Online Marketing

Legitimate online marketing, as opposed to “Internet Marketing”.

Cottage Industry and Manufacturing Consulting

Is there a limit to what a sole proprietor can earn through cottage industry? Can a cottage product or service business realize the potential of unlimited earnings?

Firelight Heritage Farm is launching a new service which answers these questions, and which offers a full range of services to guide businesses, large or small, through the process of starting or converting to a home based business.

This can be done with many types of businesses – a good number of them are businesses which people do not think CAN be converted to home based. They can be operated in the home, on the farm, or in a shop at home. It offers so many financial benefits, in reducing operational costs, keeping profits with the manufacturer instead of being spread across a supply and distribution chain, and of reducing regulatory and tax burdens to the least possible requirements. It makes possible Point of Production Distribution, which increases profits dramatically. And business does not get greener than this! Equipment is small and energy efficient, factories are eliminated, transport pollution is dramatically reduced, and each producer is free to act on their own convictions for stewardship of our environment instead of being bound by the rules of an employer.

In case you don’t realize, Firelight Heritage Farm is owned by the Frumpy Haus Frau herself, Laura, and her husband, Kevin. We developed a business model for cottage industry, including cottage manufacturing, which allows almost unlimited growth and income potentials, with NO employees. The model includes methods and policies for expanding through a network of subcontractors, and includes logical process controls and a range of choices for controls over proprietary information or designs.

Our business experience has been varied, and broad, and has developed over the course of almost thirty years. This line of services brings together all of that experience to provide a service for anyone from a work at home mom or dad, to a corporation needing to find affordable and sustainable ways to grow in a challenging economy.

We will also be offering a full range of product potential assessment, product development, manufacturing process development, instructional literature writing, and marketing and small business consulting services. Cottage industries can be reproduced in a way that looks similar to, but is distinctly different than the Direct Sales or Multi-Level Marketing model, and we will be able to guide business owners through the creation of a sustainable multi-business expansion.

If cottage industry is in your future, chances are, you don’t know what you don’t know!

Cottage industry is as old as the earth, but must be adapted to our contemporary world. We will be launching a new website in a few days which will feature the services available for starting a cottage industry, growing a cottage industry, creating and selling cottage industry packages, and for converting a corporation to a subcontractor based cottage industry.

Move past the limits!

Cottage industry is the answer for the future.

Check out our new Cottage Industry Consulting and Development services at CottageIndustrialRevolution.com.

This Old Blog

Someone told me this morning that they were impressed that my blog is as old as it is, that not many who started in 2006 are still going. And here all this time I’ve been thinking I was a latecomer to the game, and that my blog was relatively young! I guess that speaks volumes about the transitory nature of the web.

Blogging was many years old by the time I gave in and started a blog. I didn’t want to. But I finally felt that I owed it to my clients to see what kind of value I could discover in it. One of the principle values has been a place where I can link everything that I do together, write about the things I feel like writing about, without it having to be about a specific topic. Unlike my websites, where everything is targeted to a specific audience. The blog is just me. It brings value to my business in linking all the parts of me together in one spot – where I can list every website I own, regardless of relevancy.

I think about two years into it is the first time I went back over the posts to see what I could reuse elsewhere. The first time I was astonished at how much I had written in that amount of time, and the first time I realized how long I’d been doing it. I’ve done that again, a couple of times, each time shocked at how old it really is when I stop to count the years. YEARS. In some ways, it only feels like months.

I am LDS (look it up at lds.org if you don’t know what that means). As such, I have a Patriarchal Blessing. It counsels me to “keep a record of your life’s work” for my posterity. My journals are dusty, and I haven’t put pen to paper for writing in more than a decade. I was pregnant with Adriene (now 18) when our family got our first computer (a gift from Kevin’s father). From then on, typing was easier than writing (well, once I learned to type…). Much of my life has been recorded in correspondence, and now, in my online presences, which are many.

I don’t know if that constitutes obedience to that personal counsel or not. There is much that has not been recorded – it is too sacred for public display. Many things I do not WANT my posterity reading after I’m gone. Many things I do want them to know. More, I think, than they can gain from these snippets of life interwoven with instructional materials.

If my blog is old, does that make me an old blogger? It had better not! I still have too much to do to be old. Today, I have a book to complete, which means I had better not invest all of my creative energy on this post. I need to save some for the chapter on Horse Mushrooms.

Honestly Losing the Sale

What would you rather have: A person to whom you never sold anything, speaking well of you, or a person to whom you DID sell something speaking badly of you?

Today a prospective customer emailed wanting kefir grains. He said he thought the best option would be some fresh grains and some dried grains. He then said he was in Germany, serving in the military, and would need them shipped Priority through an APO.

I could do that. We always ship fresh grains Priority. But I ship them Priority to speed the delivery. Kefir grains are a live thing. They require food to live. We put them in milk each night, and they thrive through the night to the next day, when we drain off the spent milk (it is now very low on food for them, but high in probiotics for us), and replace it with new. As the grains grow, we give them more milk until we divide the grains and lower the amount again. Over and over we do this, to keep them fed and happy and growing and healthy.

When we ship them, they are a lot like baby ducklings. They can survive a day or two in the mail, but they cannot survive many days. Kefir degrades in quality day by day, and after 5-6 days, there really isn’t anything but a stinking pile of goo left, which may or may not be revivable using the most aggressive resuscitation methods.

When you ship through an APO, it goes Priority to the receiving station in the US, where the military then transports it to the duty station. A process of six days or more.

I explained this to the customer. I also pointed him to our shopping cart for the grains (he had seen the ad for them on another site which did not point to the cart).

He emailed back shortly with a few more questions, and thanks for explaining that to him. He decided to order the dried grains, and said he’d also like some other products which he found on the site with the cart.

I lost a sale of milk kefir grains. Had I not explained, he may have still chose to purchase other products from us as well, or not. I had no way of knowing what he’d do when I told him about the shipping issue. He did decide to order the other grains from me.

There have been many times when a customer has asked to make purchases and I’ve told them that what I was selling might not be the best option for them. It comes down to one simple principle:

  • I would rather have someone out there who did not buy from me who has a good opinion of me, than someone to whom I sold something dishonestly that has a bad opinion of me.

There are enough things in business that you CAN’T fully control which will leave you with dissatisfied customers, there is no need to make it worse by a poor choice.

Honesty up front about the limitations of what you sell will more often increase trust than give a bad opinion of you to the customer.

Today was a cool experience. It doesn’t always come back and reward you immediately. It is sure nice though, when it does!

Making Sense of Website Traffic Numbers

We have taught our clients how to increase traffic to their websites, by interlinking their websites with social media, so that each time they add content to their websites, it is sent out to the places they haunt regularly online.

This has several benefits:

  1. It gets the website the same traffic benefits of a blog.
  2. It helps them maintain a presence in many places, with just a single task.
  3. The pages get indexed faster, since they are fed through Twitter.

But the overriding question, as always, is:

Does it get more paying customers?

The answer, in a word, is “Usually”. Provided the website follows through with good sales presentation, the orders follow.

We’ve noticed some interesting traffic trends on sites with which we’ve implemented this strategy. To explain what happened, I’ll have to give you some definitions and explanations of what the numbers are.

  • Unique Visitors – These are people who are theoretically visiting for the first time, or the first time in a while. You need hundreds of these, if not thousands of these, per month, in order to keep a steady flow of orders. This number, more than the others, seems most closely correlated with order volumes.
  • Total Visitors – This is all the people that visited, including repeats. This does affect orders somewhat – many people come back to buy again, and people who come back over and over are more likely to refer other people.
  • Page Views – This is how many pages all of your visitors visited. Often this will have an average number attached – such as 5.2 pages per visitor. More pages is a good thing in general. It means people are interested in what you are saying, and selling. This means they are more likely to trust you enough to buy, and more likely to refer other people to your site.
  • Hits – This is a completely meaningless number in terms of traffic. All it means, is the number of times a file was accessed from the server. Each web page can be made up of dozens of files. This means, if anyone ever brags about getting 80,000 hits on their site per month, they are looking at the wrong numbers, and you can be sure they are not getting more than a few thousand visitors, if that. We’ve had sites that averaged 5 files per page, and sites that averaged 50 files per page, so you just can’t tell anything useful from that number, unless you are a web developer who thinks they need to make a site more efficient.

Ok, so now we know what we are working with. These are the trends that we see when we throw social media into the flow of website content publication:

  1. Unique Visitors gradually increase. This is a SLOW increase though. But slow is better than nothing. Since the increase is happening in conjunction with other changes, and since it is happening through the completion of tasks you’d be doing anyway, this is a great thing. Without the flow to social media, this increase would not happen without other more time intensive work. This increase happens through the gradual contact and referral to new people.
  2. Total Visitors dramatically increases. Often a 10-fold increase, literally overnight – it starts the day you post new content that is sent out to your social media profiles. The average small business website, without a tie to social media, has a ratio of about 1.2, to 1.5 visits per visitor. If tied to social media, that increases to an average of just under 10 visits per visitor, and can go much higher. This happens because people are reminded that you are there every time you publish something, so they stop by to read it.
  3. Page Views dramatically increase. Part of this is a natural reaction to the increased traffic, but we find that the percentages improve also. The pages per visitor often rise. This may be in part, due to the fact that people who are reminded that you are there, can read an extra page or two if they want each time they are there, instead of running out of time the first time, and not coming back.
  4. Sales tend to do the same thing as the Unique Visitors numbers. Gradual increases. If they do not increase as the new traffic increases, then the site is in need of a review and some changes to help people find the product better, understand it better, or feel more comfortable about purchasing.
  5. There is a direct connection between frequency of posts, and traffic. Now, the value of this is only really relevant up to a certain point. More than once a day really doesn’t benefit a small business owner (even big business seems to agree that more than once a day is not a profitable use of time). The best balance seems to be somewhere between once a week, and once a day – depending on the schedule and capabilities of the business owner. Scheduling posts to publish at a later date can help with a regular delivery of new content. We find that the greater the frequency, the greater the gap between Unique Visitors, and Total Visitors, so people are responding mostly to the immediacy of having something right in front of them that they think they are interested in. Beyond about every other day though, the increase in Unique Visitors is no longer as dramatic, and more than once a day it levels off even more. The point here is that frequency is vital – you have to post regularly, but that there is a wide range of acceptable frequencies to gain the benefits. You see this benefit really kick in at once a week, peak at about every other day, and dramatically lose benefits per post, at more than once a day.

If you have more than one website, you can get additional benefits by interlinking them, because once you do, what benefits one, will benefit the other.

We’ve found that it helps new sites also.  It takes just weeks to get traffic up to the same point that took months using other “free” methods. Sales are still sluggish at first – people are hesitant to buy things from a new site. But it gets it going faster than other methods.

This is one area where automation really helps, because you are automating the non-personal part, and making sure the personal things you do achieve maximum impact. Well worth the 20 minutes or so that it takes to set up!

Five Years and Counting

I started blogging more than five years ago. I entered the blogging arena reluctantly, and by many standards, very late in the game. That actually proved an advantage, not a disadvantage in some ways. Sure, it was harder to get noticed, but there was more objective data available on what worked and what did not, and I had to learn to use it in a way that would work forever, not just a way that worked because it was new.

I didn’t want to Tweet either. In fact, I still despise Twitter, in spite of recommending it to most of my clients who get bogged down with marketing. I don’t generally Tweet anything – unless I launch a new site and want it indexed ASAP. Mostly, I Auto-Tweet.

This is where Twitter intersects with the blog. One of the keys to being a genius web designer instead of just a mediocre web designer, is being able to think in terms of FUNCTION, and not just in terms of LABELS and FEATURES. Breaking a feature or component down by the functions it performs, rather than just thinking of it as a single purpose item.

See, most people think of Twitter as a great big global conversation, that they have to JOIN in order to get any benefit from Twitter. I don’t. I rarely login to Twitter, and I rarely directly post a Tweet. I do not use TweetDeck, and I don’t use anything to keep me up on the latest or hottest trends. Because I did not think of Twitter as an online community.

I think of Twitter as something that lets you post to a group of people, AND something that can be used to interface with OTHER places that you want to post to OTHER groups of people. It is that second thing that has value to me. I consider the first part to be largely a time waster, and I just have no time to keep up with the Joneses in little text bytes. I have a real life!

I also have a Blog. A blog that, on its own, gets a modest amount of traffic, and has a small following of people who read frequently, but never tell me they did so. I’m ok with that, even though I’d love to hear from more of them. But I can write to the faceless masses if I have to. I just pretend that you are all a bunch of people whom I’d love to hang out with if I met you in person (a few of you, I HAVE met in person… Yup! I was right, I DO like to hang out with you!).

This blog of modest traffic, which is cross linked with whatever my latest business endeavor happens to be, becomes more powerful when I use a function that it possesses – the ability to RSS articles to other places – with the ability of Twitter to interface with some of the places that I want my blog to be seen.

The blog is fed into Twitter, using TwitterFeed.com. Incredibly easy to do. Every time I post, my post goes automatically to Twitter. I also can feed Twitter to FaceBook, Linked-In, Plaxo, etc. Wherever else I want it to go. So now, every time I publish a blog post, out it goes, all over. Automatically. I like automatic.

So I have this little machine that can now be used for either direct, or indirect marketing. I prefer indirect. I prefer to just write about what I want to write about, link to my sites (mostly in the sidebar – rarely in an article directly), and let the increased blog traffic send increased traffic to my other sites. It works. Rather well, in fact.

But what if I could eliminate one of the steps? What if I could send the blog traffic directly to my regular websites?

Back to FUNCTION, not FEATURE. I do not need to turn my website into a blog. I do not even need to ADD a blog to my website. I don’t need another blog at all! I just need to take the functions I need, and add THOSE to the PART of my website that I want to use in that way. In some sites, I’m already posting regular articles to build content, which I’d do anyway. I look at those areas for enhancing with blog functions.

I’ve done this with my book website. I have a Category in it called “Tossed Salad”. It is named after a chapter in my book – this chapter was used for all the odds and ends tips that didn’t really fit in one of the other chapters. Of course, the thing about little tips is that you always come up with one more. So each edition of the book will have even more of them. Probably I’ll eventually have to categorize THEM, and may turn some into full chapters. Whatever. It works. Meanwhile, I store the new ones on this website where people can look them up, where Google can index them, and where they work to promote my book.

The website structure that I use already has the capability to RSS a Category. So I grabbed the Category RSS feed link, and headed back over to TwitterFeed.com, and fed THAT into Twitter, beside my blog feed. Now when I publish an article to that category in my website, IT goes out everywhere my blog goes. People have to click the link to read the whole thing, and that brings them back to my website.

Blogs have one more valuable element that is nice to have in a website – but only one that you want in PARTS of it, not all of it.

Pinging. A blog pings a series of search engines every time a post is published. “Hey guys! New article here! Named THIS… By THIS PERSON… About THAT!”. This gets blog posts indexed in directories fairly quickly, and gives them a millisecond of fame as one of the latest posts (blog directories are incredibly busy, with probably hundreds or thousands of posts being added per second). But it means one or two more people might see it. And it means Google gets the message right away.

So we found a pinging add-on for our website. One that let us assign the ping only to that one category. I now have the advantages of a blog inside my website, bringing a little extra traffic directly into my product sales sites, where more non-pushy articles (I believe in being helpful and informative rather than advertising) bring people who might be interested in what I sell, right to the place that I sell it. If they like the article, they are now feeling all warm and fuzzy toward me, and that is a really good basis on which to foster a good customer relationship. They are well-disposed to consider kindly anything I am selling.

Content Marketing is still the most powerful enduring form of marketing on the net. Understanding technology functions, and how to use them to make life SIMPLER instead of more complicated, is one of the keys to making Content Marketing manageable. I mean, I have time to publish an article a week. I don’t always have time to publish it and then link it to 10 different places online.

Automating the linking part makes everything I write work harder for me, instead of making me work harder because of it.

FaceBook’s Method is Bad for Advertisers

FaceBook shows ads in the sidebar, and the text ads have a little checkbox where you can tell the ad to go away. You can also give a reason, and choose to banish all of the ads from a specific advertiser. Or so it seems.

But the choices do not have the results you might expect. FB’s programming does not ever get smarter over time, it seems to be pretty stupid to start with. You’d think that if you select that something is offensive to you, or against your views, that they’d not show you similar things in the long term? You’d also think that if you repeatedly indicate that an entire category of advertising is uninteresting to you that eventually they’d show you other things? And you’d assume that since they have the capacity for smart ad display, that they’d show you more of what you actually click on, less of what you indicate as uninteresting?

Nope. Telling it to go away is temporary. You’ll often see it again in two or three days, often sooner. Banishing one dumb ad is often replaced by an identical one from a different advertiser. Both annoying, and really stupid, because it makes FB advertising FAR less effective than it could be. And it has a nasty backlash on the advertisers.

First of all, it means that FB is charging you to show your ad to people who have already said they are not interested. Often repeatedly. That is a waste of your advertising dollars.

Second, it is annoying the people to whom it is being shown. They already don’t like you. Irritating them further isn’t a smart PR move.

One of the problems is the manner in which FB determines ad relevance. Many advertisers do not understand how the ads are selected, so their ads go to EXACTLY the wrong sort of people. I’m a good example…

I am a marketer and web developer. I am also an instructional writer. I really don’t want to see ads for spammy marketing webinars and tacky “I can make you rich” online promoters. They not only leave me cold, their innate dishonesty and pushiness offends me. Showing me your ads is a waste of your money, and is only more likely to make me strengthen my efforts to teach people how to identify and avoid YOU. You really don’t want FB showing ME your ads!

If I indicate that I am a photographer, FB will show me ads from OTHER photographers! If I indicate that I design websites, they will show me ads from OTHER web designers!

This problem is two-fold. One is the fact that FB picks up keywords and matches them by the descriptions, hobbies, business pursuits and interests of the profile owner. The other is that most advertisers don’t understand that – so when they put in the keywords to DESCRIBE their ad relevance, it is matched with people who often are NOT their target market! A web designer should NOT put “web design” as a keyword for their ad! They should put “business owner”, or “jewelry designer”. They should put words that attract their target market, not their competitors.

Profile owners have no control over the bad interface. FB could care less what they think, after all, the service is free, and big enough that they think they are the 800 lb gorilla who can sit wherever he wants.

The advertisers, on the other hand, do have the power to change things. Money talks. If they start talking with their wallet, and complaining about ad relevance and ad preferences being ignored, and how that wastes their marketing money, then maybe FaceBook will condescend to listen.

It is already hard enough to be heard above the crowd on FaceBook, and promotion there really only helps a very small percentage of businesses who promote there (less than 1/20 of 1%. If you are actually spending money on ads there, then you need to know the limitations of the system, so you can avoid throwing money down a hole for months, trying to adjust the marketing to find what works, when it may not be possible for it to work for your target market. Understanding how it works helps you evaluate the potentials better to start with, and to make more effective adjustments early on, and to waste less money in the long run.

If you are in that 1/20 of 1% or less for whom it can work, it can be successful enough to justify the money you put in. If you aren’t, then it will suck money and not give anything in return.

That could change radically if FaceBook decided to get a clue and actually target ads, using the technology that they already have in a more effective way.

Content Marketing Opportunities

A recent survey shows that more and more corporations and small businesses are including Content Marketing in their marketing plans and strategies. It also shows that the number one barrier to successfully implementing Content Marketing in a company is the lack of writing talent within the company. Smart marketers now have an opportunity to capitalize on this lack in two potential ways:

1. Because so many companies are challenged where writing is concerned, those companies who DO have good writers on board have an opportunity to naturally take the lead. We have told our clients for the last 5 years that the most valuable skill a business owner can have, is the ability to write well, and this survey bears that out.

2. Good writers should smell a niche that is in need of filling. Good writing is valuable, and companies who know that will pay well for good writing.

So… that said, let’s get into two definitions, to help you know how you can take advantage of one, or both, of these opportunities.

Content Marketing

Content Marketing is marketing through the use of articles or images with descriptions, videos, etc. The easiest method of that, and the most attractive to search engines at this time, is articles. This does NOT mean submitting articles to article directories – that strategy is outdated and a useless effort now. What it means is building content on your own website real-estate, in ways that help it get seen on a broad platform. Simplest is to either create a blog which links to your website or feeds into your website, OR, embed a blog inside your website (with RSS feeds and pinging). Then you feed the blog into Twitter, and feed Twitter into FaceBook, LinkedIn, Plaxo, wherever you have a profile set up that accepts Twitter status feeds.

Content Marketing can take place through a newsletter also, but that is less powerful long term, unless you archive the newsletter in an openly accessible manner on your website (so it becomes part of a search marketing strategy).

Content Marketing is dependent upon GOOD WRITING. PLR articles DO NOT COUNT. EVER. They fail on all counts. So, let’s define good writing.

Good Writing

Good writing is original. Always completely original. It is written from the heart, and it has a personality. It is never clinical and written to be sterile and opinion-free. It has a distinctive perspective. It gives something valuable also – that may be helpfulness, humor, a story, etc. But it gives something that makes the person go away feeling glad they read it.

Good writing is never “500 words long”. It is however many words are needed to accurately and enjoyably address the topic. Editing for length removes the personality, and that is DEADLY. For this article, if I had only wanted to make a basic point, I could have written a conclusion after the third paragraph. But I didn’t want to just say what was happening, I wanted to make it clear just what makes it work, and HOW to use the opportunity well. Two different lengths, for two different purposes.

Of course, if the intended target market has the attention span of a flea, then by all means, keep it short and light. But if you want to appeal to people who think, make it the length it needs to be to do it well.

Helpful writing always has the “ah-ha” factor. The key to making the instructions work, that you might not find elsewhere. Something that makes them say, “Oh, NOW I get it.”, or “Hey, I can DO that!”. In this article, we didn’t just say there was an opening for good content writing, we define what that is, so anyone reading this can know not just WHAT to do, but HOW to do it well.

Good Content Marketing finds an angle that no one else has covered in quite the same way. It answers the questions about your business or product line that your customers are asking over and over – and it answers them in a way your competition is not doing. In virtually EVERY industry, there are things that the industry would rather not talk about openly. If you do, then YOU get all the traffic that is seeking those answers (and it can be considerable).

Good Content Marketing is engaging, and FUN. Perhaps one of the best content marketing articles we ever wrote, was for a dealer in Antique Carpets. The article was titled “Your Very Own Magic Carpet“. The article made an antique carpet instantly appealing, by playing on the hidden thought that nearly everyone has in regard to an Antique Oriental Carpet. It made people want an antique carpet.

If you can get inside the head of the potential customer, and write things they enjoy reading, and WANT to read, then content marketing can be an ongoing, perpetual form of very powerful marketing, because once an article is written and posted, it goes on working for you permanently.

Many companies now realize this, but do not have the skills in-house to do the writing. If you can hone your creative skills, there can be decent money in writing articles. Well written content articles start at $50 each, and go up from there. Way up. But don’t expect to charge a boodle if you don’t have the reputation and track record to back it up!

If you happen to be on the end of having to pay for articles, then do what you can afford, and hire someone who writes things you ENJOY reading.

Content marketing is, without doubt, the most powerful method of online marketing that we have ever encountered, in more than 12 years of building and marketing websites. It isn’t likely to go away any time soon, so it is worth investing in.

The Twitter and FaceBook Marketing Myth

How many times in the last two years have you heard people tell you that if you are going to market online today, you HAVE to use Twitter and FaceBook? How many times have you heard people extolling the virtues of those two platforms for marketing a business?

I’ve got news for you. EVERY SINGLE PERSON who says that is SELLING something to do with Marketing on Twitter or FaceBook. They have motive to tell you that.

The truth is, Twitter and FaceBook are both VERY POOR marketing mediums. They both violate one of the most important rules of marketing:

Put your message in front of an audience who is likely to be interested in buying what you are selling.

People on FaceBook or Twitter, for the most part, are NOT THERE as consumers. They are there to party. So unless you are selling Red Solo Cups, it isn’t going to be a highly effective method for marketing.

There. I said it. I expect I’ll get a storm of denials from people who are selling FaceBook and Twitter marketing services. But my clients generally agree with me, and they are real business people, selling the typical products and services around which business in the US largely revolves.

Five years ago, we were able to tell our clients to go to forums and sites where people congregated who were interested in the general topics around which the client’s product or service revolved. For us, that meant we would go to small business forums, and we’d chime in with helpful information regarding website and marketing. We gained an entire client base this way. Literally hundreds of good, solid clients came our way through this means of marketing.

Enter FaceBook and Twitter. Exit most forums. The business forums simply dried up. They went away, and NOTHING came in to replace them. Oh, some people may disagree, but the few that are left are lethargic at best, and pretty much a waste of time.

You can spend and awful lot of time talking to nobody, with the illusion that someone is listening, but it won’t help your business grow. And right now, you have the choice of participating in old forums where nobody IS, or participating in new social media where EVERYBODY is talking, EVERYBODY is there, but nobody is LISTENING.

So now we have a disappearance of an incredibly effective marketing tool, and the replacement of it with a social tool. Sure, you can reach a LOT of people on FaceBook. But they are NOT targeted listeners. They are there to party, and if your marketing messages interfere with their party, they’ll just tune you out. They have short attention spans, and are looking for distraction, not for practical help in their lives.

FaceBook users are basically two types:

The ones who are addicted to it. They use FaceBook as an online party, where they go to simulate real life. They want distraction, and they want things to keep moving. They have NO attention span, they do not want to have to act on ANYTHING, and they like freebies. They are quick to subscribe to pages – in fact, most of them have SO MANY on their lists that there is no way they could ever keep up with them all. They are equally quick to forget what they just subscribed to, and to turn it off in their feed.

Those who use it for business, family, or friends, to keep in touch, but who limit the amount of time each day that they spend there. They are going to unsubscribe from anything that wastes their time, they won’t be there to be marketed to, and they’ll skim over things and get to the stuff from people that they know. If they KNOW you personally, they’ll sometimes leave your page feed visible. But if they don’t know you personally, they probably won’t even subscribe.

If you get past that, and actually get subscribers to your page, the chores have only just begun. You can post to the wall on that page, and you can work at getting more and more subscribers. But that isn’t the same thing as getting CUSTOMERS. Because most of them do NOT want to listen to the sales pitch. They want you to bring the drinks to the party instead. And if you do, they MIGHT like them enough to buy them later – but most of them won’t. Most of them will just go looking for the next free drink instead. And you’ll have to give away a LOT of drinks just to sell a few.

If you HAVE a FaceBook page, you have to post things to it on a regular basis, or it won’t help you sell anything. Posting ads won’t be effective, your prospects will ignore them. Remember, they are there to party. The big companies hold contests, do giveaways, and are constantly offering “fun stuff”. They aren’t exactly bringing drinks to the party, but they are bringing pencils and a fun little word puzzle. Cheap stuff. Lots of it. An endless flow of trivial little bits of distraction for an audience with the attention span of a gnat.

For a small business, keeping up with a constant stream of that kind of thing is EXHAUSTING! Especially since the return is so low. And the return IS low.

When we ask our clients if they are using FaceBook or Twitter as a marketing tool, most say yes. When we ask them if they have ever made a sale that they knew resulted from FaceBook or Twitter, they say no.

As a direct marketing tool, they are pretty much useless for 99% of businesses in the US. Oh, don’t comment with hot denials unless you are using FaceBook and Twitter for a business that is NOT involved in selling services related to FaceBook and Twitter, AND you can verifiably show that you are GETTING active customers or clients from them.

So what is the answer? Do they have a place in current marketing?

I think they do. But it is not in having a cute and active FaceBook page, or in posting to Twitter every half hour with your latest product. Honestly, those two things are probably nothing more than a waste of your time.

Both can be used in developing relationships. Every once in a while, a conversation will allow you to share your expertise, and at that time, it may benefit your business. But this is weak, and circumstantial at best.

The real reason to USE them for business has to do with search engines. They now index websites higher if they are mentioned on FB or Twitter. And they also rank sites higher if they are LINKED to a site mentioned there. I do NOT recommend trying to game the system here – but if you are smart, you can use it in natural ways, to cover a lot of ground with a few simple tasks each week.

1. Create a blog. Post to the blog one or two times per week. It does not matter WHAT you write, as long as it is YOUR writing, and NOT someone else’s. It must be completely and totally unique and original. The more interesting it is the better. The more it relates to your lines of business, the better. But there is NO NEED to have a separate blog for each topic, that will just make you neurotic because it will be too much to keep up with. One good solid multi-purpose blog is sufficient.

2. Feed your blog into Twitter. This will create a post automatically every time you post to your blog. But it will also give you the ability to feed your blog into ANYTHING that accepts a Twitter feed.

3. Feed Twitter into FaceBook and LinkedIn. Just feed it into your FaceBook profile. A FaceBook page for your business isn’t really necessary, and it isn’t even helpful for about half or more of business owners (you have to have a purpose for it if you want it to be successful). Now your blog goes into FB and LinkedIn, automatically.

4. Feed your blog into your website, into the sidebar, IF the topics you cover on the blog are relevant to the website. If they aren’t, then skip this. This does NOT help your search engine rankings! But it does provide a way to make use of your content to inform your website visitors. It can also increase calls and emails if you put the feed right below a Contact Us box, with a phone number, and a link to your contact form, because recent blog posts indicate that someone LIVE and REAL is behind the site, and it encourages people to call.

5. Link your website to your blog – put it in the blogroll, in a category called Related Sites, or My Websites, or something like that.

6. If you have more than one website, you can interlink all of them. Again, just create a box called Related Sites, or Our Other Websites, or something like that, and put a link to each site in there. Put this box on every page of the site, at the bottom of the left or right sidebar, or in a box at the bottom of the site. DON’T hide the links, and don’t put them on more than once.

This combination of tactics really works. And unlike the pre-Twitter/FaceBook days, it is actually fairly quick. It used to take a year or more to see significant results from this. If you do this now, then Google will pick up your blog post from Twitter within hours, and the blog will benefit every site linked to it. You can see an increase in website traffic to a linked site within 2 weeks.

The great thing about this system is that you basically set everything up, and then just post to your blog. Sure, it also helps to promote the blog through blog directories, where they also pick up the feed to your blog, but basically, with the exception of posting to your blog on a regular basis, it is a “set it and forget it” marketing method.

Content marketing is still the most powerful and stable marketing method online, and this system gives you a means of using a single effort to its maximum potential, in a way that is fairly simple to do. Not only that, there is absolutely NO backlash or negative effect to it. Search engines LIKE it, you aren’t manipulating ANYTHING, you are doing it all open and above board. You are helping your customers through helpful and fun information, provided through your blog, there’s no pressure sales, no sales pitches. Just good stuff, that people and search engines LIKE, being presented where people can either read it or not.

Now that, is smart marketing!

Marketing Like the Spork

Somewhere in the annals of bad ideas masquerading as genius, the Spork must have a rippingly bad review. Conceived as the answer for a combination spoon, and fork, it sports a bowl that is too shallow to work effectively as a spoon, and tines that are incapable of spearing anything at all. The results of trying to eat a meal using this poor excuse for flatware, is most often hacking solid foods to bits in an attempt to fork them up, and soup running down your chin because it spills between the tines. Even a fork is more effective at eating liquids, and a spoon at eating solids, than this warped piece of plastic which not only fails at delivering the function of either one, but fails to deliver any useful function which one could not obtain by using their bare hands (it is often not any cleaner to use a Spork than to use your fingers, the only difference is that in using your hands, the food ends up on your fingers instead of on your clothes).

The Spork is loved by one class of people – which accounts for the otherwise unaccountable continuation of such an appallingly ineffective piece of culinary hardware.  It is loved by cheap financial managers. Combine the spoon and the fork, and you eliminate the need to purchase two objects, and can purchase just a single one instead. Since the Spork is invariably produced on very thin, cheap, plastic (clearly intended to break under minimal stress, thereby further frustrating the already annoyed customer), the savings are magnified even more.

The customer invariably HATES the Spork. It is a singularly uncomfortable eating utensil. One usually ends up having to drink liquids and having to spoon up forkable foods, simply because the thing just won’t work using any of the more familiar eating etiquettes. I love KFC potatoes and gravy – but somehow the indignity of having to try to get a smooth spoonful using the Spork that they provide, spoils the flavor and my enjoyment of it. I’d rather take it home and eat it using a real spoon or fork.

Let’s consider the Spork as a marketing method. One size fits all… Which we know, never does. In fact, one size rarely fits even HALF. More often, in the attempt to do everything with too little, one ends up, like the Spork, with a clever idea that utterly fails to work in actual practice.

If you market like that – trying to BE all things to everyone, you’ll fail too. You need to decide whether you are a fork, or a spoon. Or even a toothpick or napkin (hey, with all those Sporks running around, there’s a real niche for napkins!). Choose your purpose. And stick to that. Work out a cohesive message that targets a real need. Then work it. If it doesn’t work, tweak it – how many times do you think that flatware designers modified the spear into various incarnations of the fork, before they came up with a convenient, four tined, easily grippable utensil which allows even a two year old to eat solid foods without wounding themselves? Keep trying, and eventually you’ll work out the perfect marketing utensil as well.

If you run across a marketer who tries to sell you a package that “does everything”, or that promises to deliver all possible customers, RUN. They are trying to make a Spork, and you, as the unfortunate customer, are going to be left having invested in something that fragments your customers instead of gently lifting them, and leaves customer service soup running down your chin.

Bots That Suck… Bandwidth, That Is!

So you’re supposed to get indexed in search engines and directories, to increase traffic to your site, right? Only not all search engines are “good” search engines, and some directories are also more enemy than friend.

Usually, if a search engine “spiders” your site, they follow some rules to make sure it does not harm your site. Spidering just means that the search bot crawls through your site looking for juicy bits of content, and then throws them into their index.

Robots have rules. When they come to your site, they are supposed to stop in and check with your robots.txt file, just to see if you have any instructions for them. And then they are supposed to OBEY the rules you give them.

But some bots don’t play nice. It is important to note that ALL major search engines SAY they respect the robots.txt file. But even those who say they do, often don’t. That includes Google, and some of the other biggies – they’ll MOSTLY follow it. But they sometimes disobey.

Bad bots don’t even look, or they look but don’t pay attention to what it says. Often, when you get a bot you don’t like on your site, the first suggestion is to block it in the robots.txt file. But that is often a waste of time, since the bot is not obligated to obey the rules in that file. To most bots, the robots.txt file is merely suggestions.

Some are so aggressive, the only option is to block them through an .htaccess file. Unlike a robots.txt file, a bot HAS to obey the .htaccess file. You can set it up so that the bot simply cannot access your site at all, and it has no choice in the matter.

So what does a bad bot do?

They can do several things that you probably don’t want on your site:

1. Suck bandwidth. This is common with badly written search bots. They just thrash your site, pulling up page after page, sometimes endlessly indexing, sometimes following all the links and then looking for things that are NOT linked. A bad bot can suck several gigs of bandwidth in a single session (this is an astronomical amount!).

2. Scrape content. Most bots do pull text to print in a summary in their search results. A bad one will scrape more than just sample text, and may reprint your content in unauthorized ways that constitute copyright violation. When images and text are scraped, this takes MUCH more bandwidth.

It is important to point out that bandwidth consumed by bad bots almost NEVER gives you any kind of return. Bad search bots pretty much DON’T send you site traffic.

Typically the first indication you’ll have is of escalating bandwidth usage which does not correlate with a proportional increase in traffic. In many hosting accounts, this is serious, because if your bandwidth exceeds a certain amount, your account may be suspended, or your host may charge you more. So bandwidth consumption with no return benefit is not a good thing.

Two bots that we have encountered recently are the Cuil bot, and the Twenga bot. Both absolutely TRAMPLE a site, and suck HUGE amounts of bandwidth, but send pretty much NO traffic to a site. The Cuil people are at least polite about posting the IPs that you can block. Twenga is not – and it has to be stopped using an .htaccess file. Neither one has a reputation for abiding by the robots.txt file either.

Both of these consumed the same amount of bandwidth that about 50,000 site visitors would consume. And Twenga seems to increase by the month.

We recommend that you do NOT submit a site to either of these engines, and that if you see escalating bandwidth usage on your site, do some checking to see whether you’ve been hit. Twenga may show up as an unknown bot with VERY high bandwidth usage. Cuil may show up with Admin URLs in your referrers – in other words, the referral URLs will be ones that PEOPLE could not have come from.

There are other bad search bots as well, which show up in similar ways. Usually, a search on Google for the bot by name will tell you pretty quick whether other people are having similar problems.

Explaining Quiet to a Shouter

The site was sold to another buyer. The buyer immediately started revising the content to make it “better”. They had purchased it from an expert, but felt there was more to do on it. There often is.

Page by page, the content was rewritten. Link by link, the backlinks were revised – some were deleted because they had been there specifically as a favor to the former owner. Navigation links on the site were also renamed. Part by part, the site was restructured, and pieces were now used in new ways.

A few months later, all search engines slowed the traffic they were sending. Upon closer inspection, it was clear that it was probably due to all those changes.

Are changes bad? No, not at all! But there are good changes, and bad changes. And Search Engines have things they like, and do not like, in websites, so if you make one or two changes that they do not like, they’ll probably forgive you. But if you change EVERYTHING and introduce things everywhere that they do not like, it is going to add up and hurt you.

Am I picking on anyone in particular that I’ve sold a site to? No. This is a common story, unfortunately. And you cannot teach someone ahead of time, because it all has to do with judgment. If I say, “keep the home page content shorter”, or “do not use too many keywords in a row”, or “don’t make your navigation links too long”, then they are going to use THEIR definition of “too much”. And it really varies from person to person.

I can even tell them “keep your nav links to no more than 3-4 words”, or “no more than 4-6 paragraphs on the home page”. But some people still won’t believe it really matters, or they will just gradually add a paragraph or word, then another, and then forget that it mattered when lightening doesn’t strike at once.

Sometimes it takes a while before the boom lowers. Partly because the search engines will not always react immediately, partly because the effect can be cumulative. You may get away with 9 edgy things, but be sunk on the 10th. And then it can take a while to isolate exactly where the problem is.

Normally when a site changes hands, if good changes are made, good things happen. If no changes are made, nothing else changes in reaction to that. Search engines could care less who owns it. Sometimes, more traffic temporarily occurs as a result of aggressive changes, but then reverses when too much is done, or when the search engines finally catch it.

But we’ve noticed that when a site is penalized, or when it drops in the ranks, that there is usually no single isolated reason. That can also make it hard to diagnose, because you have to weigh the factors and see if there are enough to warrant a lack of interest by search engines. Or it can be easy to diagnose it when you look at a site and there are borderline or over the line elements everywhere.

It isn’t always a penalty – often it is just that you’ve loaded in so much hype and drivel that someone else’s site gets to the point better, and rises above yours. Diagnosing that is a matter of judging overall quality. And if that has declined, it is probably why traffic has decreased. Often it isn’t that this element or that element is outright bad, it is just that EVERYTHING is borderline, so the quality of the site overall has significantly declined.

Some people believe that the best marketing strategy is to shout louder. That the person who will get heard the best, and paid the most attention to, is the one who hollers loudest. This isn’t at all true, either in marketing, or in life (just watch a kid tune out who is used to being hollered at, the minute someone raises their voice).

More isn’t always better. Most of the time, a quiet invitation, with good explanations will get more positive responses than aggressive ad copy. Something that is simple to understand, with options for more details will get more trust and buyers than miles of hype filled copy that appeals to greed but doesn’t explain necessary details.

Some people will understand this. Some simply never will. It is like the speed limit. Some people understand that a speed limit means something. They will always go no more than 65 in a 65 MPH zone. Others will push the limit, by a small margin, and swear they never speed. Many will go as fast as they think they can get away with, and then grumble when they get a ticket, say it wasn’t fair, then go out and speed some more. People are like that with marketing and SEO also.

I haven’t yet found a way to teach someone to recognize quality. I can teach them rules by the numbers, but if they don’t recognize quality, they won’t respect the rules. If they are naturally a shouter, then to them, being quiet may mean talking in a normal voice, instead of whispering.

And in marketing, quietly speaking the truth is VERY powerful.

Marketing to a Narrow Niche

Niche marketing has really buzz over the last few years, with many marketers claiming that it is a more effective way of marketing. Niche marketing means you select a facet of a market, and serve that market only. I agree that it is something that can be effective for very small businesses, but it also has limits that need to be understood if you really want to make money at it.

For the most part, niching is something that happens naturally. Oh, a few people have to consciously think about it to do it, but most only have to think about it to figure out the niche they already occupy. Most niches are what they are – you can’t easily broaden or narrow them. A product or service works for the people it works for. Good niching just identifies that accurately and then maximizes the potentials.

Very narrow niches are difficult to market for. And often, you can’t broaden the niche just because you’d like to. If it doesn’t exist, you can’t create it. Let me explain through an example:

  • We sell a piece of software for Webmasters. Ok, BIG target market, right? Well, maybe .1% of the population could conceivably be classed as a Webmaster, or Web Designer. With a world population rounded to 7,000,000,000, we have a nice fat number to start with. .1% = 7,000,000
  • The most likely people to want this are self-employed Webmasters, or very small web companies. So chop that number by 80%. That gives us 1,400,000.
  • Our software is ONLY for Webmasters who also sell hosting. We just chopped another 90% off of our market base. This leaves 140,000.
  • It is also ONLY for those who use Cpanel hosting. So we just whacked another 60% off the previous total for a remaining number of 56,000.
  • And, it is only for those who use a specific billing manager – WHMCS. We just reduced the last total to about 10% of what it was, leaving 5600 people.
  • Of that total, only a fraction – perhaps 20%, will be in a position to WANT the software we have – they will want the automation feature we provide. 1120 brave souls.
  • Probably 30% of those people will think to look for it, about 1/3 will try to code their own, and another third will want it but think it does not exist so they won’t look. 336 people left.
  • Of those, about 1/3 will actually be prepared to PAY for a solution. Most want one free (it doesn’t exist, but it doesn’t keep them from stubbornly claiming that they should not have to pay for it). That leaves about 111 if we round off.

So at any given time, we may have about 111 people worldwide who are ready and willing to buy the thing we have, IF we can reach them and let them know that we have it. Finding 111 people in a world of 7 billion people is a difficult thing to do! The amazing thing is that we do actually make sales with this software.

But the niche is very tight. Even if we promote where they are likely to hang out, we still have a low chance of locating them, because they are always just a small portion of the people there. It makes marketing it difficult.

So why do we do it? Because we need the software, so we have to develop and maintain it anyway. We might as well sell it to those few people who do need it.

Can we broaden the niche? Perhaps. We could code a version for Plesk. This might increase our market base by 30-50%. Is it worth it? Recoding the app for a second version would cost us several thousands of dollars, and might give us only 1-2 sales per month (at around $300 per sale). We’d have additional ongoing development and maintenance costs as well, which might in themselves offset the profits. We don’t NEED a Plesk version, we don’t use Plesk, so our motive for doing it anyway is gone.

Niching is a good way to differentiate a business, but it is important in doing so that you make sure there is enough of a target market to actually promote to and earn from. Otherwise it can be very difficult to profit from your niche.

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.