Monthly Archives: March 2010

Not All Hosting is Created Equal

Hosting is just web space. You throw your site in there, and your site shows up. You create an email account, and the email works. What does it matter how good the hosting is, there is little difference between features and conveniences, right?

If you are a site owner, that is wrong. Hosting can be the difference between a site that works, and one that doesn’t. Charges by a webmaster for extra time spent dealing with hosting flakiness, or paying only minimum fees. Backups that save you from catastrophy, or those that just shrug and look puzzled when you need them.

If you are a webmaster, hosting is even more important. You may spend hours of time troubleshooting site systems, and never realize it is due to the way a web host has configured their server. You may spend time troubleshooting or setting file permissions and think it is normal and required (it isn’t). You may have to deal with delays and problems that you just can’t solve, and spend time bouncing back and forth with support emails trying to figure out why things keep breaking, and not even realize that these things DON’T happen with all web hosts.

The problem is, most of the problems DO happen with 75% of web hosts. Finding the good ones is really difficult. It takes a lot of experience, trial and error, and then paying attention to what is efficient and what is not.

For the site owner, they may only know what their webmaster tells them – that it always is this hard, that it is always this costly, etc. And many webmasters simply never reach the point of doing high volume business, because they spend their time fussing around with things they don’t need to be dealing with at all. They land with a host, and never change, because they never realize there is anything better available.

Today, I helped a student move a website from our hosting to another web host. They used the same control panel that we do, which was a blessing, but that is where the simplicity ended. She had to move the site, test it and troubleshoot file permissions, and then re-move it within the site to activate it. We got as far as moving it and testing it. We knew we’d have file permission issues, but we didn’t expect database issues. Ones that completely stopped us, necessitating a call for help to Support.

That is actually pretty typical. Problems tend to land in several predictable categories, and one huge unpredictable one:

1. Unfamiliar and disorganized control panels. If you use one of these, you may not even realize you do. You may love it. But you also may not realize what is really possible – and you may not realize the value of functions that your control panel doesn’t even have. We love Cpanel. It is easy to find anything we need, and it just DOES things other Cpanels don’t. Don’t believe me? Try finding a way to compress a batch of files for fast and accurate download (large batches of files download faster and more accurately when compressed – almost no file truncation issues). Try finding a way to decompress a site package after upload through your hosting panel (again, this is more accurate, not to mention WAY faster, and reduces the number of broken file issues). Since file truncation is a prime reason for site malfunction, those two features alone are worth real money. They save us time coming and going. AWStats and Fantastico are just icing.

2. File Permissions. If your server is set up the “classic” way, you have to set file permissions on dynamic site structures. This is a waste of your time – and troubleshooting them is even more of a waste of your time. This kind of system also presents higher security risks, and is now NOT recommended in the better web service circles. The alternative is to use a host that uses PHPsu, or SuExec (essentially the same thing). PHP is run in a different way, so file permissions work differently. They are never set higher than 755 for a folder, or 644 for a file. If they are, you get a 500 Internal Server Error. Fixing that is EASY, you don’t even have to find the culprit! Just use an FTP program (FireFTP does this nicely) to set ALL of the folders and the folders inside them to 755, and then to set ALL of the files in the site to 644, and you are done. Never troubleshoot file permissions again! And Joomla runs nicely without having file ownership issues too (you know, when you can’t delete a file because you are not the file owner?). This factor has saved us literally WEEKS of time over the last two years.

3. Server settings. Many hosts disable functions for “security” reasons, or for “resource management” reasons. In other words, they think  the function might allow someone to exploit the server, or that if they let you use the function, you will use too much of the server’s resources. This can involve turning off functions so you cannot use them (so programs just don’t run at all on your server), lowering resource limits (so things don’t function, or function badly), or not having required support programs installed (causing your programs to not run). If you don’t know why these things are happening, you may spend hours or days troubleshooting, and get nowhere. Many VERY large webhosts do this. We’ve experienced it personally with GoDaddy, Netfirms, IMhosted, and a little company called 500MegsWebHosting.

4. Server overload. Ok, so most of the big hosting companies do something called “overselling”. They sell you an “unlimited” package. They are banking on the fact that most people never use more than a tiny bit of hosting space and bandwidth (the average site for startups is less than 100MB and takes well under 2000 MB of Bandwidth per month). But you really AREN’T unlimited! They just don’t tell you what the real limits are. The real limits are hidden limits – resource limits that you will hit if your site gets very busy. It also means they are loading a LOT of sites onto that server – as many as it will hold. The more loaded it is, the slower it gets.

5. Issues with Backups. Most hosting companies do weekly overwrites. That means they backup once a week, and overwrite the last backup. So if your site is hacked on Saturday, and you discover it on Sunday, too bad. The problems from Saturday have already been backed up, and are now the only copy. Good server backups can save you all kinds of time. Much easier to restore from the day before than to diagnose and repair catastrophic issues with a site. Sure, you can do manual backups, and you SHOULD, at least once a month, even if your hosting does do good backups. But having that safety net there can save you oodles of time and grief. We’ve had to completely rebuild complicated sites when disasters occurred, before we implemented better backups. Not only no fun, but again, a colossal waste of time.

6. Unpredictable, random things. These are the worst. You just never know what might not work, when it might not work, and what kind of thing you may have to deal with. I run into odd things all the time, and the variety of configurations for a server are huge! We market a piece of software with two basic requirements: It needs Cpanel, and WHMCS. Ok, so we already know the users are using a Linux server, and the control panel they are using is the same. But the varieties of configurations means that literally 50% of the installs of our software have to have some kind of adjustment made to make them work on someone else’s server configuration! And that is DOWN from 80% when we first launched the software! There are just a LOT of variables, that can be set in any number of combinations, which can cause effects that you just cannot predict. This means that the amount of your time that a hosting company can waste can never be FULLY predicted when you are dealing with a new company. You can only pre-assess a certain amount of pending problems. The rest will lurk like gremlins to sabotage your day when you least expect it.

So I can tell you about this, and you probably won’t really even believe that it can be a hassle until you experience it. When I tell my students that they really don’t want to have to handle other hosting companies, they say, “Yeah, well this is what the client wants, what am I gonna do?” But after the issues today, my student said, “What a pain! I’m going to charge them a $100 surcharge if they use their own hosting!” Suddenly, after experiencing it, she knew exactly what I meant, and exactly how much it could cost her!

We found a company that we absolutely LOVE, for their server setup, and for their good support and helpfulness. When we went to our own dedicated server, we went through this same company, to ensure that the functions were configured the same. We then tweaked a few settings to more closely meet our needs, and to enhance security without compromising function. Having found a good thing, we did not want to have to figure it out all over, or end up losing ground when we should have been moving up.

I have realized that I simply do not have the time in my life to spend troubleshooting completely needless problems. I don’t have the time to fuss with things when I could move it to another server and simply never have to deal with similar issues. Sure, I can charge extra, but why do I want to spend my time doing things that are completely useless to myself, and to the client? Why do I want to keep wasting my time and the client’s resources?

I charge a surcharge to install anything onto another hosting company’s space, and it is a hefty one. Because every time I take it on, I’m gambling with my schedule.

This is so important to us, we even offer free hosting to our clients. Because it is worth the savings in time and frustration.

All hosting isn’t created equal, and you DON’T have to just choose your set of evils. You CAN have hosting that saves time and hassles.

Software Pricing Models

It has been a real struggle to come up with successful software pricing models. We’ve found some patterns and concepts that just conflict in real life, making balancing needs of clients with demands on developers very difficult.

We have a piece of software, which provides advanced automation for webmasters. Now, this software saves a webmaster anywhere from 30 minutes to 4 hours PER use. That is still time they can charge for in many cases, but they don’t have to do the grunt work, the software simply does it. It was never meant for startups – startups really don’t NEED this automation. It is a tight niche software – only works for webmasters who use two specific platforms. So the target market will never be that big.

So, we have two kinds of customers – those who ask us why it is so cheap, and are suspicious because it is, and those who keep asking us why it has to cost so much. It is priced at $395 for the full version, but we usually have discounts on that (big ones). The Light version is $99. Interestingly enough, most complaints AREN’T about the price of the full version. They are about the price of the LIGHT version! We’ve also had prospects email us and ask us whether we would sell them the Full version for less than the price of Lighter. We had to say no, because we simply cannot support it for that.

In many instances, you can increase revenues on software by making up for it in volume. With this one, we can’t do that, for two significant reasons:

  • The market isn’t large enough. It is a tight niche market, one that is difficult to reach through marketing, and the customer base will never be that large. So there just aren’t enough prospective customers to get high volume.
  • The support is fairly intensive. It ranges from conflicts with server settings, to user typos, to coder typos (hey, they happen), to Failure to Read the Manual. It averages about 1-2 hours per sale. With that kind of support need, we just CAN’T drop the price down and hope to make money by doing so.

So the next suggestion was to drop the price and offer it with NO support, and then charge for support. Hmmm. That’s fine, except you STILL have to support it when it is a typo in the manual or a bug in the code, or a server conflict, because those are things WE are responsible for fixing. But we never know until we get into it which it is (often it is a combination of things, our responsibility and client responsibility). So you can’t just say “no support”, you still have to support it. And since clients can’t draw the line, and we don’t know until we look which type of problem it is, there is no effective way to manage a paid support system and still get paid. Too complicated.

The last one was that we go to a subscription model. Ok, we are going in that direction, but it is, in some ways, counterproductive. In order to implement a subscription model, we need additional programming to track and activate and deactivate the software for paid or overdue accounts. That increases our development and maintenance costs. This means that people are not going to get this for what they want to pay for it – it will still cost them more per month than the cheap ones want to pay.

I don’t feel obligated to please everyone. Basically, I feel that this software is best for established webmasters, NOT for startups. That is who our pricing is for. If they develop it for themselves, they will find they are investing thousands of dollars into coding. We ask them for about a tenth what they’d spend, and they get it now, instead of also having to spend a year developing and testing it.

No one else is offering anything like it, because people who do develop software like it either keep it in house, or they burn out in the development process and do not want to have to support it. Most don’t even finish it if they start coding it, because it is much more difficult than it seems.

It is simple to look at a piece of software from the outside and say, “this should not be so expensive!”. And it is easy to make the developer the bad guy when something doesn’t work as expected for our particular use. But software development is HARD, and supporting it can completely eat up every single penny of profit. So when faced with constant complaints about cost, and a huge drain on resources from support, many companies drop support to nothing, and lower the cost of the software. Their reputation drops too – but people don’t complain quite so loudly because they didn’t lose as much. But that isn’t who we want to be.

I’ve considered just raising the price to $500 and letting it go. Let those who are ready for it pay for it, give them red carpet treatment, and thumb my nose at the rest. But I’m not sure that is the right course either.

Pricing models are often more complex than outsiders assume they are, and the pricing model chosen for a business has to be right for the complexity of factors in that business specific. It isn’t the only factor in success – it is an important one, but to work, has to be combined with other well balanced factors.

We’re continuing to work with the variables to reach that balance.

I’ll Be There, Count On It!

A friend of ours held a Thanksgiving dinner in town. Hordes of people from nearby towns praised the idea, said how much it was needed, and promised to be there. A handful of people showed up, and none of the people who vowed to be there were part of the group.

Another resident here held a free dinner. Again, people promised to be there, and about 20 actually showed. This from three local towns.

I’m not exactly criticizing those who said they’d be there and weren’t. We had a wedding on the day of the free dinner, and it took precedence. That is just life. So I’m really just trying to make a comment on the law of averages.

Out here in Wyoming, where you count things by the each, such numbers are easy to analyze. When sixty people promise to show, and three show up, you NOTICE. You might not notice it so much in a larger area where you don’t personally contact everybody, and where the absence of a few might not matter so much. I think that the tendency to promise to be there, and then to not show is pretty universal though, and affects a range of aspects of operating a business, especially where actually PAYING for something is concerned.

Three weeks ago we got three calls about our software. All three promised they’d be buying within the next 24 hours. One purchased three days later. One purchased just yesterday. Another has yet to do so. Statistically, this is actually way better than average.

Early on in business, when we are just starting out, we get into conversations with people, and when someone promises to call, we get all excited, figuring we all but have our first customer. Then weeks pass and they never call. We quickly learn that more people SAY they will, than actually do.

The tendency in people is to express interest, even if they are not interested, to avoid hurting feelings. They will also promise to call, then promptly forget, say they’ll be somewhere, then look at their calendar and realize they have a conflict, or just plain not feel like going when it comes down to the date.

It is important that business owners understand that tendency, and not count the interest or bank on sales until they are actually made. It is also important that you adjust what people SAY when you are making projections, or analyzing poll or survey data – another place where people tend to exaggerate interest or commitment.

I don’t think there are any simple rules for doing so either, because it can depend on many factors. But in general, you need to water things down by at least 90%, because we find when we get 10% of the number who claim an interest to actually show up, or 10% of the people who say they will purchase to actually make the purchase, that we are doing fairly well. It can be much lower than that though, with some promotions.

When they say they’ll be there, don’t count on it. Take it with a grain of salt. Believe in people, but understand that what they say, and what they do, won’t always be the same, and it won’t always be because they are unreliable or untrustworthy. It is just how life is.

Playing Musical Webmasters

Many people are always looking for a cheaper deal, or for a “better” person than they just hired. Improvement is a good thing, as is finding good value, but hopping too fast from one service provider to another is counterproductive.

Case Study: A client was offered a 1 year performance guarantee on some services we offered. He bailed at 10 months – during this time, he provided very little in the way of help to allow us to effectively do the job. He then abandoned his site for a year, then decided he wanted it to work for him again. He hired an in-house marketing pro. This person was inexperienced with the site structure, but was learning fast, and also had to learn the business needs and foundations well enough to promote it successfully. One week into the job, the site owner decided he was not seeing results fast enough, and fired the pro. He hired another, who jumped in with enthusiasm. Again, she had to learn how to do many of the tasks, and had to learn his business well enough to promote it well. Two weeks later, he fired her, and hired a third person because he felt the second one was not productive enough.

This business owner is shooting himself in the foot. He is not allowing anyone enough time to learn his business well enough to do the job he wants them to do, and is paying for the same unproductive time, over and over. With this kind of services, there is almost always some unproductive time in the beginning, because you have to lay groundwork. And every time you start over, the new person has to come in and re-lay that groundwork, because they can’t just pick up where the last one left off – they have to orient themselves to the job.

Another client had four websites when we came on the job, all of their previous websites were ineffective because they were never finished. They had us build another, which again, they never did the legwork on to get finished (every client has to cooperate to a certain extent, or a webmaster CANNOT do their job, and this client refused to cooperate with their part of things).  Two years later they hired yet another firm to build yet another site – we suspect this one will never be finished either.

Impatience, lack of understanding, or refusal to provide needed input can stop a business from marketing effectively online. If you spend all of your time starting over, then all of your resources are going into foundations, and you never end up with any kind of results. Results come after you have spend a LOT of time with structure on TOP of the foundation. They don’t come from the time you spend laying that foundation, and the foundation HAS to be laid. Otherwise nothing is ever going to come of it.

If you hire a pro, at least give them a chance to get past that spot, and then provide your part of the job. You won’t see results otherwise, and will waste your resources in endless searches for a quick fix where there is none.

Requiring Payments on Delinquent Accounts

For new business owners, the first experiences with delinquent accounts may be distressing. Especially when it comes time to take action. Our company has instituted a series of policies, mostly implemented due to need, to address the situation. I am not longer as uncomfortable with handling this kind of situation, but I don’t think I’ll ever be completely easy with it.

  • It is not rude to create a policy of enforcement for delinquent accounts.
  • It is not unreasonable to require payment in advance (with reasonable assurances of performance on your part, such as satisfaction guarantees, refund policies, etc).
  • It is not mean to suspend a service when payment is not made.
  • It is not unfriendly to attempt to collect on a bounced check or to refuse further transactions from a customer who filed a chargeback on delivered goods.

Many of our company services operate on policies regarding website hosting services. We have policies that are well within the industry norms – in fact, they are fairly lenient compared with many hosting companies. Invoices are sent 15 days prior to the due date, reminders are sent, and if the account is 10 days late, it is suspended. Suspension does not delete the account – nothing is permanently lost. But it does make the site inaccessible by the public. Most companies will terminate (permanently delete) an account that is in excess of 30 days late. We do not. We keep it on the server for 6 months, then back it up and terminate the account.

We do this in an automated system – this actually takes some of the pressure off us. The system just automatically handles many things for us, it is “company policy”, and it just happens automatically, impartially, and completely predictably. We have clients for whom we will grant exceptions. We also have clients that we will not go out of our way for – these are clients who have already abused our good nature, or used up their chances.

It can be difficult at first to enforce policies like that. It can be shattering the first time you have to decide to send a bill to collections. It can be very hard when you have a client whom you like, and they refuse to pay what is owed. We find that if you have set policies, you can tell a client, “I’m sorry, this is our company policy.” If you can automate enforcement, it also makes it easier to cope with it, because that is just how your billing system works. Makes it a little less personal, which is a good thing in this case.

We protect ourselves by billing in advance, so we are rarely stung for large amounts of money. But many industries have a standard of billing after work is completed, and people who work in those industries will have to deal with unpaid bills more often.

Requiring payment is not unkind. It is a necessity of a successful business. There are times when it is appropriate to make an exception – but when you do, it is because you feel the desire to help someone whom you feel needs it due to factors beyond their control. It isn’t a daily thing, and it isn’t something you CAN do on all delinquent accounts. Business requires firmness with many things, because there are people who will abuse your good nature, and take advantage of your kindness. I dislike having to deal with that particular reality – that there are people who expect to go through life not paying their obligations, and expecting to get away with it.

In general, I’d rather err on the side of kindness. But I have clients whom I have turned the automated features in our billing manager BACK on, after having disabled them previously. A client to whom I granted an exception on a few occasions, who simply used up my good will. (After the third excuse, I see a pattern that isn’t going to stop, so I quit being an enabler.) Another client who almost NEVER pays until his sites go down, but who then promptly pays. People whom I generally like in other respects, but who will procrastinate or deliberately ignore their obligations unless I require them to by providing a consequence that they dislike.

It is never a pleasant thing to deal with. But it is a factor that each successful business person must face, and determine a way to state the requirements to the customer, and then follow through when payments for services or goods are not made as agreed.

Networking – You Just Have to Do It Yourself

Networking is a form of relationship marketing. It works because of relationships. This makes it very difficult to outsource networking. It ends up being something you pretty much HAVE to do yourself.

Larger companies often outsource networking. But when they do it successfully, they do it using someone who has an engaging personality – that PERSON becomes the company. It is still personal. They also often hire salespeople, and those salespeople network for their OWN benefit. They may represent the company as they do so, but if they leave that company, they take their networking power with them, and it transfers largely to the new company.

For small businesses, since the owner is their own best asset in creating a unique and memorable business distinction, networking is something you really must do for yourself.

People respond to networking because of personalities. So being yourself in networking is an asset. Sure, there are skills you can learn – listening, what kind of things to share, how to write intelligently (interesting, I almost misspelled that word!), and where to share. But your greatest power lies in your own personality – showing an appropriate sense of humor, sharing discouragements others can identify with, being excited over good things that happen, etc.

Networking becomes very much about who you know – your circle of acquaintances. People associate the business with the person whom they met. They either like, or do not like the business, because of the person they interact with.

Someone else just can’t do that for you. Because they are then networking for themselves, not you. If they leave, their power goes with them, and you have to start all over. You want to build that power for yourself.

Yes, it takes time, but it is time you MUST invest. Because when you do it right, networking is very powerful – and comes back to repay you over and over.

When “Local” is a Curse

One of the major advancements in the internet in the last few years is a greater emphasis on Local marketing. The internet evolved through a few phases, and is finally to the point where enough businesses have websites that local marketing is effective for some businesses, especially those in larger metro areas.

We find that it is a curse, and not a blessing, most of the time. This happens for two reasons:

  1. Our business is national. We rarely gain ANY clients from our local area, and even when we do, they do not find us by searching for THEIR town. Because in Wyoming, ALL of Wyoming is “local”. But internet promotional systems don’t see it that way. They see a town as being local, and anything outside of that being something else. So here we are, in a town of less than 300 people. Seriously. When we do make “local” sales, they are NOT in the town we live in. They are at least 60 miles away. Most internet systems consider a radius of only 50 miles. We don’t have enough people within that radius, and cows and antelope are unlikely to care about owning a good website, or learning to be a webmaster. Using local promotion, in this instance, is completely useless, and you don’t have to hear the “moo” to figure that out.
  2. We promote to other areas. In this instance, geo-targeting is helpful, but the implementation is often a hindrance. We found a new “local” promotional engine online. It could have been VERY useful for promoting our seminars, which ARE local to major cities in the US. However, they required that we enter OUR address, and based all search capacity on that address, NOT on where we were offering the local service. And they were not the same, because we travel to various locations in the US. Again, the system was unable to accommodate what is actually a fairly common need. So even when local promotion SHOULD help us, someone else’s system has tunnel vision and cannot see a use outside the one they envisioned.

Local search and promotion has been a fairly useless thing for us so far. While we can target some paid ads, free resources which make a big deal over regional promotion based on our physical location are completely useless. There are no customers here!

We had an SEO pro once give us some assistance in optimizing our site. She got all hung up on the local search thing, and could not seem to understand that the entire state of Wyoming has significantly less than 1 million people, and that there are only a couple of searches per day for Wyoming based search terms, almost all of which are monopolized by companies from other states who assume that all states are created equal, so they go after all 50 states. It simply wasn’t a worthwhile expenditure of energy to attempt to dominate the search engines for Wyoming related terms, when it would not result in any significant number of site visitors, let alone actual conversions. Interestingly enough, we’ve had better success from having the word “Canada” in our pages than from having the word “Wyoming” in them.

I haven’t yet figured out if there is a solution that would allow us to capitalize on local search for our Workshops. It does not seem practical to attempt to set up multiple profiles to target multiple regions, because they all do share the same business name, and I don’t have a physical address or mailing address in all the areas we will be traveling to. Yet most systems do not even consider any kind of situation like this.

I also know there must be many other kinds of businesses who have a target market located somewhere other than where their physical location is situated. And I guess they are left out in the cold as well.

What Google Doesn’t Want You to Know

If you own a website, you may think that the information released by Google is reliable information to base your actions upon regarding your website. You’d only be partially right. Because Google doesn’t tell you everything, and doesn’t want you to know everything.

Google has a set of standards. They want you to think that those standards are completely enforceable, when in fact, they are not. They want you to adopt those standards as your own, and to never never try to trick the search engines into giving you what they consider to be an unfair advantage. Of course, their definition of “unfair” is probably not the same as yours – but they want you to act in a way that is in compliance with what THEY prefer to have you do – and not necessarily what is in your best interest.

Google does NOT want you to know their exact methods of judging what they consider to be quality and what they do not. They do not want you to know what their technology is, or is not, capable of. And they do not want you to know exactly how they decide that one site is more important than another. They are afraid if you know that, that you will use that knowledge to manipulate their search engine to give you an unfair advantage. In fact, the Guidelines in the Webmaster Tools contain many verifiable inaccuracies, combined with instructions so vague and commonplace as to be completely uninformative  – so even their own instructions do not yield any useful information.

They would like you to believe that their technology is capable of more than it really is. You see, computers cannot THINK, and never will be able to. So when it comes to judging quality, they really can’t do that. Because they cannot think, they’ll punish you unfairly a good percentage of the time, and reward you unfairly a good percentage of the time. And interestingly enough, those numbers really haven’t changed a lot with improvements in their system, they’ve just changed the kinds of things they reward or punish.

Let me be clear on one point right off – I do not recommend “black hat” (sneaky or deceptive) SEO tactics, and I never have. I have always believed that quality and value are the best choices, and that they give you the best return, no matter where they are applied, and that this philosophy is the best one for SEO. I believe that an honest person, trying to convey an honest message, has the advantage in the long term.

The fact that Google (and other search engines as well) do not really WANT you to know what they measure and what they don’t, means that to an extend, SEO professionals are simply guessing on many points. Oh, sure, experience tells them that this matters and that does not, but sometimes that experience is misinterpreted. There is NO SUCH THING as objective double blind testing with SEO – because no two situations are identical, so they cannot be objectively measured. So it is not only impossible to get Google to give you a straight answer, it is also impossible to figure it out by objective analysis.

This accounts for many of the misconceptions online about SEO, and for many of the wild theories that repeatedly resurface. It also accounts for the buzz raised each time Matt Cutts says anything even mildly suggestive of real information (which, upon closer examination, always reveals itself to be more sidestepping of genuine communication). It is almost funny to see the news reports after he gives a public address – people will be announcing the amazing thing he said, when in fact, he did not say anything at all, just suggested that he might know something he is not going to tell.

So take the words endorsed by Google with a grain of salt. They are not always true – and they are more often implication than actual statements.

Because in reality, Google doesn’t WANT you to understand how it all works.

Check out our new Cottage Industry Consulting and Development services at for common sense help with the SEO on y0ur website.

Advertising on FaceBook

It has been a new experience to begin experimenting with advertising on FaceBook. I have run, or attempted to run, several ads, and one of my associates also used FB ads.

They can be purchased as PPC, or Pay Per Page Load (referred to as CPM). PPC costs more per, but is action based. CPM just charges you to show the ad, and does not guarantee clickthroughs.

FaceBook has some rather strict, and often strangely implemented rules about advertising. It seems to be implemented through keyword flagging, rather than by thinking people. If you have an ad that has certain words in it, which they consider to be restricted, your ad will be disapproved. No appeal. NO second chance. Once disapproved you may NEVER resubmit it, and never advertise that website again.  We find this to be not only harsh, but entirely unreasonable, especially since reading their guidelines won’t really clue you in as to which keywords they are flagging, or even why. Their terms of use are fairly vague, and non-specific, so it is difficult to tell sometimes just what they are forbidding.

This means, that if you word a disallowed topic to sound like an allowed one, you can promote it. If you accidentally describe an allowed topic using a word that they have flagged, your ad will be disapproved, regardless. Even more oddly, when we had one ad approved, they subsequently disapproved an ad for the SAME THING (using a word they did not like), and they said I could never advertise that item again  – all the while, the original ad, going to the same URL, was running in the background and they were happily charging us for it.

The second thing that people often misunderstand about FaceBook ads, is how they are targeting. If you are offering Web Design services, for example, and list “web design” as a keyword in your list, they will display your ads to OTHER WEB DESIGNERS! Because the match words are pulled from the profiles. So you have to list keywords that fit your target market, and NOT necessarily words they would use in a search engine. This is obviously a problem to many users, because I am constantly bombarded with ads for web design, and graphic design.

Can they work? The verdict is still out. We did get clickthroughs – though the price we had to pay for them was pretty steep for one industry ($1.50 to $2.00 per click). The “suggested bid” was so far off that it was pretty well useless – it suggested bidding $.67, when clicks were STARTING at $1.52.

We did not make any sales, but we also did not run it for an extended period of time. We did try tweaking the ad – but ran into the disallowed issue above, and did not dare submit another ad for the same thing, lest they blast our current ad. Such inconsistencies make it very difficult to truly test and optimize the system.

They do have a nice ability to target regionally, which is useful for some businesses.

Overall, I think they could really work for our seminars. But having insulted their word list, I’ll never know that unless I want to set up another website and promote it there and link to the main site. That seems a bit too much like playing games to me, and frankly, I’m finding that FaceBook is making it a bit too difficult to allow me to pay them money, so I have sort of lost the enthusiasm for testing it anymore.

Our associate who used this found that it was good for delivering visitors – though she also had to tweak her keyword list – but that it really didn’t result in increased sales. She is hopeful that some of the people who still associate with her due to contact through the ads may eventually result in business.

If you decide to play with them, realize that a $5 per day budget may not go as far as you think, and that the censor-bot that screens your ads is impossible to predict.

Call Me Paranoid

I’m a little suspicious of some of the free things Google is offering now. Because I distrust their motives, and I distrust the way in which their freebies can affect my business. Most of my colleagues are raving about them, but I am not feeling compelled to jump on the Google train and just go wherever they want to take me.

Let’s try Google Analytics. Free stats tracking. What could be bad about that? We find two issues with it:

1. Like Google Adsense, it uses Javascript. It is such common Javascript, that malicious coders have found ways to exploit it – and since so many sites use it, it is well worth their while to do so. There’s enough anecdotal evidence on this to have strong suspicions that Google Analytics code is frequently exploited, and we have personally experienced instances of exploitation of this kind of code – either viruses or malicious website links injected through the code.

2. Just how is Google using that data? They claim that they use analytical data in delivering more accurate search results. But their idea of “accurate” may not always be in the best interests of small businesses, because of what Google thinks is the most important criteria for “accuracy”. Generally, Google is just gathering bits of info and extrapolating (that’s a fancy word for “guessing”) the rest. Google CAN’T really get traffic stats for your site, unless YOU give it to them, or unless other computer users give them access to individual browsing profiles (more on that). The most efficient way to get site data is, of course, to get it directly from the site owners. Google Analytics gives themselves exactly that – a complete statistical rundown on your website. For startups and small sites, that information, in the hands of Google, does NOT help you! Because Google’s basic philosophy is that popular is better than unpopular.

That brings us right into two other services which I distrust, and do not use as a result – for similar reasons. I think Google just does not need that much information about my browsing habits.

1. The Google Toolbar. Google uses this to gather individual browsing data and then analyzes the patterns. Theoretically, if enough people use it, then Google can get a pretty good estimation of site visit patterns for most websites. This is one of the data sources used in their extrapolations also.

2. Chrome Browser. This is just the next step from the Google Toolbar. Give people a shiny new toy, and maybe they won’t notice the price attached. For both webmasters, and website owners, I think that the cost associated with Chrome may be too high.

I do not like Google having access to my desktop, to my internet history, etc. I think this is just information they can well do without, and that they are NOT gathering it for MY benefit, but for theirs, and that my goals, and theirs, are often worlds apart. Giving them access to my browsing history helps THEM achieve THEIR goals, but does not help me achieve mine.

Google Desktop has no place in my work environment either. In fact, anything produced by a third party that uses data as Google does, has no place in my work environment. I am suspicious of free “tools” which come with a craftily worded privacy or terms of use policy.

Google is not alone in the desire to gather data in every way possible, nor are they alone in their lack of transparency over it. Yahoo has valiantly tried to infiltrate our computers, and Bing is making a go of it.

But if I do not want “spyware” on my computer, and if I run software to ensure that nobody can sneak it onto my computer without my permission, why would I want to open the door and let a company like Google just waltz right in with the cameras? I don’t care how big a company is, or how common their name. There is just a limit to how much data they need, and how much they need to know about my habits.

I am NOT paranoid about the kind of data they gather. I just think there may be more harm in anonymous patterns and statistical data than we realize, especially for small businesses that are trying to launch a new site in the face of huge competition.

I don’t care if I am just “one of the numbers”. They can do without me!

The Wearying Process of Supply and Demand

We bought a truck this week. It was the most difficult and exhausting vehicle purchase we have ever made! And it all had to do with supply and demand, and the economic effects of a recession on a particular product line.

We wanted a truck. But not just any truck. A 3/4 ton or better. Now, half ton trucks are a dime a dozen. But the price just JUMPS as soon as you go any larger. There is not much price difference between used 3/4 ton and one ton trucks – a matter of perception of fuel efficiency, mostly. But supply drops, and demand rises right at that 3/4 ton breakpoint.

The problem in Wyoming is that it is a truck state. Everyone and their dog has a big truck. In the current economy, big trucks are not being traded in, or sold used by owners. They are keeping them longer. More people are buying used instead of new. So we now have a shortage of used trucks, and a higher demand for them. This has pushed prices up about 50%.

So what you now find, is higher miles, and higher prices. Not a good combination. That means they are harder to afford, harder to finance, as well as being harder to find.

We searched aggressively for days before finding one. We had a time limit, could not take our time. Every other time we’ve bought a car, the entire process took less than a day, to find the car, and finalize the deal. We’ve even bought two cars on the same day, and it didn’t take the whole day. We found good deals and met our needs quickly. So this time was really exhausting.

We’ve had one other time when outside influences affected a market this strongly, and that was from the seller’s perspective, not the buyer’s perspective. We sold bulk foods, and computers. When 9-11 happened, the computer market crashed, and the bulk food business boomed – so much so that we could not meet the demand, and had to issue refunds because the items simply were not available.

We often don’t connect things like this until we need something that has been strongly affected. When they do happen, we just have to deal with it. Tiring or not, we had to spend the time. High, or not, we had to spend the money, and take what was available.

People who say they don’t have to let the recession affect them are dreaming. Because it will reach out and touch you whether you want it to or not. We can’t choose what comes into our lives, but we can choose how we deal with it when it does.

Check out our new Cottage Industry Consulting and Development services at for help in meeting business needs in a trying time.

Difference Between FaceBook Pages and Profiles

Pages and Profiles are two separate things, with two separate purposes on FaceBook. But if you don’t know the lingo, they can sound like the same thing.

A PROFILE is what you start with. It has some rules, and it does some thing, for a specific purpose.

It is designed to let you communicate within a group of people – and to allow people to connect with people. Therefore, a Profile is for a PERSON. It is NOT for an entity like a business, town, or organization.

Profiles allow you to let people know what you are doing, tell people about yourself, and control who can see it, and who cannot – Profiles are only partially indexed by search engines. They have a limit of 5000 connections.

People can connect to you by requesting a Friend connection.

A PAGE, is something that is OWNED by a PERSON – so in order to have a page, you first have to have a profile. Because a page is essentially owned by a profile.

Pages are designed for ENTITIES. If you want to promote your business on FaceBook, create a profile (that’s personal), and then create a page (for the business).

Many of the functions are the same. People SUBSCRIBE, instead of connecting through a Friend request. A Page has no limits to the number of people who can subscribe.

When you are connected as a Friend to someone, you see all their posts. When you are subscribed to a Page, that page does NOT receive your personal information. Communication is one-way on a Page, Two-way on a Profile. A very important difference.

Pages are fully indexed by search engines, and have options for discussion groups. Unfortunately, the discussion groups do not send notifications on discussions, so they are rarely used by page subscribers.

A Page is a good way to keep customers informed though.

You can feed a Page into Twitter. You can feed Twitter into a Profile. So you can post to your business page, and it will show up automatically on your Profile wall if you have connected both feeds.

FaceBook also offers other options, such as Groups (really just another form of Page, which you can join, but you won’t get discussion notices from that either so they are rather ineffective), and Causes (again, a variation on Pages, and completely ineffective because everybody joins, but then does nothing to actually make a difference to the cause).

The first step is getting your Pages and Profiles straight. Once you understand the purpose for each, and how they can be used to advantage, FaceBook can become a better tool for you.

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.