Blogs

The significance of GData

May 12th, 2006

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Gdata, short for Google Data APIs, promises to be Google’s new standard protocol for transmitting all sorts of data back and forth to Google and its various services. As Google states on Google Code: “All sorts of services can provide GData feeds, from public services like blog feeds or news syndication feeds to personalized data like email or calendar events or task-list items.” Imagine for instance, starting with a base feed, then adding query parameters like restricting to a particular category and date range and ending up with a customized feed that specifically fits your criteria. Gdata builds on the RSS 2.0 and ATOM 1.0 protocols.

Imagine your desktop machine — armed with your personal profile — communicating with Google (and even with the Web in general) about your email, search history, RSS subscriptions, calendar, bookmarks, blog posts, and the news… and all through the GData protocol. As Reto Meier states, “Google already has a ridiculous amount of my information. Now with an API that promises access to this information to use the way I want to, there’s one less reason to think about storing it anywhere else.” Kinda scary but also exciting at the same time. Google Operating System here we come!

Will we all be speaking GData in years to come? Will the GData protocol become as ubiqitous as the HTTP protocol? Only time will tell, but I certainly think GData is one to watch!

The Problem with Embedding Tracking Codes in your URLs

May 8th, 2006

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The problem with embedding a tracking code into URLs to track referrals from particular marketing campaigns or from particular partners is that inevitably those URLs end up in other places, such as in the search engines. Thus your referral numbers become overinflated.

Case in point: Google’s “Inside AdSense” Blog. A couple days ago I searched Google for [inside adsense] and was surprised to find that the #1 result was not http://adsense.blogspot.com. It was the URL with a utm_source and some other stuff appended at the end of the URL (i.e. the URL was something like http://adsense.blogspot.com/? utm_source=aso&utm_campaign=ww-en_US-et-asfe&medium=et). Unfortunately I didn’t record the exact URL at the time, and today Google is back to returning what it should be returning for the top result: http://adsense.blogspot.com (without any utm_source or query string). I bet the Analytics folks at Google will be scratching their heads at the spike in popularity of the “ASO” (or whatever it was) referral source when they look back at the month of May (unless of course they’ve read this blog post!).

Example #2: CBS News. Check this out… Run the query [site:www.cbsnews.com inurl:source=rss] on Google. Google returns 27,900 pages. You’ll see that all of those pages have a source=RSS in the URL. Even though I don’t believe Google’s numbers of results to be even remotely accurate, still there are a heck of a lot of pages there, and those pages are bringing in some amount of traffic from Google searchers. When they do, the referral source is being wrongly attributed to the site’s RSS feed. I wonder if CBS News realize this? Probably not.

So, if you must use the URL’s query string to track your referral sources, then at least make sure that you aren’t ever serving those links to search engine spiders. Drop the referral source from all links when spiders come to visit. Don’t worry; the search engines say this sort of “cloaking” is totally okay.

That will ensure your own site isn’t providing source coded links for the spiders to explore. But what to do about other sites that are linking to you? I suggest that you 301 redirect all traffic to URLs with tracking codes to the corresponding URL without the tracking code. You should see that your source coded pages in the search engines’ indices should drop away to nothing over time (or at least get relegated to “supplemental hell”).

5 Tips for Multichannel Retailers Entering the Blogosphere

May 4th, 2006

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I was interviewed for a piece that just came out in Multichannel Merchant magazine called Defending yourself against the blogs. I contributed some tips for multichannel retailers who are considering blogging. Here’s the full version of my tips (In the published article, my comments were edited down for space):

  1. Create a “safe haven” to experiment with blogging. Set up a private blog on your intranet or extranet, or start a blog that’s password-protected. Then offer access to that test to a selected audience. That will give your inexperienced bloggers comfort because they won’t have having to worry that all of your customers, competition, and the media are watching their every move. They’re trying to find your feet, so help them feel safe while they’re doing it.

  2. Decide on a permanent home for your blog. The web address you choose for your blog should be one that you will be happy with for years to come. Remember the early days of the commercial Internet, and many a business card included an earthlink.net or aol.com email address? It made it very painful to switch email providers. (I know people that to this day still pay their AOL subscription only because they don’t want to lose their long-standing email address.) Similarly, it will become difficult to switch blog services if you allow the service to be part of your URL. For example, ehobbies.blogs.com, backcountryblog.blogspot.com, and sethgodin.typepad.com are all examples of blogs that are forever wedded to their blog platform — for better or for worse! If they switch platforms, all the links they’ve earned will be unavailable to their new blog. Links are the lifeblood of your search engine visibility, so the significance of this cannot be overstated.

    You may want to utilize the domain name of your online store (e.g. blog.ice.com). Resist the temptation! In most cases, your blog will be more successful in acquiring links from other bloggers by being at an arm’s length from your storefront, in other words by having a unique domain name (e.g. www.justaskleslie.com). Let me supply a hypothetical example. If a life insurance company has a blog about health and wellness and it’s at www.stayinghealthy.com, then that will most likely garner many more links (and consequently superior search engine rankings) than one at blog.lifeinsuranceco.com — particularly if the former isn’t too much of a hard sell for its life insurance products. (Remember, mastering the soft sell is the name of the game in the blogosphere.)

    This may seem like an oversimplification, since I haven’t discussed the branding implications, but I believe the “link-ability” of the blog is what will give your blog a long productive life in the blogosphere.

    Once you’ve settled on a URL for your blog, publish something at that URL straight away. Even if it’s merely some “Coming Soon” verbiage. This will help you establish a history for your new blog site and will help you avoid the “Google Sandbox” when the time comes for you to launch your blog for real. The Google Sandbox is a term used by us SEOs (search engine optimizers) to refer to the penalty Google applies to new sites with new domain names. Google created this as a deterrent to search engine spammers, but unfortunately legitimate marketers are often caught by this algorithm too.

  3. Select a scalable, flexible, and user-friendly blog platform. There are so many solutions to choose from! Some are hosted services, such as TypePad, Blogger, and WordPress.com. Some are software packages that you install on your web server, such as WordPress, Drupal or Movable Type. Rather than pour over comparison charts, my advice is simply to go with WordPress (the software package, not to be confused with the hosted service at WordPress.com). WordPress is free, so the price is right. It’s highly configurable, since it’s “open source” and has a plethora of free, useful plugins written for it (I’ve compiled a list of my favorites). And it’s got all the functionality you’d ever need, all wrapped up in an easy-to-use interface. After I and my team at Netconcepts did extensive research on blogging packages, we came to the conclusion that WordPress really is the best.

  4. Decide on a posting schedule. Try to post at least three times per week. Allow several hours per week for this. I typically spend 2 to 3 hours per week blogging. Don’t hire a ghostwriter for your blog, or you’ll get slammed by bloggers for lack of transparency (an unwritten rule in the blogosphere). As far as retaining readers, recency is more important than frequency. A couple weeks of inactivity makes the reader feel like nobody’s home. Conversely, having the latest post be only a day old makes the blog appear “fresh”. Personally, I don’t like keeping RSS feeds in my newsreader that haven’t had recent activity.

  5. Get respected bloggers on your side. Building relationships with respected bloggers is absolutely key. Not only will they be more likely to link to you, but they will also offer advice and bolster your “street cred.” Posting thoughtful comments on their blogs is only the first step: do it enough and you may get on their radar, but it’s not enough. Attend blogger conferences like BlogOn and Blog Business Summit and meet bloggers in person. Keep the dialogue going through email and through phone or Skype conversations. Become an evangelist for businesses blogging and you will really get them on-side.

    Don’t be afraid to enlist the help of an expert. Many highly regarded bloggers are available for paid consulting. I’d also suggest you work with a web designer who’s very familiar with WordPress (assuming that’s the blog software you decide on). That way they aren’t learning on your dime, and they aren’t trying to steer you towards an inferior package because they are more familiar with it.

Competitive analysis critical to SEO success

May 1st, 2006

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Understanding your competitors — their strategy, their tactics, their level of success, etc. — is crucial to the success of your SEO initiatives. I’m not just talking about your traditional competitors, I’m referring to the other sites occupying spots in the SERPs (search engine results pages) for keywords that you are targeting.

Many free competitive analysis tools are out there, but you have to know where to look for them. One of my favorite SEO blogs (Stuntdubl) offers a veritable Home Depot of such tools, at Mr. Ploppy’s Monday Tool List.

It’s a bit like walking into a DIY store and being faced with an overwhelming array of options. What is the right tool for the job?

Here’s a sampling of some of the SEO tools that I use for competitive analysis and what I specifically use them for:

Special Report Web Marketing

May 1st, 2006

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Originally published in Catalog Success

Matt Griffin, Alan Rimm-Kaufman, and Joe Dysart discuss, in this article, new concepts for companies to attract customers and keep them “involved” through the checkout proccess. It may be a series of tactics or success may fall on just one tactic.

This article explains, in some detail, new concepts and new twists on old concepts. One of these successful marketing concept is blogging. “Blogging should be part of any online retailer’s SEO arsenal,” says Stephan Spencer, Founder and President of Netconcepts.

Continue reading »

Defending yourself against the blogs

May 1st, 2006

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Originally published in Multichannel Merchant

Tim Parry author for Multichannel Merchant discusses the dark-side of the Blogosphere. Links, community, and sharing are all great aspects of Blogging. However, slander and company wrong-doing, when posted on blogs, can have severe consequences.

Parry turns to Found and President of Netconcepts, Stephan Spencer for best practice advice on the blogosphere. Spencer contributes 5 Tips for Beginning Bloggers. These tips include…

Continue reading »

Making your blog sticky

April 21st, 2006

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It is easier to build a relationship with your reader and engage with them if your blog is sticky. A sticky web site compels visitors to come back again and again, and to stay longer too. My blog is reasonably sticky because the author is so good and has such insightful things to say. 😉

But in all seriousness though, there are things you can do to engage your readers more effectively. For instance, you can form a community where they all talk to each other. Most blogs, unfortunately, are abysmal at that. Even my blog really doesn’t do a very good job of bringing readers together and involving them in a group discussion. It’s entirely too easy to be up on one’s soapbox, to start a conversation and also finish it.

Here are some practical suggestions for making your blog sticky, courtesy of Performancing:

  1. Design for repeat visits
  2. Keep advertising minimal for repeats
  3. Provide a recent posts list
  4. Answer your comments
  5. Use the right language
  6. Post frequently
  7. Have a private message system
  8. Allow member posts
  9. Include members in decisions
  10. Don’t neglect the distributed community
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Sticky blogs work best

April 21st, 2006

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Stickiness is a primary goal for most websites. A site that is sticky gets people coming back again and again, and staying longer too.

It is easier to build a relationship and engage your reader if your site is sticky. My blog’s reasonably sticky because the author is so good and has such insightful things to say. 😉

But seriously though, there are things you can do to engage your readers in some of the dialog. For instance, you can form a community where they are all talking to each other — most blogs are really abysmal at that. Even my blog really doesn’t do a very good job of bringing readers together and getting them to talk to each other.

So how do you get off your soapbox as a blogger and start conversations without finishing them, and let your readers take over?

Performancing has a nice list of practical things you can do to build online community of your blog:

  1. Design for repeat visits
  2. Keep advertising minimal for repeats
  3. Provide a recent posts list
  4. Answer your comments
  5. Use the right language
  6. Post frequently
  7. Have a private message system
  8. Allow member posts
  9. Include members in decisions
  10. Don’t neglect the distributed community
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Favorite Firefox Extensions

March 24th, 2006

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Since my list of WordPress plugins was so well-received, I’ve got another list to share. This time it’s my favorite Firefox extensions…

  • Tab Mix Plus – saves your tabs and windows and will restore them if you quit out of your browser or it crashes, allows you to undo the closing of a tab, and lots more
  • Performancing for Firefox – a blog editor for your WordPress, Movable Type, or Blogger blog that features integration with del.icio.us and Technorati, spellchecking, etc.
  • All-in-One Gestures – execute commands by making certain movements with your mouse without having to use the keyboard, menus or toolbars â?? like going back a page, closing a tab, etc.
  • User Agent Switcher – masquerade as Googlebot, Yahoo Slurp, or msnbot etc. to see if a site is doing bot detection
  • Web Developer – tool for doing CSS coding, building web forms, etc.
  • Google Toolbar for Firefox – Get query suggestions as you type into the search box, view PageRank scores, etc. Check out my screencast on installing, configuring and using the Google Toolbar.
  • SEO-Links – hover over a link and it displays link popularity and rankings for the anchor text from Google, Yahoo and MSN Search. I’ve got a screencast on using SEO-Links too.
  • Copy Plain Text – copy-and-paste from a web page into Microsoft Word so that the formatting isn’t carried over
  • ChatZilla – IRC (Internet Relay Chat) client
  • Sage – RSS feed reader
  • ViewSourceWith – view the page’s HTML source using an external editor (WordPad, BBEdit, etc.)
  • ShowIP – displays the IP address of the web server in the bottom right corner
  • StumbleUpon – get recommendations of related pages to check out from friends and likeâ??minded individuals
  • Search engines for the Search Bar – add your own favorite search engines to the search box in the top right, such as: MSN Search, Wikipedia, LinkedIn, Technorati, Creative Commons, etc.

Here’s a tip that isn’t quite an extension, but over time it’s a huge time-saver. And it works in IE too.

  • When you want to type in a URL into the address bar, you can leave off the the www. in front and the .com at the end, because, by hitting Ctrl Enter, the browser will automatically add the www. and the .com to the address for you!

This isn’t meant to be a comprehensive list of useful Firefox extensions. Check out the new FirefoxFacts ebook for a bigger list of recommended extensions and tips for Firefox. And if there’s an extension you feel should be added to the above list of favorites, please leave me a comment!

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Top 20 list of WordPress plugins for bloggers

March 15th, 2006

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I’ve posted onto BusinessBlogConsulting.com a list of my favorite WordPress plugins and what they do and why I like them. If you’re blogging under the WordPress platform, you might want to trick out your blog with some of these great plugins.

The list includes: PodPress, Popularity Contest, Google Sitemaps Generator, Akismet, Adhesive, Ultimate Tag Warrior, EmailShroud, Transpose Email, WP-EMail, WP-Print, Subscribe2, In-Series, Permalink Redirect, Gravatars, Subscribe to Comments. WP-Notable, A Different Monthly Archive, Related Posts, Related Posts for your 404.

That’s not quite 20, so I’ll add one more to that list — a suggestion from commenter Neville Hobson (thanks, Neville!) — FeedBurner Feed Replacement, which makes it easy to “migrate” your pre-existing RSS subscribers over to Feedburner once you sign up for the service (which is excellent, btw).

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