Monday, April 30, 2007

Jim Shulman looks back to look ahead

posted by Andy Leff
Remember my incredible luck when it comes to door prizes? Well, I'm equally fortunate when it comes to finding interesting people to interview.

On today's podcast menu: Jim Shulman, a local Philadelphia-area businessman, and the president of Marketing Results. We met him at the Main Line Chamber of Commerce's “Web-based Business Discussion: Build Your Own Business” event last month.

In this interview, Jim discusses how small businesses still have major business needs, and how Web-based companies are facing similar challenges that other new business sectors (i.e. catalogs) faced when they started to hit the big time. Listen, learn, and pass along!

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Show us the Wray

posted by Andy Leff
Meet Steven Wray. He's the Executive Director of the Economy League of Greater Philadelphia, a nearly 100-year-old organization focused on making the region more prosperous.

He leads a powerful board of directors made up of influential business leaders from around the region, all of whom pursue a number of initiatives, including accelerating minority business development.

We first met Wray at the CCPA event in February (the same event that gave us Krista Bard and Thomas Morr), and followed up with him to get his thoughts on the past, present, and future of the local economy, and how businesses can play a role going forward.

I won't give away the store here, so check out Wray's podcast for the big picture.

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Thursday, April 26, 2007

Lucky 13: Tips for a winning e-mail campaign

posted by Andy Leff
Getting your business off and running requires reaching out to the masses, and letting them know you exist. How do you do this, you ask? Through a solid marketing campaign.

And in today’s Web 2.0 world, an e-mail marketing campaign is the best course of action. It’s the most convenient and effective way to drive customers to your site.

To put you on the right course, I’m offering 13 tips for putting together a can’t miss e-mail marketing campaign that's sure to heat up your ROI.

1. Set appropriate goals.

Before putting the campaign into motion, make sure you identify the goals for your campaign by asking yourself the following questions:

Are you selling a product or service? Do you want to bring people to your Web site or an Internet-specific destination? Do you want to increase traffic in a brick-and-mortar store? Are you offering coupons or special promotional deals? Are you trying to get potential customers to sign up for a newsletter?

Asking yourself these questions will dictate the direction and messaging that your campaign needs to follow. Your main goal is to produce results and get people to respond to your e-mail by asking for more information. Make sure your goals allow for people to feel not bombarded, but instead walked through a process that is simple, yet leaves them wanting more.

2. Set a reasonable response-rate goal.

The chances of reaching double-digit response rates are slim, so a response rate in the lower half of single-digit numbers is pretty good. Don’t be discouraged if only one or two percent respond. Those are decent industry-standard response rates. Remember, you will have the opportunity to follow up with those respondents, and potentially start long-lasting relationships.

3. Know what you're buying.

If you’re planning to purchase e-mail lists from third parties, make sure you’re buying what you want. Many services do not check if e-mails are still active, yet charge you for their use anyway.

Ask the e-mail provider if their information is for sale or for rent. There is a big difference between the two. If the information is for sale, you obviously can reuse the e-mail addresses over and over again.

The charge per e-mail is usually a bit higher than if the e-mail is rented. When it is rented, you have no control over who receives the e-mail being sent out. All you receive is an invoice from the company saying they sent 5,000 e-mails out on your behalf -- but you don't know who that is.

4. Resist the shotgun approach.

In other words, don’t send e-mails for the sake of sending e-mails. It is ineffective and costly. If you can’t pinpoint a target audience, then re-evaluate your marketing strategy. A shotgun approach will drastically diminish your ROI.

5. Write great copy.

Your audience doesn’t want to receive e-mails or letters with bad grammar or spelling errors. It’s unprofessional, and will likely be discarded. Put yourself in your customer’s shoes. If spelling errors abound, then your message goes straight to the spam folder.

Keep your copy short and to the point. You don’t want the reader guessing what you’re offering, or have any doubt about what your message is. The average reader’s attention span is already short. Just think how many long e-mails you like to read. And attention spans get even shorter when the e-mail is coming from someone people might not already have a relationship with.

Don’t bore them with every detail. Hit them with the most important facts, and make sure they make sense. Use short paragraphs consisting of three short sentences.

One- or two-word sentences work well. For example, Sign up, Buy, and Save. The word free also will get people to respond. Who doesn’t like free stuff? Even if the free stuff you’re offering is limited to a report, people will want it, simply because it's free.



Instead, keep your text on a conversational and informal level. You want the recipient to feel comfortable with you, and not feel they are being force-fed propaganda, which they are. But if you follow these tips, they won’t think they are.

7. Give a call to action.

Make sure you have a proper call to action in the first two or three sentences of your e-mail. Describe what you’re offering in the most concise way possible. Make sure the prospective new customer knows how to reach you. Do they visit your Web site? Do they respond to this e-mail? Do they call you on the phone?

Include all of this in the beginning of your pitch. Like I said before, don’t leave the reader guessing, or they will get frustrated and move on.

8. Set deadlines and termination dates for the product or service you offer.

Even if you extend those dates, or don’t have drop-dead dates at all, people don’t want to miss out on special deals. If they feel that they have a limited time to act, the rate of impulse buying goes up.

9. Offer plain text.

If you are sending an e-mail with graphics in an HTML format, also offer a plain text format in the message. Some e-mail browsers will not display HTML-based e-mails. And nothing is worse than spending the time, money, and effort on a campaign that some recipients can’t read.

If you have pictures and other interactive features in your e-mail, make sure the file size does not get unwieldy. Nobody is going to download any e-mail from someone they don’t already know and trust.

Save the file attachments and PowerPoint presentations to follow up e-mails once you receive a positive response from an e-mail recipient.

10. Let recipients unsubscribe.

Don’t forget to have a way for recipients to unsubscribe from your list. If there is no way to unsubscribe and a recipient gets e-mails from you every day, you will be flagged as spam. This increases your company's chances of ending up on a spam list, and blocked from e-mail services such as Google or Yahoo! Mail.

11. Test, test, test.

Don’t roll out your campaign until you test it. Send the e-mail to all of your coworkers. Set up e-mails in different types of e-mail services so you can verify that all of the elements described above are correct, and that your message is in fact what you want it to be. Get everyone’s feedback, and implement the appropriate changes.

12. Track, track, track.

Make sure you can track your e-mail results and responses. Otherwise you can’t calculate your ROI and figure out if the campaign was successful and worth doing again.

An easy way to track responses is to direct that e-mail to a Web site that only recipients of the e-mail can access. Then you only have to track the views you get on that specific Web page.

13. Grow your bottom line.

Obviously, the whole point of an e-mail campaign is to accomplish something that grows your company’s bottom line in some way.

To do this, follow up with any respondents' questions or responses you receive from the e-mail campaign. If a customer has to wait a week to hear back from you, they will lose interest. You want to keep the prospect hot and thinking about your offer.

Also, follow up quickly, and have your follow-up tailored to the question or response the e-mail recipient poses.

Follow these steps, and you’ll be able to match the right customers with your business -- and reap greater profit in the process.

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Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Mayor of Lumberton on line 1

posted by Andy Leff
We're on a roll with podcast interviews this week. This time, we grabbed the ear (and mouth) of Patrick Delany, mayor of Lumberton, N.J.

Why Lumberton? I seem to remember a recent news story that put the white-collar town of 12,000 people on the e-commerce map: eBay named Lumberton its most active community of buyers and sellers in America, on a per capita basis.

You're probably thinking, "Wait ... Lumberton, N.J.??" That's right, folks. Over 46,000 eBay listings originated from Lumberton during three weeks in November, and over 3,000 residents are members. And most of those are small businesses and individuals operating out of their homes.

As online biz junkies, we had to get the mayor on the line, and ask him just what it is about Lumberton that makes it such a happenin' eBay community.

But that's not all we talked about. I learned a of couple personal things about Mayor Delany, too. But if you want to hear it all, you gotta listen to the interview. Curtains, please!

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Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Blogging 101: Back to basics

posted by Andy Leff
Over 70 million blogs now populate the blogosphere, and thousands more are started every day. Some are successful. Others are not. But all have become an integral part of many people's daily lives.

And if they haven't yet, they should be. Yes, I obviously drink the blogging Kool-Aid. But I believe blogs will soon become an unavoidable tenet of online life, so everyone should be clued in.

To that end, I have taken a step back from my usual level of blogging advice, and developed five guidelines for blogging beginners. (If you're more intermediate, check out last month's post on making your blog pop.) Here goes:

1. Blogs are easy to understand, and even easier to start.

A blog is like an online journal, or weblog (the origin of the word blog), where you write your thoughts about anything. However, this journal has no lock and key, and is wide open to the public.

Getting started takes minimal effort. All you need is a blog template, which you can download for free from sites such as Blogger or Typepad. Once you choose your template, you can customize the colors and design to reflect your personal Web site, current mood, corporate branding, or however the spirit moves you.

2. Pick your passion.

Now that you have a workable template, what's next? Write about a topic that draws out your creativity and passion. It's easy for anyone to write about their day, but who out there really wants to read an hour-by-hour account of your life, starting with what you ate for breakfast last Thursday morning? Even if that breakfast was amazing, I guarantee no reader will be as excited as you.

Once you find your peg, blog daily. Also, make sure your writing skills are up to par, your message is clear, and your thoughts make sense. If you type blog posts with enthusiasm, that relish will rub off on your audience, and actively involve them in reading and commenting on your posts. Which brings me to my next guideline ...

3. Cultivate your audience.

Let’s tackle where to find an audience. Web 2.0 has created an abundance of new technologies that help bloggers network and build followers. Look for readers on social networks such as MyBlogLog, Technorati, Digg, and MySpace.

These sites are free to use, and paves a path toward meeting people with common interests. If you interact with them on these sites, they will interact with you on your blog. Through it all, remember blogging's golden rule: Create something of value for your readers, or they will not return.

4. Sidestep common stumbling blocks.

There are a couple issues many new bloggers encounter. One is information disclosure. Always remember that your blog is a public journal, so any information that you put out there can be read by thousands of people. As such, don't post any information you wouldn't share with the average Joe.

An important subset: Avoid blogging about your job. Blogs' universal access means that if you're griping about your boss or belittling a coworker, your chances of being discovered increase.

The second problem is lack of direction. If you use your blog to talk about the rainforest, then talk about the rainforest -- not the score of the Yankees game from the night before. Scatterbrained blogs turn readers off.

The last issue is accepting criticism. Many bloggers become uncomfortable when people critique their blog, and simply give up writing. Imagine if you did that in the offline world -- you'd eventually have nothing left to do or talk about! The fun part about blogging is that you can start an online debate, and embrace feedback and criticism. It can only help you and your blog grow.

5. Reap blogging's benefits.

Believe me, blogs are awesome. Here's why. They open the door to meeting new people in your daily life, seeing where readers come from, and hearing what they have to say.

And the feedback you get from your readers will expand your own horizons and thinking process. View your blog and other blogs as a place to learn more about yourself and your community. Plus, blogs get you to do research on the Internet, and explore new avenues that might have intimidated you before.

Blogs can even be a source of revenue. You can place Google AdWords or other advertising on your blog, and get paid for it. That way, you are not only writing and sharing your thoughts with tons of people, you're making a couple of bucks on the side. And if your blog becomes really popular, you can take blogging on as a full-time job.

So if you're a total blogging neophyte, or are on the fence about starting one, I hope I've shown you it's not as intimidating as you originally feared. Sure, blogging takes some elbow grease, but it's also FUN. And the rules for it are still being written, so it's the perfect opportunity to leave your digital mark.


OK Godin!

posted by Andy Leff
For owners of mid-sized to large businesses, Seth Godin needs no introduction. But how many small business owners have heard of him? I'm betting not many. But that's about to change.

Seth Godin is one of the top bloggers emeriti in the blogosphere. He's the author of The Dip (out May 10), in addition to many other bestsellers about business, marketing, and blogging. And as if this doesn't keep him busy enough, he's also the founder of Squidoo.

Many of America's most successful organizations take Seth's advice. Now he has turned his attention to small business, and is offering up his own unique counsel for achieving marketing success online.

We've closely followed Seth's work in this area, and we think it's important to help him bring it to the forefront. That's why we've got him on podcast. Give him a listen, and in 20 minutes, you'll know why so many people are searching for Godin.

We also encourage you to download Seth and take him with you. Send him to friends. Or leave comments and questions for him here.

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Friday, April 20, 2007

The pay-per-click pay-off

posted by Seun Olubodun
Humble apologies, IncPlace readers! Andy got caught up in MySpace, so I'm picking up where he left off yesterday. Hopefully we haven't disappointed you too much. Now onward with the pay-per-click show!

Like Andy stated in his other post, pay-per-click (PPC) is one of the most popular and efficient ways to advertise online. And we have a few words of wisdom to get you started on a successful PPC campaign:

Make sure you have a well thought-out budget. Figure out how much money one new customer is worth to you, and then bid accordingly. This also helps you determine your ROI.

Don’t get caught up in the auction hype. Many people lose sight of their budget, and bid ridiculous amounts because they want their ad listed in the No. 1 slot. If you figure out how much money a new customer is worth to you, then you should have no problem bidding accordingly. And you'll be able to keep your costs under control.

Consider the low-hanging fruit. Just like Andy's SEO advice, having the No. 1 keyword might not be the best route. Pick some second-tier keywords; they might be more useful, cheaper, and still generate an effective PPC campaign.

Experiment. If you're unsure of what keywords are first-tier, second-tier, and so one, or what's going to get you better traffic, run test ads. Create a few ads using different keywords, and limit the number of times people can click it.

This way, you won’t be out of pocket too much. Plus, if you see that the second-tier keywords generate more traffic, and your click allowance depleted faster, you know that keyword is a good one to go with.

Likewise, buy keywords on second-tier search engines or ad platforms. Yes, Google and Yahoo!'s traffic is amazing, but you're paying for it. If you take our first piece of advice, you should know your maximum price for customer acquisition. Second-tier engines might let you to get that price, and still bring sufficient traffic to your site.

Take that a step further and look at it from an SEO standpoint. Your site will gain more traffic and activity, effectively making it more desirable in the larger search engines rankings. So for pennies on the dollar, you get the traffic you want, and you get SEO’d at the same time -- a win for you, and your business.

Use multiple ad platforms to display ads. If you find second-tier ad platforms work, spread your ads among the different networks to gain the most exposure for your ad.

Make your ads diverse. All of the ads you create do the same thing: They take people to your Web site. So the more ads you have, the more opportunity you create for people to click your ad and be directed to your Web site.

If you sell several different products, create an ad for each product, and use lesser-known keywords. For example, if you have a hardware store, don’t advertise your hardware store. Make separate ads for “new hammers”, or “latest power tools to hit the market.” This way, you'll have an army of ads working for you cheaply.

Target your ads by region. If you're selling a local service, geo-target your ad using an advertising application. It will look at which city or geographic area people are searching from, and display your ad only when someone from that area searches for the type of service you offer.

This really helps ROI because you won't get someone in Australia clicking on your ad for plumbing services in New York.

Create well-designed landing pages. Make sure your landing page -- the Web page the ad directs people to -- clearly displays the information that will guarantee the close of a sale. This information includes call-to-action text and links to contact the company.

The last thing you want to do is direct a potential customer to the wrong page, and make them figure out where to go to buy the product or service. I can guarantee they will leave the site immediately, and you won't be able to get your money back from the wasted click.

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MySpace: About to kick the bucket?

posted by Andy Leff
MySpace's impromptu decision last week to disable Photobucket's capabilities for its users has caused quite a stir in the blogosphere. So I thought it was time to give my two cents on the matter.

Faithful readers know I pull no punches when it comes to MySpace (see evidence here). And this latest move by the social networking giant solidifies my latest theory: This is the beginning of the end for MySpace.

Yes, I know that with 170 million users, MySpace must be doing something right. But therein lies their downfall. The reason MySpace is where it is today is because it gave people what they didn’t have elsewhere -- total control.

If you have an open community where users control their environment, you cannot ban services the community wants to use. In the case of MySpace, the demographic is so fickle that they will leave the site if they can't use their preferred tools to create and update their pages. And the niche social networks that do allow for users to control their environment will clean house.

From a business standpoint, however, I understand MySpace's perspective. They have the right to make changes that affect their bottom line. But remember, their bottom line is directly attached to their fickle user base -- a classic Catch-22. So it'll be interesting to see if users leave MySpace over the Photobucket debacle, and where they make their next online home.

In the meantime, if you are looking to become one of these new niche sites, GogaOM offers some advice on how to avoid MySpace's current scenario.

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Thursday, April 19, 2007

Go where the eyeballs are

posted by Andy Leff
Yes, eyeballs are in your head. But they're also on the Web. And no one knows this better than advertisers.

Online advertising is growing by leaps and bounds. It's already a multibillion dollar industry, and expanding at double-digit rates every year.

The reason, of course, is that everyone is online these days. They're either blogging, chatting, meeting people, searching for information, conducting business, shopping, and whatever else people like to do with their computers and an Internet connection.

And like loyal bloodhounds, advertisers follow. Then more advertisers pick up the scent, and so on. This means businesses that don't advertise online will struggle to make profits while their competition -- who uses the Internet to market -- slowly steals away their market share.

But don't freak out yet. I have a three-letter answer: "PPC."

They stand for pay-per-click, the most efficient, easiest, and popular way to advertise online these days.

In order to get started with a PPC advertising campaign, you have to understand exactly what it is, and how to budget for it. (Refer to my post on SEO, as some of these ideas overlap.)

In a nutshell, PPC is keyword advertising. You know the list of "sponsored links" that appears on the side of your screen when you do a Google search? Those are PPC ads. You might see PPC ads on other search engines, too, such as Yahoo! and MSN.

That's the short explanation. The more detailed explanation can get a bit complicated, so stay with me here. Advertisers bid on keywords they think people would type when searching for them, their competitors, or information related to their business.

For example, a real estate lawyer would bid on keywords such as "real estate lawyer" or "real estate law." Other real estate lawyers are probably bidding on the same words.

Then when someone searches for a keyword, ads by the top five to 10 advertisers that won the bidding on that keyword appear on the search results page. The ads are ranked by the amount of the bid, with the highest bidders landing on top.

When people click the ad, they're taken to the advertiser's Web site. The advertiser pays the keyword bid price when someone clicks their ad.

Here's where PPC can get expensive. Some top keywords might go for up to $15 a click, while others for pennies. It all depends on the popularity of the keyword ("real estate lawyer" would be more expensive than, say, "condominium lawyer in Philadelphia"), and where your ad falls on the sponsored link list.

But even something that sounds cheap, like 25 cents, can actually get quite expensive. Here’s how:

1. Your keyword makes the top of the list for a quarter.
2. You ad shows up every time someone searches Google with that keyword.
3. Google gets millions of page views a day.
4. Millions of people can potentially see your ad.
5. They click it, and you get charged a quarter each time.
6. Before you know it, you owe Google thousands of dollars.

This might not be bad if you have the budget for it, but you have to make sure you can effectively calculate your ROI. PPC ads work best if you have a product for sale directly on your page. It's easy to track how many clicks you got, and then how many sales occurred in a time period.

However, if you're a service-based company, people might just click to your site, surf around and not use you. You're still charged for the click, making it much harder to calculate your ROI.

Also something to keep in mind: When you buy PPC ad space, you have to create your own ads. Whether it's coming up with unique copy for your text-based ad, or making a flash-based ad, the time and money investment is yours.

There are companies that can assist in developing ad copy for you, but this can get expensive, too. If you use one, you're not just paying for the clicks, but also the creation of your ad. That needs to be factored into your ROI as well.

So where do you go from here? I'm all typed-out for now, so that, my fellow bloggers, is the story of tomorrow! Check back then for my advice on developing an effective PPC campaign.

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Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Web 2.0, what art thou?

posted by Andy Leff
I blog a lot about Web 2.0, but have I ever really defined it for you?

This piece by Erika Morphy in E-Commerce Times discusses the various "definitions" of Web 2.0. And it got me thinking: What would I say if a reporter stuck a mic in my face, and asked me for an on-the-spot definition of Web 2.0?

I'd say Web 2.0 is a movement within well-established technology, not a replacement for it. It's an evolutionary step in the way media and information is shared and provided day-to-day.

In fact, the Web 2.0 movement is much like the Industrial Revolution. Back then, business practices became easier and more streamlined, leading to massive industrial growth. The same thing is happening on the Web. The technology is becoming more accessible, making it easier for people to get on board and build their businesses.

Yet, despite this revolutionary change, the Internet is still the Internet, just as business is still business. Methods and approaches adapt, but the overall concept stays the same.

To that end, Web 2.0 will eventually take on a new form and definition, as people learn new skills to navigate the online world, and reinvent existing technology to make the Web easier and more progressive.

With that said, here's my definition of Web 2.0 (as of today): a technology revolution aided by the public and their enthusiasm to share ideas.

Now where are all those mics???

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Monday, April 16, 2007

Bloggers rule -- by not imposing any

posted by Andy Leff
Remember last week's blogosphere brouhaha with Tim O'Reilly's call for a blogger code of conduct? You knew it was only a matter of time before I chimed in ...

Coming up with rules for blogging defeats the purpose of blogging altogether. What is that purpose? To have an online journal where you can express whatever you want, about whatever you want, whenever you want -- similar to how a 13-year-old girl keeps a diary.

Besides, last time I checked we could say what we wanted under the First Amendment. Putting conduct rules in place online would, in effect, limit that constitutional right.

Don't get me wrong -- it's terrible that Kathy Sierra, blogger and friend of O'Reilly's, received a death threat at her site (the catalyst, incidentally, for this entire uproar). But at its most basic level, how is that message different than receiving a death threat via the post office?

Any law-abiding citizen knows that sending a death threat is illegal. Just because it came in the form of a blog comment doesn’t mean we should put restrictions on blogs. After all, we're not shutting down the U.S. Postal Service when threats are mailed.

Yet O'Reilly proposed similar restrictions last week. Among them:

  • Bloggers adopt a finished version of the code, and adorn their Web sites with an icon of a sheriff's badge bearing the words "civility enforced."

  • Bloggers averse to behavior rules can mark their Web sites with an icon of a stick of dynamite with a lit fuse and the words "anything goes."

Just think if you had to post these stupid little icons on your blog about your business or product. If someone writes a bad comment, you immediately discredit your blog -- and potentially scare away new customers -- by placing a dynamite icon in the corner.

The correct response: Deleting the offensive comment (if you have a transparent policy about monitoring blog content), ignoring it, or using it as a springboard for constructive online discussion -- the true purpose of blogging's open structure.

Instating a blogger code of conduct makes extra work where it's not needed or wanted. Such suggestions only remind me of overzealous, fanatical book burnings and literature bans from our early history -- essentially, a whole lot of fuss over a whole lot of nothing.

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Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Detroit loves my face

posted by Andy Leff
At least, the Detroit Free Press does, as demonstrated in Carol Cain's terrific article about blogs as marketing tools.

Yes, those are my blogging tips in the sidebar. Yes, those are my quotes in the article. And yes, that's the reason my head swelled to such ginormous proportions that the paper had to print an equally humongous picture of me. (It gets bigger with each click, too.)

Anyway, please let me know if the tools mentioned in the article are helpful for you and your business. I love a good success story, so post 'em here when you get 'em.

Who knows ... we might even spin your story out into a post, and feature YOUR huge smiling face on IncPlace! That alone is worth a comment.

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The secrets to a vital viral video

posted by Andy Leff

We all receive viral videos like this in our Inbox that make us yell, "Holy #$%@*, that's insane!" Then, like the good Internet soldiers we are, we pass it on to our friends and colleagues, with the subject line "Check this out! It's crazy!"

Thus enters the "viral" part of viral videos. But what makes us furiously forward one video, and instantly delete another?

In my experience, those that click are over-the-top and unexpected, rather than simply clever. Think about it: You're more likely to forward a viral video of someone surviving a plane jump after their parachute doesn't open, than, say, those "Priceless" Mastercard ads.

My point is, people like to see shocking things that leave them in disbelief. And for businesses looking to get their own viral video going, your efforts should be just as bold.

The good news is you don't have to have a slick Hollywood production to accomplish this. Plenty of videos on YouTube and other video sites are very low-budget, yet pack the shock appeal that makes them go viral.

So it's unnecessary to hire a huge production company to make the video. Leave that to the big boys who are making “clever” video spots. Instead, go to a local college campus’s film school to find students interested in filming something over a day or weekend.

This approach ensures you get people who want to create a good video for their film school portfolio, while building their name recognition. And film school students are bastions of creativity, just waiting to create that one totally original masterpiece -- a hunger many big production companies lack.

And remember, the content of your video doesn’t necessarily have to do with your product, service, or business. Just create something outrageous that gets a great reaction. Then all you have to do is tie it in loosely with your messaging at the end of the video.

If you must show your product, do something preposterous! How many of us have seen those "Will it Blend?" videos on YouTube? And how many check back to see what will be chopped and pureed next? This one outrageous idea gets people excited every time a new video gets released. If people are excited, your company’s bottom line will get excited, too.

Speaking of bottom line, make sure you flash your company name, message, and Web site address at the video's conclusion. The purpose of these videos is to drive traffic back to you, increasing your exposure and revenue. It would be a shame to have a video with a million views, yet people have no clue where it came from.

And lastly, don’t be boring. Might seem obvious, but it's amazing how often entertainment value is overlooked. Many people tell me they made a video showing off their product and its benefits, then wonder why they don’t get any traction. The answer is simple: The video is not unique or engaging. It's more like sitting in a classroom, or at a dentist's office.

Once your video is complete, make sure you post it everywhere. Set up accounts on sites such as YouTube, MySpace, Metacafe, Revver, and Google Video.

Then tell all your friends and e-mail contacts about it. The more comments and views these videos generate, the higher they go in the rankings (see yesterday's post on SEO). And some sites, like Revver, will even pay you when your video goes viral. This is the ultimate win-win situation -- getting paid for gaining exposure!

So grab your camera (or film student), and put that one big idea into action. Who knows? You may end up being the next Diet Coke and Mentos phenomenon. After all, 1.5 million views ain't too shabby.

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Tuesday, April 10, 2007

9 things to know about SEO

posted by Andy Leff
Got a Web site and no visitors? Don't despair, my fellow tech friends, Andy Leff is here to the rescue!

One reason you don't have any visitors might be that your site it boring and ugly. But I never had a flair for color coordination, so if that's your problem, I'm not your man.

I am your man, however, if your site is not optimized. An un-optimized site is often the reason for low traffic. The good news is, it's easy to fix.

The process is called search engine optimization, or SEO. This means making your Web site accessible to search engines to improve the chances that they'll find it. The more easily they can find your site, the higher it appears on search engines' results page. And that means more people will see your site and click the link to it.

You might already be familiar with SEO. If not, check out Wikipedia's SEO entry before reading further. And if you are, I'll add one blog to your must-read list: Search Engine Land. It's chock-full of great SEO info, tips, and news.

In either event, no post is complete without my two cents -- or in this case, nine. Here are my top pieces of unsolicited advice for optimizing your Web site:

  1. Structure your site properly, code it cleanly, and use necessary keywords. This is the most important way to optimize your site. Sites that have the proper architecture in place and are not slapped together have a better chance of getting picked up by the major search engines. Also, putting keywords throughout your site lets search engines “crawl” it, and pick up on relevant terms. However, it's important that you don't overdo it. If a search engine's algorithms interpret your site as a keyword hog, it will pass it by.

  2. Link your site to other sites. Not only does this increase traffic to your site, but search engines also pick up on the number of times people link to and from your site. This boosts your rankings.

  3. Submit your site to the major search engines. This way your site is indexed to them. Make sure to submit to these three main search engines: Yahoo, Google, and MSN.

  4. Add lots of text. The more text on your site, the better. Remember, though, text within Flash-based components of a site won't help you much. This text is not accessible to the search engine site crawlers, and will not get picked up. So yes, Flash looks cool, but it won’t help you boost your search rankings.

  5. Sneak in keywords. If you have a tab navigation-based site, there are a couple ways to sneak in keywords that will get picked up. First, make sure the tabs are text-based and not Flash-based. Second, if you use dropdown menus, you can add more text to them without taking up too much space. A great example can be found on the homepage. Mouse over the tabs, and you'll see a box appear full of text links that take you to different parts of the site. All of these links are in effect more keywords, and more keywords means better site optimization. This is a sneaky way to overdo the keywords without being penalized by the search engines.

  6. Make sure all your site headers and footers are text-based and not strictly image-based. Again, more text equals more text for search engines to crawl and pick up keywords.

  7. Sign up for different online communities, and add their links to your site. For example, set up a MySpace page for your business, and link it to back to your site. This can be done very easily by adding a link to your Web site in the 'about me' section of MySpace. Personal MySpace pages take precedence over other pages in Google and Yahoo search rankings, so this is a good way to get optimized and bring people to your site.

  8. Blog regularly. Search engines also look for high site activity. Set up your blog on your personal Web site if possible. When you create a blog post, it creates more text and pages on your site -- another surefire way to get ranked higher.

  9. Engage an outside firm. If all of this sounds too complicated to do on your own, there are many companies who can do it for you. Just be aware that many SEO options carry a big budget with them. If you engage an SEO firm, ask yourself:

  • What keywords are most important for my site to be optimized for?

  • What keywords are the low hanging fruit that I can optimize for? (Chances are, if major companies appear in the top 10 search engine results, it's going to take a lot of time and money to dethrone them, if it is even possible.)

  • What will it cost me to do this, and is the ROI worth it?

Keep in mind that an SEO campaign is not instant. Many people think that the first day they sign up for one, their page is automatically launched to the top of the rankings. In reality, it can take up to 18 months to start seeing results, depending on all the issues I brought up in this post.

If your SEO representative tells you they can have you optimized for search in a day or a week, they're probably lying to you, don't really know what they're doing, or just want the business. Be patient!

Another money-saving tip is to start small. Place some second-tier keywords on your site, and see if they bring you more traffic. It would be a shame if you decide to use big established keywords, and you gain no traffic from it. Then you're out a ton of money for no good reason.

SEO is not for everyone. There are so many keywords and variations thereof, that it's impossible to be optimized for everything. If your goal is to do something broad, then you better hope your investors have an equally expansive bank account.


Monday, April 9, 2007

Select Greater Philadelphia selects IncPlace

posted by Andy Leff
Thank you, Select Greater Philadelphia, for sharing the link love!

Here's the power of blogging at work, folks. We interview influential community leader Thomas Morr. We turn the interview into a podcast. And Tom, in turn, highlights our post link on his organization's site. Pretty sweet stuff.

In other posting news, we'll be putting up our podcast with business consultant Sandra Wilks later this week, plus sharing need-to-know tips on search engine optimization and viral video production. Stay tuned!

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Friday, April 6, 2007

Internet: What's the point?

posted by Andy Leff
Call me officially dumbfounded. I thought I’d seen it all until I came across this article, which reports that one-third of U.S. households aren’t connected to the Web -- and don’t plan to be.

I'd love to start a conversation with this one-third, and find out why they don't see the value in the Internet. But since they're not online, this would be a one-sided conversation, and I have enough of those as it is.

Of course, there will always be some who aren’t connected because they can’t afford it. But even that's slowly dissolving as an excuse (see today's earlier podcast with the guys from Wireless Philadelphia for proof).

I believe that those who can afford it, yet don’t connect, will regret it in the long run. Case in point: It’s becoming increasingly harder -- if not impossible -- to advance your career by combing through the newspaper.

Classifieds sections are being crucified by Craigslist, Monster, and CareerBuilder, to name but a few of the hundreds of online jobs sites out there. I predict that five years from now, all job searches will be conducted solely online.

And once major cities begin to follow Philadelphia’s lead and implement area-wide WiFi, I’ll bet many people will wonder how they ever lived their life without the Web.

But I’m preaching to the converted, aren’t I? ;-)

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Say hi to Philly WiFi

posted by Andy Leff
Unless you've been living under a rock for the last three years, you know that Philadelphia has joined forces with Earthlink to become the first city to offer free WiFi to its residents.

While painstakingly slow to develop, this is a great initiative, and puts Philly at the forefront of the wireless world. In fact, San Francisco, Boston, and Houston are all following Philly's lead.

And now Wireless Philadelphia has joined the fray. The local nonprofit has teamed with Earthlink to bring the Internet to low-income families, and bridge the digital divide.

We recently caught up with Wireless Philadelphia CEO Greg Goldman and Operations Manager Thomas Kim to discuss their program.

But better to hear it straight from the source. Listen to Greg and Thomas speak about their efforts to get the entire city online. It's fascinating stuff.

And here's Seun and me with the men behind the Wireless Philadelphia mission. That's Thomas on the left, and Greg on the right.

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Thursday, April 5, 2007

Identity 2.0

posted by Seun Olubodun
A VC blog gets the online party started with this post about the future of social networking -- emphasis on the "social."

Lead A VC blogger Fred Wilson makes some great points about the appeal of a more personal Web. How quickly we forget what it was like before sites such as Facebook, MySpace, and Flickr brought us all together into a greater online community! We just wandered around in a cold, connection-less cyberspace, searching for a kind human touch.

So it only makes sense to tap into the friendly synergy created by this new phase, and spread the love. In many tech circles, this is known as Identity 2.0, the next step in Web networking that will replace the singular experience of message boards and forums with interactive online communities and open, distributed networks.

And it's already catching on, especially on sites that aren't necessarily Web 2.0. The recently revamped, for example, invites readers to comment on articles, provides a tagging option for recommending stories, and even color-codes article categories. (I classify Tech as burnt sienna.)

Color wheel aside, we're clearly on our way to a socially-based Web. And it pays for business owners to board this train now before it pulls out of the station, and they are left in the lonely, anti-social world of Identity 1.0.

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Tuesday, April 3, 2007

When opportunity knocks, go for the door prize

posted by Andy Leff
I love door prizes. I win them everywhere I go. It's the only way I can see the symphony, enjoy a Stephen Starr restaurant, and get microdermabrasion without draining my wallet.

My latest door prize opportunity was at the Main Line Chamber of Commerce's “Web-based Business Discussion: Build Your Own Business” event. The night proved good things do come in small packages.

Though attendance was lower than at our last outing, the discussion was dead-on for its audience. Brian T. O'Connor, partner of Arkiv Music LLC, presented excellent, actionable advice on taking a good idea, and building it into a successful virtual company (podcast coming soon).

I say virtual because Brian and his 15 employees all work from their own homes with the help of e-mail and call-in numbers. They have no central office or warehouse -- truly a Web-based business.

Brian hit on a lot of key points during his 30-minute presentation (many of which we've discussed on our blog). Among the highlights:

  • Keep tight control over costs. Brian's business model included plenty of bootstrapping. Case in point: He and his partners did not take salaries for the first year Arkiv Music was around, so they could instead grow the business and invest in better equipment.

    He also said $90K servers and hosting companies are well and good for the Amazons of the world, but that there are plenty of cheaper, more efficient hardware options on the market for the little guys.

  • Personally finance your business. On this point, Brian and I couldn't be further apart. I did not agree with Brian's credit card vs. VC approach. Instead of seeking venture capital, he signed up for every credit card offer he received, and bankrolled the company that way. The result: massive debt. This is a huge risk, especially for an unproven product.

    Granted, he did it to avoid giving up company control to a VC firm -- a caveat many entrepreneurs don't realize when they recruit VC money. Many people will argue that every startup goes the VC route, so why worry? Well, if every startup jumped off a bridge, would you?

    Brian's correction: We definitely did not use credit cards to finance the operation of ArkivMusic. We were able to keep the operation running with the partners’ original investment, plus the revenue that began to come in pretty quickly from online sales.

    I did make a reference to “signing up for every credit card offer I received”, but that was me personally -- not the company. Since I had no income for a while, I did sign up for a lot of credit cards, just in case things didn’t go well with the company.

    And I did actually use a credit card to pay for my family’s health benefits one month. But other than that, I was able to stay away from credit card use in general (happily).

    Each business situation is unique. If you can fund it yourself, in ways that make fiscal sense, then you don't have to seek outside capital if you don’t need it. (OK, off my soapbox and back to Brian.)

  • Have clean, usable Web site design elements. The simple truth is, if visitors can’t understand what is going on, they will leave immediately. And it takes more than snazzy graphics.

    The key is integrating three crucial components of your site: your merchant bank account with your internal accounting system, your payment gateways to your site, and your shopping cart to your site. He also stressed the importance of understanding state tax laws where you do business.

  • Remember that e-commerce is safe.This scored big points in my book. The most common misperception among newly minted e-tailers is that identify theft is imminent and unavoidable. That's a load of hooey.

    The seven gajillion layers of security monitoring and encryption on reputable sites make e-commerce perfectly safe -- so much so, that the rare instance of fraud should not deter businesses from going online.

    To truly succeed today, all business -- small, medium, and large -- must have a Web presence. If they sit on the sidelines, Brian predicts they will go the same route as Tower Records.

  • Create a niche business. If you can offer a product, service, or new way to convey a message, then you will have greater success online. Brian's niche has been classical music since 1994. Now he boasts 350,000 online customers.

  • Hire the right people. Brian credits his hiring strategies for his success. He seeks out strong employees who worked for original online music pioneers like CDNow, people who understand his niche, or experts in growing an online business.

  • Embrace online advertising. Arkiv Music has slowly moved away from print ads to Google AdWords. Brian suggested everyone pursue an online ad strategy, as long as it makes sense for their business model.

I agree. There is no better way to hit your audience than online, thanks to the growing amount of time people spend online instead of watching TV or reading traditional print pubs.

For all of Brian's great advice, however, I was dumbfounded by the relative cluelessness of the audience. It never ceases to amaze me how little many business owners know about leveraging the Internet.

Once people found out Seun and I were bloggers (a.k.a. 'the young guys not wearing ties'), they bombarded us with questions about gaining traction online, promoting goods and services, and more. Most of them had never heard of blogs or social networking, much less understood them.

Luckily, I could help them out, and pointed them to IncPlace for more info. Oh, and in case you were wondering, I won the door prize. Media Theater of Performing Arts, here I come!

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