Thursday, February 08, 2018

Where are the battles being fought?

A Better Title (and I think this deserves to go viral):

Where are the battles for iaudiences being fought in 2018?

Remember, you saw it here first. "IAUDIENCES".  Not a typo. Read it as "EYE audiences." It's an update to the tired talk of eyeballs which always seemed ghoulish.  Iaudiences is far more streamlined. Feel free to use it but do give credit to

For almost 15 years, I've been leading a consumer online marketing war in which we battle for market share. Over the years, I have had success by being nimble and lucky about fighting on the right fields at the right time.

When I started, the online fights had been about positions in directories and banner placements and optimization.  I however immediately focused on search engine position primarily natural search but also PPC. The trends were in my favor and I rode this for a decade benefiting from the tailwinds and fighting the right battles right up until 2015. Then the tailwinds of search growth seemed to have stopped.

We were big with the rise of email running both long term branding emails and timely newsletters. Very efficient until we felt that we had to switch to advanced nurture campaigns through the use of marketing automation systems where the complexity of the campaigns made, at least to the manager, the writing and effectiveness somewhat opaque versus the simplicity and transparency of old world stats (ie 470K on the last, 32K now at the 45th monthly email and still getting a 15% open rate!)

I also fought social media battles. We were early in working with mom bloggers and we even developed our own system for converting our mom fans into mom bloggers through our own training courses of and then the  We were big on mom forums working both with our own and independent forums.

When new social media started getting big, we were a little slow.We were wildly successful with our forum and we wanted that to be the one and forever social media. That would have been nice.  Having wasted some time on MySpace, channels and vlogs, we were consistently late and clumbsy to the Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Linkedin,Pinterest, and Snapchat worlds. Just as we got good with Facebook and were driving huge engagement and traffic (VSC), we invested with Facebook to grow our tens of thousands to two hundred but they tweeked the algorithm so we started seeing views plummet to the current dismal ~1%. Sigh.  We did however ride the Yahoo groups popularity and made good use of it for many years after everyone else seemed to have forgotten it.

On the school side, we were OK with Edmodo and Symbaloo when they were young and easy to work with but haven't had much success once they got to the big time.

Our usage of Youtube has been minor.
Our success with Podcasts insignificant.
Our ebooks on Amazon and iTunes insignificant.
The entire app movement came and went and with the exception of one app that we built as a web-client substitute, we have not been a player.

We remain very SERP and SEO oriented.
Lets look closely at how this is playing out with secular homeschool.

Friday, December 08, 2017

Unsubscribe Button on Gmail - NEW!!!

Prior to the Can SPAM act, email growth and spam was totally out of control.
It seems like since then, there is usually an unsubscribe link hidden at the bottom of most emails.
There's also the mail handler's SPAM button which I guess makes all future emails from them go into the SPAM folder.

But this button is new on Gmail. It's not there all the time but when it is, it's cool:

Are all the emails handlers putting it there? Is it a generic new protocol? If so, I like it. Will everyone have to support it to be bulk emailer and not considered spammy at some point in the new year?

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Joystick Nation: 20 Years Ago

Twenty years ago, I was living in London and running a company called Argonaut Games. It was a wild time, they were an amazing collection of talent and a totally screwed up business. But that business story and the games that we produced (Croc, Legend of the Gobbos), well that's another story.   It was also 1997 which was an exciting time in the tech industry.

One night, I was home reading an email on my Mac and an email - I was on Compuserve for home use back then -  talked about a book about video games. A book called Joystick Nation. So I clicked on a link and had my first big experience with the World Wide Web. I clicked through to Amazon to read a review of the book.  And then on Amazon, I found that I could order the book.  It was written by a lady name J.C. Herz.

I then found that I could actually listen to an interview with the author. I think I needed to download Real Audio or something else that from that era but it worked!  I read an email, clicked thru to find out more about a reference to a book. Read a full review, listened to an interview of the author, and then ordered it online.

Incredible. I even read the book and I think I might have emailed the author. Her email was included in the book. It was the true start of the digital era for me.  Never mind that I had used email since 1988 at SGI, was deeply involved in the 3D synthetic imagery revolution, spoke in the 80s on VR, and was immersed in the video game world. Things actually first connected for me over JC Herz's book.  I think it was Memorial Day weekend back then.

And for those of us that are struggling with FutureShock, check out some vintage education technology from the 20th Century such as filmstrips, record players, and mimeograph machines.

Monday, November 06, 2017

SEO Strategies that the Tool People Don't Tell You

There are many spectacular SEO tools such as SEOMoz, Spyfu, Constructor, BrightEdge and so on and so on. They all treat keywords as commodities that they throw at you sorted by volume or cost or some other area. What they never tell you is how to work with these keywords in an efficient logical way to product valuable content that can be produced cost effectively.

If you are in the K12 education business, you might get a keyword list that is like this:

  • nouns
  • 2nd grade
  • fourth grade worksheets
  • learning games
  • printable worksheets
  • grading systems
  • dyslexia challenges
  • writing practice
  • spelling
  • spelling words
  • word games
  • vocabulary words
  • math facts
  • five paragraph essay
  • reading comprehension
  • compound words
  • 3rd grade arithmetic
  • writing practice
  • geography
  • test prep
  • literacy activities
  • etc etc

I know, I've looked at lists like this for decades. They are not efficient to work with but many SEO workers will try to work with this random data and product chaotic results.

A more efficient way to work is to stare at the data and create some patterns.  Then create content in a systematic organized fashion.  Staring at the above list of keywords, I might decide to write pages as follows:

  • Grade pages:  Kindergarten, first grade, second grade, third grade, etc
  • Subject pages:  Language arts (including grammar, vocabulary, writing, spelling, reading etc), Math etc. These can be divided ever more finely into say, vocabulary types such as parts of speech, 
  • Learning materials: games, worksheets, activities
  • Blog: The mayor of VocabularySpellingCity blogs!

Wednesday, November 01, 2017

Coolest SEO & Marketing automation tools: 2017!

In my little company, I started looking at some software programs that we use in the company and wondered if we should move from players choice to more of a centralized decision.

Take MAS (marketing automation systems) for instance. One large part of the company uses Pardot but only for the B2B part of the company.  I'm not sure what they use for email marketing or lead nurturing into the B2C portion.

The other side of the company uses Drip MAS for presales and has not yet implemented a software system for current customers emails triggered by usage of different sorts. I'm not sure there is a benefit of using a system.

In terms of CRM, the first part of the company uses Salesforce paired with the company Gmail system and DESK for the support function.  The other part of the company has an inhouse home grown system which while finely suited to our tasks, does not have some basic functions that should be added like call tracking, call statistics, and so on.

Should all of these decisions be centralized?

SEO software: Should we use Conductor? "It’s not great content if it’s not getting found. Great content gets lost when you don’t put your customers first."
Or has it been eclipsed by Bright Edge: "Discover what customers want. Optimize the visibility of existing content. Prioritize content creation by forecasting impact on revenue. Create and publish highly optimized content that delights customers. Activate content across every marketing channel."Discover what customers want. Optimize the visibility of existing content. Prioritize content creation by forecasting impact on revenue. Create and publish highly optimized content that delights customers. Activate content across every marketing channel."

This reminds me of a post that I made just about a decade ago:

Use the Right Tool for the Right Job
My dad always would say: "Use the right tool for the right job". It would drive him nuts when he caught me using a screw driver to dig a small hole in the wood - "Use a chisel". Or sometimes when I'd use the wrench to hit something instead of getting up and getting a hammer. I particularly remember his delight in taking out a pair of 18" clamps to hold some glued parts together until they dried properly. My instinct would have been to hold the parts until my hands grew tired and hope that was long enough for it to stick (it rarely was). 

So, I was thinking of Dad in yesterdays product planning meeting....(post from Jan 2008)

Monday, September 25, 2017

Tools for LANs hanging off the WAN

Like all of you, I have an office and a home network. My office network is hopelessly complicated which is fine since we have dedicated professionals managing it.

My home network is trickier since I let my wife organize it and I've long since lost track of how it works and what we got. Yet, sometimes, I get interested in understanding it.

We get internet (and cable and phone) from Comcast across a cable modem.

What's our home address? will give me the WANn address

What ports are open?
I can use to test the ports that I need such as 80 10554 and 8000?

Why does that monitor now show what it's suppose to show?
Maybe it rebooted from the wrong source. Change the source on the side.

How does our cable modem branch out into a LAN, wired and wireless, along with the switch for better connectivity? No idea any more...

First we need to figure out what type of modem so we can login to it.

Then we went into modem and advanced, turning on three ways.

To browse and see it on a browser. . . .

Cable modem enters the house: Then there's a wireless adapter in the modem...and then two wireless router another connected thru a LAN port. There three three Unify Access Points connected by wires. One in office, One to a 8 port switch in closet which connects to two wireless access points: Living room and kids hallway. (Switch is simply a wired connection that multiplex: routers are smart, they route and assign IP addresses)

Friday, September 01, 2017

Marketing to Moms, Professional Level

I run a company with almost 100 people on staff. We market 95% of our services to women, about 80% of that is directly to Moms (the rest is to elementary teachers,  into elementary schools, and school districts). We have millions of customers at this point and they almost all seem to have two X chromosomes. And our products all have to do with the education of their children  and so early on, I decided to become a sophisticated marketer to women and moms.

BTW, as a side note. Much of our business has to do with homeschooling. The largest buyer group for us is mothers. The second largest segment is grandmothers! Fathers are in third place....

My early guru was Maria Bailey of BlueSuitMom. She had written some articles and a book about marketing to moms which I used as guidance as I built my business from nothing (the first three years I was in my living room).  I became hyper conscious of how I or my marketing sounded to women and to moms and became more aware of the tone and the speaker to them and tried to tone down by instinctive ways of talking and communicating.

I still monitor marketing to moms and so I read with interest this mediapost article about marketing to moms.  Reaching Beyond 'Bad Mom' and 'Super Mom' Stereotypes by Stacey Wynia , Columnist. The gist is that:

...brands seem to put us into two categories: “super moms” and “bad moms.” Brands do this as a way to break through the clutter. They show us what we aspire to be on our best day — super mom — and what we succumb to on our worst — bad mom.... can brands can tap into...without having to resort to one of these two extremes?...maybe JOYFUL MOM. 

Clever idea and I think she's onto something. Backing up, I feel and have observed that most marketing to moms latches onto their anxieties. Most moms seem reachable by playing on their anxieties and offering a product or service as a way to address them. (BTW, my company does not take this approach and I resist efforts to play on people's anxieties, just not my style).

And of course, all moms aspire to be joyful mom, to be happy and in the moment and enjoying the beautiful ride that is parenting.

Is "Joyful Mom" really an approach that can be used? In some ways, of course. Selling photography services to capture the joy of the moment. Selling vacations that lead to a lifetime of happy memories. But can a vision of joyful mom be used to sell food? Educational services? And so on? I think it can, I'll think more about it.... BTW, note to self. Start reading this Mediapost column and have marketing staff read it too.

Saturday, August 26, 2017

SEO for Google - August 2017

Here's my understanding. For all the talk of "links are dead", I believe that search engine position is determined by:

  1. Quality and quantity and relevance of incoming links from websites. I believe that these are still slightly over 50% of the battle.
  2. Sites are also lifted by social media such as Twitter and LinkedIn, perhaps Pinterest. I believe the Google bot is still banned from Facebook which would also include Instagram. I'd guess that this is 25% of the battle. 
  3. Engagement. I believe Google spends a lot of effort to measure whether people leave Google and engage with the site or whether they go to the site and stick.  Another 25%.
Of course, this is a bold statement to actually quantify how I think the engine works. I'll keep postulating. 

Increasing Value of Major Authority Sites.  I think that big authority sites used to count a few times more than minor authority sites which counted more than routine sites which counted more than small sites with some history (lets say some respectable links and more than a year of history).  A decade ago, the links from each level up might have been worth 3 times more at each level of authority. I'd now say that it's a full order of magnitude more important.  So today, the value of links from each of these level is worth 10x more than links from the level below. Or maybe it's 100x. My point is that real authority is much more valuable than it use to be:
  • new blog and sites with no real traffic, less than a year, and just a few links: hardly count at al.
  • established sites with some traffic, more than a year of history, and lots of ongoing incoming links
  • small authority sites.
  • Major authority sites.
So many open questions....
  • Do Youtube links count in the web links category or the website category? Or do these distinctions not mean anything at all?
  • Do youtube links from videos with 10x more views count 10x more?  Do Youtube links' value count more based on total views or recent views or comments?
  • Do Twitter links increase in significance based on number of followers of the tweeter? Or by engagement with the tweet?
  • Are the percent of front page "local" info known for each set of searches? Does it change over time?
  • Does Google consider all the blogger blogs to be sort of the same IP address so there's a decreasing value for each blog that links to a site?

Sunday, February 05, 2017

SEO 2017

What are the shocking new realities in SEI?

1. Alexa & Home & other voice activated search are now returning one result. Forget getting on the first page, if you are not number one you are not in the game.

2. Schema are vital. Google wants structured data so they can feature and analyse.  If you are not implementing and updating schema, you are not in the game.

3. Local is now around half of the search results.  Search on many terms, like homeschooling, and over half of the first page are local results. And long gone are the days when you could build pages with regional info or be "nationwide" with clever tricks like fake addresses or PO boxes. Google with their manual reviewers, local post cards, and street view are finding fakers and delisting them.  Be there or not, don't fake it.

4.  There are less results. Now that Google is folding the ads into the same column as the organic results, the first page is a lot shorter.  Number 8 is just barely staying on the second page! Tough on many of us.

5. Mobile is big. Be mobile first or totally responsive. Did I mention blindingly fast? For us who care about elegant technology solutions, it's a vindication.

6. Semantics, not word matching or counting. There was a time when the site with "sex sex sex sex sex" would rate higher for the site that said "sex sex sex." I think that was over in its various forms by 2005. Optimal word density reigned for a half decade after that but still, around 2008-2010, I could see that Google would return different results for "3rd grade math lessons" than for "third grade math lessons."  By 2010, these results were converging.  But now it's 2017, Google has hired about a third of the graduates in computational linguistics, natural language processing, and semantic process engineering and they more often than not, have figured out what pages and queries are about and are matching much more intelligently.

7. Engagement. I'm pretty sure that Google is calculating the bounce rate on sites for different types of queries and using that as a significant input in the algorithm.

8. Unsure about social. Google still isn't clear to me on how they are taking social media input. Does a youtube video with a link to a site (in the description? in the video?) have any impact? What about Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn. I've lost track as to which of these have blocked the Google spiders these days.

What are the other megatrends that you see?

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Snippets in Google Search Results

It's always a challenge to figure out how Google picks the snippets it puts into search results.  Of course, this isn't an academic exercise, the purpose is to build your pages and content and code so that the most user friendly snippets are chosen not in general, but for each specific search.

The reason that I'm interested in this right now is that I do NOT like seeing results which mess up a trademark.  The name of the site, a registered and valuable trademark, is "VocabularySpellingCity" Registered Trademark.  Why is Google often providing: "Spelling City" as a result? Where the heck are they getting this from?

I think the problem is that in grabbing text, there is a statement relating to a site wide logo which reads this way:

<div class='site-logo'><a href='/title='Vocabulary Spelling Cityrel='home'>

Somehow, Google grabs this code and uses it. And since the word "Spelling" appears separated from "VocabularySpellingCity", this opens the door to them grabbing it. BTW, I can't really seem to think through the logic that would have them grabbing that but since this is the only place where I can see that they can find: "Spelling City" written like that, it seems the easiest way forward is to fix this random poor use of our name and see if that ends the problem with the snippet that so annoys me.

BTW, I'm going to use figurative language as a test case.  This seems appropriate since we're looking for a needle in a haystack, it's like one of Hercules tasks. It's an endless battle to keep our site managed in a way that supports Google protocols for being a good white hat site.  Was that enough figurative language for you?


Search on "vocabulary spellingcity"

VocabularySpellingCity | Build Literacy Skills with Vocabulary and ...

build vocabulary, literacy, phonics, & spelling skills with VocabularySpellingCity. Improve vocabulary, a core reading skill, with gamified context-rich.

The homepage result is now 2nd but it appears to the user like this:

Spelling City

build vocabulary, literacy, phonics, & spelling skills with VocabularySpellingCity. Improve vocabulary, a core reading skill, with gamified context-rich.

A search on "figurative language spellingcity" produces:

Figurative Language - Spelling City

Figurative language can be part of reading, writing, comprehension, and vocabulary instruction. Grade-level teachers include similes, metaphors, personification, idioms, and hyperbole in their lesson plans.

A search on "figurative language" produces:

Figurative Language Overview | VocabularySpellingCity

A student who blurts out “I'm so hungry, I could eat a horse!” right before lunch may not realize he or she is using figurative languageFigurative language ...

Monday, June 06, 2016

Online subscription pricing and management

I write a lot so I really like to read books about writing, especially writing style guides. I like them because they need to be "self-exemplifying" - they need to demonstrate the principles that they expound otherwise they have no credibility. For instance, one of the most effective self-exemplifying edicts is: "Avoid unnecessary words!"  

Another might be (and this one is original): "Some repetition for effect is acceptable. Some."

I am far from the first to cite writing style guides as delightfully self-exemplifying.  Steven Pinker's book on writing talks about this in a wonderful way. However, I might be the first to write about whether online marketing service firms are effective at demonstrating the use of effective marketing for their own services. And I'm most likely the first to pursue this into the niche of online marketing firms specialized in pricing of subscription services.  So here goes some original content on subscription pricing services.

Why do I care? I care because  I run an online subscription service that charges $19.95 per month for the first child. The second child is discounted. It's only $14.95. Same for third or fourth or fifth children, their subscriptions are only $15.95 each per child.

We did some analysis. We found that we have a disproportionate number of single child families. Or at least, we don't have the statistically representative number of families with lots of kids. So now we are studying subscription pricing. Here's some potential help that we've discovered:

  1. Zuroa
  2. ConversionXL
  3. slides
  4. White paper on subscription pricing
  5. Google "subscription pricing strategy" for a gold mine of ideas...
  6. Price bee or something 

I Pop Up in Peace
I Pop Up in Peace

As best I can tell,, Zuroa has a subscription middleware platform that supports companies with subscription business models. It's a billing platform, an A:B multivariate testing technology, an integrated credit card processor, and a bunch of other things too...

Zuora is a subscription management platform that spans across commerce, billing, and finance. - See more at:

 Zuora has been enabling the Subscription Economy by building the next generation commerce platform. Zuora’s subscription management software has enabled 21st century businesses around the world from startups to enterprises in any industry to launch and monetize any subscription products and services.

There's also ConversionXL. They have articles like this: When it comes to subscription product pricing, you’re not just guessing…are you? A while ago, an HBR study famously claimed that a 1% improvement in price would increase operating profit by 11%, making it the most effective thing you can tweak for increased business performance. Pricing is important. It’s also one of the most difficult Ps of marketing for folks to wrap their heads around. It can be one of the more technical aspects of marketing. Then, when you bring subscription pricing models into the mix, things get even more complex. First Thing’s First: How Do You Determine Value and Price?

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Prefer to Suck at Optimization?

I thought this was a hysterical choice. Get free book to master the essentials. Or to suck at it.

Master the Essentials of Conversion Optimization

Learn how the pros do it. 
Get our ebook for free.

Get free ebook
I prefer to Suck at Optimization

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Relevant Selling

I had a small disagreement with my wife this morning which is why I'm doing something that I know will not be productive. I'm trying to
cull some books from my bookshelves. At least it's unlikely to be productive in the ways that she thinks it will be.

This is why I'm sitting on a bright Sunday morning on a stool in the corner browsing through Relevant Selling by Jaynie L. Smith. The inscription page has a handwritten note: "To John, Best Wishes, Jayne L. Smith."  I went to the back cover and stared at a picture hoping for a flash of recognition or remembrance.  But, my memory is now pretty reliable about dishing up...nothing. At least she is (are memories feminine?) when I'm trying to remember something.

Relevant Selling  makes the point that must of us in business sell somewhat blindly with little to no real understanding of what matters most to our customers. In fact, she states that most companies don't even have an internal consensus on what matters most to their target audience never mind having an internal hierarchy of customer concerns that aligns with customer reality.

This Relevant Selling book seems to me to be dead-on.  

There's one chapter that points out that prospects and customers have different criteria which I would also agree with. In our business where we sell  annual subscriptions to our website and app to elementary schools to help their students build vital vocabulary skills, the keys to retention are clearly different than the keys to acquiring customers.  

I guess my wife is going to get some success from this exercise after all. I'm going to take Relevant Selling to the office and pass it around. 

Bottom line: One book culled from the home library for my wife, one more post on one of my many blogs for me, and a new set of ideas to inject into the already overwhelmed set of priorities of my staff.  And since I'm so pleased with this little post, I'll probably now spend a few minutes giving it some social media attention.

Jaynie, you out there?  BTW, I have a 70 person company right here in Ft Lauderdale.

Perhaps she was the speaker who talked one evening at a alumni event about sales (and then management skills and personal issues) simplifying down all the four quadrant stuff down to a simple continuum which was was so powerful and relevant that about a third of the business audience had quivering voices as they gave personal testimonials about the insight that it was giving them on their own sales and professional persona?  If not, who was that speaker? I've been looking to find here and bring her into my office.

Or what she the Big Breakfast speaker who talked so effectively about getting us to get serious about understanding our customers. I suspect the latter.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

SEO 2016: What's Hot?

These six points are worth remembering as we write for SEO on our resource and game pages:

I'll summarize;

1. Be thorough, write a lot. 1900 words is the average page winning on Google. Put lots of paragraphs on SEO pages, perhaps folded into open/closing paragraphs.

2. Links are key. Keep getting them.  I think anchor text pointing to the page matters a lot.

3.  Schema: minor, don't worry about it.

4.  Don't stuff. I'm adding: DO write with content vocabulary.

Bad description: "While sometimes confusing, figurative language can often be powerful and illustrative" - Google won't find much here to go on.

Good meta description: "Figurative language, such as metaphors and similes and personifications, can make your writing more powerful"  - Lots of contet vocabulary there and it starts with the keyword!

I'm also adding: each page gets a unique meta description and meta keywords

5. Site speed matters!!!!

6.  Reduce your bounce rate, increase time on site.

I'm adding:
- responsive matters
- local addresses matter
- social media matters
- grouping of pages into a cluster on a common topic matters. And google can think in n dimensions. A figurative language page can be part of multiple clusters by both linking and content such as:
    - literary writing: similes, metaphors, reading, writing, personification
     - education and standards, classes, schools, students, teachers, grades, educational standards, CCSS etc
   - grade level 

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Facebook Shares: Strategically Done

Like many, I have sites cluttered up by social media icons. They don't give very impressive results.
I have long dreamed of doing this well.
Is this a good example of a well designed Facebook share following registration for an EventBrite event?

awesome Facebook Share
awesome Facebook Share