Monthly Archives: October 2009

It’s Not Just a Job, It’s a Soap Opera

About a year ago, we were approached by a consultant for a certain Direct Sales company, to create a site system for the consultants of that company. We had no affiliation with the company, we just created a site system that their consultants could use to more quickly set up a working website.

I was unprepared for some of the issues that came from it. Technically, it has been fun, and challenging, as we worked out the details to provide exactly what the consultants needed, with enough flexibility to allow each consultant to customize it for their particular way of doing business.

It wasn’t the technical stuff that threw me. It was the personal and relationship stuff I was unprepared for.

Working with these ladies (ok, there is an occasional man, but most are women) has been great. They are, overall, terrific people, and most are very enthusiastic and willing to work at it. But since they are linked to each other through their signup genealogy, I not only have to deal with relationships between us and the client, I also have to cope with relationships between the clients! This isn’t something we usually have to deal with, since most of our clients don’t know each other unless we introduce them (which we often do if we feel that it will help them both).

I can’t go into detail – that would violate confidences, and I’d not want to make one of our clients feel singled out or embarrassed. But there are some generalities that will give you an idea of what I’m talking about.

  • If a consultant does not like their upline, they may come to us for things that are really outside our expertise – we are not experts with the parent company, we are only experts with our own website system.
  • If two consultants have a falling out, it may have reverberations through many of the site owners. It challenges our professional ethics to handle things without taking sides, and without being unfair to either client. Standard confidentiality policies are put to the test – in ways we had not anticipated that they would be.
  • If one consultant decides that it is too much work to own a site, and leaves with a bad attitude, it may affect many prospective clients – because the consultants are not only networked through the company with each other, but also with a huge body of prospects. It means that we have to have fair policies, and then we have to meticulously enforce those policies.
  • If we grant a refund outside our policies, word may get around, and others may purchase, feeling they can get the same refund, even though our policies would normally prohibit it. If we refuse to grant a refund, and our policies don’t clearly back up our position, then word may get around about that. Our reputation is more visible within this community.

The interconnectedness of the clients is a strength – they refer their downline. But that very strength has also meant that there are other challenges with it that we hadn’t expected to have to deal with. It has meant that our policies and standards with this particular line have had to include provisions that we’d never considered as being a potential issue previously.

Overall, it has challenged us in ways we did not expect. But it has also been worth it because this single line, which launched in February, has yielded profit in five figures, in less than a year. Expenses are low, and sales are good, and this line is becoming a significant factor in our income picture. It has provided a means for testing our automation software, and has proven a successful income model which involves partial automation, partial customization, at a fairly low cost to the client, combined with a fairly low workload for us. We spend an average of 1 hour per site sale on personal service, and about half an hour on long term development or maintenance for the entire program (averaged per client). We invest in custom programming as needed to maintain the infrastructure. When we are paid for a new site, the majority is profit, and the workload is light.

I sometimes tire of the soap opera of relationships – it can make me feel like a Mom with a houseful of other people’s kids. But the ladies are wonderful for the most part, and worth those moments of exasperation.

I’ve just really realized with this line of business, how much the individual marketing arenas can change, depending on factors we might not have considered ahead of time.

Twitter in the Middle

I hate Twitter. After years of hating it, I finally got an account. I still hate it.

So why do I use it? Because I can connect several things together using it and get extra exposure. But I don’t like using it as a primary communication means, I find it too clunky and awkward. It is also time sensitive – if you aren’t there when something goes past, you miss it. I can’t see staying glued to it all day just to see if something interesting goes past.

But… I do use it. I have Facebook and my blog connected to it. This means I can post in one of three places, and have it go to everything else, depending on what I want to accomplish.

Twitter reaches people that other methods don’t reach. It also interfaces with many other things. I’m able to use Twitter as more of an aggregator – a means of tying several things together. And I prefer to use it that way, rather than spending a lot of time with it.

The Twitter lingo typically leaves me feeling a bit nauseous, like I feel after having something too oily and sweet. So I don’t get into the whole environment of it. I doubt I ever will, it isn’t my style.

I much prefer the threaded style of FaceBook status and comments, as far as effective communication goes. Much easier to actually see and grasp an entire conversation.

I deplore time wasters. When I got the account, I determined that it had to be a tool, not a toy. I use all of my networking accounts that way – they are not playtoys. I don’t do the cutesy apps and games on FaceBook, and I don’t trawl Twitter all day. I use them as tools for my business. About half personal, half professional, because that is what seems to work best to promote a business and develop business relationships.

And I still despise it.

How Do I Get My Direct Sales Business to Work?

Ok… first of all, company websites almost NEVER do a good job of “selling” the product or the opportunity. If cannot tell within 5 seconds, from their site, what it even IS, then it isn’t going to work to persuade people to join or purchase. Generally, if all you are using to promote your direct sales business is the company website, you are losing every person who goes there without having a personal introduction from yourself. In fact, that is the only thing company websites are good for  – to send someone to once they ALREADY want it. They aren’t good for anything else.

Search engines will never index your company site either – to them it is the company site, not yours, and yours is the same site. Many promotional sources won’t allow you to promote there either. Kinda hampers your ability to get the best free traffic.

So… My first advice is sound, even though I am a web designer.

Get a website of your own. You’ll have to research company policy on this, they’ll have requirements to meet, and they vary widely from company to company. If you work with a web designer, they need to know what those requirements are too, and they need to help you comply with them.

Use this website for the following purposes:

1. Introduce the BENEFITS, which should be two concise and meaningful statements, one about the product, one about the opportunity.
2. Talk about what YOU like about it, and why it makes sense to you.
3. Discuss comparisons of this program with other business programs.
4. Present relevant and current information which supports claims made by the company.
5. Introduce YOURSELF, and begin the relationship building process.
6. Your pages are all linked in with a “go get it” type button, which leads them to the company website, and tells them to use the signup button, or to view product listings (best if you take them right to where you want them to be, if you can). YOU do the pre-selling. Just let the company be there at the END of the process.

Once you have that, you can then feed ALL of your social networking traffic to that. Not only that, you can interlink a website WITH your social networking, operate a blog if you want (right in the website), and you WILL get additional marketing benefits from it IF you do it right.

You can build an entire marketing network if you have your own website, and the website sits as the hub of the wheel, with other things coming into it, and linking together.

Without it, your marketing efforts end up fragmented, and separate, and you chase yourself around trying to drive people here, or there, and not knowing where to send them, or how to initiate contact.

With it, you can focus on about FOUR basic marketing efforts, and they work together synergistically. Those four efforts are:

1. Regular Tweets, which are piped into your FaceBook Profile, or updates to your FaceBook Business Page, which are then piped to Twitter, and then to your FaceBook Profile. Social networking WORKS, when you do it professionally, and when you focus on relationships and not on advertising.
2. Regular Blog Posts, which are piped into Twitter, then into FaceBook, and which are posted automatically in the sidebar of your website. Blogging also works, when you focus on building relationships, giving value, and not on advertising.
3. Answering questions on Forums, or Linked In Answers, and just being a real person, helpful, etc. Your choice where you do this, do it where it works. It works when you are helpful and interesting, and kind.
4. Building Backlinks – good quality directory links, high quality swaps, and article marketing links. You choose which suits you best, we usually recommend doing these in a specific way to simplify it. Backlinks work when you learn what constitutes a quality backlink, and don’t try to take shortcuts that sabotage the effort.

You may optionally use a newsletter – a good website can have a newsletter manager built into the site, where you can send newsletters to any number of groups, and which allows a signup box on every page to politely invite people to sign up. You don’t need to bribe people or push them into signing up, when you do it right, an invitation works wonderfully. An opt-in list is NOT required for ANY successful business (in fact, more than 50% of successful business owners don’t even know what one is, and only about 2-3% of successful business owners actually USE one), but it is one that can work for people with the skills to operate one effectively.

It is not a FAST process. But it is very POWERFUL. Lay the foundation right, and your website becomes the center of where you do business, even though you don’t spend any more time there than anywhere else, the website becomes your virtual sales person.

There are rules and skills about making each of those things work – you have to do them right, but if you do, they gain power over time. If you do them wrong, you’ll beat against a wall and never make headway.

We’ve worked with hundreds of people in direct sales, MLM, network marketing, etc. This is the method that works to promote online with this kind of business. The ones who get this working are the ones who can eventually break out of the “I have to contact every prospect individually in order to make every sale”. If you want people to eventually come to YOU, you need to have some permanent, search engine indexable presences out there working for you.

If you can WRITE competently, you have a tremendous asset. If you use it creatively, and maybe differently than you have thought, you can bring people in to teach them, and they’ll learn to trust you. But you can’t always do it in the way you first think about doing it. If you can’t write well, then you will need to hire more services, and investigate methods of networking which depend upon it less.

It is actually HARDER in many ways to promote a direct sales business than it is to promote an independent business. But if you think of your business MORE as an independent business, and treat it more like one, you can be more successful. I don’t mean ignoring the company requirements, just that you need to WORK it like a business, and MARKET it like a business, and not expect that everything that the company hands you is all that you need. It never is.

Choose a reputable company, commit to it, and then invest in the necessary foundation for marketing. Do it right, and you’ll never regret it.

FedEx Implements Customer Repulsion Support Method

I was referred to the FedEx support number to resolve an issue with a shopping cart. The referrer told me that they were very helpful. I tried to call – and was shoved into a frustrating and fruitless loop.

I didn’t mind the “press one for this, press two for that”. At least a computer can UNDERSTAND that. After I did that, I was greeted by a recorded voice which demanded to know what I wanted. I’m supposed to tell it, and it is supposed to understand. Only what I needed was pretty complicated. I took too long in replying, so the recorded voice helpfully suggested things I might say – none of which was remotely close to what I needed. I didn’t need help printing labels, and I didn’t need help with their online site.

I took a stab at it – “I need help setting up our shopping cart.” Clear, and a whole lot neater than saying, “We can’t get commercial ground to show up during checkout, and your people told my people that I should call you to find out what the heck you mean when you tell me to generate an XML transaction request to send you so you can diagnose the problem.”

The voice said, “I’m sorry, I didn’t catch that. Here are some things you might say…” and went back to the same unhelpful things that it offered before.

I don’t have time for that. I don’t have time to play games trying to guess just exactly what a computer wants me to say to get in the front door. I feel like I’m standing in front of Ali-Baba’s cave trying to guess the right password. Hmmm… I didn’t think to try “Open Sesame”, but I doubt the computer would be smart enough to get it if I did.

Are they TRYING to drive their customers away in frustration? While that might be a terrific way to contain support costs, it is NOT an effective way to retain the customers.

At this point, because of the complexity of setting up cart interfaces with FedEx, we warn our clients that it is fussy and aggravating. They now rate even higher on my “Beware” list. I’ve never been fond of them anyway, because they are inherently dishonest about how they handle rural deliveries (they are not the only shipper that does it – you can pay for overnight shipping, but you won’t get it in a remote rural area, you’ll get the item overnighted to the nearest big city, and then sent the rest of the way by Priority Mail, meaning overnight shipments take longer than 3 or 5 day shipping). Their own service reps don’t even know this, but it is standard company practice.

They also are not the only company that has decided that voice recognition is the way to go for telephone support. It has to be one of the most inaccurate, and unfriendly ways of handling things! I HATE talking to computers. It makes me feel like a child being forced to play with a talking toy. That particular technology is one that already offends me, but add to it the inaccuracy behind it all, and it leaves a high percentage of people frustrated because they cannot get past the automated genie who demands that you say just the right thing, but isn’t about to tell you what it is!

It begs the question…

Who, REALLY, thought this was a good idea? And how in the world did someone with so little sense EVER get into a position of enough power to actually do anything about it?

Yes, I’m feeling catty today. A headache and a bad encounter with a senseless system will do that to me.

Webmaster Elitism: Tableless Design

Ooooh! I actually SAID that! But really, tableless design is one of the most irrelevant things I’ve come across in a long time. As though by eliminating the use of table code, you prove yourself a superior designer, regardless of the annoyances and extra time that it takes, when it isn’t even detectible in any way to the site user.

For the average site, there are absolutely NO advantages to tableless design. None. I don’t know which designer decided it was superior, or why it caught on, but the only explanation I can find is ego. It is more difficult to code a tableless template for many structures, which makes those who do so feel superior. Silly, really.

Neither type of coding is better. Those who advocate tableless design say that it produces leaner code. Not true. Bloat is just as prevalent with tableless design, often MORE so, because you have to create so much more code to do what a table can do without even trying.

My biggest issue with the elitism on this issue though, is that common sense is being ignored. The fact is, tables can do some things faster, easier and more predictably. And a design coded in divs just CAN’T do it. The code can’t be FORCED to do it.

An example…

We created a design with a menu that had multiple blocks across. Four cells across on each level. My coder originally coded it tableless. And the results were disastrous.

About every third refresh, the divs would stack instead of laying side by side – they would stack in all sorts of arrangements. And you could not MAKE them go side by side. The code does not exist to make them do so. She tried everything to force them to predictably do so. No go. Because with divs, they are independent containers. And if the browser wants to load them wrong, it can, there is no way to require it to display four across.

Now, there are those that insist that if you MUST use table code, then code it into the CSS instead of in the HTML. Really a stupid idea, because doing so removes every advantage of using table code in the first place – the predictability. Being a progressive coder though, my coder tried this next. It still had the same problem. Because CSS tables have the same problem divs do – the cells are independent containers, which are not required to behave in relation to one another.

We replaced the div code with HTML table code. It has behaved predictably ever since. Because a table is a single entity, with containers that are part of the whole. If you specify four cells across, it HAS to display them all across, and CANNOT stack them inappropriately.

There are other times when divs simply do not behave themselves, and debugging them takes so much time that it is more fair to the client to just use table code and get on with life. Getting anal about this issue is pretty dumb, and is responsible for a LOT of wasted time and energy, with absolutely NO benefit to the client or the site visitor.

The claim is made that the ONLY reason that divs will refuse to go where you tell them is that the width numbers don’t add up right. Not true. There are all KINDS of bugs and conflicts that can cause this, and tracking them down can be a nightmare, especially when working with someone else’s code.

I just find that any claim that tableless design is superior is a pointless claim. That superior design is not arbitrated by whether you use one type of structure or the other, but by whether what you use WORKS, in the MOST EFFICIENT manner. If you have not gained BOTH predictability, AND efficiency, you’ve made the wrong choice! Statistically, tableless design holds no corner on that market – in fact, about 50% of the time, it will WASTE time, and result in a higher level of INEFFICIENCY, and UNPREDICTABILITY.

The end result is what matters – irrelevant fussing over whether you used tables or not is not an intelligent use of either time, or intellect.

A Bad Time to Realize Your Business is in Trouble

We’re noticing some trends lately. They indicate that people are scared. And it is hurting businesses all over. We deal primarily with startups and very small businesses. We’re seeing the impact first hand across a full spectrum of industries. A few are growing as they replace more costly options. Many are collapsing completely, most are just struggling to maintain. And it is very discouraging as a business consultant, to keep encountering those who are past the point of being able to help them, because they didn’t choose to act when change would have been simple, and now the issues are compounded so big, and the resources so drained that there isn’t anything to be done anymore.

I’m no alarmist, and I never try to look at the bad side of things. I try to honestly assess what is happening, to figure out why, and to figure out what to do about it. I can’t control the economy. I can’t make people buy my product. I can’t provide costly services to businesses that are in trouble so deep that they can’t afford even a $100 marketing consultation to get them turned around. But I can control my own actions in regards to my business, and I can develop an understanding of what is going on so I can help more than just myself, and so it does not have to become a crisis to us.

Over a year ago, we began advising businesses to pay attention to trends. If they experienced more than two months of non-seasonal down-trends, they should be ready with a plan in place to implement and take action to counteract the influence of external forces on their business, as far as possible.

But some have not noticed until it was too late – either they weren’t tracking, or they failed to measure this year’s returns against yearly norms. When they finally noticed, they were deep into a slump that was so bad, they had no resources left with which to respond.

I think it is normal to want to believe that things are going to turn any day. I think it is normal to not want to have to take action if the trends are not steep and dramatic. So a business can gradually lose ground and the owner doesn’t notice until it is really in trouble.

If your business is in trouble now, you are not alone. But it is also unquestionably worse to have a business in trouble now than it was a year ago. Resources are stretched tighter, credit is harder to get, and people are less responsive to changes to advertising – they’ve been seeing it for a year.

Last year, layoffs were starting, and people were on unemployment. Now, unemployment is running out, and more people are being layed off. That fact alone is enough to help us to know that the worst is not over at all. The worst hasn’t even hit yet. Again, I’m not an alarmist, nor am I a pessimist. In fact, I am an optimist, but I don’t approach things without a healthy dose of reality.

I think the real issue is this…

It is getting worse. And it is going to get MUCH worse. That isn’t speculation. That is based on very solid facts. The government can’t fix it. So far the efforts have made it worse, not better, and the only thing we are hearing is that they plan to do more of the same.

What are you going to do to survive it? How are you going to adjust your business, your life, and your plans, to cope with a world where hunger becomes your next door neighbor instead of just a distant rumor? How are you going to prepare yourself to be a giver instead of a taker in times of hardship?

If your business is in trouble, what can you do now? Don’t delay figuring that out or you won’t have a business. Act early, not late. Don’t feel like acting early is pessimism, it isn’t, it is wisdom.

The strategies are basic:

1. Reduce Debt.

2. Reduce Expenses.

3. Make sure the things you are paying for are paying you back.

4. Analyze your marketing and make sure your marketing dollars are effective.

5. Find out what you can do that doesn’t cost, that actually WORKS, to promote your business effectively.

6. Listen to your customers. They are changing. How are they changing, and how can you help to continue to meet their needs?

Don’t wait until it is too late to respond. The stupidity of corporate bungling on the part of big business may lead you to believe that there will be a bail out of some kind for you if your business crashes. There won’t be. And for the most part, the rest of the world won’t even know you are gone. It is your responsibility to act wisely, NOW, to respond before you are in a crisis so bad there is no more hope.

Please assess the health of your business, honestly and completely. Look for the problem areas that could torpedo you and get them in order. The ability to act early, and wisely, is going to separate those who survive from those who don’t.

The Soap Opera Continues

The continuing saga of the site system theft…

I’m not being vindictive or vengeful. I’m just informing the guy of real problems that he walked into without really thinking about it ahead of time.

Ok, so if someone steals a replicated site system, they are probably biting off more than they can chew. Their actions may come back to bite them in ways they never anticipated. These are the things that have been pointed out to the person who duplicated our site system:

1. Copyrighted material is recognizable. If you copy someone’s site, you are using copyrighted material.

2. You may not just be stealing one person’s copyrighted material. You may be using material created by another person, and used by permission by the person you stole from. You do NOT have permission to use it!

3. When you steal software, it may be highly complex. Copyrighted material may be woven into it in places that are difficult for you to detect. The original owner may be able to spot things you do not even know are there.

4. When you steal a website, it is very difficult to get all of the original ownership information out of it. Your site may in fact send mis-directed emails to the original owner without your knowledge.

5. When you steal software, you have no idea what someone else might have changed. If you steal a software site structure, it may have had custom alterations. If you update the software using standard update procedures, you may break something, and not even know where the problem is.

6. If custom alterations have been made to a software site structure, they may be insecure, or they may have introduced bugs that you will have to troubleshoot, and you won’t know where they are coming from in the code.

7. Images can be anywhere in a site, and identifying images may be dropped into places all through it where they can be accessed by direct URL. You will never be able to find them all. You are a sitting duck for a copyright lawsuit.

8. If you steal a website and use it for yourself, it can cause problems. If you steal a website and then use it as the backbone of your services, you are staking your entire reputation on someone else’s stuff. Not only can the original owner sue you, your clients can sue you also. And if the structure is unreliable or unsustainable, your clients will make you pay!

We didn’t have to do anything other than point these things out to the person who copied our system. They are his problem to deal with.

Frankly, I find it much faster and cleaner to just build my own stuff. Stealing other people’s stuff is just too much work!

Enjoying Myself Immensely!

One of my associates emailed me yesterday, informing me that someone had duplicated my entire vertical market site system for a particular market. Yes, I’m going to name names here.

We build websites for Norwex Consultants (the domain name when this article was written, was – the domain name has since been removed due to changes in the Norwex policies). We have done so for about a year now. We were the original dynamic Norwex shopping cart provider, and we are the most experienced and successful at it.

One of our clients has taken the liberty of partnering with another technician. I think they thought there was an easy goldmine there (little do they know that anything good takes WORK).

Their site, located at (the hyphenated version of our domain name – this website is also no longer valid, though it was at the time this article was written) contained text straight from our site system, and cloned the shopping cart down to the typos. I saw this myself. I was told that he even used MY templates… Badly edited, according to a reliable source. I did not see these for myself, but this woman knows my work, and has seen the templates I created, and future actions of the site owner would tend to lend credibility to her claim.

My friend took the liberty of emailing him, and informing him that he was using copyrighted information, and that it was unethical. This is where it got fun!

Over the next few hours, we watched as parts of his site became unavailable, then came up again, totally different than what they were before.

His entire template gallery disappeared, and then reappeared one page at a time. It is pretty obvious that he thought if I was using Artisteer to create templates, that he could too. He clearly did not spend as much time learning the fine points of creating good templates with it, because the templates were so easily identified as having been created with a template generator, that you really have to feel sorry for the guy. Artisteer is a GREAT program, and the hands of a skilled designer who takes the time to learn how to use the hidden features and who takes the time to create great graphics in PhotoShop ahead of time, can make this program SING. He didn’t. His templates reuse the same images over and over, and they are all identical, with only some color changes. They aren’t even color coordinated, and they do not use the preferred colors of the target market. The layout and design does not change from one to the next, they have the appearance of having been created in a hurry.

Our templates are unique, color coordinated, and attractive, and we have taken great pains to make sure they reflect the mindset of the target market we are serving. We purchase high quality stock photos for each template, and make sure we are using them according to the terms of use – no shortcuts. We know our stuff, and we know what makes sites work. About half of the consultants want our templates as-is, without any changes other than asking for their site name to be added.

Other pages began to disappear and reappear also. Each time, with new content. Must have given him quite a bit of panic. I suggested to him that he might want to make sure that every bit was removed that was ours, whether he thought it was private or not, because if he failed to, he’d never be quite sure which client we sent to purchase a site and check it out for us.

I guess there are three lessons from this.

1. I don’t think there is a reason to feel threatened by competition. I mean, if someone honestly sets up competition against me, go for it. If they do a better job than I, they deserve the success.

This was different than that. We took action, notifying him that he needed to stop using our copyrighted items, because when you copy something of someone else’s it is THEFT, not innovation.

But I am still not worried about competition from this kind of person. I am not a lazy business woman. I did things right, and I took the time where it mattered. I need not fear anyone who takes shortcuts because they lack the understanding of what makes a website really work, and what makes it fail. There are so many points on which he simply cannot compete with us in quality, and where his site falls down on basic marketing messages that he does not pose any real threat to our business. His sales site is so unattractive (this was the first thing one of my students commented on) and so lacking in essential conversion points, that it is doubtful that he will be able to make a sale.

In this instance, he is actually going to do a LOT of marketing for us – because people remember domain names WITHOUT hypens (and search engines pay more attention to the original than to the knock off. Hyphenated names have absolutely NO higher weight with them, they provably parse both with equal accuracy). So a good deal of his marketing will benefit us, but NONE of ours will benefit him!

2. If you do something illegal (by intent, or by being mislead), you are likely to get caught. And when you do, you’ll spend your time running around trying to cover up the evidence, rather than being able to use the time in productive activities that move your business forward. Not only that, but someone may publish the truth of what happened, to which you will have no defense, and it will give your company a black eye, potentially costing you the time you already invested, or more.

3. When someone does something like this, there isn’t a reason to seek revenge. There are legal steps you can take, and the law can provide its own consequence. That is how it should be.

I’ve never had someone blatantly steal something from me in all my years doing business online. I’ve had clients who reported having their sites cloned by someone else, but it has never happened to me. Having it happen with an entire system was rather a surprise.

I’ve actually had a good evening, peeking in periodically to see what is being frantically replaced next. It has been rather amusing, sort of like pulling the strings on a puppet. I’m also writing a few other emails, informing a few other people who need to know, whose work was also involved in the system.

I really sort of feel sorry for the guy… To be so handicapped in business as to think this is a way to get ahead!

Beggars at Wal-Mart

Wyoming is beyond rural. About the only reason people come here when they have nothing, is on their way through. We’ve lived here 13 years, and have never seen a summer like this one.

We spent 3 years driving monthly to Denver for cancer treatment for our son. As we came off the freeway, there were sometimes people with signs standing at the end of the on-ramp where the light required the cars to stop. We were never prepared with more than the day’s needs, but we talked about what we might do if we could, and prayed for their wellbeing. They were an unusual sight to us, such a thing was extraordinarily rare in Wyoming.

A few years ago we began seeing the first people standing outside Wal-Mart in Laramie, where the driveway meets the street. It was still unusual enough we didn’t think about it much. We never saw it more than one or two times a year. But we thought about what we could do. Money wasn’t an option, we didn’t have it. Usually groceries were enough for the next week or so, and that was all. We don’t buy snack foods, or other quick fix, so there was rarely anything we could share that would help – I mean, an uncooked potato isn’t going to help you if you don’t have a stove.

This summer, it seemed they were everywhere. In every major town in Wyoming, there was a good chance you’d see someone standing on the corner, somewhere, holding a sign, or just standing there, hoping. I don’t like calling them “beggars”. Sometimes there just isn’t another single word that defines someone standing on the corner asking for help though.

LDS Doctrine teaches us that we should give as much as we are able, without judging. No matter what got them there, we are supposed to help. After all, everybody does stupid things that get them somewhere they didn’t expect to end up, and most of us need some help to pull ourselves out so we can change for the better.

We’ve always tried to be generous, but I don’t think we ever took it into the “give till it hurts” realm. We didn’t sacrifice to help. Sometime over the last year, we decided that we’d give EVERY time, if there was any way to do so. Most of the time, this summer, it has been easy. Squeezing out a bit more for someone else hasn’t even taken thought.

The last few weeks have been lean. We finally got a small paycheck today, with just enough money to pay a couple of obligations and get groceries for a few more days. We had the money budgeted and there was not room to add one more thing – in fact, we’d already scratched off some things we really could use. We have plenty of food in the house, we were just missing key items that we really needed.

As we neared Wal-Mart, we saw a figure on the corner. We didn’t bother to read the sign, that he was there was enough. I knew there was no money to do anything. Then I just said to the kids, “If we help him, we have to do without something. What are we going to scratch off our list?” We decided to eliminate the noodles – the kids were perfectly willing to do so, which was cool. We can do without noodles, since we have plenty of rice and potatoes, and we can make noodles if we really want them. That gave us just enough to get some crackers and cheese, and some hot chocolate mix. They went into a separate bag, and our daughter handed them out the window as we pulled up to the stop sign before leaving the parking lot.

I think this, more than anything, tells me we’ve entered a new era. One where we must not take certain things for granted. That people are on the corner begging in Wyoming is an alarming thing. That they are here in numbers high enough for us to notice, and feel that if we want to help each time we have the opportunity that we must always be prepared to do so, is significant.

And that is exactly what we’ve decided. We’ve decided that we want to be prepared to help, in whatever small way we can. That we never be unwilling to do SOMETHING, even if it is a tiny thing like cheese and crackers and hot chocolate mix. It has changed something in me. It has changed how I think about what I have, and what I need. It has made me want to be something more than I am.

The changing times hold much uncertainty. But I also think they hold many opportunities for us to better ourselves, and to help make our own corner of the world a little less selfish one.

If They Spammed You, They Can’t Help You!

Spam is unsolicited email. Spam is illegal. Therefore, we may conclude that any company that sends you unsolicited email advertisements for their services is breaking the law. We may further conclude that their primary aim is NOT to help your company to grow.

This little piece of logic seems to be set aside each time we receive spam email that contains something we are hoping might be true. That a company that is breaking the law really DOES want to help us get to the top of the search engines. That a company that is breaking the law will honor their word. That a company that is breaking the law somehow will give us what we want at a lower price and higher value than good companies that DON’T break the law.

Sometimes I think there is just a disconnect. We forget to think of it in those terms.

The rule is one you may depend upon to keep from getting ripped off by email scams. If it came through the email, and you did not ASK for it specifically, it is Spam, it is illegal, and the company that sent it is either too ignorant, or too dishonest for there to be any kind of good outcome if you risk it.

Some companies may be sending from outside the US, where it may not be illegal. But… consider…. Do you want a company to work for you, promoting your company worldwide, that is not aware of the laws of your own country? We have actually seen such companies do things on behalf of site owners that were huge legal risks in the US, and which are likely to come back and harm the site owners. If you pay them to do something, then you may also be held liable for any misrepresentation, false statements, or claims that they make on your behalf. If they are ethical, and want US business, they’ll take the time to learn, and RESPECT, the laws of the US.

SEO scams are one of the most rampant, we have businesses contacting us almost daily about this, asking us whether it works or not. Oh, some of them will do the tasks they say they will do. But they do them SO BADLY, that they don’t do you any good at all. You will be throwing money down a hole – and in some cases, the things they do can actually HURT your business. Many other scams are not just false on the end, they are false right from the get-go. They will take your financial information and abuse it with no pretense of delivery of anything.

It doesn’t matter WHO the business is. If they send you an ad, and you did not sign up for it FROM THEM, or if you did not ask a question on a forum that they replied to (and mentioned the forum), or if a friend did not introduce you, or something else that tracks them to a known source, it is illegal for them to send you the ad!

Webmaster Secret: It’s the Ping, Baby

Blog or Website? Which is better? There has long been controversy over whether one really is better for SEO, and if so, why.

I’ve heard reports that blogs do actually index faster, by a week or so, from a credible source. I’ve not heard any other compelling or believable information on long term SEO benefits that were specific to blogs. There was a time when SEs were indexing every blog and treating them like they were something special, but it was short lived – stopped about the time the spammers caught on and started abusing blogs left and right. There hasn’t been any preference for YEARS.

Faster indexing is the ONLY difference I’ve been able to isolate as having any validity, that isn’t attributable to other factors, which are independent of the structure. Most differences have to do with the quality and desirability of the content, the individual optimization efforts, and the promotional efforts of the site owner. Period. Potentials are equal between most good structures, whether it is WordPress, Joomla, Drupal, HTML, etc.

Speculation runs the gamut… I’ve heard all of these things touted as reasons why blogs or websites are “better”.

  • Search engines like blogs better.
  • Search engines like websites better because they are more stable.
  • Search engines like blogs because they have changing content.
  • Blogs optimize better.
  • Websites build backlinks more stably.

Actually, these factors are all pretty irrelevant.

Search engines don’t really care whether it is a blog or a website. Blogs can behave like websites, websites can behave like blogs, and search engines don’t care. They care about UNIQUE CONTENT. Structure, aside from ability to optimize to a reasonable degree, is completely irrelevant.

We’ve noticed that website pages, or blog pages (posts), index and get traffic long term based on backlinks, and demand for the content. If they are referenced elsewhere, they get more traffic sent directly to them. And if you are the best source for a high demand, low availability topic, you’ll get traffic no matter what structure the site is in (this is, in fact, a great key to getting spontaneous traffic).

Changing content is also irrelevant to the structure. Search engines DO like new content, but ONLY if it is GOOD content. Doesn’t matter how often your content changes if it is trash, Search engines can recognize trash, and they treat it the same way people do. Ever seen those Splogs… You know, those tacky blogs responsible for 99% of comment spam, which consist of nothing but quoted blog posts? Search engines dislike them, and they are a waste of time, because they lack quality original content. The only people who create them are the ignorant, and the dishonest who are charging people for bogus “SEO” services.

Some blogs don’t have regular posts. Some websites have regular updates. So changing content isn’t the reason why some people feel that blogs index faster, either.

So what is it?

It is the ping.

The ONE significant difference in BEHAVIOR, aside from user actions, structure, or quality, is the PING. Potentials are completely equal in all other respects.

Blogs ping when you create a new post. New content has a brief appearance in the latest items index on some directories, then goes into the archives. You have to claim your blog at Technorati and list it with some directories. But as soon as you do, your new posts are announced to them, and fed through RSS.

Some of the blog directories are considered very high credibility links by Search Engines. It helps you get linked faster.

It is important to note though, that the power of the ping is MOSTLY transient. One brief moment in the spotlight, then your page disappears into oblivion unless it is highly desirable information, in which case it will regularly resurface.

So what is the real power information here?

You can make a website ping and feed. You can make pages behave like a blog, you can post regularly, and you can install an extension to make it ping when you update content. Many dynamic site structures have RSS capabilities which can be enabled and used.

The choice of whether you use this or that structure doesn’t depend primarily on indexing speed, or any assumptions of blog preference. It depends on what features are needed, and what the long term growth needs are.

Where SEO is concerned, the playing field can be completely leveled in all other respects.

Webmaster Elitism – Part 1 Hand Coding

I have some pet peeves about the elitist attitudes of some web designers. They seem to feel that the way they do it is the only way to do it, and that anyone who fails to do it their way, is somehow inferior. One of those issues, involves hand coding.

Their assertion is that hand coding is always superior to that created by a WYSIWYG HTML editor.

My assertion is that 99% of the time, a WYSIWYG editor will produce a superior result. Because 99% of the time, the site is being coded by someone who has an insufficient understanding of code to produce superior code.

The fact is that human error is responsible for more poor site performance than even bad WYSIWYG editors. And human error doesn’t just cause non-compliant or oddly coded sites. It causes major problems. Well, the one exception would be MicroSoft Word – there are people who think that it is an HTML editor, and it is NOT. It out classes the worst human errors. But as a rule, people are the source of the greatest mistakes, and the mistaken notion that hand coding is somehow superior is responsible for a large percentage of those mistakes.

There are three levels of skills:

1. Beginner. These people know nothing of code, they create a site in an HTML editor because they cannot create one any other way. Any attempt to edit code by hand will potentially cause more problems than it solves.

2. Intermediate. They understand code, can hand edit it to improve or alter some kinds of code, but do not hand write it, and SHOULD not. As much as possible, they should either start with an existing template and customize it, or, use a WYSIWYG editor to create the site code, then only make necessary alterations by hand.

3. Expert. This is someone who understands code so well they can write it from scratch. In this case, they should STILL start with an editor – why? Because it is, frankly, faster to use a WYSIWYG editor, and then tweak it, than it is to write it from scratch. This is more fair to the client who is paying for it. It is also more accurate. Editors are by nature more accurate, and less likely to make typo mistakes. A good one will consistently produce good code 90% of the time, with consistently known issues with the other 10%. A smart coder can easily improve that 10% in less time than it takes to write the other 90%.

It simply is not true that hand coding is superior. In most cases, it is a complete waste of time. It is a myth in itself too, because many people who are touting hand coding as the ultimate skill are using some kind of software to do half of the job anyway.

The key for most designers is to choose a good WYSIWYG editor, and then learn to use it well. Good tools IMPROVE the quality of work, they don’t compromise it, and there is no shame in depending on good tools. It is, in fact, smart strategy.

The myth that hand coding is somehow better than software coded pages is perpetuated by snobs who want to belittle those who don’t have a highly specialized understanding of code.

Grow a Garden!

Gardening doesn't have to be that hard! No matter where you live, no matter how difficult your circumstances, you CAN grow a successful garden.

Life from the Garden: Grow Your Own Food Anywhere Practical and low cost options for container gardening, sprouting, small yards, edible landscaping, winter gardening, shady yards, and help for people who are getting started too late. Plenty of tips to simplify, save on work and expense.