A Six-Month Checkup

Today is my six month anniversary of starting to blog at AbleReach.com. At first, I thought I’d give myself six months to get comfortable, and then re-assess. About six weeks into it I decided I’d get more from the experience by pushing harder. “Comfort” is over rated. Sometimes, ya gotta break a sweat to get work done.

It wasn’t long before I realized that six months is too long to go before re-assessing. A personal goal that is within my control can turn on a dime: add a set of clear standards to a personal goal, pay attention to an experience, and stir.

Blogging by Candlelight?

Speaking of stirring, over the last few weeks I’ve had unusually awful server outages, a week without broadband, and, yesterday, in the middle of polishing a guest post for SEO Scoop, a power outage. Crazy.

When little disasters seem like they’re happening continuously, I wonder if the universe is trying to tell me something. I have an image of God perched above me on a cloud, looking every bit like a member of ZZ Top, trying to get my attention by pelting me with marshmallows, or slightly harder to ignore things like progressively larger water balloons.

If I had to hazard a guess as to any message behind this recent set of “water balloons,” it’d be that writing ahead of time could set me free. LOL. And, here I am putting on another pot of coffee at an ungodly hour so that I can finish the SEO-Scoop post, and I’m not panicking. I feel at home — though I’d like it better if I was sleeping tonight. I feel comfortable.

Earlier this week I was telling someone that my to-do list is long, but also 80-90% made of things I am looking forward to, like finishing that guest post. :-)

Life is good.

Posted in The Meaning of Life | Leave a comment

Show and Tell: Plugins for Testing and Changing Themes

There are three ways to get a peek at how pre-existing content looks on a theme: use a theme changer or a theme previewer on the blog’s current location, or install a copy of the content’s database in an alternate location. For some projects, setting up a theme switcher or preview utility can be a nice early step in developing a theme.

Today I’m looking at four plugins – one theme changer and three theme previewers. Each method has advantages and disadvantages. In my case a theme changer was the best choice, because I want to share the effect of design changes with my readers.


A WordPress Theme Changer Plugin

Why use a theme changer?

  • Allow clients to compare “live” design alternatives
  • Show off a WordPress theme portfolio
  • Demonstrate the impact of design changes
  • Entertain blog visitors

Considerations for effective use of theme changers

  • Readers may be confused. Help orient readers by putting theme changer links at the top of your sidebar, where they are easily spotted.
  • Limit installed themes to the choices you want to make available to users. All installed themes may be listed by a theme switcher.

Theme Switcher Reloaded Version 1.0

By Themebot.
Last Updated: 2008-2-22
Requires WordPress Version: 2.0 or higher
Compatible up to: 2.5x
Configure at Design > Widgets > Theme Switcher

WordPress Theme Switcher Reloaded is an updated version of the venerable Theme Switcher by Ryan Boren, and Theme Switcher Widget by Jared Bangs. This plugin was sponsored by Themebot and coded by kingler. The plugin is currently maintained by 72pines

Theme Switcher Reloaded

Theme Switcher Reloaded is currently in use on this blog. Those who install first and read directions later may have a confuzzled moment when looking in “Settings” for setup options. It’s not there. You need to activate the sidebar widget in Design > Widgets. After that, changing themes is extremely quick – I saw no noticeable difference in load speed, even when tested on dialup.

Theme names are appended to the blog’s root URL: http://yoursite.com/index.php?wptheme=Your+Theme+Name.
XHTML and CSS validators understand to use the files of whatever theme is appropriate for “Your+Theme+Name” when checking this style of Theme Switcher generated URL.


Previewing a WordPress Theme

The following three plugins allow previewing of themes that are not publicly active. Unlike the sidebar widget interface utilized by the theme switcher above, theme previewers are triggered by some sort of behind the scenes action.

Why preview an inactive theme?

  • Develop a theme before making it active
  • Collaborate with another designer
  • Scan for width-related content display issues before changing themes
  • Low pressure tweaking – do that one small thing without worrying over breaking anything in public view
  • Check for CSS inconsistencies – especially nice when changing from a static site with lots of inline CSS to using WordPress as a CMS
  • Check for elements in need of more detailed CSS styling, especially blockquotes and lists

Considerations for effective use of theme changers

  • Ease of use. How does the previewer change themes? Is it easy for you, or confusing?
  • Access. Do all registered users have rights to explore alternative themes?
  • Disable cache plugins. You may need to disable cache plugins before theme previewers will work.

Theme Test Drive Version 2.0

By Vladimir Prelovac.
Last Update: May 18th, 2008
Requires WordPress Version: 2.3 or higher
Compatible up to: 2.5.1
Configure at Design > Theme Test Drive

Safely test drive any theme while visitors are using the default one.

Theme Test Drive

Theme Test Drive options

Only a blog administrator will be able to see previewed themes. Others will see the standard installed theme. I found this previewer to be easier to keep track of, because of seeing “enabled” or “disabled on the nifty thumbnail-enhanced theme preview page. This is the most idiot-proof of the theme preview plugins.

Theme Tester Version 0.3

By Donncha O Caoimh.
Last Updated: 2008-4-8
Compatible up to: 2.5
Configure at Design > Theme Tester

Allow an admin to test new themes without showing your blog visitors

Theme Tester

Theme Tester configuration

Theme Tester allows an admin to change and test new WordPress themes without worrying about showing visitors a half-finished theme. After installing the plugin, go to Design > Theme Tester to choose a theme to test. While the plugin is activated, a logged-in administrator can change themes as desired without changing the theme that regular visitors see.

Preview Theme Theme Preview Plugin Version 1.0

By Dougal Campbell.

Last Updated: 2007-10-27
Requires WordPress Version: 1.5 or higher
Compatible up to: 2.3.1 (tested here on WP 2.5.1)

Allows themes to be previewed without activation

Theme Preview Plugin

After activation, adding the query variables ‘preview_theme’ and/or ‘preview_css’ to
the current URI will change the theme that is displayed for you, without making any changes for other viewers. The trick is that you have to already know what to type. The bonus is an ability to swap out stylesheets, which can be an interesting way to go if you are working on stylesheets that can change the look of the same base theme.

Loads a theme located in the folder “my-theme”

?preview_theme=default

Loads the stylesheet from a theme located in the folder “your-theme” onto the currently installed theme

?preview_css=your-theme

Loads the “your-theme” theme, with the “my-theme” style sheet

?preview_theme=your-theme&preview_css=my-theme

I’ve used this plugin successfully on other WP 2.5.1 sites, but could not get it installed here, even after deactivating a few other plugins. If you’re into playing with your CSS, Preview Theme is very fun to use, and I’d recommend giving it a shot.

My WordPress Remodel series will continue on most Mondays and Thursdays, building towards an eBook about WordPress theme design. RSS feed subscribers will see a special link where they can register to get the ebook for free.

Posted in Theme Remodel, WordPress | Leave a comment

Brunch: Family Time

Each weekend a new “Brunch” post will feature thoughts about balancing family and self care with working in an always-on Internet environment. This “Brunch” post is by Donna D. Fontenot.


Working from home, as a solo web entrepreneur, often means working much longer hours than the typical 9-5 job. The work is usually more more enjoyable, so the longer hours don’t really bother us, but the problem is that they do bother our families.

Family Time

In fact, family relationships can suffer tremendously unless compromises are made all round. I learned years ago (through threat of great bodily and emotional harm) that I needed to set aside “family time”, and that I needed to adhere to that commitment religiously. I do adhere to it faithfully, and everyone is happier because of it. Key lesson learned: Set aside a block of time (evenings usually work best) to spend totally with the family if you want to have a harmonious balance between the home/office and the home/hearth.


Thank you, Donna!

Dazzlin Donna D. Fontenot balances family time with:

Posted in Brunch | Leave a comment

Green Web Hosting Quest – turning a rant into an opportunity

My site was down for about 12 hours on Friday. 12. Hours. Aurgh! 12! When I called tech support I was told that they have backup servers that can be used if customers like me have an emergency need. “Techguy” said they’d get my files “moved to the backup within 24 hours.”

  1. “If,” huh? Ha.
  2. For “customers like me?” Does that mean they only have backups for the really really upset customers who catch on to an outage, call, and are ready to leave?
  3. If backups are available, why does it take 24 hours to get my sites up and running?

After a few hours, I called back to ask just how far into that 24 hours I would be likely to see my sites again. Errm… well, I told myself I was calling back for a forecast, but, really, I wanted to bite someone connected to the outage. No… that’s not quite it, either.

I was hoping they would reveal an understandable extenuating circumstance, and offer to put themselves on the line for me. They have a 99.99% uptime guarantee. I wanted them to put their money where their reputation is. This is not an uncommon customer hope.

Customers want to be loyal, but first a business has to confirm that we’re smart to trust them – show us, often and generously.

Tech Support: get your story straight

This time I got “Techgal,” who said there could be no guarantee of when my sites would come back online, because though their work to solve problems is ongoing, with an “intermittent server problem” they had no way of telling how long repairs would take.

Intermittent my eye. At that point my site had been down, completely down, for several hours. What’s more, she confirmed that they are operating without a net. Her “no way of telling how long repairs would take” strongly suggests that their contingency plans are about as solid as Swiss cheese. There was no confirmation of even a 24 hour backup.

I like budget hosting, but not at this price.

What can you do, besides bite the tech support person on the way out the door, and wish more of the world sat at the feet of Seth Godin and Steve Krug?

You just watch me. I can shop.

Next time, green hosting

Solar powered web hosting is a viable alternative. Its existence hadn’t even occurred to me until last month, when I was researching the idea of doing something special at Cre8asiteForums for Earth Day. Now that I know green hosting is available and trusted by people I trust, I want some, too!

A quick search brought up about a dozen alternatives, some of which look pretty good. They offer the whole range of standard web hosting services, often at prices that are in line with what you’d expect anywhere.

Question #1: Do you have an uptime guarantee?

I have a checklist and a plan, and a strong desire to be involved in consumer confidence fulfillment. I’m going to be calling US web site hosts that use renewable energy. I will compile the results into a blog post to share here.

I want facts and feedback before I make a move on something as important to me as web site hosting. If you are a green web host or have experiences to share about a green host, please contact me.

Posted in Green, Marketing | Leave a comment

Comparing Blog Traffic: RSS Love vs Overall Uniques

My oh my, that’s a serious title! Anyhoo…

I have this theory that those who come to my site from from an RSS Feed will click through to different posts than social media users, who will in turn head to different pages than Search Engine users.

I want a sense of what characteristics draw in what users. I’ve been guessing that the most popular RSS click-throughs won’t be the same as the posts that get the most overall traffic. Now that I’ve been here a few months I have some statistics to play my hunches against, so here goes.

I am RSS Curious

Most of my traffic comes from Social Media. When I am active, I get traffic. I post, I comment on other blogs, and people get curious or start doing what passes for “talking” in Social Media – we Stumble and tweet and send out little IMs and PMs and such. No posting means very little traffic for yours truly.

The backbone of Social Media traffic becomes subscribers. Subscribers are subscribers. Both RSS and Social Media “friends” will have a loyalty not to the current flash-in-the-pan traffic going through whatever Social Networking site, but to the site itself. With Social Media, a post’s initial rush of traffic may be 97% “new visitors”, but those who comment and bookmark get to be familiar faces.

SU toolbar referrals are not clicks on web site links. The SU toolbar referrals who don’t bounce become users who purposefully clicks on links. The lion’s share of toolbar traffic is more like a flow of window shoppers making their way down Social Media Avenue. A user may subscribe based on a single post in a newly found blog that they’ve wandered through along the way, and decide later if the blog is a good fit. I suspect this may be especially true for StumbleUpon users; unlike Sphinners, Stumblers are a diverse group.

Where does my traffic come from?

Here’s a frame of reference for the last six months, based on Google Analytics, AWStats and Feedburner’s Site Stats.

  • stumbleupon.com toolbar referrals – 63-75%
  • direct traffic about 10-15%
  • all search engines (organic) – 4-6%
  • ablereach.stumbleupon.com (SU profile clickthroughs) 3-5%
  • cre8asiteforums.com about 2-4%
  • sphinn.com about 1-2%

What do they see?

Below, I’ve used FeedBurner’s statistics for the last 30 days. Though no one source of statistics is completely accurate on its own, I’m operating under the assumption that the relationship between FeedBurner’s RSS “Item Use” stats and FeedBurner’s web site stats “Pages” visits will be consistent.

Web Site Stats “Pages”: the top ten posts

(Feed Stats “Item Use” in parentheses)
“n/a” means the post does not appear in the “Item Use” top ten.

  1. (6) How to Have a Blast With a Crash
  2. (n/a) Mother’s Day Brunch
  3. (n/a) AbleReach home page
  4. (n/a) Twitter – A Digital Game of Hot Potato?
  5. (1) My Bouncing Baby Benchmarks
  6. (8) I’m Your (Twitter) Pusher Mom
  7. (n/a) Personal Branding, Personal Connection
  8. (7) Cre8Green: Small Steps for Big Causes
  9. (2) I Dofollow Comments
  10. (n/a) Random Bytes On Naked Blogging

By the way, #10, Random Bytes, is the oldest post that shows up in these two top tens. It has had an ongoing trickle of Stumble traffic, and only one recent visit has been from a search for “naked blogging.” ;-)

Feed Stats “Item Use”: the top ten posts

(Web Site Stats “Pages” in parentheses)
“n/a” means the post does not appear in the “Page Visits” top ten.

  1. (5) My Bouncing Baby Benchmarks
  2. (9) I Dofollow Comments
  3. (n/a) Free Beer? Not From Most Brochure Sites
  4. (n/a) RSS Subscribers Got Green Hunger?
  5. (n/a) WordPress 2.5.1 Adds Security and Bug Fixes
  6. (1) How to Have a Blast With a Crash
  7. (8) Cre8Green: Small Steps for Big Causes
  8. (6) I’m Your (Twitter) Pusher Mom
  9. (n/a) A Preface to my Bouncing Baby Benchmarks
  10. (n/a) Questions for Readers, and a 101 Day Roundup

Do you see what I see?

The web site “Pages” group has more of a feelgood bent. There is nothing like “Mother’s Day Brunch” in the RSS group. Someone like me would read the Hot Potato post, Personal Branding and Random Bytes for entertainment, like an editorial piece in a newspaper.

Four posts in the top ten web site “Pages” did not appear in the “Feed Stats” top ten.

  • 2. (n/a) Mother’s Day Brunch
  • 4. (n/a) Twitter – A Digital Game of Hot Potato?
  • 7. (n/a) Personal Branding, Personal Connection
  • 10. (n/a) Random Bytes On Naked Blogging

The “Feed Stats” group is a little more businesslike, with its WordPress 2.5.1 post and the Benchmarks and Roundups posts. When I posted about WordPress 2.5 becoming available it got some feed views and clickthroughs, too.

Five posts in the top ten “Feed Stats” pages did not appear in the web site “Pages” top ten:

  • 3. (n/a) Free Beer? Not From Most Brochure Sites
  • 4. (n/a) RSS Subscribers Got Green Hunger?
  • 5. (n/a) WordPress 2.5.1 Adds Security and Bug Fixes
  • 9. (n/a) A Preface to my Bouncing Baby Benchmarks
  • 10. (n/a) Questions for Readers, and a 101 Day Roundup

And, though I don’t have enough search traffic to be statistically relevant, about 50% search for “ablereach,” 10-20% find me through very specific WordPress terms.

What do I think this means?

I’m blogging in three directions – feelgood, businesslike and WP-techie. The main disadvantage is that establishing a presence in a split niche is harder. For me, the pros are bigger than the con: as long as I keep blogging “me” the feel will be diverse, there will be more to keep my interest, and there will be more room to grow into.

I still feel like I’m just getting going.

I remind myself of the two little apple trees in my front yard. They may give me a first apple or two this year, or it may be next year. In the meantime, I’m enjoying seeing them start to leaf out more densely this year than last year.

Are you are a feed subscriber who happens to remember the title of a post that inspired you to click through to my site? Tell me about it. Leave a comment. ;-)

I’ve shared mine. Now it’s your turn. ;-)

And while you’re at it, if you haven’t subscribed, you know what to do next. The full feed can be yours. Click, click!

Posted in Statistics | Leave a comment

Flexibility

Hello Wednesday!

On Monday I promised to post on Tuesday about plugins that switch themes, either for a private theme preview or as a theme switcher that all visitors of a site can use. The post was half done as of a few days ago, so I felt safe taking a little mental health break and doing some gardening.

Comfrey

Comfrey From my Garden

Me being who I am, I got out there and gardened my little heart out, maybe too much. No. For sure, too much.

You know that slightly curled gardening position, arms outstretched, haunches hunched, shoulders ready to push and pull? It almost, almost fits into a desk chair that’s pulled up to a split keyboard. The problem comes in where trying to focus when a) I quit before getting the last of the dahlias and tomatoes in; and b) assuming the position has become involuntary and somewhat painful.

Flexibility, the Morning After

I woke up this morning in a slightly less severe version of “assume the position.” Thoughts about flexibility were glowing and flowing through that uncluttered part of the brain that likes to solve problems when sleep releases us from being able to do whatever we thought we needed to do when awake.

If I could have bottled that…

Mmm... beer, and click-throughs
Image credit – n-ga

What I remember is a strong sense of indulging in flexibility as an anti-burnout tool – a joy of life thing. Wherever we think we are, we are more than we think. To see that we need to be willing to groove with it, to look and work and stretch. Like I said – if I could have bottled that… :-)

Then, being me, I drifted through an affirmation of the importance of humor, and landed at ruminating over differences in traffic between RSS subscriber click-throughs and my overall traffic.

Mmmm, click-throughs…

…and (engagement) Beer.

Where’s that post about theme preview plugins?

Still coming, for Thurdsay, I promise. Monday and Thursday were my solid commitment days for this WordPress remodel series, and I’m still there, and I will be there.

First, I’m practicing flexibility. I’m going to serve up some initial wonderings about RSS versus social media traffic. Before that, I’m going to be lounging in a hot bath, soaking away a few knots.

Posted in Self Improvement | Leave a comment

WordPress Remodel Begins With a Custom FeedFlare Lesson

From here on out until I’m satisfied I’ll be blogging through the process of revamping the WordPress Default theme into a new home for my blog.

unedited default themeWP Default has good bones and was based on Kubrick, another theme with good bones; it will provide a good foundation. If I keep to the same CSS id names as Default, customizations I come up with can be more easily used by others. Also, starting with Default’s good use of WordPress’s hooks will be a smart way to dive into the power of the system.

Forecasting WordPress and Adventures Ahead

Expect WordPress posts on Mondays and Thursdays, and maybe a little more. You can already peek at the Default theme by using the theme switcher in my sidebar. Right now WordPress Default’s single post view has no sidebar. If in Default, clicking on the header will take you back to a view with a sidebar.

unedited default themeDefault will look pretty funky for a while. Image floats and widths are areas where you will see rough spots. In most browsers, too-wide images are compressed to make them fit. IE6 users will see images wider than 450px protruding into the sidebar.

Progress so far…

  • Installed an uncustomized version of the WordPress Default theme
  • Choose and installed a theme switcher.
  • Tested a theme preview plugin – look in the sidebar for links
  • Took floats out of inline styling on sidebar widgets
  • Added an eBook registration link to my feed

Having found a couple nice ways to switch back and forth between themes will make this process much more enjoyable. Tomorrow I’ll review the theme switcher and theme preview plugin. They’re both simple to install and easy to use.

Free eBook for Subscribers, as Promised…

After I’m done with the WordPress remodel I’ll offer up the whole series as an ebook. There will be a reasonable fee for the ebook. However (marketing alert) anyone who is subscribed to my RSS feed during the week of Mother’s Day (May 11-17) will see a special link where they can register to get the ebook for free.

Mom Remodels WordPress

For the next week or so, new RSS posts will contain a special Feed Flare link where RSS subscribers can register to get the eBook for free. When this series is done, the ebook will be compiled.

Writing a Custom FeedFlare

Day one’s biggest learning experience was how to add a nice email link to a FeedBurner FeedFlare.

I wrote and used a version of this simple static FeedFlare. Place the text below in a plain text file, customized for your needs, save it with an extension of .xml, and upload it to an accessible area of your domain. The hardest part was figuring out that I had forgotten to escape an ampersand, something that is a good idea in many situations.

 
<feedFlareUnit>
	<catalog>
<title>FeedFlare for "Name of FeedFlare"</title>
	<description>

Shows the static text "Name of FeedFlare" and links to mailto:email@domain.com, with email subject and body text
</description>
</catalog>
	<feedFlare>
<text>Name of FeedFlare</text>
<link href="mailto:?subject=Subject of Email&amp;body=Text for body of email"/>

</feedFlare>
</feedFlareUnit>
 

Testing Custom FeedFlares

Anyone who is learning to write a feedflare should check out the FeedBurner FeedFlare Scratchpad. This excellent little gizmo will test your FeedFlare’s XML and attempt to diagnose problems. After all is well, supply it with a valid feed address and road test your FeedFlare as it will appear and behave in practice. Beautiful.

Adding Custom FeedFlares to FeedBurner

Optimize Tab

Once your XML file checks out, log into your site’s FeedBurner account and take a trip to your feed’s “Optimize” tab. Scroll down and give “FeedFlares” a click

At the bottom of the Official FeedFlare list you’ll see the Personal FeedFlare heading. Paste the URL of your custom FeedFlare Unit file into the “Add New Flare” box.

custom code

Get the code

After you’re through deciding which FeedFlares to use, and where you’d like them to appear, scroll to the bottom of the page and click on “save.” If you haven’t done so already, Get the HTML code that will put FeedFlares on your site. If you already use FeedFlares, you don’t need to update your code.

adding-code

Pasting FeedFlares Into Theme Files

The script that produces FeedFlares will need to be pasted into a theme’s index.php and single.php, just above the postmetadata.

adding feedflare code

And that’s pretty much it. :-)

FeedFlare Resources

FeedFlare links can be static or dynamic. Feed Flares are very useful, and with a little creativity they can do a lot. As an added bonus, FeedFlare clicks can be tracked by Analytics.

Subscribe to my RSS feed and be sure to see the rest of my WordPress Remodel series.

Posted in Theme Remodel, WordPress | Leave a comment

Mother’s Day Brunch

This is a tribute to all my “moms” and all my “kids,” and an encouragement to be the drop in a bucket that tipped the scales that helped someone know they’re good, good, good just as they are.

Sometimes kids are like visiting deer. Certain telltale signs show how connected we are, no matter how different our lives may be.

  • While maintaining their independence, they still keep an eye on you.
  • They’re indescribably beautiful, giving us pause just by being there.
  • Sometimes they eat the good stuff without remembering to share, and life goes on.

Deer Mom and Twins

These three deer visited my yard last year. Though somebody has nibbled on my fuchsias, I haven’t actually seen any deer yet this Spring. Sometimes I wonder:

  • Did they live?
  • Are they happy?
  • Will they eat my lily buds again this year?

Bread on the Waters

Some of my favorite mom years have been rich in honorary sons and daughters. I loved the years when small people stopped by to show off an owie or cool new shoes, or to share some kid-level meaning-of-life revelation. Or, there was the year I brought Mother’s Day flowers to a friend who’d been like a big sister during stressful times.

Though we’ve moved to different towns and regions and lost track of each other, at times I ache to know what their lives are like now.

  • Did they live?
  • Are they happy?
  • Who is in college? Who became a teen parent?
  • Is anyone bringing them flowers this Mother’s Day?

Memories of day-in, day-out work fade and the smiles and cares remain. The impact of knowing those people remains in my heart and in the way I live today. Hopefully, some of the good of interacting with me has remained with them.

Let the cares go and give thanks. Love the flow. Love being a drop in a bucket that tipped the scales that helped someone know they’re good, good, good just as they are.

Next weekend I’m starting a series of “Brunch” posts that will feature thoughts about balancing family and self care with working in an always-on Internet environment. Please join me! Subscribe to my RSS feed.

Posted in Brunch | Leave a comment

How to Answer the Telephone

A massage therapist gets a phone call:

Hello. I was referred to you by my doctor. I work long hours at a desk and…

Before the massage therapist hears another word, he is anticipating a series of topics. He already has an idea of which complaints are likely, and which muscle and nerve groups are most likely to be involved. The massage therapist draws on his experience to anticipate how he may be able to help, and is prepared for other questions that an office worker may have.

Is the the massage therapist’s web site equally responsive?

A brochure site is likely to stop at a mission statement, an address and phone number, a list of services, maybe a map and some background on the site’s owner. A brochure web site’s copywriting may not even touch on how the massage therapist would prefer to respond to whatever comes out after “I work long hours at a desk and…”

Bad Bad Brochure

A massage therapist’s web site gets a the call from a prospective customer:

Hello, Internet. Massage was suggested by my doctor. I work long hours at a desk and…

The bad bad brochure site answers:

Welcome to my home page. I have been in business in the AnyTown area for years and years and am really good at what I do. Please call to make an appointment.

Uh-huh. How fast do you think the “caller” hits the back button and asks Google to serve up another search result? What business owner would answer the telephone like that? Why treat web communication like a meeting of robotic answering machines?

There is no reason for brochure site type web content to behave like a so-so automated self-service telephone system. Brochures don’t need to stop at brochure-speak, either.

Good Brochure Sites Give Good Phone

Obviously, web sites have more room for answers than a 40 second answering machine message, but what does that mean?

Web Sites Can Paint a Picture

One quick diagram of affected nerves and muscles can show our office worker that the massage therapist has experience with their most likely complaints. Another diagram could empower independent self care by illustrating good desk ergonomics.

Add about 500 words per diagram page and you’ve invited search engines to the party. Indexable text gives Search Engines a way to cache a path between the searcher and the brochure site’s images.

The impression left on our interested office worker is of a thoughtful, knowledgeable, resourceful and professional massage therapist, ready to offer professional services. On the phone, our massage therapist can give that impression through tone of voice and basic knowledgeability. Online communication can afford to be wider, encompassing more than what is practical over the phone.

Web Sites Can Speak to Multiple Audiences

On the telephone, our massage therapist can only speak to one prospective customer at a time. Online, a full range of customer personas can be personally greeted.

Every business will have their own target audiences, each with a set of characteristics and needs that are beyond the scope of “Welcome to my home page. I have been in business in the AnyTown area for years and years and am really good at what I do. Please call to make an appointment.”

Massage might be of interest to these six prospective customer groups:

  • Office Worker
  • Hunched-over Gardener
  • Overworked Carpenter
  • Automobile Accident Victim
  • Injured Weekend Sports Star
  • Professional Dancer

Each of these customer groups can be distilled into personas who would have their own version of “the call.”

Hello, Internet. Massage was suggested by [referral source or influencer]. I am [a persona that is also a keyword] with [a problem that is also a keyword]. Can you [a solution that is also a keyword].

Can you hear the call? Write sites that can answer the phone!

Posted in Content Development | Leave a comment

Just say NO to trust, and then what?

I have a post in the works about trust and marketing, and I’m stuck.

I have issues. Specifically, I have issues with advertisers who don’t get that marketing is hand in glove with trust. I’m going to clear the air.

Yes, it’s true. I am going to rant. I’d put this aside, and it’s still bugging me, so here it is.

How Not to Market to Me

In my 101 day round up I mentioned that I need to write an advertising policy.

I also need to promote and custom-design the My Top Spots widget, and add an advertising policy. Pandering is nicer with ethics and personalization, eh?

Speaking of (potential) pandering, within a couple days someone posted a comment on the post asking me to contact them about advertising. I thought: if this was a forum that I was moderating my first thought would be to pull it as a link drop. I correct myself: this is blog, not a forum, and the comment is not a post. I check the author link and find a link exchange advertising site. I email them.

Thanks for stopping in at my blog. I’m going to stick with the scratchback.com Top Spots widget for a while longer, probably until the redesign is done. I haven’t thought through what else I’d want to do.

The scratchback widget has had a couple people register who I had to delete. They’d registered with a coming-soon placeholder on a domain, which would be a quick way to buy a link for a porn/pharma spam site, without the person hosting it knowing. What standards do you have for any links you’d like to see placed on my site?

The reply did not answer my question about their standards for what links they’d place. Instead, they said “Thanks, but…” and asked for a $30 paid review of their services and my paypal account email address. Warning bells go off in my head. It is not a good sign that they ignore a question about quality control. I email them again.

I cannot review your service because I do not know anything about your service, from my own experience or from what people I respect have said.

This isn’t strictly true. I am starting to remember a rant somebody posted about a very similar series of emails.

They respond with a five paragraph sales letter. The last email, the one where they tell me they want me to write a review of them for $30, was two lines long. Some of the information in the current email dances around answering my unanswered question about quality standards, by saying they have a “free tool for advertisers to make paid links look natural for Google.” Dishonesty is not a good sign.

Basically, the email says:

  • Please register with our system as an advertiser. It is up to ten times more profitable than selling sitewide links
  • We sell links at a very low price.
  • Our free tool makes paid links look natural to Google
  • Do not use “nofollow” when you review us
  • Don’t pay that it is a paid review.

I reply:

  1. In the interest of respect I do not, ever, write a paid review without disclosing that it is a paid review.
  2. I would not add something to my site without background information, such as comparing paid and unpaid feedback. Since you ask that reviewers hide that reviews are paid, I can conclude that accurate information will be hard to find.
  3. If I were to review you, anyone who knows you have this policy of hiding if a review is paid would have a big signal that I will be dishonest with my readers for the payment of $30.

Please do not contact me again.

No Respect, No Sale, Then or Now

Later that day I hear back from them:

Thanks for your reply. You can write that it’s a paid review but please at the end of the post.

Waiting for your reply.

They write back again, two weeks later:

Hello. How are you? So what about the review? I think that $30 is a fair price for the review at your blog. Please provide us with your paypal email.

Waiting for your reply.

Thank you

Way to listen, guys.

So, What’s the Big Deal?

Spammy, sloppy marketing techniques. To get my trust, an organization needs to be clear and direct. Are they buying advertising or a paid review, or are they primarily a paid link exchange? And, if I have questions, that’s a good thing. My questions are an opener. Dodge them and lose my sale.

More than that, I think online marketers need to be careful not to get desensitized to spammy advertising techniques. We see so much blatant spam! It’s an easy slide to think that if it’s not porn or pharma spam – or an obvious bank scam – it’s more trustworthy. That level of trust is a long way from the kind of trust that makes loyalty. You don’t get loyalty from $30 paid reviews. You get loyalty from something more like real word of mouth marketing based on the honest opinions of real humans – not gossip. I’m talking reputation.

I guess if you want to see the online branch of your life as a disposable numbers game, reputation is also disposable. Take while you can, then move onto the next thing, right? Use the “free tool for advertisers to make paid links look natural for Google,” and move on when the house of cards comes tumbling down.

The problem with that kind of logic is that it stinks up the neighborhood. Yes, there is a “neighborhood,” and just like in real life the kids next door are going to be playing on the same street, learning your lessons. Let’s keep it clean, don’t think for a minute that your Internet life is a flash in the pan that won’t matter in real life — but, treat it that way, and that’s what you have.

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