Web Usability ….. People are Blind

     I smile when someone asks me “why do we need to repeat our marketing message more than once?”

My response is … people are blind and forgetful as well. We see every element on our websites because we placed it there. Website visitors however don’t. If it’s important to make a sale … repeat it twice, three times, 4 and more.

Love Blogging but Hate Typing? Alan Levy has just the thing for you.

About two years ago, Alan Levy received the devastating news that his father’s cancer had returned for the third time. As a way to keep his family and friends updated, Levy, 49, decided to start a blog. Levy was blown away by the size of the blogging community, which immediately got him thinking about better ways for users to engage with their audiences. With 15 years of experience in the telecommunications industry, he was ready for his next big venture: hosting radio shows online.

After months of planning, he launched BlogTalkRadio in August 2006. “By creating a platform, it empowers people to have their voices heard,” says Levy. Read the rest

Google Trends After an Update


The latest version of Google Trends, which allows users to see how popular specific search terms are across the Internet, has been met with tempered enthusiasm by search marketers.

Google Trends has always been useful, and these updates make it more useful than before, said David Berkowitz, director of emerging media for search marketing firm 360i, in response to the news. That said, it’s still not perfect, in his opinion: “The one thing Google won’t give away here is the exact numbers,? he said.

According to a company blog post, the latest version of Google Trends, which was released yesterday, provides new features allowing users to see numbers reflecting search “scale? on a graph download to a spreadsheet. The “scale? is based on the average search traffic of the key term entered. Users need to sign into a Google account to access this function. Read the rest

“Hello, We’re an Ethical SEM Company”

Look at the title of this post. That’s exactly what I heard today on the phone before a guy made his pitch to become our SEM/SEO provider.

Tell me … how bad does the industry get to have people start their pitch with “Hello, We’re an Ethical SEM Company”? Read the rest

A Guide to Vertical Search Advertising


“Vertical search engines, as deemed by e-marketing and search-engine pundits, are the “hottest trend in search.?

As VSEs diversify, they become more attractive to users and advertisers alike. Here’s how to integrate VSE advertising into your next marketing campaign.

What are VSEs?

Unlike general search engines like Yahoo and Google, which crawl the entire Web for content, VSEs crawl only within specific industries. While general search engines may return the most information, VSEs return the most relevant information.

Plugging “combine? into a general search engine will return information about software, games and merging words together, which is fine, unless you’re a farmer searching a $250,000 piece of equipment. VSEs are more likely to know just what users want and point them, ideally, to your company, service or product.

Why advertise with VSEs?

The specificity and industry know-how that characterize VSEs also create a fruitful advertising opportunity. Since VSE users look for precise information or are closer to buying, they’re classified as interested consumers. Qualified leads aside, here are a few more benefits of VSE advertising:

■ More leads, less money Finding a ROI in the expensive, time consuming, keyword-heavy world of general search engine marketing is difficult. As marketing moves online, it’s easier to get lost. VSEs, however, remain small enough to offer competitive rates while building the vertical industry exposure necessary to attract potential clients.

■ More visibility Some VSEs are designed and run by large conglomerates. By listing with one VSE, advertisers get additional exposure in other online publications. Furthermore, some VSEs will spend money on general search engine keyword campaigns, increasing the likelihood that potential customers using those search engines will find the VSE and your products.

■ More targeted With VSEs, businesses can reach a specific audience that doesn’t want to fish for information on general search engines. These audiences have been casting nets too wide for too long. VSEs provide these companies a smaller net and a better knowledge of the waters.

3 Simple Ways to Make Your Online Business Standout


“Standing out from the crowd is your key to success, but it can be difficult on the crowded internet. The following entrepreneurs use a variety of ways to rise above the noise.

1. Packaging: ScrapYourTrip.com, an Orlando, Florida, scrapbooking supplier, uses customized Priority Mail boxes from the U.S. Postal Service that are specially branded with the company logo. Founder Julie Swatek, 40, says the boxes–which she helped create and are free of charge–have really helped her company make a name for itself. Read the rest

What You Should Know about Keeping Online Payments Safe


“Ever hear of the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard? Get to know it because not complying with the PCI DSS could your online business big bucks.

The PCI standard, a requirement since 2001 that’s increasingly being enforced among growing businesses, is intended to help organizations protect customer account data. It includes requirements for security management, policies, procedures, network architecture, software design and other critical protective measures. Under the PCI DSS, American Express, MasterCard, Visa and other credit card associations mandate that merchants and service providers meet certain minimum security standards when they store, process and transmit cardholder data.

Merchant banks whose retailers don’t comply with the PCI standard could be fined up to $500,000–and banks typically pass along penalties. Noncompliant merchants also face losing their card-acceptance privileges. Many smaller e-tailers aren’t even aware they’re out of compliance with PCI until they seek out a payment processor. It can be confusing.

“While merchants should be complying with the standard now, it’s going to be [several] months before the card brands start enforcing PCI compliance for the [smaller] merchants, and when they do, it will be more rational than it is now,” says Avivah Litan, vice president and director of research at Gartner Inc. in Stamford, Connecticut. “It will be clearer what [smaller merchants] will have to do. They are not going after these guys and fining them now. They are trying to be rational.”

Complying with PCI might seem like a hassle, but not complying could bring even bigger headaches, says Martin Elliott, vice president of emerging risk for Visa USA. “The brand damage that can occur to a merchant if their customers’ data is compromised can be far more damaging than fees or fines that Visa may assess,” he says, offering these tips for complying with the standard.

1.Establish a policy on data retention that minimizes the time you hold data. If you don’t need data, delete it.
2.Know where your data is stored. Software can save data in places you may not be familiar with.
3.Store only essential data–such as cardholder name, account number and expiration date–and destroy all obsolete cardholder data.
4.Use only vendors that are also PCI-compliant.
5.Make sure your payment application follows Visa’s “Payment Application Best Practices,” available on Visa’s PCI DSS website.

Marketing Your Website On and Offline


“The question used to be, Do you have a website? Now, the more relevant question is, How do you market your website? It truly isn’t a “Build it and they will come” scenario.

If people don’t know about your website, they can’t visit–and learn about what you have to offer. That’s why marketing your website online and offline is just as important as marketing your product or service.

Promoting your site can be simpler than you think. Here are some suggestions:

Offline Marketing
Many website owners forget about the offline options for marketing. But you need to make yourself visible in the places your target market lives and that means the offline world as well.

  • All marketing communication materials should emphasize your URL and entice readers to visit your site. This includes business cards, letterhead, envelopes, brochures, flyers, folders and newsletters.
  • Print your web address boldly on the front side of direct mail postcards. Sometimes simply printing your URL in a large, attention-getting style will cause the recipient to turn the postcard over and read the other information you want to share with them.
  • You can issue a press release announcing anything new or newsworthy on your site. Maybe you’re offering a free report, a free e-course or a unique approach to the marketplace that the media will be interested in.
  • On-hold messages are now very popular for directing people to a website, especially with phone systems that use automatic attendants. But live attendants can direct people to your website, too. Make sure they know what information is available and relevant for the caller.
  • If you ever get the opportunity to be interviewed on the radio, make sure you find ways to drop your URL. You can say things like, “On my website, www.yoursite.com, I offer free marketing articles and products for sale to help grow businesses.” Don’t just say, “On my website …” without mentioning the URL. This applies to any interviews you might do with a reporter, editor or producer.
  • Some publications will ask you to write a guest column or a feature article related to your expertise. At the end of the column or article they’ll usually let you include a few sentences related to your experience and ways to contact you. Obviously mention your website and e-mail there.
  • Advertising specialties are great ways to distribute your web address. They include key chains, coffee mugs, mouse pads, pens and pencils, as well as any apparel that might carry your logo or identity.
  • You can also promote your URL offline with the following: fax cover sheets, vehicles, billboards, license plate frames, Yellow Page ads, other printed ads, T-shirts, and golf balls and bags.

Online Marketing
Online marketing should be done in conjunction with the offline marketing mentioned above. Here are some ideas to get you started:

  • Even though people are at your site, mention it often within the text of your web copy. This will reinforce it in the readers’ minds and help with search engine optimization.
  • Mention your website or include it in your signature for all news group, discussion group or forum postings.
  • Ask your fusion marketing partners, board members, advisors or other business partners to mention your website on their sites.
  • Use online press releases and articles just like the offline method mentioned above.
  • Pay-per-click marketing
  • Banner advertising on your site, as well as other related sites that your target market visits
  • Online directories
  • E-mail signatures

Be creative with both your offline and online marketing. Sometimes the best marketing comes from the wild, crazy, extreme or unique ideas that your competition hasn’t thought of. Remember the guy who auctioned off his forehead as advertising space for a URL, or the pregnant lady who offered her pronounced stomach for URL placement for a Super Bowl ad website? Now that’s guerrilla marketing.

Tips to Improve Your Online Newsletter


You’ve been sending your online newsletter for some time now. But lately you’ve noticed your click-through or open rates getting a bit soft. Before you redesign the layout, here are five content-related pick-me-ups.

Introduce an expert — perhaps you?

Does your online newsletter come from your company or a human at your company? Remember, a newsletter is a letter. Typically letters from companies are not very personal. Consider introducing the person who’s behind your newsletter. Add a letter from the editor with a photo and a scanned signature.

Browse and link to related stuff

Find Web sites related to your newsletter subject and link to them. This will provide a fresh, interesting section that isn’t all about your company. Think editorial. You could link to stories, sites, individuals and studies. Readers will be interested because it’s familiar yet is always new and different. Plus, if you’re caught surfing at work you can say it’s for the newsletter.

Give away free stuff

Oh, so simple and powerful. Giving away free stuff may sound corny, but it works. Create a section that gives away something to the first five responders. You could tie it to a trivia question “First 5 people to answer correctly get…? This trains your audience to stop what they were doing and read your newsletter.

Want to make it even better? When you introduce the freebie section, initially, give away something to everyone that responds. Why? Because if I try and get your freebie offer then, every time you send it I’m going to stop and read your newsletter.

Sticky content

Remember dictionary.com’s ‘word of the day’? It’s a hugely successful daily e-mail that simply sent a single word. You can apply this same thing to your newsletter. Short and scannable. For example, your newsletter could put a trivia question at the top of the newsletter and users then have to scroll to the bottom to get the answer. What else is sticky? How about picture of the day, coolest gadget this month, hero for helping the planet, here’s what’s on our iPods. Bite-size, fast and sticky.

Turn on the feedback loop

Plain and simple, ask readers questions and display their answers. This shows you’re listening and that your newsletter is by people for people. Polls are fine and do a similar thing, but still seem rather cold and automated. However, if I’m reading your newsletter and I see that “Doug from Portland, Oregon? responded, I think to myself, “Huh, there’s other people out there… brand X is cool.? Overall, like most of these suggestions, it adds human voice and community to your newsletter.

Maximize Online Leads With These 5 Pointers


Some consumer-oriented companies and the majority of business-to-business firms don’t actually sell products or services online. Rather, their Web sites are designed to educate, differentiate, build relationships and foster interaction. In short, the vast majority of these sites are intended to generate inquiries and leads. The ultimate goal — a sale — likely occurs offline in a store, on the phone or, in the case of many BTB firms, many months later.

One of the most common ways companies generate online leads is Read the rest