Web Enlightenment Archives

Live in the Present, Permission to Trash Work: Website Strategy Plan

Posted by Ross Lasley on Fri, Apr 11, 2014 @ 09:00 AM

As most of you know I am a Buddhist.

If you read Web Enlightenment a few weeks ago you also know I spent the bulk of my youth being a pissed off athiest but that is a tale which has already been told. 

Today I want to talk with you about one of the most difficult challenges web site owners face - and how Buddha's wisdom can be quite useful - and also quite frustrating.

Ever notice how many useful things are also frustrating? Hmmm...

But I digress...So our wise friend Buddha says:

Internet Strategy Plan

"Do not dwell in the past, do not dream of the future, concentrate the mind on the present moment."

Well that sounds quite lovely - doesn't it?

Live in the now, concentrate your mind - and all will be well. My lovely daughter Emma does this often and it reminds me about trying to really be present in the moment- being less than 2 years old has some serious advantages.

But lets get back to the practical realities of website design and work efficency. We come back to the grind of things never being done and the reality that at some point we must declare our work finished - website design might never be done but business owners know all projects must come to an end sometime. 

When you sit down and consider how all of this might impact your overall web strategy plan - well, frankly - there are parts of it that just suck.

And so I'd like to tell you a tale of my own web efforts and how I am presently getting a bit uncomfortable with how much stuff is going in the trash can - which is also a good thing.

So let's start at the start - I love helping people. So much. 

If I can really help someone understand the web and see the little light bulb that goes on over their head? Well that makes for a wonderful day in my book.

I also have medical bills to pay, people to feed, a mortgage, and a daughter that may be entering college in about 2030. And no, that's not a typo - that's roughly 16 years from now. Holy crap.

So I am working to develop a "widget" - a thing people can buy that is not a whole project, something that will help people who may not be ready for a whole project but would still like some guidance. And as I have shared with many of you the thing I have selected as my widget is a website analysis. Now of course my version of a website analysis is a little different than most, and while I have been doing these sorts of live assessments for years I kind of suck at describing it. Calling it a movie I produce with your website on the screen while I talk just doesn't help people really get what I am talking about. 

So - situational analysis time.

I need to develop a product. Check.
I have a good idea and it serves a need. Check.
It makes me more accessible while also potentially providing a steady stream of revenue. Check.
And the most important thing - it helps people. Check.

So with the smell of dry erase markers thick in the air I sat down to get all of this figured and processed. 

And a plan was born.

And like all website strategy plans - a website was needed.

And so - can't quite believe I am gonna let you people click on this - RossLasley.com was created.

I thought about page structure.
I picked a platform.
I added a theme.
A very lovely young man took pity on an old man and helped out with a few bits of code.
I sweated the copy and images - hard. 

So here is my problem - RossLasley.com - in the present form - sucks. 

It is a shell - it has the basic idea, it has the pricing - but it is insanely rough. It doesn't contain any decent samples, it has no solid bio info, and it does not have a polished path to purchase.

So here I sit in the same situation many Internet Entrepreneurs encounter regularly. 

I have a good idea. A really nice product. I have a decent framework that explains what it is - sort of.

And now - it is time for me to throw it all away.

I won't say the word here but I think most Internet Entrepreneurs know how I was feeling as this became obvious.

All that wasted work. 
The design work is really not bad.
The copy was very hard to produce and I sweated over it.

But it sucks. It is not good enough. It will not sell assessments as is and it won't be that lovely little revenue stream I am looking for.

Still not going to say the word. I am also not going to give up.  I am going to work with a professional copywriter, I have a videographer coming to my house, and I will get all of this fixed and launched in the next few weeks. 

Does any of this sound familiar?

And so we have to return to our sage wisdom - Live in the present moment. Give ourselves permission to throw things out, even things we might have worked really hard on. 

Here's the bottom line for Internet Entrepreneurs: Every time you work to do online development you are going to run into this exact same issue. Be kind to yourself and softly remind your mind that it is OK to trash things you worked on, to begin again - that is the practice. 

It will be fine, I promise. 

Happy Friday Everyone. :-)

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Tags: Website Management

Facebook is an Ad Network, Web Marketing 101

Posted by Ross Lasley on Fri, Apr 04, 2014 @ 09:00 AM

Social media is a fascinating little animal - and there is no doubt it has had a profound impact on small business marketing in particular. 

The thing that surprises me is how many folks are confused about the transitions and natural evolutions all social media sites go through.

Earlier this week I got this email from Facebook:

Web Marketing 101

Now a few things about this message and the way Facebook is now engaged with brands.

First thing - its bullshit. 

I am posting with great regularity to my business facebook page - like more than once a day for gosh sakes. All the parts of my profile are completed and if I might be so bold I rock at best practices.

So what happens when I click the link? It says "Create A Page Post" - does it take me there?

Nope - it brings me to profile setup and begins the process of extracting more info from me - in most cases info it already has. They call this enhancing buy in. 

Now the not so subtle suggestion here is that they are helping me be "social" by telling people all about my business and helping them find me.

Still with me? 

So then after I have spent time telling them about me, putting in a picture, adding some favorites - the other shoe drops. 

They stick their hand right out and ask for my money.

small business web marketing

Now here is what brand managers everywhere know - if you don't pay facebook no one is going to see your stuff unless they specifically search it out.

A few years ago this wasn't true.

Today Facebook is no longer a social network for businesses - it is an ad network.

Now there is nothing wrong with buying ads - I have a campaign on twitter to get more followers, I like that system because it is basically cost per click - I pay for results only. I pay for chamber memberships, I pay for all sorts of stuff - but I am not confused that I am buying an ad.

The thing which is a little bit evil is when you get the bait and switch. Ever get one of those "Who's Who" letters. You know - how you've been personally selected by a team of experts to appear in this very important book - and of course you'll need a leather bound copy of your own for the low low price of way more than it should cost. 

Folks who believe Facebook is a social network for brands are sorely mistaken - its not. Maybe it used to be but not anymore. Now I am not saying you can't use Facebook - but it is not longer a system which allows you to just put in time and no cash.

The funny part is most brand managers and folks running businesses have employees - so when time is spent on this stuff it isn't "free" at all anyway. They are always making an investment.

Here's the bottom line for Internet Entrepreneurs: Go forth and buy ads, they make the world go round. Don't pretend when you "boost" a post on Facebook that is not an ad - and be ready for every "free" (input your time only) system to transform over time just like Facebook has. 

Happy Friday Everyone. :-)

 

 

 

 

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Tags: Paid Web Marketing

Believe No One, Buddhist Web Strategy Plan

Posted by Ross Lasley on Fri, Mar 28, 2014 @ 09:00 AM

My Piano Man Friend Billy Joel has some wonderful things to say about The Angry Young Man:

I believe I've passed the age of consciousness and righteous rage, I've found that just surviving was a noble fight, I once believed in causes too, had my pointless point of view. Life went on no matter who was wrong or right.

When I was a young man I wasn't just Atheist - I was an angry atheist. 

It wasn't just that I didn't believe in any higher power, I was ready to argue about it. I wanted to prove to all of those spiritual fools that there is no doubt when we die, we rot - and that is just how it is. 

So when I finally left that era and started to meditate - I had a pretty hard time with the spiritual aspects. Couldn't I just get all of those mindfulness benefits without any of that sappy crap about a higher power? Well it turned out I could - to a degree. 

Then I found Buddhism. 

It was very strange for me to go to an actual religious center, and the idea of a week long meditation retreat seemed bonkers. 

But then I got to meet some of the Buddhist Monks & Nuns - and they truly messed with my mind. Don't worry - it turned out to be a good thing later.  

web strategy plan

They told me they recommended I believe nothing they say. Every priest, pontiff, or religious figure I had ever encountered had always tried to convince me of something and these folks saying "please don't believe me" was a bit weird.

Instead they offered that they had found their practices to be good and helpful - and maybe if I tried them I'd find they worked for me too.

What the heck, why not find out? And if I found something that worked better they wanted to know about it. 

Now I have always loved intellectual challenge so I wanted to find out what all of this spiritual stuff was about. 

I attended a Vajrasattva purification retreat - which pretty much means I meditated and chanted all day for a week while occasionally taking a break to eat a small bowl of brown rice.

On the morning of the second day - it happened. I saw the Buddha field. 

Lots of folks have this experience when they are a kid - a personal spiritual awareness. That moment when you realize we are all just grains of sand. It is that split second when you know the spiritual world is real - and it is quite delicious.

So by now you may be wondering what the heck all this has to do with websites? 

Quite a bit.

I view the many talking heads of web world as similar to most Priests, Pontiffs, and assorted religious zealots - they don't ask you one question yet they want you to believe. They will tell you how to run your site by a set of rules and practices - but there isn't much interaction.

Many folks love this, they totally just want to know what they should do - a list to follow which will make them money and give them success - I'm very sorry but it just isn't quite that simple. 

What I personally like to tie into the land of web strategy planning is the suggestion you should believe nothing. If you yourself don't know it to be true based on your own experience then it just isn't quite the same. Work towards the place of mindful understanding and you will find the lists and rules the talking heads are throwing at you make much more sense.

Here's the bottom line for Internet Entrepreneurs: There are a bazillion web rules and guidelines - education is excellent but I think you should believe no one. Build a web strategy plan based on your own experience and it will be order of magnitude stronger.

In the meantime I'll be very glad to not end up like the song - I will not be going to the grave an an angry old man

Happy Friday Everyone. :-)

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Tags: Website Management, Web Planning

A/B Testing is a Bad Idea

Posted by Ross Lasley on Fri, Mar 21, 2014 @ 09:00 AM

I love math.

The way the numbers float so deliciously into their neat little columns, the way the equations dance in a spreadsheet and truly show me what is happening on a website - it just adds joy to my day.

So as you might imagine I am a huge fan of A/B testing - but there is no doubt for most folks I meet it is a really bad idea. That might be surprising but trust me, the majority of people who want website optimization should not head down the A/B path - it is reliably a really bad idea. 

Now let's go ahead and back up one step to make sure we are all on the same page. 

A/B Testing Website OptimizationA/B Testing is the process of splitting the traffic coming to a website. You do this so you can determine which of the two options you present works better.

So suppose you wondered if your add to cart button should be green or orange? You might find out what works better by showing half the folks who visit your site the green one and the other half the orange one. Some quick math tells us who buys more and we've got a winner.

I love the look on old school marketers faces when they understand what A/B is for the first time and how it can be used to for website optimization. It makes Google Web Analytics look like beginner band for sure.

There is even a wonderful book on this subject called Always Be Testing and you'll find that title on lots of marketers bookshelves. 

So why is A/B Testing a bad idea?

Because like most things which seem incredibly simple in web land it is actually quite tricky - it is very easy to do this wrong and end up hurting yourself. You sometimes see similar issues when people examine their competitors based on the idea those folks are succeeding

The vast majority of people who jump right into A/B end up with incorrect conclusions and make bad decisions as a result. 

As every good website optimization person knows you have to have three things to make A/B effective - if you skip them you get a train wreck.

  • Stable Traffic
  • Confidence Interval / Confidence Level
  • No Whale Vomit

So let's review these one by one - and you'll see why A/B is usually done wrong and generates crappy results.

Traffic on websites comes and goes all the time - some sites follow a natural seasonal rhythm, some have traffic spikes when they send specific promotions -  all sorts of things make the traffic waves come and go.

When you run an A/B this can really skew the results - what if you send an email marketing piece right in the middle of a test and most of the folks who show up are existing customers? Whoops.

The traffic has to be stable and as much as possible known in advance - we are genuinely looking for a hum drum average kind of day. Without one the test results will be crappy.

Next comes my apology to the liberal arts majors reading this because we are going to discuss math just a wee little bit. I promise not to use words like mean, median, mode,and average - mostly because they actually aren't quite related to what we are talking about. I will try to be kind but I can't change the fact I love math. 

Ever see those silly polls on television? The percentage of people who are in favor of whatever stupidity the local politician is saying we should all care about? The predictions of election results before they are over?

You'll see they all talk about a "margin of error" and a "confidence level", aka those little numbers in fine print on the bottom. 

If I lined up a bunch of little kids and started asking if they prefer grilled cheese or peanut butter and jelly at some point I wouldn't learn anything more by asking more kids. Ask 5,000 kids what they prefer and 72% want the cheese. Ask 50,000 kids what they want and 72% want the cheese - nothing gained. 

But suppose you asked 10 kids what their favorite was - you might get 10% cheese in that group. Ask another 20 more and now you find 95% of them want cheese. And the numbers dance around as you come closer to the real 72% answer.

When you run a test you need to be sure your sample size has been correlated to the population you wish to make determinations about. If you have too few the answers will be incorrect and if you have too many you'll have done a huge amount of extra work for nothing.

This is the most common error for new A/B folks - their test contains the wrong number of results to make conclusions. That means they don't have proper confidence levels and confidence intervals - so the results are garbage. And don't forget that stable traffic issue - because trying to "Solve" this problem by doing a promotion that pushes people to your site? That screws the results too.

Finally we have Whale Vomit. When I review a site I examine look and feel, content, functionality, and some web marketing issues. Four simple categories which lead me to a handy dandy bottom line score. 

Here is something you know - many of your competitors websites are truly awful. They suck horribly, they are charitably described as Whale Vomit. 

But here is the hard pill to swallow - you probably have some whale vomit on your site too. Stuff you have looked at so many times you just don't "see it" anymore - the same way you can't see the typos in a letter you have been working on for weeks. 

When you try and do an A/B on a site which needs basic optimization the results are useless. You have to get the basics right before testing can teach you. That's nature's rule and not mine.

Here's the bottom line for Internet Entrepreneurs: When someone suggests how simple and easy an A/B Test would be please push back and remind them it is probably a bad idea. You'll get just as much happy improvement with a lot less effort by engaging in simple fixes. If you decide to go ahead make sure you have all three critical elements in place, you'll be awfully glad you did.

Happy Friday Everyone. :-)

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Tags: Miscellaneous, Shopping Carts, Website Management

Website Appraisals, Calculating Project Waste

Posted by Ross Lasley on Fri, Mar 14, 2014 @ 09:00 AM

In the long ago and far away - also known as 2001- I served as the CTO for a company called Domain Registration Systems.

DRS was - and is - a provider of domain services for corporate clients. Mostly newspapers - when you buy a domain from your local newspaper ad representative they need to use someone to make all that go, that's what DRS does.

I mention all this because in the land of websites the most frequently 'appraised' item is a domain name.

There are oodles of online calculators which will help you figure out a price for a domain name - and a lot of them also look at how much traffic you might be getting as well. I just ran one of the many online calculators and my domain name is apparently worth $487. That world is sort of interesting but doesn't in any way relate to what we're talking about today - website appraisals.

website appraisalAn appraisal is a very tricky thing - no matter what the object is. Those silly ads where folks promise jewelry you bought will "appraise for double what you paid" leap to mind. Get three folks to appraise your car and watch three different prices come back - and on and on.

But eventually the value is real, equalized, and known.  Value can surely be in the eye of the beholder but there are plenty of pricing horror stories in web world.

About once a week I talk to someone who tells me they spent about 5K on their site and I need to sort of politely reply - oh. 

About once a month I find someone who says they spent 5K on a site and I say - really?

One person overpaid and the other underpaid - and that gets to the root of what we're discussing today - paying a fair price for web work. When it comes to website buying things can be a bit complex. There are so many buyers who don't understand website costs generally or what they should expect to pay. 

I do a lot of website appraisal work and frequently have discussions about prices, project management, and real total costs - it might be one of the things that makes me a bit crazy, but I love stuff like that.

The root of underpaying is pretty easy to understand - and it is actually not a good thing for website owners. When website costs are too low they are not sustainable. 

I often see folks who are new to the world of web professionals doing this - they charge too little and end up selling a site which should cost 5K for half that. They don't understand where they fit into the ecosystem and what most folks pay - they feel when they are "learning", it should be free - or they might just be poor managers. The most common cause is a failure to understand the real ongoing costs - when folks tell me that since they live in their Mom's basement their rent is zero I just sort of smile - it can't be that way forever. Mom certainly hopes it won't be.

Now you might think paying the lowest possible price is great but actually it causes many problems for web site owners - projects executed that way tend to blow up with great regularity. 

As a web site owner your goal should be to pay a fair price for web work.

Then we have the other end of the spectrum - the thing that tends to strike the most fear into Internet Entreprenuers everywhere - the dreaded 'i got ripped off' moment.

Now it may be important to know price alone almost never indicates getting ripped off - I'm always fascinated to see the "accountant's pile of receipts" - problems that are often the reason for very high website costs.

Like many solo practitioner business people I use Quickbooks. I also have a spectacular accountant who I really like quite a bit. 

Now Jim is a great guy and he is open to doing pretty much anything - but more than once he has told me since I give him a quickbooks file and not a disorganized pile of crumpled receipts each year I save a lot of money.

If I wanted to take a big box of receipts and go rain them down upon his desk he'd probably allow me to do so - and then he'd charge me by the hour to type it all in.

That happens all the time in web professional land - and it is the most common type of project waste I see. 

It is important to make sure that like any other professional service you have enough basic info on costs - before proceeding get more than one quote. Most of the time there is something in a "high" priced proposal you personally wouldn't pay for, but that doesn't make it unfair. A great example is fixed project fees which allow for an unlimited number of revisions - which is great if you can use it but otherwise it is waste.

I am quite proud of the fact I am no longer fat enough for the all you can eat buffet to be a good deal for me anymore. Make sure to think about not just what is a good deal, but what is a good deal for you. 

Here's the bottom line for Internet Entrepreneurs: You need to be aware of website costs, but the most important goal is to make sure you pay a fair price. That makes things a win-win and only win win relationships are sustainable. 

Happy Friday Everyone. :-)

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Tags: Website Buying

Be Courageous, Love Customers from the Heart

Posted by Ross Lasley on Fri, Mar 07, 2014 @ 09:00 AM

As most of you are aware I don't know a gosh darn thing about sports - almost never going outside when you are a kid tends to do that to people.

Love Customers Inbound MarketingThat doesn't mean however I don't enjoy a good sports movie - I did mention I like snacks I hope - and when I got thinking about how to love your customers the right way I remembered For Love of the Game

Quick summary: Baseball movie (that's the game with the good hot dogs) with old guy (Kevin Costner) who loves a woman but wants to pitch a perfect game before he retires - and he eventually comes to realize even when he had a perfect game the love was all that truly mattered. Roll credits.

This reminds me a lot of what is happening today with websites.

Some folks understand customer love and some don't. 

I think this is the difference between an inbound faker and an inbound marketing success maker. 

So let's back up a couple of steps here, shall we?

If you have no idea what Inbound Marketing is - aka the new hotness - it is the basic idea that instead of sending ads to customers they will come find you (arrive in an inbound fashion) if you put content on the web which really helps them and solves problems.

This actually reflects an inevitable reality for the web - the world's biggest walking talking encyclopedia - for the geeks in the room you might say Huspot style nurturing and inbound goodness is what had to happen after usenet. It only took a few decades, no worries. :-) 

So then we begin the process of making all this stuff - blog posts, emails, videos, webinars, downloadable whitepapers, and so on.

And every once in a while some profoundly ignorant jerk says: We're here to put dollars in the cash register, without sales none of this crap matters anyway.

Ummm - no. Wrong. Wrong. Wrong.

See my friend Seth Godin's definition of the two ways people think of customer love for the right perspective:

  • We love our customers because they pay us money. (Inherent here is customers = money = love.)
  • We love our customers, and sometimes there's a transaction.

It takes courage to do the second one. I know that and so do you.

But here is the interesting thing - if you don't courageously love your customers your inbound efforts are doomed to failure.

If you demand every single piece of content directly correlates to sales generation today you might think that is a smart idea - but you just killed the golden goose. Your customers will be able to tell you don't really love them, you love their money. The age of being able to fool people - outbound marketing - is over.

Then comes the doubts, the problems, the lack of sales - and so on.

Courage is required.

Recently I had a web professional reach out to me with a PCI Compliance problem - they had a client that was having some issues with their shopping cart and making sure Visa was not pissed at them.

Several folks had tried to fix the problem and failed - but it sounded pretty simple to me.

Now this was no titan of web professionals and this site was small - but they were a classic wonderful Maine company with a very nice story. Sweet people.

I work really hard and I like to think I am very good at what I do - but my services are not cheap. These folks knew that and were nervous. They did the classic dancing between 'since we have no choice I guess we'll pay if we have to, but...'

And so I said let's talk. Maybe I don't need to charge you a thing, information yearns to live free. I truly want to help people, no problem. I can't work all day for free but I'll talk to anybody.

And we did - the problem got solved in approximately 15 minutes. Happy web professional. Happy web site owner. Nice thanks so much emails. Roll credits.

I didn't get paid a dime - they offered but I said no - and it made me feel really good to help someone.

But here is the thing - I spent last fall in bed while my spine healed. I am absolutely aggressively seeking customers right now, you betcha. Suppose I had seen all this through that perspective? Suppose I had taken money for simply sharing what is really not that big a deal (very specilized knowledge yes but no big whoop) ?

They - and every other customer / prospect of mine - would know it. 

Do you love their money or do you love them?

Now all of the notions of how they will tell two friends about me, and they'll tell two frineds, and so on, and I will feel like I am part of a shampoo commercial apply here of course - but that is not really the point. If I was helping people with an intention to make that happen they would know it. 

Love your customers, and sometimes there will be a transaction - very sage wisdom from Mr Seth Godin right there.

Here's the bottom line for Internet Entrepreneurs: You need to love your customers the right way. You will be tested. Please have courage.

In the meantime feel free to eat delicious hot dogs every time you watch a baseball movie.

Happy Friday Everyone. :-)

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Tags: Web Marketing, Web Planning, Internet Marketing

Seasonal Cleaning Web Sites, Website Strategy Plan

Posted by Ross Lasley on Fri, Feb 28, 2014 @ 09:00 AM

As I sit here and February is coming to a close my office is super clean and organized.

I have the ice storm to thank for that.

This winter has featured brutal weather for pretty much everyone, but here in Maine those of us in the Augusta area had to bug out of our houses for Christmas. The power was out for a week and things like heat and running water are not optional items when you live in the great white north.

The ice storm delayed my new web connection - and so I was without web in my office for a little while, doing the coffee shop cha-cha. 

I took the opportunity to attack all sorts of old dusty piles - from a stack of magazines I had been ignoring for a year to several trade show piles - many things were processed, I filed the relevant stuff and tossed the rest. 

I also got a bit frustrated - I mean the web was out after all - so several of my cleaning decisions were serious. I removed every single item from my desks. I took every folder that I keep in the small "active" rack right by my Mac and decided what should go back to the big file cabinet and what should stay. I cleaned out that office closet where I had just basically been dumping extra stuff and closing the door real quick for about a year. 

Updating a WebsiteAll of this felt like a big pain in the ass, this was all stuff I did not want to do and if the web in my office was working it's stuff I probably would not have done.

But my oh my it felt good. I know where everything is now and much chaos was eliminated. My whiteboards are working better because I changed what went where. 

We all know how well "seasonal cleaning" works and how it can put a wonderful fresh perspective on things - but what about web sites?

There is an interesting conflict between the advice we give folks about website maintenance - keep building content all the time & never expect it to be done vs "seasonal cleaning".

On the one hand we have this notion of the endless build - keep adding content day after day and you'll win the race by being the tortoise.

Then we have the other hand - don't let things get stale. Go ahead and reconsider everything, do a "seasonal cleaning". Throw stuff out because that feels good and will help you do better. 

While these two things might seem like they are in conflict, they aren't - and a quick little tale of what I am doing with my own sites right now kind of explains why.

I founded The Internet Educator is 2007, and I started blogging away/sending newsletters in 2008. Here is my first blog post - and of course it is about snow. 

That blog post from 2008 is like my wired magazines - it gets a new life every time. 

It started out as part of my first generation website - what some folks refer to as my "ugly yellow design phase". It then went into the new look and feel (twice) - first on a site I did myself, and then it got migrated to the Hubspot system

So that one blog post - now 6 years old - has had 5 different designs and it has been migrated 3 times. My collection of Wired Magazines has moved a bunch too - they have lived on lots of different shelves in my office. 

On the other hand I have stuff like my site like my list of possible seminar titles - the one from 2007 is long gone now. The one from 2008? That's in the trash can too - as well as many other versions. The list of speaking topics on my website right now? Ripe as could be and it needs to be replaced.

So how do you work with both of these types of things and make decisions that works best with your overall website strategy plan ? We've all had friends where they have moved 5 times and never once opened that box labeled "stuff" - it should probably be thrown away. We also know folks who have thrown out things that are perfectly good - hmmmmm.

I recommend thinking about the shelf life of your content as you create it - and then treat it accordingly. When I make a new blog / eNewsletter that's as close as I get to permanent. I'll go back and perhaps add a correction when time moving forward means we have to do that - but my blog postings are meant to be forever content. That means I will do work on them later to keep them alive - like putting the content into a new design. 

Then I have foundational type stuff - my bio materials, articles that really correspond to the heart of what I do. I expect those to last about a year - they need regular replacement but not all the time. I actually label this sort of stuff with the year - when 2014 came I had to throw out my 2013 pricelist. Most of the time I will redo this sort of stuff instead of updating it, but minor updates can occur over the course of a year. 

Finally we have content that is meant to be used and replaced - the stuff that was never meant to be front and center for more than 30 days. I don't update that content when it gets ripe - I make new content.

Here's the bottom line for Internet Entrepreneurs: You need to create a relationship between the expected shelf life of your content and how you plan to deal with it.

Some stuff is really meant to be forever and some care is required for those items. Some stuff should be changed on a schedule (for me that's annual) and you might update it. Some things are done just once and when it gets ripe you always make a new one.

Happy Friday Everyone. :-)

 

 

 

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Tags: Miscellaneous, Website Management, Web Planning

Shopping Online and Hollywood Bungee Jumping, Both are Super Safe

Posted by Ross Lasley on Fri, Feb 21, 2014 @ 09:00 AM

Recently lots of people have been asking me if it is safe to shop online - usually right after they read an article on a data breach that's in progress.

These folks know I have helped many companies through data breach problems - I even gave a presentation on what happens after a breach (PR & SEO issues) in 2012 for the Internet Retailer Conference.

I also have a history in the security space as one of "Blankenship's Boys' - I had a job writing data encryption algorithm in 1985. I don't talk about it much but I will say if you call me Dr. Dos, I'll probably think that is my name. The 1980's were cool for many reasons, not just because I had a red members only jacket. 

So back to all these questions about whether or not it is safe to shop at a particular website. With very few exceptions the answer is yes - in fact, the answer is often that the site itself is the only 100% safe way to buy.

So all of this got me thinking about activities which seem very hazardous, and are often thought of as incredibly sketchy - but in fact are super safe.

Shopping Online SafelyI let my fingers do the Googling - and I came upon Bungee Jumping. That's when you jump off a cliff with a rubber band tied to your ankles - for fun. 

Now there have been some serious accidents in the past and this sure seems like an incredibly stupid thing to do on purpose but it got me wondering - is it safe? 

The answer sure does remind me of online shopping - the regulations covering this activity, when followed to the letter, make this safer than sleeping in your bed.

So I thought about California - home of many regulations - and the notion of Hollywood and then I found them. The oldest bungee company in America has a perfect safety record. That's right - 100% safe, having sent more than 150,000 people over the edge since 1989. Yahtzee.

Shopping online, when done properly, is also 100% safe. There is not a single documented record of there having ever been a problem which happened while all protocols were in place and followed. A lot like the Bungee folks we first started doing this in the late 1980's and when every rule is followed, we have zero fatalities as a result.

What? Yeah - I know, it is hard to imagine online shopping is insanely safe but trust me, it is. 

So what makes websites so safe and the rest of the stuff such a problem? I'm so glad you asked. 

Credit and debit cards in the United States use ancient technology and the companies providing cards have dragged their feet on upgrading them to chip & pin

Why would they do this? 

Very simple - it is cheaper to pay for the cost of problems than to pay for the safety system that would prevent them. If an industrial plant was fined $50 a month for not having a safety rail which would cost them $10,000 to install they might just keep paying the fine forever.

Second issue - have you ever bought an appliance at Sears? When you do that you'll notice it is like a trip back in time, the cash register in front of you should have gone to the trash heap many years ago, and the folks who work there actually know this and spend a lot of time apologizing about that. I takes more time to pay for a new stove at Sears than it does to pick one out.

Lots of back office technology is similar and the fundamental reason why it is not fixed? Same thing as the chip & pin issue - it costs more to fix it than it does to pay for the problems. 

The logic here is simple - folks see all of these problems as just a normal cost of doing business, and so long as that cost stays low enough they don't really care much about the problems individual people might have.

The data breach I spoke about at IRCE in 2012? My favorite line in the press release was: "If you only shopped online, you are unaffected".  A tremendous number of data breach press releases say the same thing.

The physical cash registers at Target, or Hannaford, or one of many other examples you could name - aren't very safe. But the websites of those same organizations? Flawless. 

So how do you know the shopping you are doing is safe? How can avoid problems ? Three keys here.

1. Make sure it has the happy little lock.

This may seem beyond simple, but please make sure the site is secure when you enter your payment info. There are very few sites out there trying to collect info outside of https (that last 's' stands for secure), but make sure you see that happy little lock in your browser.

2. Use a credit card or a no consequence debit card.  

No matter what you do you'll run into some data breach related problems if you live in America. A new card will arrive in the mail and you'll need to cut up the old one - the average person can expect that to happen about once every two years or so.

What lots of folks don't realize is when you have a problem with a credit card you never pay - the card issuer is dealing with what they consider to be "their money". 

When you use a debit card and have a problem the money becomes gone - and then you wait to get it back. The card issuer sees this as "your money" and they aren't in any sort of hurry to get it back into your account. It might be as quick as 10 business days but often times it is literally months. A lot of pain is caused when folks lose access to money they had to have to pay their bills. Never use a debit card which has "all" of your money in the account. And I don't just mean for shopping online - I mean period, never use a debit card which connects to your "only" funds - I know it is a pain to transfer things back and forth to a savings account but that is what you need to do. 

3. Passwords

Ever wonder why "some stupid site that doesn't even take credit cards got hacked" is a news item? The answer is passwords. The vast majority of people have one or two passwords they use everywhere - sort of like having only one key that opens your house, your office, starts your car, oh - and it also works to get into your safe deposit box.

Silly, right?

But then we have the practical problem - how can you have a different fully random password like iz3XuJT1FYwCrUcJMW*D) for every site. That was my actual facebook password until I changed it 30 seconds ago. 

When I was a youngling I was able to just remember that sort of stuff - and while it is a bit freakish to memorize a hundred different passwords I am now too old to keep all of that stuff in my head.

Today I use a password manager - they are free and if you don't have one you should get one today. There are lots of them but personally I use LastPass, they have a premium service as well for $12 a year.

A password manager generates long random passwords for you, saves them in your "vault" , and will automatically log you in to the sites you visit - on your phone and tablet too. 

You have one very long and complex password that you use only for the manager - and as I am a geek I change mine once a week. 

Having a password manager is like having anti-virus software on your machine - it is a requirement. 

Here's the bottom line for Internet Entrepreneurs: Online shopping is as safe as bungee jumping in Hollywood - safer than sleeping in your bed. Make sure you follow the simple practices above and I hope you enjoy the boxes that arrive full of fun stuff. Tell the delivery driver I said howdy.

Happy Friday Everyone. :-)

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Tags: Web Functionality, Shopping Carts, Website Management

Pirates I Admire, Profiteers I Hate. Website Pricing

Posted by Ross Lasley on Fri, Feb 14, 2014 @ 09:00 AM

When 6:15pm rolls around more often than not I can be found laying in my bed with an iPad in hand.

That is the official time when young Emma and I snuggle up before bedtime and watch a quick half episode of Jake and the Neverland Pirates.

Website PricingFor those of you not familiar with this Disney show it has all the usual little kids animated joy joy. A sarcastic viewpoint is that it is yet another program length commercial to buy Disney stuff although it does have some actual redeeming value - we count our gold doubloons at the end of each adventure. 

I find the bits about "Pirates" fascinating - as apparently they are loyal, brave, and true. Pirates work as a team and Pirates say please. Pirates help people in trouble and they are kind to animals. Pirates use pixie dust to fly, but only in emergencies. Hmmmmm. 

I imagine Blackbeard or someone like him might have a very different impression of Pirate values. It'll be interesting to see if Emma is unhappy when we get to the actual history of pirates when she is formally educated - as overall they are not a very admirable group of folks.

But back in Disney land - where every royal family is simply happy as are their subjects - I think the Pirates are pretty ok and even enjoyable most days.They live in Neverland where Peter Pan is from and that is pretty cool. Like a lot of parents I have memorized many of the songs and I occasionally embarrass myself when I find I am humming them in the car - by myself.

For a very long time I have said folks who do inappropriate things with website pricing are pirates. But avast me hearties - I think I need to change my language and call these folks what they are - profiteers. Yo Ho let's go - time to explain. 

Every once in awhile I meet a young web professional and I have to remind them about profiteering and why it is wrong.

We all live in a capitalist world and prices for services vary greatly - I don't have any issue with that. When I am in a big city I gladly pay more for a fancy salad than I would for a dinner at home for four people. I am choosing to treat myself and that can be good fun.

There is an old joke among web professionals - ask a website salesperson how much something costs and they'll answer you: How much have you got? All kidding aside I can respect the salesperson working hard to try and get as big a project as they can - that makes sense and it is their job.

But then we get to profiteering - and this is genuinely not ok in any way, it is stealing. Theft by deception is just plain wrong. 

A pirate - at least if you watch the Disney stuff - might be a wonderful person. A profiteer is someone who knowingly abuses folks and preys upon their ignorance.

When you see a video game "box" (literally the cardboard box, not the game unit) sell on an auction site for $1,000 right before the holidays - that's a profiteer. 

When you see someone who buys a $100 web template, installs wordpress in three clicks, and then charges $10,000 for a website which costs them less than $250 and an hour of their time - that's a profiteer.

It is interesting to see how subtle the difference can be - when you stand in a crowded concert parking lot and sell cans of soda to thirsty people - when is it overpriced and when is it wrong? 

Cans for $1 is what folks would pay at a store - so cans for as much as $5 seems like a convenience fee. Cans for $10 is obnoxious - and (I have actually seen this) cans for $20 is profiteering. Or is it?

As I sit there in that concert parking lot I don't really feel bad for the intoxicated folks forking over a $20 bill for a can of sugar water - they have not been fooled. They know what a can of soda costs and they are choosing to pay a huge 'gotta have it right now' premium.

But what if they didn't know what it should cost? What if they asked the guy how much soda usually costs and straight faced he replied: $20. What if they were like many website owners who find out that the site they just bought for 25K is really worth no more than 3K. That's where I think a crime has occurred - where folks have been preyed upon and salespeople depended upon the ignorance of the buyer to support the price.

Now websites are arguably very tricky little animals - lots of things are - and a fair market value can be very confusing. I live in an almost 5,000 square foot house on 35 acres - and I bought it for less than 200K. Same place outside of Boston would likely be a million dollars - but that is all "fair" pricing based upon genuine market values.

When someone "from away" comes to Maine and spends 350K on a place that is really worth 200K - that person was defrauded. They are the victim of a crime, no different than if someone held them up with a gun. They may have contributed a wee bit to the problem by not sufficiently protecting themselves but it doesn't change the fact they just got robbed.

Now we also have the other end of the spectrum - folks who think any meal which costs more than what a fast food joint charges is a crime. I've heard young web professionals say these things as well - $10,000 for a logo is a crime by definition. Not really - that can actually be a very fair price for developing a brand image under the right circumstances.

So if the actual price paid is not related to whether or not profiteering occurred - what does make it wrong?

One single thing - depending on the ignorance of the buyer and/or lying in response to their questions.

Think back to our seller of sugar water in the parking lot at a concert - if the price is not what makes it wrong, when does it become stealing? When the seller lies and tells someone visiting from Japan soda always costs $20 a can. There are ways she can push for the sale without lying - she could honestly say soda inside the stadium is $8 a cup. 

So many buyers of websites try to have a little heart to heart conversation with sellers - and I hate to say this but even in 2014 it is a very dangerous thing to do. Internet Entrepreneurs want to be reassured - is it really "reasonable" to pay 65K for an eCommerce website? Is X fee worth it? What would you buy if it were your money? And so they dance, hoping to find out what things 'should' cost from a perosn who is very unlikely to tell them. 

I'm sorry but there are a lot more folks who sell web stuff in an unethical fashion than there are integrity filled web professionals. It is much more dangerous to buy a website than it is to buy a used car or insurance. 

Here's the bottom line for Internet Entrepreneurs: I believe when you go shopping for web services you need to know what things should cost. Dont' ask for a quote with no clue what number might come back. If you encounter a profiteer it is perfectly reasonable to run the other direction and never look back.

If you are like me - you can even say you like Pirates while you do that.

Happy Friday Everyone. :-)

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Tags: Website Buying

Internet Entreprenuer, I Quit - Superbowl

Posted by Ross Lasley on Fri, Feb 07, 2014 @ 10:00 AM

Last weekend I engaged in the great American tradition - I sat down in front of the TV with way more food than anyone should eat and I watched some football. The cupcakes were delicious.

The game was actually fun to watch - as usual I started by asking my wife who "we" were rooting for. My knowledge of football mostly orients around how the game uses a brown ball and you usually get nachos - in summertime when the ball is white you usually get hot dogs.

In an effort to be enthusiastic I chanted "interception" when the orange guys had the ball and lo and behold I got my wish a bunch of times. 

I don't really watch for the game itself - I'm all about the commercials. I am always fascinated to see what advertisers have come up with as it tends to reflect overall buying sentiments, marketing trends, and the sorts of things I do consider to be 'sports'.

So there were a few I had seen in advance - how can you not like the Budweiser puppies. The Muppets were excellent but I love Muppets so that was a no brainer.

And then there was Gwen and the GoDaddy Commercial.

This ad has our friend Gwen - a puppeteer - publicly quitting her job in a "super bowl commercial" like fashion while extolling the virtues of her new website and how thanks to the folks at GoDaddy she was now an Internet Entrepreneur.

Internet Entrepreneur SuperbowlPersonally I was thrilled to see Gwen get her own television commercial and I loved the underlying passion it displayed - people who want to be their own boss.

So being the dutiful geek I am I fired up my browser and headed on over to www.PuppetsByGwen.com to check it out.

The photography is gorgeous and obviously professional. The copy is well written, catchy, and fun. The video (I'd guess done by the same folks who made the TV commercial) is excellent - light and airy. 

The design is certainly ok, but not particularly evocative.

The thing that really struck me was how despite all of this great stuff which would cause many people to think the site was wonderful - Gwen's new website sucks.

It actually represents a classic example of a new to the web Internet Entrepreneur making errors purchasing a website - although I'd guess Gwen got paid by GoDaddy as a spokesperson and "buying" a site the way she did has got to be very rare.

If Gwen had reached into her savings account to buy this site I think she'd be pretty unhappy.

So let's start at the start - with what a puppeteer might know, what she might bring to this little 'Be an Internet Entrepreneur' party, what her real core passions are. Visual is important to her and her brand, so she insists on great pictures. Usually this is a separate purchase from the web geeks you encounter - and in this case Gwen has at least 3K worth of photography on display.

She took her visuals to the next level with video and while a charming 'I obviously did this myself' video would probably be fine - there is another 5-10K worth of services on display in her videos. I'd guess the cost was actually a lot higher than that, especially if it was done by the same folks who did the TV commercial.

As a puppeteer Gwen knows about stories - so she might have worked with a professional writer to put the copy together. GoDaddy probably paid a lot more but there is about 1-2K worth of copy on display. 

The design itself is just ok - while certainly modern and reasonably usable it is not evocative. If you removed all of the images and copy you couldn't tell where you were anymore - it doesn't visually communicate what I think the brand is about.

Then you get to the meat of the Internet entrepreneur stuff - and that is where this site becomes complete crap. 

Three key things to consider: Who are you, what is for sale, and how do I get it.

Gwen scores well on the who she is stuff - it is a bit thin (there should be more in my opinion) but overall it is solid.

What is for sale - she skips what is order of magnitude the most critical thing for someone considering buying a show - a basic description of what folks get and roughly how much it costs.

As my daughter Emma grows older I'm sure I'll learn more about this but I think entertainment comes in a lot of flavors. There are the sort of sickly animals and clowns that can be had very cheaply and there are the popular boy bands that might be the feature at a party in Beverly Hills.

Gwen might charge a few hundred for a one hour show, or she might have a minimum fee of 10K. I think most potential buyers of her shows would be clueless about what it might cost, just like me.  

Gwen gives us zero guidance - is this a rusty old Chevy or a Ferrari? She doesn't have to list a specific price to give folks a clue - twice the fun of a bounce house for the same price. Cheaper than Bieber - give me a hint.

How long does an average show last? Is there a minimum fee? Making a list which describes all human people - kids, adults, seniors, patients - gives me pretty much nothing to bite into and think "yup, I could see buying that'.  Puppets for patients features uplifting content which will improve your medical center's results - that is nice and specific.

Instead she says something which is just plain entrepreneur stupid - I work with anyone and everyone. Tall people, short people, medium people - everyone loves what I sell.

No they don't. Sorry. Some people hate puppets. I wonder if those folks are often sad because I think puppets rock.

What's missing here is the persona work - thinking about who might buy this. I find it sort of ironic how by appealing to "everyone" the site makes GoDaddy look great but it doesn't do much for our friend Gwen.

Then we get to the heart of why this site officially sucks - the MDR, SDR and funnel stage vs direct request.

What? No worries - all shall be clear in just a moment my friends.

Gwen presents her product with an appalling lack of detail a serious buyer would need. Then she asks them to get married - which is sure to have a crappy conversion rate and a massive prequalification problem. While many geeks do indeed ask girls to get married on their first date it tends to be ineffective as doing that is a wee bit ridiculous.

Are most folks visiting her site ready to buy right now? Probably not - but if they are - the MDR (Most Desired Response) is obvious, book a show. Her actual request form is not as sophisticated as what my local massage therapist uses - it does not show available dates.  It goes right for the throat and asks me to tell her when I want to book my show - but she didn't provide anything I need to know about pricing or stuff like that there.

So either I don't fill it out at all - or she gets a flood of folks filling it out who are not a good fit for her. Telling 867 people they can't afford it or it is wrong for them is a giant waste of time and - this part is key - it might mean while she is so busy replying to garbage "leads" the few real ones don't get good service as they wait in line with all of the useless noise. 

For Gwen she'd do better to focus at the right place in the funnel - most visitors are not ready to buy. They are top of funnel folks, or perhaps middle. They need info, they need love, they need nurturing.

Sign up for my email list and get my free guide on how puppets can solve world hunger. That is what is known an an SDR (secondary desired response) and her choice to push people to social media - where a like or follow may not in fact mean she is able to market to them later - is silly. 

Get the email - then you can work your list to encourage bookings - by providing clear info and helping people along their path. Nurturing is key.

What are the problems people have with puppet based entertainment? How is Gwen helping me solve them? She's not - she is basically saying 'buy my stuff' without actually telling me what I need to know.

Here's the bottom line for Internet Entrepreneurs: Lots of folks want to quit their job and become an Internet Entrepreneur. They might bring amazing pictures, copy, and great stuff to the process of buying a website - but unless and until they understand the rules of being an Internet Entrepreneur their results are going to suck. 

Happy Friday Everyone. :-) 

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Tags: Web Functionality, Website Management, Web Planning