Monday, November 02, 2015

Hey SEOs, what do you bench(mark)? Great marketing writing

Hey SEOs, what do you bench(mark)?

I thought this was just a great example of a well used clever metaphor in marketing.

Here's why it works for me:

 It's clear, clever, and thoroughly worked.  The punchline at the bottom "Don't sweat the decision - listen to the webinar now!" made me smile. Well done.

I could also list some emails in which metaphors are used and the result is confusion, distraction, and a general annoyance at the use of cliches and at poor writing.

BTW, we are NOT looking for help with SEO. Thanks anyway.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Lifetime Customer Value - LVC - Harder to Calculate that you'd think

I justt read an article on Lifetime Value of a Customer and agile marketing. Like so many articles, they make it sound so easy to calculate.  I'm so tired of hearing that. As far as I can tell, anyone who writes that article has never actually tried to figure out the lifetime value of a customer with real data...

We measure LVC and find it a very difficult exercise.  We tend to think others who measure it easily are either full of it or simpletons. Or maybe they have an easier exercise than we do.

If it were a question for a monthly subscription business of profit per month x average number of months, it would be easy.  If we could segment by marketing channel or another customer aspect, we could then compare  the segments. EZ peasy

Here's the problem. Our customers often sign up, try it, then quit and take their money back within the two weeks trial. But this same customer might sign up months later and stick around for a long period of time.

Our core service is an online subscription educational service for kids.  It turns out that the first sign up might have been just a trial for later.

Customers also quit after six months but come back six months later.

In both of these cases, they might come back through a marketing effort which means putting PPC ads in front of them. Do you assign the value of the second signup to the first case? Treat them separately?

Some customers add a child. Or remove a child.  Others refer friends. Others refer lots of friends.  It turns out that the arithmetic behind a meaningful calculation is tricky and involves lots of assumptions. Am I the only one with all these questions?

Saturday, October 10, 2015

The Domain Business - Want domain X Inquiries?

I have a few domains, maybe 500 to support the business. 

Most days, I get an inquiry like this one:


Tracy S****man tracy****

1:50 AM (12 hours ago)
to john

I think that you are the owner of a similar domain name and I am wondering if you would like
to obtain the mytime4learning dot net from me?

Thank you for your time and have a nice day.

What do I do with these emails?

I often ignore them but then they keep emailing for awhile.
I sometimes am interested and then my first step is to see if the domain that they are offering is available. Often it is. So I ignore the approach and go get the domain directly from a registrar for $7 per year.

In rare cases, I go back to the vendor and try to agree upon a price. In some cases, we've done a deal. But in most cases, they hold out for what I think are absurdly high valuations so we negotiate for awhile and then it falls apart. I try to NEVER talk to them on the phone or let them get my direct line since many of these people are like mosquitoes, once they find you, they just keep at it.

There's another email that I get less frequently (which I can't seem to find a copy of right now).Typically, it's from a major foreign country and they say that someone has tried to register a name like mine ( and to help me protect my copyright, they would offer it to me first. So for $xyz, I can have it but I need to act fast.

I've never ever answered any of those emails.

Your experiences with this?

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Amateur Hour in Blogger Review Land

There's a brouhaha over in London Town that I read about where a blogger - Mehreen - apparently hit on a local bakery for some freebies for a review. She didn't get the freebies that she expected and she didn't  like the baked goods (macarons) that she tasted so, for one reason or the other, she wrote a negative review. (I think she might have taken the review down since I can't find it.)

The bakery was outraged and posted an article called BloggerBlackmail. (I haven't been able to chase down a copy of this either.  If someone could post a link to it or copy of it in the comments, I'd appreciate it)

The blogger responded with a self justifying article.  This is what I'm calling out as Amateur Hour.   

The blogger talks about her expectations. She expects a lot to be given to her. She talks about her investment in photography. She talks about her time as valuable and how it takes 8 hours to do a proper review. It's a self-absorbed rationalization.  Pathetic. The odd thing is that the blog itself is beautifully done with gorgeous photography which really is an interesting read about the highlights of luxury dining in London.  But, still, she is in business and it is the blogger's business practices that I'm writing about.

If she thinks she is the business of selling advertising, her thinking should be all about her customer.  How can she generate business for a restaurant or bakery or hotel?  What sort of investment is she asking for from a client and how much business does she feel that she can drive for them?  She should have a professional sales process that focuses on her advertiser's needs, investments, and the return that it provides. She should have a professional way of approaching, selling, and treating her clients.

If she feels that she is in the journalism or media business and her main focus is being a high integrity content producer, she should talk about her readers. For instance, how her readers are interested in knowing whether this restaurant is right for this sort of dinner. Or whether this high priced hotel provides the service, food, and ambiance that they would expect.  As a media content creator, she should have a focus on delivering entertainment and information to readers who rely on her for a specific type of information.

Of course, newspapers and radio stations and TV stations have for a century been aware that they are at the juncture of these two businesses: content and advertising.  It's a delicate position.

The media are definitely in the advertising business. Their money comes from advertisers who expect a high return on their investment in advertising. The advertisers expect clear business practices, a written deal, and an appropriate sales process. Walking in to a restaurant at a time convenient to a blogger, talking to a random employee, and trying to negotiate on the spot for more sweets... not professional.  The fact that she sent an email some period before-hand with a vague proposition and got an enthusiastic response to the concept followed by an unannounced walk-in is not a professional approach. There was no education of the client as to what would be involved or what the benefits might be.

Media are also in the content business of being a trusted source of news and information and reviews.  There are guidelines in most media that separate advertising from content.  Newspapers routinely disclose if the newspaper or journalist have any conflict of interest. The media business is about walking this fine line of aggregating an audience with quality info and entertainment and delivering to this audience, advertising which is not too disruptive.  The mixing of content and advertising is a fine line which all media need to carefully walk.

The idea of a blogger having only one bad review on her site and that one coinciding with the one that didn't give her the freebies that she wanted is appalling.  (Disclosure: I have glanced through her site but I have not read all of her site so maybe there are lots of bad reviews in there). Here's the blogger's big whine:

Writer's note. I put this up and then came back and edited it an hour later. I removed a number of adjectives and tried to become a little more balanced and less inflammatory and judgmental.  I'm aware that I'm on the verge of joining a mob that's publicly shaming someone who has stepped over a line that I consider the line of professionalism.  However, I think this is worth writing about since the rules on blogging and the professionalism of digital content is a hot issue and this is a good example of the pitfalls that await us if sites don't think deeply and adopt mature rules to guide how content and sponsorship can coexist.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

SPAM Honey Pot?

I have received a few emails of this sort recently.
Do you think they are legit?
Is someone really link-building this way in this day and age?
Is it just a plot to ensnare people in some sort of link buying scheme and then reveal it to Google?

Since I don't want to link to these sites from my blog, I'll just put a picture of it here....

spam link buying request
spam link buying request

Saturday, August 08, 2015

Google Classrooms, Forms, and Forums

I jsut asked on a Google forum whether goes Google Classrooms. I'm following up on my own private discussion about

Can Google Classrooms replace a LMS like Moodle for some uses?

Saturday, August 01, 2015

Customer Support Technology

Here was the state of the art some number of years ago in online customer support:

1.  The relationship between the FAQs and the question asked is entirely for the user to make. There is no integrated knowledge-base which would provide super rapid responses using technology.  There is  a great collection of constantly updated FAQs and training videos
2.  It is very "batch" oriented, not immediate. There is no chat nor a suggestion that we can immediately answer their question is a very interactive way.
3.  The design is pretty primitive.  Functional but primitive.
4.  It is not a responsive design.
5. The "contact us" is a separate page. If a user is logged in, the fields for the user are automatically filled in which is good but still somewhat primitive by today's standards. I think the state of the art is for "Contact Us" or better yet: "Have a question or suggestion?" to be a widget that can be deployed across the site. For instance, we have a new great page of training videos that run from 30 seconds to 30 minutes. That would be a great place to ask "Still have a question?"

What's particularly interesting is that VocabularySpellingCity customer support is spectacular. We answer hundreds of calls and emails daily. Less than 1% of our calls ever go to voice mail or become "abandons."   And this stat is true not only across weeks and months but we track it everyday and we review it on a daily basis.  We use Desk to track all of our calls and emails and "Call Sweet" to monitor our calls and how they go. We manage even on the very busy days (ie August to September) to never give me an annoying recording about "Your call is important to us."  

BTW: Rant Alert! Am I the only one who feels that it is totally cheesy and Orwellian to put people on hold (showing that you are being cheap on customer support and don't staff adequately (or that your software is creating problems) and then instead of apologizing, tell people why you essentially ignore them how much you value them and their call?  We don't do that.

Next steps. I'd like to collect a number of modern awesome examples of customer support systems and use them as a model for us to build on.  Any suggestions?

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Customer Service - Inspired by BufferApp

I just had a service go around with the people. I continue to be amazed by the quality of my  brief email interactions with them.  It's a little over-the-top but still, I like it.  I wonder if I can get my support teams to have and share a little of this type of wild enthusiasm.

For example:
I contacted them with a suggestion which he took the time to understand and follow up on. So first point, he responded promptly and seemed to fully understand the problem. So far, not solved but it's a big problem that I highlighted. He gave me a great work-around.

As he gave me the work-around, he added: 

If I can ever help out with anything down the line, or if you have any feedback on how we could make Buffer more awesome for you, we'd love to hear it. We're here for you :)


I then gave him another suggestion, btw a really good one, which he acknowledged:

Oh wow, thank you so much for taking the time to detail this out. This is the type of thing that reminds us just how lucky we are to have the customers that we do. It's incredible that you would take the time to share your thoughts here and help us improve. :)

There are certainly a bunch of ways the analytics can be improved, and accurately breaking down the RTs a comments would certainly be a good step in that direction.

We are lucky to have a really close connection between our Happiness team and our Product team, so we'll be sharing your feedback with them and having them take a look at the options here. :) Please do send along any other thoughts, wishes, feedback, critiques, etc. that come to mind! 


Wednesday, July 01, 2015

Twitter says: 70% of your readers amplify your content...huh?

I received an email from Twitter (the company) today that said:

Research shows that your Twitter followers are a valuable and engaged audience. 70% of them amplify your content for free by Retweeting it, and 43% plan to make multiple purchases from the small and medium sized-businesses they follow.*

Twitter was trying to see me ads to increase my Twitter following.  But, do I believe Twitter?
Twitter says 70% of Twitter audience amplify your content for free by retweeting it.

Not my followers. If I got a 1% retweet rate, I'd be over the moon with happiness.  Over a month, if 5% of my followers RT'd me, I'd be thrilled.

I wonder where the 70% number came from. I think it's a fantasy. What's your experience?

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Search Engine Marketing and Mega Trends

Has my company and our sites kept up or ahead of the megatrends over the last five years?

Here's my list of what happened and how we've done.  The focus of course is on the negative since I'm more interested in galvanizing ourselves to action than being self-congratulatory. I could have built a different list which included items that we've done very well on but that tends towards smugness. So my dear colleagues, don't take it personally, I know that we are doing great on many fronts.

1.  Link Value Changes. The shift it towards Google recognizing higher value from important links, less or even negative value from irrelevant and repetitive links.  Let me start by saying one could say that there are three category of links:
A.  Good links embedded in relevant content on authority sites: newspapers, government sites, and other Google-authority sites.
C.  Good links embedded in relevant content on relevant quality sites
F.  Cheap links in signatures and on sites that are not relevant. 

In 2010, I would say that the:
-  F links might have had a conceptual value of 1 good point,
- C links had a value of 10
- A links a value of 25.  
This means that authority links were maybe 25x more valuable back in 2010 than just a unique link from a unique domain.

Fast forward to 2015, I'd say that the value has changed so that:
F links are a negative 1.
C links are positive 1.
A links remain a positive 25 or 50.  

When we look at our incoming links to our premier site, we have long been dominated by C links and have never had a great strategy for getting A links.  This might account for our slippage in the engines.

Action: Time to commit time and resources to a link strategy for generating A links.
- State school choice websites?
- School district school choice websites?
- PR aimed at generating links etc

2.  Local.  Without going in deep, a large percentage of the top results are now driven by local.  We have not figured out how to drive this to our advantage despite being sold, used, and supported all over the country. Our local strategy on our premier site is limited to having info on each state which fails to enter the competition for local search results.

3.  Social.  We have an average social strategy but I don't that we've optmized it to reinforce our SEO strategy by getting vast discussions with our name in it or generating lots of deep links to our site. I also don't think that it does much in terms of driving lots of traffic the way that I've heard that others due.

4.  Statistics. Search driven stats have become progressively less useful for many reasons. One simple one is that the line has blurred between search and navigation. Specifically, I mean that many users and visitors now routinely use search to get to our site. It's simple to start typing our brand name into the address bar, let Google autocomplete with our name, click on the first search result, and come to our site. So what use to be counted as someone who came direct to our site is now reported in Analytics as search. The result is that it looks like many users who we use to report as direct visitors for conversions are now counted as search engine conversions.  Ideally, we should use a negative keyword strategy to take out every variation of our name from Analytics conversions data and add it back into direct conversions. Has anyone out there done that? Is there a script in Analytics for people to do this?  When I look at this to scope the problem, I see our name and variations on it as the top converting keyword for us so I'm guessing it's very significant. The bottom line is that while our search-driven conversion Analytics data continues to grow, it's misleading in that it does not indicate that our search engine strategy is working, it is distorted by the success of our long term branding strategy being reported as search. 

5. Site Speed. google has increasingly counted site speed as a criteria and with the switch to mobile, it's more important still. I don't know if this is a strength or weakness for us since there is no historical or competitive ongoing reporting in this area.

6. Site management of feeder sites. They've lost their advertising revenue stream. It's not clear to me if they've kept up their traffic year on year.

Organizationally, I think we're headed toward having a person responsible for each of:
- Email marketing, writing, analysis, and results
- SEO and link building: analysis and results
- Paid marketing: PPC, Retargetting, Programmatic Buying, Banners
- Website management: sales funnel mgt, landing page optimization
- social media: analysis and results....

Where we've done well....

1.   Focus only on Quality.  We never had a strategy or stumbled into generating lots of F level links.  We've never had to disavow or remove any links.
2.    Technical marketing.  We are pretty good at reading Webmaster tools data and keeping our site maps and navigation easy and good.  Our basic workplan is good of grouping relevant content in the navigation and completing each page and menu with lots of custom title and alt tags, meta tags, and relevant descriptions and titles.
3.    Responsive.  We beat the deadline for 90% of our important stuff.  Quality work. 
4.   Unique valuable interesting relevant content. The heart of our strategy has been to focus on high quality ideas and writing for our website content. This is an ongoing challenge to understand our big ideas, articulate them in ways that appeal both to our audience including the arachnids. BTW, if you haven't read the classic article of Writing for the Web and Three Audiences, you should. Of course, it now needs an update with the 4th audience being the social media world.
5.   Updating outdated technology and systems.  Unified our email lists etc.
6. Focusing on users and topics in our wriitng, not on keywords.
7.  Thinking big. 

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

The Design Process & Software Tools: Photoshop vs Wireframing

I've been involved in designing web sites and pages for a decade now and I've noticed several distinct development paths for web sites or webpages.

 In one, a designer starts with a photoshop rendition of the final version. The layout, graphics, colors, fonts, and then the messages are all worked out up front. Then, the Photoshop image is chopped up into little pieces and some graphics and all the fonts are recreated in HTML.

In the other, a site is first wireframed which is essentially an outline of what the site or page layout will look like. Then it's filled in step by step adding the graphics, fonts, and so on with each addition being a step in the sign off process.  I've found that with this process, there are sometimes "sign-offs", sometimes by me on design made in the early phase which have to be rescinded when I realize what that actually means once we try to fit our messages or key graphics into place.

A third path is do the site in a tool like powerpoint or Google slides so that a non technical person can change the design. This process is often used to kick off the photoshop process or to discuss alternatives in the other process.

Any thoughts on this?

Here's some tools used for the wireframing and prototyping process.

Wireframe - Balsamiq
Colored Mockup - Fireworks 
Simulation of some of the interactivity - Invision,
Full simulation:
 - Bootstrap which has the benefit of generating a real prototype with HTML & CSS,
- Sublime which has the benefit of generating a real prototype with HTML & CSS,

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Gmail and Chrome Identities - What's the relationship?

I have just gotten use to having all my Google identities merged whether I like it or not. My gmail, Google Docs, analytics, Youtube, blogger, adsense, adwords, and Double-click identities are all merged.  I have even accepted the loss of my old favorite homepage, by Google homepage by now keeping bookmarks on my Chromebrowser and a backup copy in a google doc.

But I'm now confused by a new pair of related but distinct Google-owned identities:  Chrome and Gmail.   Sometimes, I'm on a computer and all my bookmarks are there in the Chrome browser. Sometime they are not, I've never really figured out why or how.

Now I have a real problem that I'm trying to figure out.

I was traveling and used Gmail on a borrowed computer. I even carefully copy-pasted in parts of my password to protect against potential keyboard recorders. After I logged out, my email account remains on the Chrome browser that I used which is annoying but not much of a problem. But, somehow, all my Chrome bookmarks remain on the browser. Since I have some confidential URLs that are the management tools for some of my sites, I'd like to remove them but I can't see how.

1. Can anyone explain how logging in with my Google account automatically brought my Chrome bookmarks onto the borrowed computer?  Or, did I do something that I don't remember.

2.  How do I remove a Chrome profile from a computer. It's the Chrome browser on a Mac.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Travel Blogging

Travel. Blogging. Do these two words belong together?  In the view of thousands of people who are busily blogging about their travels, they do! (Disclosure, one of these people is my wife).

Lets look at it from different points of view.

The Travel Industry. Think about the Hotels, the Tourist Boards of hot destination spots, the cruise companies, and so on. They use to host all sorts of junkets for the travel agents trying to get them to steer traffic their way.  But, as travel agents go the way of the dodo bird, the tourist promotion people are not sure what to do. They alos use t host lots of travel writers for different magazines but as the number of magazines and newspapers continues to shrink, they are again left looking for their new media for travel promotion.

The Audience.  Travel is a huge industry and people want to be informed buyers. They want to be educated about where they are going and what to do there. Of course, the first stop is usually Wikipedia or a travel guide but they tend to be strictly the facts or overly professional in their descriptions.  The travel bloggers tend to give readers a much more impressionist feel for the experience of visiting. Also, traffic bloggers write about some of the most interesting and surprising things. For instance, France in Miniature.  Notice the kids on the left side that give you a sense of the scale of this version of Notre Dame!
Miniature France

The Travel Bloggers.  What's not to like? They like to travel anyway and as travel bloggers, they get additional attention and often access to preferred tours and information. It also provides an agnle to the travel which makes it more ao f thoughtful visit. Of ocurse, it's alos an awful lot of work. Great photography is key to a good travel blog and the best pictures seem to require getting up at before dawn to be in position or at sunset which requires excellent timing.

Here's my favorite posts:

France Miniature Theme Park

American Colony Hotel, Jerusalem

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Credit Card Processing, Recurring Billing, and Card Not Present

I sometimes think that the deck is stacked against me.  I am an online educational subscription service.

In other words, I'm a vendor of an intangible good sold with the card not present on a recurring billing basis.  The fact is that in a customer dispute or chargeback situation, the desk is stacked against me.

Nevertheless, we have a great business model. As long as our customers love our service, they let us bill them every month.   Granted, it's not as good as a gym who bills people monthly so that they can feel guilty about not going which keeps them from cancelling. That is an amazing business dynamic.

In our world, the partnership from the credit card processor is all important which is why I follow a blog called which has just started a series of articles about  recurring billing with card not present.

Click for a  Analysis of BusinessSubscription Recurring  Model Metrics

My online social media identity is a mess!

I run a company of some size, we have over 50 full-time employees. However, I do not sit in an office removed from the day-to-to-day fray.  At this size, I think the president should still be part of the team and helping with key messaging, building blogs, and social media.

Well, I might be wrong on this and maybe it's time for me to be a little more strategic and less day-to-day. So I'm beginning to rethink my own online strategy.  

Twitter. My biggest day to day involvement is having my own Twitter account:   @VSpellCityMayor
While the Twitter account is not listed on any of the four major product sites that we run, it does have over 750 followers (started it for real in October). I do get some help with retweets from the people who tweet on behalf of our different product lines.  The two product lines that I'm closest to with this account are:
VocabularySpellingCity - 6770 followers
Science4Us - 470 followers

Facebook. I also, under my role as VocabularySpellingCity Mayor, have a Facebook account which I do not do much with. I've thought of having my Tweets automatically feed into my Facebook account so that it has some activity.  I also have a personal Facebook account but I think I keep that separate from work and have it private so only friends can see me. I'm not sure however. 

LinkedIn. This part is pretty well done. Each of our four major business units has its own linkedin profile and my profile links to each of the four.

Forum. At this point, our most active public forum is for the parents of our homeschooling students.  We also maintain a private forum for our home school high school students called Time4Friends.  Our forum for non-religious homeschool parents is also big.

Blogs - I have a number of blogs on different blogs. 

Wearing my small business technology hat, I write this blog covering issues like online marketing techniques, financial management, HR and benefits, issues of investment, and cashflow.  

I have other blogs on other topics such as credit card processing, my sports life as an over 50 athlete, and  homeschool online education.