If I knew then what I know now….

The first day of the year is a great time to reflect upon the past and plan for the future.

Cory on the “Internet Wonders” blog writes…

If we had only known that niche marketing would become so infectiously popular, then we would have concentrated on this approach rather than waste time with MLM.  If only we had known that Google was going to shift algorithms and AdWords would establish new rules, we could have…

Cory’s right to admonish the reader (as well as himself) to stop right there.

It’s hard to predict what the , though many try to do just that.  Usually, good predictions are remembered while the bad just seem to fade away!

Ten years ago, things were quite different on the web than they are today.  Web sites were almost universally coded in HTML.  Connections were slow…. interactivity was minimal… and if you wanted to watch a video, you’d click on a link to download it to your PC and then go to bed.  If you were lucky, when you woke up 8 hours later, the download MIGHT be finished.

Today, the internet is filled with web sites trying to find favor with the Google gods.  For those who weren’t on the web a decade ago, the masses used to dance, sing and sway trying to find favor with deities of the day named Yahoo, Alta Vista and Lycos.

From Hyperpeople: Mob Rules: Chaos

“The world has changed.  The world is changing.  The world will change a whole lot more.”

One thing of which I’m certain is that ten years from now, things will be a lot different than they are now.    We’ll look back at 2007 and say, “Who knew?”  Will it be some current upstart dethroning Google?  Will it be the implosion of “social networking”?

I can’t predict the future and I won’t even try.  All I can do is share what has worked in the past for me and my clients is to create web sites (whether they be blogs or static sites) is to create a web presence with the VISITOR in mind.  No matter who sits atop the search engine throne, the one thing all search engines have in common is seeking out the BEST content for their visitor.

As my 2008 gift, I share with you a philosophy which has served me very well over the past decade:

  1. Create your web presence with the search engines in mind.
  2. Make it easy for the search engines to include your site in their index.
  3. Create compelling content with your VISITOR (not the search engines) in mind.
  4. Promote your web presence like the search engines do NOT exist.

Here’s wishing you a year that is prosperous and full of health!

You’re only paranoid if they’re NOT out to get you

A.K.A: A healthy level of distrust is essential when living/working on the web

I’ve often joked with clients that what is sometimes perceived as my “highly paranoid” level of distrust is merely the result of over a decade of living and working on the web. (I follow that comment with, “You’re only paranoid if they’re NOT really out to get you!”)

Unfortunately, graphic designer David Airey, who maintains a popular blog on graphic design learned the hard way that on the web, there are a LOT of reasons to be paranoid, especially when promoting your business via the web.

Reading his saga reminded me of my most recent conversation in which a client was “amused” by my perceived paranoia.  Several weeks ago, the son of a blog client of mine contacted me…. asking for the log in information to his mother’s new blog. She had spoken to me of her son who was studying “computers” at the University of Michigan and I knew she had charged him with creating a quiz for her blog. However, when I got an email from someone claiming to be her son, I apologized and said that the request for the information HAD to come from her and that information would ONLY be sent to her. While I was sure that he was who he said he was, I really couldn’t send him her log in information.

He was understanding, as was she… but it was one of those moments when I realized how much “innocence” I have lost over the past decade. As I sub-titled this post… a healthy level of distrust is ESSENTIAL when living and working on the web.

Blogs are INCREDIBLE marketing tools for the web. Because of David’s blog’s success, his web presence became a target of criminals who exploited the trust of David’s web hosting provider. I doubt the criminal responsible would have bothered to transfer his domain name (and pay for privacy) if his blog were operating in relative obscurity.

Plan for the worst and expect the best.   David learned and shared with us the trials and tribulations of not only using free email as his administrative contact, but also the trials of hosting your site with an inexperienced (a.k.a. trusting) host.   See, David registered his domain name as part of his hosting package, which is where his problems began.

I could go on with more client horror stories surrounding domain names registered “for free” as a part of the hosting package, but that’s another post! Thanks David for sharing your saga with your blog.  Education is the key to making the web a less friendly place for criminals.

Trust is not transitive

Andy Beard is asking his RSS subscribers… “Do you trust my advice?”   Andy asks because he’s been checking the “follow through” on his promotion of other people’s products and has been disappointed in the final figures.

The very first comment to the post went along the lines of “Yes, I trust you… but just because I trust you doesn’t mean I trust this other guy.”

BINGO!

keys to successAndy uses RSS to communicate with his blog readers.  The other resource uses email.

I know that I am MUCH more likely to subscribe to a site’s RSS feed than I am to sign up for an email list.  Why?  Because I know I have CONTROL over the RSS…  I simply remove it from my iGoogle and it’s gone.

Email, on the other hand, is forever.  Once I’ve subscribed to your list… how do I know you’ll honor my unsubscribe request?  (This is truly a TRUST issue.)

Case in point, I signed up for an email list and then unsubscribed.  I didn’t receive emails for a few weeks but now, suddenly, they are starting to come in again from this source.  HELLO!?!?!  I unsubscribed!!!  Why am I hearing from you again?

Why did I unsubscribe from the newsletter?  Well, because the information provided didn’t live up to the “hype”.  They broke a fragile new trust by not delivering what they promised.  As a result, I unsubscribed from the newsletter.  Surprise, surprise…. they’ve broken their promise yet again.  The best predictor of future behavior once again is past behavior.

Trust is a slippery critter.  It’s tough to earn and easy to lose. 

Just this morning, I had a “difficult” conversation via email with a client.  Had I not established a trusting relationship with her, my “advice” could have been viewed as self serving, even though it was not given with my needs in mind but rather her future.  My client wanted to take a “break” from blogging and was going to take down her web site for 6-8 months, relaunching it next year.

My reply was along the lines of “ACK!  Leave your blog up!  You’ve got a PR of 3, a decent Alexa ranking after less than 6 months of blogging!  Don’t take it down because you can’t continue to post every day!!!”

It would have been easy for her to think I simply didn’t want to lose her hosting business.   That wasn’t the case, but I knew it could appear that way.  I was relieved to read her response.  Instead of seeing it as a “sales” tactic,  this was part of her reply:

I trust what you say. You have been nothing but honest and helpful for me.

WHEW!!!!  

I’m the daughter of a car dealer… and sometimes I come across, well, like I grew up with a car dealer as a father.  I had to “sell” and “close” all the time.  I grew up believing that “No is simply the customer asking for more information.  I was relieved that I had built up enough trust with this client that she could see that leaving her blog up was in HER best interests, not mine.

In other words, I had earned her trust.  It’s something I don’t take lightly.   When you earn someone’s trust, you shouldn’t take it lightly either.

So you claim you’re an expert….

If you’re an independent service professional, you had BETTTER be an expert, especially if you want to charge $100 an hour or more for your services.  Whether it’s the web, the law or real estate, if you’re a solo entrepreneur chances are you’re selling your expertise in a subject matter as the basis of your business.

So you’re an expert.  Congratulations.  Now what?

manatcomputerbored.jpg

Well, the next step is that you need to communicate this expertise.   After all, that will be the foundation of your marketing message. 

There are a lot of ways you can communicate your expertise.  You can:

  1. Declare your expertise on your logo/business cards/business letter head, etc
  2. Write a book on the subject area of your expertise
  3. Launch a blog on the subject area of your expertise.  Post frequently on the topics in the subject area of your expertise.
  4. Deliver speeches and talks on topics within your area of expertise.

If you’re smart, you’ll focus upon steps 2-4 and possibly skip step 1.

Step 1, declaring your expertise,  is probably the least effective way of communicating your expertise.  From your prospective client’s point of view, it’s "easy" for you to declare you’re an expert.  The next thought in your prospective client’s mind when they see or hear you declare that you’re an expert is usually, "Prove it!"  That’s what steps 2-4 are all about.

Steps 2-4 are all ways in which you’ll prove your expertise.  For example, when you write a book, you are instantly awarded a certain level of "expertise"…. a well written book that is well promoted and sells a lot of copies affords you even more "authority".  However, merely getting your book published no matter what the quality of the content is usually enough to get you points in the "expert" category.  Being able to say to a potential client, "Here, read my book" is a great tool to demonstrate your level of expertise.

Launching a blog where you post frequently on your subject matter area is another GREAT way to DEMONSTRATE your expertise.  Many authors actually pull their book content from their blog posts and vice versa.  Blogs are an expert’s best marketing tool.

Finally, speaking frequently on your topic is another way to demonstrate your expertise.  Do you speak better than you write?  Then video tape yourself and post those short videos to your blog! 

In any case, communication is key in demonstrating your expertise.  Potential clients must be ASSURED of your expertise before they’ll pick up the phone and call you.  That’s why blogs are GREAT marketing tools for indepdendent service professionals.  Your blog allows your potential clients to "test the waters" without taking a HUGE leap of faith and contacting you, whether by phone, mail or email.

That’s why I HIGHLY recommend blogs for clients who want to demonstrate their expertise. 

Is RSS for you?

I will never cease to be amazed at the number of clients (and potential clients) who request that their web site be capable of RSS without even KNOWING what RSS stands for.   Usually, I find out later that some "internet marketing guru" has just held a free class where he/she exhorts class participants to be SURE their site is RSS capable. (For our purposes here, we’re going to deal with WRITTEN content and not podcasting.)

RSS stands for (depending upon who you ask) Really Simple Syndication.  According to Wikipedia:

RSS is a family of Web feed formats used to publish frequently updated content such as blog entries, news headlines or podcasts. An RSS document, which is called a "feed", "web feed", or "channel", contains either a summary of content from an associated web site or the full text.

RSS makes it possible for people to keep up with their favorite web sites in an automated manner that’s easier than checking them manually.

RSS content can be read using software called a "feed reader" or an "aggregator." The user subscribes to a feed by entering the feed’s link into the reader or by clicking an RSS icon in a browser that initiates the subscription process. The reader checks the user’s subscribed feeds regularly for new content, downloading any updates that it finds.

First, notice the text in red above…. keeping up with a favorite web site assumes that a site’s CONTENT changes frequently.  

So, the first question which begs to be answered in the quest for whether RSS is for you is:

1) DO YOU MAKE REGULAR CHANGES TO YOUR WEB SITE?

If your web site is a BLOG then the answer is probably (hopefully) YES! 

There are other content management systems (because a blog is really just a simple content management system) which also offer RSS, but the question still remains of how often are you publishing new content. 

Still with me?  Great!  You’re making regular posts to your blog OR you’re making frequent content additions to your web site…. then it’s time for the next question:

2) IS YOUR CONTENT GEARED FOR TECH SAVVY READERS

Accord to Brad Hill over at RSS.Weblogs.com:

Ipsos-Insight, Yahoo! has produced a white paper (PDF file) entitled "RSS—Crossing Into the Mainstream.

The headline facts are interesting enough:12 percent of the Internet population is aware of RSS technology by that name, and a bare 4 percent claim to use RSS.

According to the blog post (and comments to that post) podcasting experiences a much higher "awareness" level but the buzz around that form of syndication has not translated into heavy adoption.

So the question which begs to be answered by you is: Are your readers part of the 4% who use RSS?

In general, if your target audience is LESS than "tech savvy" it’s entirely possible that you have a much LOWER percentage of readers who subscribe to RSS feeds.  If your target audience is EXTREMELY web savvy, it’s possible that you have a much higher percentage of RSS users.

In the end, if you’re providing a consistent flow of information for a technically savvy audience, then yes, be sure to include a prominent place for your readers to subscribe via RSS to your content feed.  However, since the vast majority of my clients are NOT targeting the highly technical savvy user, I STRONGLY recommend that my clients continue to rely on the tried and true email newsletter to stay in contactg with their audience. 

Again, as always, it’s a matter of knowing WHO the members of your target market are and how comfortable they are with technology.  Just because someone can use a browser and email doesn’t mean they’re RSS subscribers.