Monday, May 5, 2008

evaluating your blog or website

At least once a year, you need to look at your blog, ecommerce site, or corporate web presence, and hate it.

Yes, hate it.

Be harsh, hostile, and hideously mean-spirited. I speak roughly to get your attention. But try a scathing approach to your own site.

Try to think of the worst comment any enemy, opposing party, or competitor could possibly make about your blog or website.

What your site's weakest point? Where is it most vulnerable to critique? The copy? The images? The ads? The functionality? The lack of multi media? The lack of user input or social networking tools? The stale content?

Criticize your website, wiki, forum, or blog ruthlessly, unmercifully, combatively. Pretend it belongs to a competitor. What unbridled, destructive criticism can you muster against your own site? Can it withstand a brutally honest attack?

Is your website as organized as it needs to be? Or are important navigation tools and popular items a bit difficult to find?

What's the #1 thing your audience, fans, customers, readers want to do at your site? Is this prominent? Is the task easy? Is the procedure clear? Do users get a "Your submission succeeded" or similar affirmation message when a task is achieved correctly?

How fresh is your content? Do you have news items you can add frequently, with keywords and links and relevance to your audience, presented from their perspective, with their needs and interests in mind?

Do you have enough new photos of your products in use solving problems for users?

Is your About page more than a bland mission statement? Do you have a history of your company, with highlights of proud moments?

Do you guide customers to the best product for their specific individual needs?

Do you have a product comparison chart? A competitor comparison chart?

Do you provide educational material, that makes your site so valuable, customers bookmark it as a favorite? Do you understand how providing insight, expertise and helpful tips will position you as a trusted thought leader? Are you devoting enough time and effort to this vital component?

Do you think or know your audience likes video or audio? Are you providing any multi media, via links to good content, or embedded players so they can view it or hear it (consume it) right on your site?

How about your design, logo, colors?

Have you looked closely at your copy, text, wording? Is your written communication online as clear and exciting as it can possibly be? Are you keeping search engines and keywords in mind on every page of your site?

Frankly, many websites and blogs are ugly, amateurish, dysfunctional, badly coded, or poorly written. Many fail to use effective title tags and other SEO methods to drive search engine traffic to their site.

Even web designers and developers struggle with their company sites and personal blogs. Sometimes the smartest folks have sites that don't do their ideas justice, or even contradict their own expertise. It's not always easy to swallow your own medicine.

We all have blindspots when it comes to our business, and our websites often could be improved significantly.

Treat it like a health problem.

Do the work yourself, or hire a professional, but get your website or blog up to speed with how you need to present your company.

Your website is, in most cases, your most important public relations, marketing, customer education, and sales tool.

Make sure it shines.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

websites are for customers

"I don't need a website. Word of mouth is what brings in most of my business."

This is not a customer-oriented attitude. It's the old fashioned "we" mentality of Web 1.0 and Business As Usual, which often results in Business As Over.

Websites are for customers, not just companies. What your company wants to achieve with a website is only half of the strategy. You must also focus on what users, customers, fans need and want.

"All we want to do is provide some online information about our company."

This is a waste of time. Nobody cares about your company. People care about their problems and desires. If your company and website don't make the solutions and fulfillments front and center, you'll lose tons of business. Caring competitors are just a few clicks away on the web.

Your website shouldn't be about you.

Nor should it be about your company, your miracle products, your great customer service, competitive prices, and superior quality. Nobody is persuaded by corporate fluff and vague bragging anymore.

Your website should be about specific customer needs, interests, and behaviors. When you look at your website do you see yourself? Then it's an online vanity mirror. But if you look at your website and see solutions to problems, fulfillments of needs, or enhancements of a lifestyle, then you're on the right track.

Let's take a specific type of business as an example: music.

Music websites are among the worst.

Most of them still don't get it. Nobody goes to a music band site to read a pile of hype about how great the musicians are and how terrific their music is.

Music lovers go to musician websites to (1) hear and download music (2) to see photos of the band (3) to watch music videos (4) to discover where they're playing in upcoming months (4) to learn about and buy products.

Lengthy descriptions work for books, but not bands.

Yet many musician sites are (1) ugly (2) unreadable due to poor design (3) dysfunctional (e.g., mp3s that have expired and no longer work) and (4) don't let fans hear or download their music.

How about your site?

Do you really know what customers and fans want to do at your website or blog? Do you provide the information, photos, video, audio, and other features that make visiting your site a satisfying experience?

Or do you just use your website for your own limited purposes?

Is it a good idea to ignore customer needs? To not care what competitors are doing for customers on their sites? To think the website can be just a "presence" on the web, rather than a service to users?

A "web presence" that fails to interact with customers is a dud. A website must be more than just a thing that sits there with your logo, product list, phone number, and address on it.

What is your website doing for your audience?

Websites can be warm, inviting, personally-fulfilling experiences. In what ways could your website be more useful, delightful, and memorable?

How are you using a blog, or news items, to provide fresh content, SEO optimization, and new traffic to your site?

Saturday, May 3, 2008

7 keys to succesful blogging

Don't let anybody tell you that blogging is a burden. While business blogging can involve a lot of work, it can also be fulfilling.

Here are two blogs by clients, and they're having fun as they benefit their readers: News Anchor Mom and Naturally Yours.

7 keys to successful blogging:

1. A goal for your blog.

Why are you blogging?

To educate? inspire? argue? stir controversy? provoke dissent? provide a new view? attract new clients? inform customers? announce news items and special deals? interact with fans? drive traffic to an ecommerce website? meet others who share your interests?

2. An intended and gradually assembled online community or audience.

You can't sit around waiting for them to arrive. Go become known on high traffic blogs relevant to your topic, by posting comments on them. Smart contributions to their conversations can cause others to check out your blog.

3. A sincere passion for a topic or activity.

This is the leading motivation, but you also need to incorporate the other core values of blogging: Transparency, Authenticity, Integrity, Honesty, Individuality, Audacity, Interactivity, and Creativity.

4. A love of self-expression, sharing, and occasional, sometimes heated, debate.

To express self is to share your feelings, insights, experience, and talents with others. To express truth is to share your insights and experiences with others.

Either way, you're eventually going to rock a boat that doesn't want to admit it's sinking. You're going to meet opposition to some idea or opinion or work of art or photo you display on your blog. Somebody's going to not like your video or your music. Some will have no need for your product or expertise.

So what? Keep at it, for the future of steadfast blogging is bright indeed!

5. A zeal to provide benefit: to help, instruct or entertain others.

This includes reading, and posting comments at, other blogs -- not just posting articles on your own blog.

6. A strong will to triumph

Including a tough mental hide that can take the trolling arrows that greet all pioneers and innovators. Many new bloggers quit because they don't like negative comments. Use comment moderation to filter out abusive trolls and spam comments.

Posting comments that are critical of you is a good idea, especially if you reply in a kind and receptive manner, when appropriate. Take the moral high ground. Don't be nasty in return.

7. The gift of stubborn and indomitable persistence.

Which means you don't quit blogging just because of destructive critique, lack of comments, or a lack of traffic and links.

Friday, May 2, 2008

hype vs marketing

Is marketing just hype? Or is marketing, in the best sense, something other than bullying, exaggeration, and fluff?

What is hype? What is marketing? What separates them as opposing concepts?

Hype is any form of pushy sales, where the company wants to overpower, overwhelm, and overcome your resistance to purchasing their product right now.

You, as a potential customer, are not important or interesting: it's your wallet they're after. They don't have time to understand your specific problems and needs, they just assume you could use their product, so they try to clobber you with thought clubs. Beat you into submission. Trick you, seduce you, lure you. Force you or dazzle you into buying their product.

Hype, being product-centric, rather than user-centric, uses "we", "us", "our" instead of "you" and "your".

Hype is akin to frenzy, hysteria. It's fluff in higher gear.

Hype is arrogant, egotistical, neurotic. Hype is grasping, craving, obsessing over converting you into a paying customer, then moving on to the next "conquest". As in romance, the conquest is not treated kindly by the pursuer: customer loyalty and repeat purchases are lost by hype.

Hype is hyperbolic, i.e., exaggeration, partial truth, pregnant with undisclosed downsides. It paints an over-excited picture of the miraculous product, and the extreme proclamations and claims are clownishly coy and patently absurd.

Educated, sober, mature customers don't fall for it. Hype offends the right-thinking person. Hype only works like hucksterism, snake oil salesmen, and cult leaders: they prey on the weak and feeble minded, the young and the senile, the paranoid and approval addicts.

Marketing is sober communication of how a product can solve a problem, or enhance the life, or meet some need, for a customer.

Marketing helps the customer decide which model, color, size, style, etc. is right for him or her.

Marketing helps the customer understand his or her own problem better, which is due to a truthful positioning of the company as a leading expert.

No exaggeration. No inflated claims. No sex appeal. No reaching out to baser instincts. No bedazzling with showy gimmicks. No rush to make the sale and move on to the next victim.

Car commercials are idiotic hype, for example, almost without a single exception. Driving at illegal speeds, with no other traffic, and no pedestrians, or cops, around for miles. Or balloons and hot dogs and popcorn, it's a circus, not a car dealership. You get the idea.

Music band promotions are 98% hype. Exaggerated claims of virtuosos, new directions, unheard-of sounds, giant leaps in imagination, trend-setting stylistics, astonishing lyrical gifts, beautiful crooning...and it all sounds mediocre, exactly like, or less than, what came before.

This topic of Hype vs. Marketing was inspired by a Twitter message ("tweet") from @markdavidson:


My own PR person just told me my passion might be coming across too much like an infomercial. (This is why I retain a PR professional.)


An infomercial is advertising that pretends to be providing information about a skill, industry, need, or how-to topic, but is using the information to trick people into receiving product sales promotions.

Here are my Twitter replies to him:

hype vs. marketing 1

@markdavison - Your PR person may be right. Try to be more enthusiastic about your niche or field, not about yourself or your products.

hype vs. marketing 2

@markdavidson - For me, it's all about being passionate about ideas, and not about my own products, music, or marketing expertise.

Marketing begins with the customer's needs, problems, or desires. Not with the company, product, or sales pitch.

You start with the actual situation and human reality of the customer. You build a gestalt, a complete vision of what the customer wants to accomplish, then present the product in terms of how it helps the customer in a reliable, economical, efficient, satisfying manner.

Or, as in music and food especially, the instant consumables, you give free samples. Let the product sell itself to those with the required tastes, interests, and needs. Talking about music is boring. Let's hear it and have it. Let your fans hear and have your music, for free, abundantly, and they may do you the favor of distributing it to others, and causing a groundswell of craving for more, at any price. The collector mentality.

If you want to annoy people, use idiotic, self-centered hype.

If you want to help people, use smart, altruistic marketing.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

pluperfect definition

pluperfect =

1. Of or being a verb tense used to express action completed before a specified or implied past time. 2. More than perfect; supremely accomplished; ideal.

(The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language: Fourth Edition. 2000)

from perfect to pluperfect

To perfect something, you must focus on it, bring all your mental strength to bear on it.

I have often said that you must "hate" your blog. I mean you must not always gaze at it lovingly and accept it the way it is. Sometimes you have to critique it harshly, without mercy. What vulnerabilities does your blog (product, company, project) have? What is the worst thing an enemy could say about it?

This blog is new. It's in the process of being perfected. But perfect is not enough. It must go beyond, and become "pluperfect".

Perfect is often what we call something that fulfills our own vision of what a thing can be. Pluperfect is what I call something that is not only perfect from your point of view, but also is perfect in the meeting the needs of your readers, fans, users, or customers.

It's so easy to think a blog is perfect, because we are expressing ourselves completely in it. We're being transparent, bold, and honest. We have a unique viewpoint. We spot trends. We know a lot about a subject, and we share our insights.

But...what about your blog visitors?

If your blog's purpose is to showcase your expertise, in hopes of gaining new clients, fans, or customers, is it accomplishing the goal? Put yourself in the shoes of your target audience. Is your blog really meeting their needs, as best you understand them?

My blogging has always been, or was supposed to be, mainly about web usability, music marketing, and social media. But I lost some focus and began polluting my blog with too much personal material, self-promotions, and tangential issues.

Successful blogs stick to just a few topic areas, and rarely deviate. I am working on a blogroll that will list blogs on marketing, web usability, and related issues. These blogs will reflect what I am calling "pluperfect". They will exemplify the principles that have inspired me to abandon my flagship blog of over 4 years, and start anew.

Perfectionism is for slackers. We can do better than that. We can focus not only at what we have to share, but also on what our audience needs to know.

Let's go from perfect in our own pluperfect in the eyes of others.