. An example of information overload can be found at: http://www.dosomethingamazing.com/. The videos are nice but presented poorly.  They are task saturating the users as soon as the home page loads with sound and video.

Online video is here to stay. Make sure you use it tastefully and responsibly. One of the most important things to remember is because you can have video on your site doesn't mean you need to have video.  You can create highly effective messaging with words and pictures. Some of the most effective messaging comes courtesy of the written word.  Make sure you don't load your site up video just so you can say you have video.

The Mobile Web Experience

Today is a quick overview of my brief mobile web and smart phone experience.   Yesterday I decided to upgrade my LG phone to the Motorola Q.  The first few hours were quite the experience.  I'll delve into some simple points about smart phones and designing for the mobile web.

It all started with holding for customer service to for an hour and a half.  I was having an issue restoring my contact list. For whatever reason they inadvertently hung up on me three times.  In the end, a nice gentleman was finally able to straighten me out.  All I was looking for was an honest answer. Not someone telling me "you're doing something wrong."  It shouldn't be this difficult for a geek!

Here is the big point for today: I've been hearing for years about how the mobile web is going to explode and that everyone should jump on board.  This day is eventually coming, but I think we still have a way to go. 

Companies are pushing "up to near broadband speed." with specialized service. Unless you are standing outside next to the cell tower with perfect atmospheric conditions, you won't be getting anything near broadband.  Only one person from the company I have service with has actually admitted to me that the technology is far from perfect.  And I'm not expecting perfect. But I do expect you to deliver something close to the service you advertise for your company.  There is a good article on 37signals.com that addresses my I've had it up to here with "up to" issue.

There is still a learning curve for me to figure out how to surf the web with my phone. But given my personal experience it should have been a bit easier.  Most sites don't render properly because they weren't designed to be displayed on mobile phones.  I fully understand that.  The easiest sites to access were those sites that were primarily HTML based. 

If you are designing for the web, especially the mobile web, keep it simple!  Use a sub domain: mobile.mywebsite.com or redirect users to a mobile optimized page of your site. It should contain more HTML text that images. I don't recommend Flash or video within your mobile pages. Mobile  Flash content delivery is very archaic. The big companies are pushing their own technologies via their networks for video.  I have yet to see a personal site or small business site that delivers quality video to mobile phones. There is a reason why everyone likes big computer monitors!

The new generation of smart phones are best suited for the power users.  If you are looking to purchase a smart phone they do have their limitations.  Surfing the not mobile web is very tedious. Email and messaging seem to work the best. Do you homework on which phone might best suit you.

The mobile web is still waiting in the wings.  If you don't need a smart phone, I would recommend staying away for a while. Good luck!

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Why Create High Quality Content?

In a previous article I explored Jakob Nielsen's HOME RUN acronym. In this article we'll look more closely at the High Quality Content portion of HOME RUN.  Two very important things to consider regarding content is how the content relates to the user and how content is viewed by search engines.

The biggest reason to create high quality content is for your users.  Ask yourself this question: "How often would you revisit a web site that is never updated or has nothing that is interesting to you?" I'm guessing never. Always think in terms of the user experience and what you can offer.   

he most popular web sites give users exactly what they want in terms of content.
Those same sites keep users coming back by offering high quality content on a regular basis.  You need to do the same with your web site.  Most of your content should take the form of HTML text. Write specifically for your audience, NOT for your own ego.

Continue reading "Why Create High Quality Content?" »

Location Does Not Matter (Here)

There were a few personal experiences yesterday that rekindled a strong personal business belief.  We've all heard the business phrase "location, location, location." I firmly believe the Internet allows you to operate your business from anywhere. This is one of the oldest maxims of the Web. And, I'm not saying anything most people don't already know.  I bring the point up because every once and a while we need a reminder.  If you have a business idea, look at the online possibilities.

My friends would always tell me "if you're looking to do something big in business, it isn't going to happen in Rochester, New York."  I disagree with their assessments. Most young people end up leaving the area because of a lack of opportunity in the job market.  I agree that there might be a lack of job opportunity in comparison to other cities.  This happens all over the world.  But there definitely isn't a shortage of business opportunity. 

Because of the Internet it doesn't matter where you are located.  All you need to do is have access to the Web.  I know of friends and local businesses that are doing five to six figures in revenue per month within the greater Rochester area.  They are making that sum of money through their web sites.  In many cases the revenue doesn't include their retail sales.

For today my message will be short and sweet.  With the Internet, it doesn't matter where you live.  If you play your game on the Internet you enjoy the privilege of playing by a different set of rules.  Make the most of it.

Additional Resource:
Top 10 Dumbest Online Business Ideas That Made It Big Time

Online Communication - Email and Telephone

Being able to contact a person or company is essential to any business.  It is the at the forefront of customer service. One particular deficiency that I notice on many web sites is they don't always make the contact info easy to find or upfront.  If you are doing business online, you need to make sure people can easily contact you. 

Most users will send an email before they call via telephone. Email is a quickest and easiest way to make contact, it's painless.  For some people email isn't enough.  You should always offer a telephone number where people can contact you or your business.  If someone is desperate for information or has a pressing issue it will come as a telephone call.  People call when there is a customer service or technical issue.

A great place to feature your contact information is on the home page, above the fold.  One standard location is in the mast head or header bar.  The contact info should be noticeable, yet discrete.  You can also feature a contact us page link in the navigation or footer of each page.  Doing so builds redundancy into the system and ensures people won't miss the information.  Make sure it is easy for the user to contact you.  It should be noted, based on the size of your company and privacy issues, you might not always want users to contact you directly.  In this case it is the company's discretion on what information to make public.

One particular hurdle that I find many users reacting to negatively is online contact forms.  Instead of allowing the user to contact a company directly they need to fill out a form.  I understand that the forms help companies deal with a multitude of inquiries.  But, in many cases having an email or telephone number available can resolve an issue much faster.

Communication is an essential part of any business.  You need to ensure people can quickly and easily get in contact with you.  Good contact information is essential to the user when making online purchases or the consideration of services. This also helps to build trust and credibility for your company.

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Missed Opportunity and Online Strategy

Most companies with a web presence never realize their full online potential. My personal belief is that a company’s web site is one of their best marketing tools. Regardless of this belief, you still need some of your marketing rooted in traditional offline advertising.  Two significant miscalculations that most companies make online are the inability to learn from their online mistakes and the refusal to try something new.

Here is an example of refusing to learn from the past.  One perspective client wasn’t keen on trying PPC advertising again.  They tried it before and it “didn’t work.”  I’m reasonably certain had the company tried another PCC campaign with conversion tracking, thoroughly researched keywords, and a new strategy, they would have been successful in the PPC arena.  They had a negative experience, but refused to take the lessons learned and try again.

Many companies refuse to try something new online.  On the net the adage of “if it is not broke, don’t try to fix it” is a terrible policy.  I know plenty of business owners who live by this motto in regards to their web site.   They refuse to change any aspect of their site.  In many cases a small change can bring great rewards.  Consider reworking your homepage or try new search keywords.  There are so many possibilities for your web site. You might discover additional revenue streams without having to spend a dime.

Another example of trying something new comes in the search arena.  Several companies ignore any type of organic search engine strategy.  They don’t have the time to build links or refuse to hire someone to create new relevant content for their site.  No matter how hard you try to sell the benefits of organic search, most companies won’t make the time or investment.  Investing in organic search can bring you traffic for your particular niche market.  The web sites that generate the most revenue are usually at the top of the search engines for certain keywords.

There are a number of companies that are perfectly positioned on the Internet to increase revenue via their web site. Doing something different online requires ideas and patience.  You don’t always need to spend additional money to learn new lessons.  Follow the path of people who have become successful online.  They all write books about it!

I encourage any company to take “baby steps” online.  Formulate a strategy and stay the course until the strategy works. If you do make a mistake or miscalculate, turn into a learning opportunity.  On the web, change is good.  If an idea doesn’t work, you can always change it back.  Sometimes the smallest changes can make the biggest difference on the online world.

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