Nov 30

The Chamber of Commerce’s of the world, lead groups, Rotary, Sertoma and the like all have an annual fee associated with them. Some of these groups can be pretty pricey. Others can be under $100 per year. But the real cost-or should I say, the real investment-is the amount of time they require to generate results.

This couldn’t be more true for your web site.

There are different level of investments you can choose to make in your overall web strategy. Each level requires a financial investment as well as a good portion of your time. Of course the principal of “what you put into it is what you’ll get out of it” holds true.

If you “just” want a web site, it will probably cost you little in time and money. Your nephew can do this for you, or maybe even a freelancer. Of course, your return will be “just,” but you’ll have a web site. Mission accomplished I guess.

If you want a web site, but you have some level of expectations in terms of results, then you’ll be investing a little more time in planning what the web site should say and do, and this will in turn cost a little more money. You’re probably looking for a small web development company to handle this for you. Your break-even point will probably come within the first year. Not bad.

If you really want to shoot for the stars, and you want to have one of the best-if not the best-web site in your market, then you’re going to hire Merge-I mean-an established web development firm with a track record for producing such web sites. You will spend a good amount of time creating a strategy, developing your brand, determining the functional requirements and having a copywriter provide just the right copy. You’ll also probably invest in a search engine optimization campaign to make sure you’re getting the right type and the right amount of traffic to your web site to make it successful. Though the upfront cost is significantly higher than the first two options, your return on investment will be significant as well. What you put into it is what you’ll get out of it.

You have options. Each option has it’s own cost in time and money. The results will mirror your investment. What level of investment should you make in your company’s web site?

Nov 29

Recently I’ve had a couple of prospects ask if we could help them get more traffic to their web site.

“I’m sure we could. But can you tell me, how much traffic do you currently get and what are you trying to accomplish with your web site?”

Silence on the other end of the phone.

“Or another way to put it, how would you know your web site is effective?”

More silence, followed by, we want more sales…contact us…web 2.0 buzzwords…jibberish.

I wrote in an earlier post that more traffic isn’t necessarily the problem. Conversion usually is the problem, and the conversion problem usually comes because no goal or objective is set for the web site.

Here’s how it usually works:

Company puts up a web site, pukes all over themselves (they just talk about themselves and how great they are) and they stick a contact us link at the end of their navigation. When users don’t submit the contact form enough, they call wanting more traffic. It must be the traffic!

Now, if we sat down and said, “Let’s figure out what value we could provide, a specific action we want the user to take and how many times we want them to take that per month,” then we would be on to something! We would KNOW if the site was accomplishing its goal, and if not, we could do something about it-like get more traffic, change the call-to-action or change whatever the offering may be.

What is your web site’s objective? What is your monthly goal? How much traffic do you need per month? What should your conversion rate be? Is your web site successful?

Nov 28

Merge is wrapping up year number six, and I may be a couple of weeks early to do this, but I wanted to review the past year or so to see what lessons I’ve learned. I hope you can glean something.

Overall, I’ve found that the business clichés and principles come true, if you hang in there long enough:

1. If you plan it, it will happen. Call it magic. Call it subconscious. Call it execution. I wrote a business plan last year for 2007, and hadn’t looked at it since. Recently I picked it up to review and was amazed that we had accomplished 98% of what we planned to do (though we didn’t necessarily proactively go about accomplishing the plan). It’s as if subconsciously we were accomplishing the plan (although we strategically did execute several components). Because of this, I’m going to set my goals higher for 2008, because if we’re going to subconsciously achieve our goals, they might as well be big ones.

2. You won’t be rewarded without risk. I’ve always shoe-stringed my operation and was proud of my no-debt approach to growing a business. It can be done, but it severely restricts the upside. 2007 I chose to risk much more. The reward in turn, followed the risk. We’ll be risking even more in 2008.

3. Be relentless with the vision. Always have your vision before you. Know where you’re going, figure out how you’re going to get there and just start doing it. I guess this is point 1 and 2 combined. A plan without action is a dream. Action without a plan is foolishness. What I learned on this point, looking back or hearing from my wife, “You’ve been saying that for 3 years,” is that for 2008 I’m going to act faster, as long as it’s congruent with the plan. Merge will trust the plan and act accordingly.

Nov 27

Over the years, I’ve noted my best, most productive and fulfilling days come when I do the following four things:

1. Plan my schedule for the next day, down to the half-hour.

2. Get to bed on time (by 9 pm so I can get 8 hours of sleep).

3. Get up on time (by 5 am so I have ample thinking/reading/exercise time).

4. Have time to exercise and/or read both spiritually and personal / business material.

So it boils down to, plan, get to bed, get up and time to think/get refreshed. What’s your plan for success?

Nov 26

Isn’t it great when you go through an entire web form, give up your credit card information and then at the end, the vendor assumes you want tons of spam, unsolicited offers and other worthless stuff, so they precheck the checkbox for you?

Stop it! This is just one more way to take “control” away from the user. Yes, the user can easily uncheck the checkbox if they want to, but you’ve worked so hard to establish trust and get them to that point to purchase your goods, do you now want to undermine yourself by trying to trick them in wanting a bunch of crap?

I signed up for a “prominent” subscription last night (oh, ok, HBR), and here’s the ploy they used:

[ ] I do not wish to receive information or offers from HBR

[ ] I do not wish to receive special offers from carefully selected vendors

So if I DON’T check these, then I will get a bunch of stuff from “carefully selected vendors.” Nice try. Same thing as prechecking the box.

Continue building rapport with your customers. Don’t precheck checkboxes or play any tricks like HBR does. Just give them what they want, treat them like customers and they’ll probably act like the good customers you want.

Nov 20

The top request we receive from prospects is that they want more traffic, traffic, traffic!

When we look at their current web site, we often find that we can probably increase their conversion rate by over 500%.

Getting more traffic can be a pretty expensive and time intensive ordeal. Fine tuning your site to increase conversion rates can be instant and relatively inexpensive.

Here are 3 ways we help you increase your conversion rate:

1. Optimize your page load to be fast. Most sites we inherent don’t have optimized graphics and come with extreme code-bloat. Hire a real web developer to significantly reduce the file size of your pages, thus, increasing download speeds.

2. Reduce your copy! One of my favorite Far Side comics is the one with the owner scolding his dog, and it shows what the dog hears: “Blah blah GINGER blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah GINGER blah blah blah blah blah.” This is how web users read your web site. Use bullets, key words, bold, etc. In short, be concise and say only what needs to be said.

3. Make compelling Calls-to-action. Review your site and write down how you’re asking the user to act. Is it lame? “Contact us” or “Read more” or … you name it, it’s probably lame. Make your calls-to-action compelling, and lo’ and behold, you’ll get more users acting.

Once your site is properly converting users, then focus on increasing traffic.

Nov 19

This weekend I made it to Clemson, SC for the Clemson vs. Boston College game. I went with no tickets, and I was accused of being crazy. I ended up sitting 6 rows up from the field due to a little networking and some very generous friends.

I found out that part of the group that provided tickets owned a real estate company, Avocet Properties, in Charleston, SC. The co-owner, Lisa, asked me what I did, so I told her about Merge. We started talking shop.

Lisa’s main concern was search engine placement, which they are currently working with a provider and “getting pretty good results.”

I took a look at their web site, and wanted to share with you, blog reader, what 5 things they could do today to start the process of improving their rankings:

1. The Title of the page:

Should have keywords in it. Suggestion:
“Charleston, SC Vacation Rentals, Real Estate - Avocet Properties”

2. The content on the page is an Image — a big no-no. This should be text using CSS:

3. No Alt Tags. When you rollover an image, it should say “Charleston, SC Vacation Rentals, Search>>” Instead, you get the file name. This violates both usability and SEO practices.

4. No Meta Tags. Arguably, Meta Tags are not as weighted as they used to be. However, it still doesn’t hurt to have them.

5. Site map. Having a site map page for both usability and SEO is key. This allows robots/spiders to easily index your site.

Five quick tips for making your site more SEO friendly. You never know what you’ll get when you give free advice. It seems what compes around goes around-even in the form of tickets 6 rows up for the big game…

Nov 15

Merge has met with customers who spend thousands of dollars per month on Google Adwords. I’m always surprised-though I should be used to it by now, their response to this question: Are you tracking your results?

The answer is invariably no. There are two really simple things you can do to optimize your Google Adwords:

1. Track conversions. Google provides you conversion tracking code so you know can know if the traffic Google is sending you is actually buying your product/service (or signing up for a newsletter or whatever your goal may be). If you have 100 visitors per month that you pay $2 per click (a total of $200) and your conversion rate is 2.5%, you just paid $80 per sale. Based on your product, is that worth it?

You have a couple of options if it’s not worth it. Option A) Turn of your Adword account. Option B) Tweak your web site to increase conversion Option C) Review your keywords and edit them so you are getting better qualified traffic. Option X) It could go on and on.

The key is that you can know exactly what Google Adwords is providing AND you can do something about making it more cost-effective.

2. Test your Ads. Did you know you can have an unlimited amount of Ads that get rotated on an even basis? What does this provide? You can see what Ad is performing the best. Merge right now is running 4 different Ads. Here are the click through rates for those ads for the last 60 days: 1.56%, 1.21%, .66% and .55%. My best ad is almost 300% more effective than my lowest performing ad. Guess what I just did? I just turned off the .66% and .55% ad, and then I created two more ads to continually fine tune my campaign. Play with the title, like “Greenville Web Design” vs. “Greenville Web Development.” You may find one performs significantly better than the other, even though the difference to you may be nominal.

Would you like to be 300% more effective with your Google Adwords account? Invest a little time in your Pay-per-click services, and I think you’ll be pleased with the results.

Nov 14

So I’ve been a subscriber to Inc. for years. Outstanding magazine. Dismal customer relations.

How can a business base its sales model on deception? I get fake bills constantly that attempt to deceive me by making it look like my subscription is running out. I just renewed a month ago.

This is not limited to just Inc. Merge just received a notice to ‘renew’ for Communication Arts. We’re 3 months into our annual subscription.

If these companies need cash flow, why don’t they try offering more value instead of trying to deceive their customers? I love both of these periodicals. I think their content is great and I want to continue to be a customer. Their billing and sales tactic come at a cost as I become more and more disenchanted with each “invoice” I receive. It’s tough to build brand loyalty when you’re defrauding your customers.

Nov 13

1. Define your goals upfront. What do you want your web site to do? ( I can’t tell you how many sites leave this one out. Certainly not you…)

2. Tell the user what’s in it for them.

3. Create compelling calls to action. Give them a reason to act. Don’t just use “Contact us.”

4. It’s not all or nothing. Use your web site to engage your users. They may not buy today, but if you engage them (offer eletter sign-ups, white paper downloads, subscription to blogs, etc.) you can sell them tomorrow.

5. Differentiate yourself. If you’ve seen one web site, you’ve seen them all. How can you stand out?

6. Promote, promote, promote. Use blogs, email signatures, newsletters, podcasts, pay-per-click or standard SEO tactics. Traffic should not be a problem.

7. Measure (use Google ). If you know your goals, then you can measure your success-or lack there of-and make the necessary changes.