Companies Need to Connect with the User

One place where companies frequently disconnect from the user is when it comes to messaging. Here is the typical scenario: The user arrives to a web site and they're dropped into a company's online experience.  The copy on a web site usually goes something like this "Our ... We .... Our ... About Us." This can be classified as the "Me Me Me" syndrome.  Too many companies want to tell the world how they are the greatest thing since sliced bread. Please don't misunderstand me, I do believe you need to tell the user your capabilities and accomplishments.  But in order to be successful online you need to make sure you are focusing on the user.

Successful web sites take the approach of carefully crafting the online experience.  They craft their message to develop trust and provide the user with relevant information. This in turn makes it much easier to sell a product or service online.

I was listening to an interview with Robert Bly in which he talks about Bill Bonner's Four-Legged Stool. The Four Legs of the Stool are Credibility, Track Record, The Big Idea, and Future Benefits.  Use each leg to position your company and its products or services more effectively online.

Credibility
Unless you're a recognizable brand like Amazon or Yahoo, you will need to establish some credibility.  Do the things necessary to establish credibility and trust. One great way is to provide people with high quality information.  Make your user feel like you genuinely care about them.  Give them so much great information that they don't know what to do with it.

Track Record
Even though they aren't as effective as before, testimonials are a great place to start establishing credibility.  How has you product or service performed over time? Make sure your testimonials are benefit driven not featured focused. Users are interested in reading about what your product or process can accomplish for them.  "We saved $10,000 dollars by using the process outlined by XYZ Corp."

The Big Idea
How is your company or service different than your competition?  Describe the process or product involved in user centric terms.  Today everyone has a widget.  How is your widget better than other widgets? Perhaps you have a unique methodology that has evolved out of your product or service that can help people.

Future Benefits
If someone purchases your product or service how will it benefit them moving forward?  Tell people why it is worth investing in what you have to offer now and its impact in the future.  Show them how your product or service is going to create value  or save them money over time.

Make Sure You Use All Four Legs
The Stool is most stable on all Four-Legs (Credibility, Track Record, The Big Idea, and Future Benefits.)  It can still stand on Three Legs (Any Three of the Above).  But it will fall with only two legs.

You need to make sure your messaging is framed for the user.  Leverage your company's accomplishments, but in a way that allows the user to take notice; "Here are all the great things we've accomplished and here is how we want to help you ..."

If you can craft your web site using the methodology described you have a much better chance of being successful online.  Give user's what they seek and you will be rewarded.

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A Simple Usability Indicator: The Back Button

How many times have you clicked the back button when you were lost or confused on a web site?

A person's use of the Back Button can give you a very rudimentary indication of a web site's usability.  The back button is the Internet's version of an ejection seat.  It makes people feel safe. If users want to quickly leave a web site they can easily do so using the back button. Jakob Nielsen refers to the back button as "lifeline of the Web user and the second-most used navigation feature." It's a backup navigation feature for every single web site.   

Paying Attention to How People Use the Back Button
I pay particular attention to use of the back button if I'm testing web site navigation.  If the web site navigation is intuitive and easy to use users are less likely to click on the back button.  It is an automatic indication of usability.

A Simple "Back Button" Usability Study
Here is a simple usability study you can do with just about anyone.  Pick a site you are familiar with that has easy to use navigation.  Try to find another web site with poor navigation.  (They aren't that difficult to find, trust me.)  Sit a willing participant down in front of a computer and have them navigate through the two sites.  A friend or family member is an ideal choice.  Sit next to them and tell them what you are going to do.  Stress that it isn't a test and there aren't any right or wrong actions.  Participants give much better feedback when you put them at ease. Pay close attention to where their cursor goes on the computer screen.  It is really fascinating what you can learn just by watching people surf the web.

What can I do with the back button study?  Perhaps you are redesigning your small business or personal web site.  Using the above technique can help you refine or correct your navigation.  The technique can also help you identify other usability problems on the site. It is in your best interest to make your site as easy to use as possible.

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False Hopes and Internet Domain Name Brokers

I was listening to the radio yesterday and heard an ad that was upsetting.  It was a domain registration company that was trying to convince people of the riches in domain name brokering.  If you register a domain from them you could get paid millions of dollars.  There are very few people that have made millions by selling a domain outright. What are the chances? You honestly have a better chance of getting hit by lightening on a clear day.

Companies shouldn't advertise online get rich schemes.  In my book that is completely irresponsible. If a domain name/web site is sold for a large dollar amount it's usually because of web traffic and advertising dollars. Other high valued web sites generate revenue from products or service. Throughout this article I'll use "domain name" and "web site" in an analogous manner.

A Bit of Realism
None of my friends or close associates have become rich off selling a domain name.  In many cases they spent hundreds and some cases thousands of dollars on domain names.  A business mentor of mine jumped on domain name band wagon years ago.  Again, he bought hundreds of domain names and spent thousands of dollars.  To this day I think he only has made a few dollars off all the domains he once owned. Unfortunately he bought into empty hopes and promises.

The Only Domain Name Success Story
There is one person I knew who sold his web site for millions of dollars.  It was during the dot-com revolution.  The company that bought the web site consolidated the domain into one of their own web sites.  Why did this person get paid millions of dollars for his web site? The web site generated "more than 40,000 downloads per day and more than 10 million page views per month."  A web site like that has massive value. This person positioned himself in the right place at the right time. It was a different time and I don't see that ever happening again. 

A Little Domain Name Valuation
The value of a domain has a vast number of metrics.  There are a variety of algorithms, each taking something different into account.  When it comes to valuing domains the financial geek in me takes over.  Show me a balance sheet and income statement for your web site.  As they say "Money Talks." If you don't have that information you can make some safe assumptions based on research.  If a web site sells millions of dollars in products or services, it definitely has good value.  Or if the domain gets so much traffic that it's plastered with banner ads and Adsense, the domain probably has value.
My bottom line on value is based on content and utility.

Be Careful Out There
My lesson for the day is don't get shammed by people who claim instant online riches.   I do believe that the Internet can make people very wealthy.  There are systems out there that can help you generate additional revenue streams, but this isn't something that happens over night. Make sure you do your homework on any offer that sounds too good to be true.

Additional Resources:

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Web Site Email Suggestions

In today's world it has never been easier to setup an email address.  Yet many small business owners make simple mistakes along the way.  Something I notice on a number of web sites are contact email addresses that don't match their associated domains.  This is very prevalent amongst small business/personal business web sites.  People use their personal email address instead of using an email associated with the domain.  I don't think this is a good idea.  Today we'll look at some simple suggestions you can easily implement.

People go to Email First

It is very important to give people a place to contact you.  A recurring theme in all our usability studies is that people prefer to initiate contact via email, even before a telephone call.  If you are in business people are going to want to contact you.  Make the process as easy as possible.

Trust Building

If you are doing business via your web site think about building trust and credibility with the consumer.  Contact email addresses are a small step in trust building. There have been several occasions when I've wanted to write a small business. I proceed to the contact info page and see an unfamiliar email.  I'm forced to ask myself who is MrGolf0842@aol.com?  And is this going to the right person?  There is no additional contact information. This always leaves me a little hesitant.

If you are going to use your personal email address setup a small disclaimer about it.  Tell them it's your personal email address and where it's going. It's also help to provide your full name.  Some people get concerned with privacy.  But realize that people are going to be a little hesitant in doing business with anonymous people.

Keep Separate Emails - Business & Personal
One simple way to keep your anonymity and build trust with customers is to have two email addresses. Keep a personal email address and a business email address. This way you can use your personal email address for personal things and business email for business.

If you want to just maintain one email account, setup a business address and have email forward to your personal address. This gets you the best of both worlds.

SPAM Filtering
Make sure you set your SPAM filters properly.  It might be a pain, but read through the documentation.  Proper setup should stop the blatantly obvious SPAM.  But not block people just because you haven't white listed them.  I've run into this on a few occasions.  People ratchet down their SPAM filters allowing almost nothing through including legitimate emails.  Why is this bad?  Because someone might be writing you regarding a customer service issue or look to make a purchase.

There are a number of additional steps you can take.  What you see above should get you into the right frame of mind.  Make sure you are making it as easy as possible for people to do business with you.


Web Site Traffic Driving Revenue

A friend asked me yesterday "How does web traffic drive revenue?" It is a simple yet very important question.  There are a number of layers involved in the process.  Most businesses confuse the basics of traffic and revenue.  Because of confusion or ignorance many businesses don't do well online.  I'd also argue that too many businesses give deference to traffic over conversion.  There are a myriad of ways to generate traffic.  Converting traffic is a little more difficult.  The entire process starts with a simple formula and then branches into individual sections. Let's take a look.

A Simple Formula
Online Marketing guru Ken McCarthy provides his First Law of Internet Marketing: "Traffic + Conversion = Profits"  It's a very simplistic perspective on what it takes to be successful online.  For being so simple, the formula works. Unfortunately most businesses muddy up the process.  They add their own flavor and spin to the equation and get tepid results.  Check out "Why Do you Have a web site?" for a similar online success formula.

Markets and Generating Traffic
Online revenue generation starts with choosing the right online market. Many businesses incorrectly assume that if your site generates large incoming traffic streams that you will generate large sums of revenue. This rarely is the case.

Traffic generators can come from email subscribers, organic SEO, affiliate marketing, and traditional advertising.  There are a number of ways to generate traffic.  A simple concept that many companies confuse is the quality versus quantity debate in relation to traffic.  If you get 100,000 unique visitors a month and nobody cares about what you have to offer, your going to have a difficult time online.  I'd take 5,000 visitors a month that had a genuine interest and affinity for my product or service.  Visitors with affinity and interest for your product or service constitute qualified traffic.  You can help facilitate qualified traffic by selecting targeted keywords.

The Conversion Process
You need to convert your traffic.  Many businesses face the standard 1-2% conversion rates synonymous with the business world.  The nice thing about the Internet is that many online businesses have found a way to crush the standard rate. Some online entrepreneurs are converting at over 10% and others even higher.  When it comes to conversion you need to ask yourself: Do you have a sales process in place to convert traffic? You need to find a way to answer "YES!" to the previous question.  The web offers us many ways to create compelling offers.

Many web sites suffer from being poorly designed from a usability and direct marketing perspective.  Users quickly bounce off your web site because of the following: not compelled by the messaging, don't understand the messaging, or find the site difficult to use.  These factors usually result in the kiss of death for most web sites regardless of traffic. 

You need to create compelling messaging and test it on a regular basis.  Learn the techniques of direct marketers.  They have been creating compelling messages for hundreds of years. The web is only a different medium of delivery.

Back to the question "How does web traffic drive revenue?"  You accomplish this by smartly combining targeted niche marketing with a compelling offer on a highly usable web site.

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Don't Quit Your Day Job Just Yet

In my experience I've seen a number of people quit their day jobs in hopes of success and riches in the entrepreneurial world.  In my professional opinion too many of these people were lured by the fantasy of quickly getting rich.  The cold hard truth is very few, if any, people get rich quickly in the entrepreneur world.  This also includes the Internet.  Wealth and success are built over time.  In addition most people who venture into their own business never make it past their first five years.  Ultimately those people give up being an entrepreneur and despondently return to the "real world." Before you make the jump into the entrepreneurial world consider some of the following thoughts.

I Have to Get Out of My Job
So many people I know complain about their work environment.  Either their boss is tyrannical or coworkers incompetent.  There was a strong quote by Michael Wade from his Career Manifesto.  He refers to the perceived hardships people face in the workplace: "Unless you're working in a coal mine, an emergency ward, or their equivalent, spare us the sad stories about your tough job. The biggest risk most of us face in the course of a day is a paper cut."  Too many people I know confuse their job for real high pressure occupations. This is a big reason why many are lured to make the jump into the small business world.  They think they can escape some of the workplace challenges and have an easier work environment.  That simply isn't the case.

Test Drive Being An Entrepreneur
Being an entrepreneur can put a tremendous financial strain on you. I challenge anyone to this little experiment.  Put 6 weeks of your salary into the bank.  You can't use it to pay bills or living expenses.  Leave only $500 accessible for your monthly budget.  Why would anyone do that ?!?! You need to give yourself a realistic taste of the small business world.  There are plenty of small business owners, including myself, who have gone more than a month without a paycheck.  For the people who say you planned poorly, guess what?  Not all clients pay on time, even the reputable companies.  You need to become accustomed with that fact.  Going to work for a month without getting paid a dime is a very sobering experience. You are forced to come up with ways to pay your bills.  You might not be able to go out with friends and you will face some real entrepreneurial challenges.

Work on Your Side Job During the Work Day

Here is a good place to start if you want to be an entrepreneur.  People say they don't have time during the day to work on their personal business projects.  I believe that whatever job you are working at allows you a certain amount of free time every day.  Almost everyone I know has a lunch break of 45 to 60 minutes.  Pack a lunch and work on your side projects during your lunch break.  Yes, you are going to have to make sacrifices.  But if you are serious about creating additional revenue streams you need to make sacrifices.

Be more Efficient with your Time
Take a time management course to show you how to maximize the time you have available.  One of my biggest pet peeves is people who complain "I don't have enough time!"  Hogwash! I'd argue most people aren't maximizing their time.  It's amazing how much free time we can get in the course of the week just by making some small sacrifices, e.g. Tivo your favorite TV programs.  You can cut out 20 minutes of commercials this way. Learn while you drive. If you really sit down and think about it there are all sorts of ways to maximize your time.

For all the considerations I have one simple recommendation.  When you make 2x as much net profit from your side business as you do in salary, quit your day job. Be wary the lure of the entrepreneurial world.  Make sure you are financially and mentally prepared to make the jump.

Additional Resource:

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Building Trust and Credibility with Follow Up

I'd like to greet everyone across the World with the New Year!  There has never been a better time where those who desire success can make their dreams reality. Here is wishing you prosperity in the business year ahead.

How many times have you heard this saying: "The Fortune is in the Follow Up"?   The Internet makes this piece of business wisdom even more true.  Those that use this adage stack the deck in their favor.  It is simple to implement, yet so many people find it simple to ignore. 

As I've mentioned before; one of the top factors for people choosing to do business with you is trust and credibility.  Would you buy a product from someone you didn't trust?  Those people who do a great job in following up with their leads build trust.  It isn't instantaneous, but takes time.  If you make the time to understand this important portion of the business game, you're well on your way to being successful.

One great way to follow up with your prospects is via an autoresponder.  My description is very simplistic.  People write entire books just on this subject.  In short, autoresponders allow you to keep a database of customers or perspective customers.  People sign up at your web site with their email and their contact information gets stored in a database.  This process is the essence of permission based marketing. 

The really keen individuals use autoresponders to obtain target market leads. People aren't going to willfully sign up to a list that is of no value to them. The first step a web site owner takes after someone signs up to their mailing list is to confirm a user's decision to join the mailing list.  After their willingness to participate is verified, a series of high quality emails are sent to list recipients.  Verification helps you establish that your email isn't considered SPAM.  This process is a great way to build trust and credibility over time.

If you choose not to use an autoresponder you can still send information via email.  You can follow the suggestions outlined above and below.

Some quick points to remember:

  • Provide your confirmed mailing list with high quality information.  This will assist you in positioning yourself as an expert and build trust.  Free is great!
  • If you are using email instead of an autoresponder, don't send emails BCC or CC'd. Each email should be sent to people individually.
  • Make sure your emails don't look like they're cookie cutter.  People are very smart on picking out bogus email. Keep your message sincere and personalized.
  • Subject lines dictate if many emails even get opened.  Keep your subject line interested and to the point.

These points are only a fraction of what you really need to know.  Remember to follow up with everyone.  Even if it doesn't result in an immediate sale, you might be successful at a later time.  People are much more apt to buy from those they trust!


2006 Blog Highlights

Today’s post is short and sweet.  I’ve collected user data and visitor feedback to present my 2006 post highlights.  The highlights cover a wide swath of ground from aviation to Internet marketing.  My hope is that the various posts will get you thinking more about your own business ideas.   Make sure you take action!  Please feel free to pass the information to family and friends, because everyone interested in the web needs to know this stuff.

The Most Fun You Can Have with Your Clothes On
This post contains a short video and article about following your passion.  When your work is your passion, you’ll never work another day.

Thomas Edison and the Internet

Like computers, too many people fear making a mistake on the Internet.  Learn how Thomas Edison embraced mistakes and why you should strive to make mistakes online.

Online Marketing Like P.T. Barnum
(Part I)
More Marketing Like P.T. Barnum (Part II)
A look at Joe Vitale’s synopsis on P.T. Barnum’s “Rings of Power.” Learn how you can apply the techniques of the world’s greatest marketer to your web site or business.

Networks and Marketing

Discover the power of networks. You need to tap into the power of your industry networks.  Are you ready? Warm up your business cards.

Unexpected Online Business Success
Things never go as expected, especially online. The small things and targeted niche markets can help you.

Why Worry About Search Engine Optimization?
Learn why every business needs to consider leveraging Search End Optimization. SEO can drive high quality traffic to your web site.

Above the Fold
Do you know why it is so important to keep your most important content above the fold?

On Being Late
It’s important to be on time.  Yet there comes occasions when we become detailed.  Use this helpful advice to smooth over the next time you are late.

I’m really looking forward to the New Year.  It’s my goal to publish two Internet related books in the coming year.   Look for my “Do it Yourself Usability Guide” series coming shortly.  I’ll also be releasing a series of downloadable PDF documents focusing on SEO, Usability, and Internet Marketing.

See you later 2006!


There Is No Perfect Web Strategy

People approach me all the time about starting a web site. One of the most common questions is "What exactly should I do?"  They're usually disappointed by my answer.  Businesses need to understand there is no cookie cutter web strategy for every web site. Yes you can concentrate on some macro fundamentals like design, marketing, and usability.  These are things any web site should possess.  But in many cases it's the small things that count.  More important is a business giving their web strategy time to work.  Here is the best part; there is no set time frame. You need to use your own judgment.  Two important factors any company needs to take into consideration are time and strategy.

You need to look at your time frame with patience.  I've stated this previously, many businesses want immediate results with their web site.  The one thing you will learn on the web, much like investing, is that wealth and prosperity are built over time.  The "I want it yesterday" mentality dooms more web projects than you can imagine.  I've seen Fortune 500 companies sacrifice very smart strategies because they became impatient.  Yes you have to set limits on time frame. But make sure that limit isn't too short.

When it comes to strategy I look to other good examples within the business world.  A brick and mortar company that is an ideal success analogy is Wegmans Food Markets.  Wegmans' core model is based around being a grocery store. They have a very simple yet systematic approach to ancillary services.  Most stores have your staple grocery store service bakery, meat department, and pharmacy.  In many cases individual store demographics dictate which additional services are provided.  If a service (Sushi bar, Kids Fun Center, Photo Processing, Dry Cleaning, etc.) doesn't work out it is pulled and replaced with another.  If no ancillary service works out the individual store reverts to their core model.  This is a continuous store by store process until the right combination is found.

You can apply the Wegmans' methodology to your web strategy.  Concentrate on creating a long term strategy supported by ancillary services.  Your core strategy can be rooted in design, marketing, and usability.  These core services can be supported by additional technologies or services including: Organic SEO, PPC Campaigns, Copywriting, Public Relations, E-newsletter, Surveys, etc.  In many cases additional services can be added at comparatively low cost. Mix and match what works best.  You need to determine the proper time frame to test each service or combination of services.  Once again, there is no perfect combination and you can't rush success. Organic SEO can take several months to take root. Time is the largest mitigating factor.

You need to realize that there is no magic bullet or perfect web strategy.  When I recently asked a friend how he attains 40-60K visitors a day, he didn't have a concrete answer.  As he put it, "I just kind of did it." Successful web sites are built upon a systematic strategy that is continuously modified.   You need to make a decision on what you want to do and set forth in your strategy.  Regardless of your strategy make sure you give it time to work.

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Focus on Web Site Conversions

Are you converting your web site traffic?

One of the largest marketing mistakes web site owners commit is not having a plan to get visitors to take action upon arriving at their web site. Numerous companies look at their web statistics for the past month and are confused as to why so many people visited their site yet there is no appreciable change in revenue.  This is where the conversion factor comes into play.

A conversion is the process of your user taking some predetermined action or series of actions.  It is a measurable metric.  As an example, 10,000 people come to your web site in a month.  Of the 10,000 visitors, 100 of your visitors take a predetermined action.  In this case they make a purchase from your web site.  The end result is a 1% conversion rate.  100 purchases / 10,000 visitors = 1.0% Conversion rate.  In order to be successful online you need to concentrate on converting your web traffic.

Conversions don't always need to be in the form of a purchase.  Many people concentrate on building email lists to soft sell their product or service. Doing so increases the lifetime value of that perspective customer.  I know of one person over the last few years that amassed over 15,000 email addresses.  He delivered high quality content via his newsletters on a regular basis.  Imagine what you could do with 15,000 people dedicated people on your email list?

The cold hard truth is that most visitors come to your site and never return.  There are a plethora of reasons.  In some instances it takes several visits before a visitor will take any action.  You need to establish trust and credibility with your user.  A miniscule number of people will convert in their first visit.  You need to get people to come back to your site often enough to establish credibility.  In today's day of information privacy that can be a very daunting task.  After the trust is ultimately established it becomes much easier for you to convert users. Web sites that retain their traffic for subsequent visits are referred to as having a high degree of "stickiness."  Users are attracted to come back because of any number of onsite factors.

Here is a brief list of things you can do to establish trust and credibility:

If you can establish the criteria above you should be in good shape.  Can you put a check mark next to each item listed above? If so, you should be well on your way to creating a trustworthy and credible web presence.


Creative Thinking: Brains and Brawn

This post is an extension of the “Discovering Web Site Ideas” post.  In the post I briefly mentioned my methodology for coming up with new ideas.  Today I’m going to expand on this simple technique. Hopefully it will allow you to come up with some of your own great ideas or creative solutions.

I believe that everyone should visit the gym at least three times a week.  Being fit is extremely helpful if you want to be successful in the business world.  Exercising gives you that extra spark. When I work out in the morning I feel energized throughout the day.  If I miss my routine, I drag all day long.  What does exercising have to do with idea creation?  Some of my best ideas come to me while exercising. I'd like to share with you a technique that anyone can use.

During a recent visit to the gym I had a dilemma floating around my brain.  I wanted to make some extra money before the end of the year.  I wrote down the following question: “How do I make an extra $5K in the next week?”  Initially I had no idea.  At the end of the routine I had my solution.  A day later I presented my idea to the client and mission accomplished.  It isn’t always going to be that simple.  But we all have to start somewhere.

This process works best with a weight lifting routine, but can be modified accordingly.  It is based on a 1-2 hour workout.  It utilizes the time you rest between exercises or set.  Here is what works for me.

The Idea Creation Workout

  • Bring a small notebook or a sheet of paper and a pen to the gym.
  • Before you start, write down a question or two.
    e.g. “How do I market this new idea?” or “What can I do to increase services revenue?
  • Keep the notebook or paper with you throughout your routine.
  • In between each set or individual exercises try to write down an idea.

Make sure you don’t force your ideas onto paper.  An idea won't always pop into your mind.  Give the process time. This probably sounds hokey, but let your brain come up with a solution.  I’ve asked a few knowledgeable people on why this is such a simple yet powerful technique.  The best response I received is when you are working out, you are working your muscles not your brain.  Sometimes the best ideas come when our brain has a chance to relax.  You’re letting your subconscious mind take over.  It sounds crazy, but it really does work.

By the end of the routine I usually have all my ideas or solutions.   Here is the really important part.  You need to act upon your ideas.  Too many people talk about their ideas and then never act upon them.  The successful people in this world run with their ideas.  They might not get it perfect or right the first, second, or twentieth time.  But in the end successful people make it work.  Which person are you?


Learning How to Be an Online Business Success

People always use the excuse that they never have time to learn. I'd argue that there is a decent amount of time to learn something new every day.  Learning takes dedication. You probably have an hour or more a day to learn going to and from work. With the advent of MP3 players and the availability of downloadable podcasts, the chance to learn how to be successful online has never been easier. 

To be successful online you need to be constantly learning.  You might not be able to work on our web sites at every free moment. Tweaking your web site on your laptop while in traffic doesn't strike me as the best idea.  But we can certainly make the most of time when we aren't actually working. I've identified two easy to implement ideas that are tremendously helpful to learning.  They won't work if you aren't dedicated.

Learn while you drive or take public transportation
Try giving up some of your radio time to learn something new.  While you are driving or commuting to work listen to a book on tape or CD about business or marketing.  The selection of helpful audio books is vast. Your library might have some great books on tape or CD, all for free! MP3 players allow you to listen to audio podcasts of various online gurus.  Depending on where you live you might be able to get a few hours of learning, just sitting in traffic or on the train. 

Learn while you exercise
If you have an MP3 player, use it during running or working out. Load it up with some useful podcasts and you're good to go as you exercise.  If you use a paper notebook to track your workout routine keep an area to write down new ideas that jump into your brain. 

Read while you wait
Another suggestion is always have a book to read.  Just one book at a time would suffice.  Bring it with you where ever you go.  Whenever you are waiting in line or waiting for an appointment, start reading.  If you put forth a decent amount of dedication you could probably finish a book in a week or two.

With all the technology at our disposal it has never been easier to learn something new.  You probably have your own ideas for learning sessions.  It's up to you to determine how you use your time. You can always make more money, but you can't make more time.
 
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Are You Taking the Time to Analyze Your Web Statistics?

My main focus for today is to encourage people to get setup with analytics software and learn how to use it.  A later post will look into some of the finer points of analyzing web statistics.

There are plenty of decent analytics programs on the market.  One of my personal favorites is Google Analytics.  It is a free service with few restrictions.  Google Analytics is easy to install and web based.  This allows you to check your web statistics from anywhere with a web connection.  Data is compiled every few hours, making it near real time.  Their current restriction allows you up to 5 million page views per month.  If you have a Google Adwords account their page view restriction is lifted.  If you are getting over 5 million page views a month, that’s a good problem.  Purchasing higher end analytics software should be a question at that time.

Whatever analytics software you use, take the time to read the manual.  There are so many people that only have a basic grasp of how to use their analytics software.  The more you understand about the program the more you can leverage the data.

You should check your analytics on a regular basis. Some people check monthly or every few months.  This isn’t enough.  My usual routine is checking at least twice a day.  You don’t need to spend an extended period of time going through statistics. As you learn to use your web statistics program the process becomes very quick.  It should only take a minute or two each time you check.  Real time tracking is beneficial in this area because you don’t need to compile a report each time you check your data.

When I check my statistics daily I look for two things: daily traffic trends and referring traffic sources.  First, I compare my daily traffic from day to day. This helps me gauge in the short term my traffic performance.  Second, analyzing referring traffic sources helps me to determine the effectiveness of my organic and paid search engine campaigns.  I might also look at what pages or articles people are checking regularly.

Make sure you understand the difference between hits and statistics.  Businesses need to recognize the difference because they are inadvertently misrepresenting their statistical data. 

Another pet peeve is hearing business people brag about how much traffic they get to their web site.  Traffic is great as long as you can capitalize.  You need to start with concentrating on getting high quality traffic.  High quality traffic refers to users from your target market, not the general user populous.  Those users are interested in what you have to offer. After getting high quality traffic, you can then focus on converting that traffic.  A conversion usually involves an online sale, capturing an email address, or another set of performance metrics.  It’s not about quantity of traffic but quality of traffic.

If you are serious about your online aspirations make sure you have a good web analytics application working for you.  After you have good data to work from you need to be able to interpret that data.  Get setup and go play.

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A Controversial Topic for the Real World

Merry Christmas and Holiday Greetings to everyone!  I have nothing relevant to add to my Internet advice today.  In my first contribution to off topic subjects I've decided on a controversial topic: sweatpants in public.  One of my friends insisted that I would never write on such an offbeat topic. Here you have a light hearted post for Christmas.

As my friend Mike put it he "wouldn't be caught dead in public" with sweatpants.  He says it's an unwritten rule that you aren't allowed to wear sweats in public.  Personally, I don't see the big deal.  Sweat pants seem to have an unfair prejudice against them.  How many people wear sweat shirts in public or hoodies?  It is the same family of fabric. Why the prejudice below the belt?

Below is an interesting supporting perspective provided at Iris.com.

  • They're comfortable--it's a no-brainer.
  • You don't have to change out of OR back into your pajamas in the morning and evening.
  • You know you don't need to put on anything with buttons or a zipper to catch the eye of that hottie at the coffee shop. (Not sure if "hottie" refers to a man or a woman. Shrug.)
  • No one ever split the seam of their sweatpants bending over.

Brian Moylan at WashingtonBlade.com posted the following: "The style of dress in this country has gotten excessively casual to the point that it's even acceptable to wear sweatpants in public in places other than the gym."

There you have the information; now you decide. Merry Christmas, Mike!


Expecting Success Online

Everyone with a web site should have a goal in mind.  As I’ve stated before, having a web site just to have a web site isn’t enough.  Be pragmatic when setting online goals and strategy .  Most businesses miss the boat by setting goals that are far too difficult to achieve.   When the desired result isn’t achieved, in the shortest time possible, most get frustrated and quit.

I’m fairly pithy in this article.  Please don’t confuse an experienced and pragmatic viewpoint as negativity.  Many people get frustrated when I don’t tell them what they like to hear.  I refuse to pass along impractical online dreams to the masses.  But, I do believe you need to be smart, realistic, and positive with your online pursuits.  To be successful online takes dedication and hard work.

One of the biggest keys to online success is embodied in the following words “Marketing. Marketing, and Marketing.” People need to know about your web site and how to get there.  You can take a decent product or service and market it properly to achieve tremendous success.  Or you can have the best product in the world with zero marketing and go nowhere.  Smart marketing is quintessential!

I have a number of friends who want to become wealthy using the Internet.  Yet when I tell them what’s involved they respond with “I don’t have the time.” I think this is a load of dung.  The people who are serious about being successful online find the time.  I’ve tried to help and encourage almost a hundred people over the last decade.  Of all the advice that I’ve given to friends; two people have taken the initiative to move forward.  They understand the risk versus rewards scenario.  At the end of the day it’s up to the an individual to take initiative.

Almost every single online success story had humble beginnings. I cannot think of anyone who did remarkably well right from startup. Several people stumble through the online growing process.  Most of the Internet gurus started off making a few hundred dollars a month. Today some of them make in excess of $150K a month.

Set your online expectations reasonably high, but not too high.  If you choose to play the online game: play it with knowledge, tenacity, and determination.Nobody is entitled to anything but opportunity.  Not even to a level playing field. Nothing. Nada. Just opportunity.”  - Dan Kennedy

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A Web Site Redesign Mistake

Are you considering a web site redesign in the near future?
During a web site redesign there is a mistake that many businesses unnecessarily commit. This article takes into consideration that you already have an existing web site.  The mistake involves taking down your old site while transitioning to a new web site.  During the downtime a temporary page or splash page is usually erected. Such a scenario can create a liability to your brand and your web site.

Changing Over Too Quickly
In the web development world I see a tremendous amount of pressure to transition into a new site as soon as possible.   There are too many times when a client pressures their developer to put up an incomplete web site. I've been in this situation myself.  In my professional opinion the client's new site lacked a significant amount of content.  I attempted to justify my concern with the client. In the end the client insisted on launching the incomplete web site.  We complied with their request and posted the web site.  It looked very empty.

Why should I leave my old site up until my new site is complete?
Taking down your old web site can have an adverse affect on your SEO/SEM endeavors.  Over the short term references to your old web site files are still going to be indexed in search engines. If people click on a link that doesn't exist anymore you are going to face problems. When you put up your new site it might take weeks or months to get all your pages indexed properly.  Consider keeping to the same file naming conventions and directory structure.

Change in the Background
Keep your old site running while you test your new design.  Give your users a sneak peak of what direction you are headed in the future. Encourage users to provide you with feedback on the sneak peak.  They might be able to identify something that you didn't even consider or identify a costly mistake.

Your web site redesign transition should be seamless.  Keep your old site up until your new site is ready to go.  Changeovers should be done with minimum impact to your users. If you are expecting a time consuming changeover consider doing it late at night.  This will ensure minimal impact on the user.  Don't forget that the web is world wide.  Be conscientious of where you user base is located.

Take Your Time
Take your time when redesigning your web site because your users will never know the difference.  Make sure you get your site done right the first time as opposed to as quickly as possible. "I just didn't like how the old web site looked" is not an acceptable justification for removing your old site during a redesign. Something is better than nothing.

Remember you should redesign your web site for the convenience of the user. Sometimes business people have difficulty taking their ego out of the equation.  There are exceptions to this recommendation.  On exception is when the old web site is such a liability to you or your company that it needs to come down immediately.

If you take some time to think through the redesign process, you can save yourself significant time and money in the future.


In the Name of Backyard Adventure

Every once in a while it's good to get off topic.  While down in Florida, I try to make the most of my away time. I'm fortunate enough to have a wonderful place to stay whenever visiting Florida.  For me, vacation is about adventure and exploration. Take the time to look around you; it's amazing what you can find.

One place few people consider for an adventure is their own back yard.  You don't need to go some place exotic to find wonderful things.  Most people live their entire life without knowing about the interesting history that surrounds them.

Having grown up with the Goonies and living in a house with a small forest in the backyard created a catalyst for exploration. The great stories are endless. My immense intrigue of discovery is still present.  Being a little older provides you a greater appreciation for what you might discover and the historical context.

During the last two days in Florida I've made several interesting discoveries.  From a nearby 1715 Spanish treasure shipwreck to a hundred and fifty year old military fort.  The beach that I run on was once used to train for the D-Day invasion and considered the birthplace of the Navy SEAL. All of these historical landmarks are within two miles of where I'm staying.  Yet, most people who live here have no idea of their existence.

You probably have some treasures waiting to be uncovered in your area. Engage in some local history research at your library or online.  Just make sure you have permission to visit historical sites. Some sites are on private property. If something a little more modern is up your alley consider Geocaching.  It involves modern day GPS technology, the outdoors, and treasure hunting.  It's a blast!

With the Holidays upon us, everyone should take some time to have fun.

Additional Resources:

 


Discovering Web Site Ideas

I am a big advocate of everyone having their own web site.  It doesn't even need to be something business based. But if you are thinking of a business idea, web sites are a great place to start.  You can have a web site to share photos or create a Blog to get great information to the masses.  One of the top challenges everyone faces at the beginning is: "What should my web site be about?"

One of my business mentors gave a very simple concept for generating great business ideas.  His concept can easily be adapted to generate web site ideas. Get a piece of paper or a notebook and write "What can I teach someone?" across the top.  Some people can instantaneously create a list and others take their time.  Put that question in the back of your brain for a day or two.  As you begin to think of ideas write them down on the piece of paper or notebook containing the question.  As soon as your brain kicks in it is amazing what you can get down on paper.

Your ideas should be something you a passionate about.  People who really enjoy their field of work are passionate about what they do. This includes people who are highly successful in business and on the web.

I used this approach in a slightly different manner when I started this Blog.  There were a few ideas floating around my brain in terms of article topics, but not many.  I found a piece of paper and wrote "What can I write about in my Blog?" across the top.  In between workout sets at the gym I'd write down a few article ideas.  By the end of my workout I had over 60 article topics.

Regardless of how good your web site ideas are, look carefully at the market you are going to tackle. You should always do a little homework on the competition of the market and saturation levels.  If it is a broad market look toward a niche market.

Though this is a very simplistic approach it really does help to get your brain energized.  Writing the question and answers down on paper is very important.  The last caveat is as follows: Ideas are nothing unless they are acted upon.  Go out and have some fun!

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A Web Site Redesign Suggestion

Another flying adventure delay!  Here I am writing from Flight Level 330 going 453 Knots (521 MPH).  Unlike my last commercial flying delay this one is far more interesting.  As I went to board the airplane filled with passengers, we all felt a thump!  It wasn’t one of those “closing a hatch” thumps.  Here is the hilarious part. The baggage handler whacked our airplane with the baggage truck.  Or as my friend Timmy put it "your airplane was involved in an auto accident." What wasn’t funny was the delay associated with the incident.  We were fortunate enough to be quickly transferred to another aircraft and departed in under two hours. So …

Are you thinking of improving or redesigning your web site in the near future?

Allow me to suggest one of the simplest, yet most underutilized, money saving ideas in web redesign:  Research your idea first elsewhere.  Try to find another web site that already implemented a similar idea. Analyze their implementation and then think of ways to make  improvements.   Do this over a series of three or four web sites.  You might consider a mini-usability study.  After you complete this process type up a document outlining what you like and dislike. Pass the information along to your developer.  This will save you time and money.

A few months ago I conducted a usability study for a new client.  The client put a significant amount of emphasis on the employment section of their web site.  In order to achieve their goals we looked at what other companies used for employment sections.  After our analysis and usability study we combined our ideas with their developer’s ideas. The end result was a highly usable and effective employment module. More importantly we saved them a tremendous amount of time and tens of thousands of dollars in additional development costs. There was no need to come up with a brand new concept.  It had already been created for them.

When you are thinking of redesigning you site there is no need to reinvent the wheel.  Too many businesses insist on doing it their way.  You should insist on doing it the best way. Go and emulate another web site.  Notice I didn't say plagiarize.  People borrow ideas online all the time. In many cases the old ideas just evolve and get used over again.  There are plenty of great ideas on the web. Go out and borrow one and then improve upon it.


P.T. Barnum's Tenets of Super Effective Marketing (Part II)

Here is the continuation of Joe Vitale's outline of Barnum's "Rings of Power".  The Last Five Rings of Power center on people, creativity, networking, writing, and speaking.

P.T. Barnum's Last Five "Rings of Power"

  • "He believed in people helping people to get results."
    Vitale points out that Barnum was a proficient at getting the most of personal and business networks.  His amicable personality and established trust made it easy for people to help him. He used his personal contacts and connections to get him privileged access. This helped him significantly in furthering his business.

    Use the networking power of email lists and strategic partnerships to help promote your online ventures and events. With the emergence of YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, and MySpace . . . social marketing has set the Internet ablaze with buzz marketing. Don't forget your network. If you have family or friends inside a certain industry, they might be able to share valuable advice. Network using services like Facebook and LinkedIn.

  • "He believed in negotiating creatively, treating employees and performers with respect."
    Barnum was a crafty negotiator.  He would always look at the possibilities a situation offered and attempted to capitalize.  He was revered by those around him. He treated his employees and businesses associates with the highest respect. 

    In the business world you need to be a great negotiator.  If you are fortunate enough to ride up the ladder of success, bring those who helped you along. There are few if any people who make it to the top without the help of others.  If you surround yourself with successful people you are more likely to be successful.

  • "He believed all was well."
    He lost personal property, his fortune, and his family. Regardless of personal circumstance Barnum always found a way to forge ahead.  His personal experience never left him with a chip on his shoulder.

    You aren't going to get your endeavor perfect the first time. Each attempt at success is a new opportunity to learn something and make improvements.  You might make several mistakes along the way but that is part of the journey. Don't be afraid to fail.

  • "He believed in the power of the written word."
    Barnum loved to write.  He used his word smith skills on the general public and with public officials.  To the very end he was dedicated to his writing.

    Apply the power of words to your web site.  Learn copywriting skills to deliver a powerful sales message your audience.  Some of the simplest web sites on the Internet are very successful because they make the most of their copy.  They compel their users to take some form of action with words.  You can't do much online without words.

  • "He believed in the power of speaking."
    Speaking was almost second nature to Barnum. "He knew that the spoken word could move mountains."  He used his speaking abilities to further just public causes, cultural learning, and his business.

    Public speaking is a great way to get the masses to visit your web site.  Your credibility will increase and you can establish yourself as an expert.  If you aren't comfortable speaking in public utilize a blog. Blogs allow you to get your message out to the masses from almost anywhere.  Blogs are also becoming a tool companies are using for product and service feedback and to create new products.

Source: Vitale, There's A Customer Born Every Minute, pp.11-16.

After you had an opportunity to review all of Barnum's Rings of Power get a pen and paper and come up with your own interpretations.  Sometimes the simplest ideas can lead our brains to discover completely new ideas.

Additional Resource:

Have you ever considered including some of P.T. Barnum’s concepts into your own event marketing and promotion?

Below you will find a small collection P. T. Barnum posts that will help you with promoting and marketing your event. There is at least one good idea waiting for you to use with your event.

Take the time to read through a few posts.