Sunday, August 30, 2009


Keep Your Site Current, Your Visitors Up to Date and

Your Name Before Prospects Looking To Hire You

Feeds come in several formats – RSS (remote site syndication), XML, Atom and other links to news relevant to your viewership – the people who visit your site in search of the latest news.

And there are plenty of great reasons to post and broadcast feeds:

  • The software to collect feeds (aggregator), reader and broadcaster are free and free is always good.

  • You’re the editor. You choose which feeds to gather, which feeds to display on your web site and which features you’ll broadcast, spreading the attraction of your site far across the web.

  • Feeds can be delivered by way of a web portal site, via an RSS reader (free, and built into newer browsers so users don’t have to download a separate feed reader) and email. This means that your latest news feed can be accessed by anyone with a pulse.

  • If your feeds are brilliantly constructed and professionally designed, you can create a subscriber list. Some feeds charge a small subscription fee. Others only want the visitor to opt in. Cool. You get the email address and the opt-in gets your daily thoughts on…on whatever.

  • You can package your feeds to display on any digital communications device including cell phones, PDAs, laptops, desk tops – you can broadcast your words and podcast your podcasts any time, anywhere. That puts you in control.

Whether you’re a site owner or web surfer, RSS feeds enable you to

gather information of interest one time for display on your site, or

for your own education. These icons indicate a site, a section

of a site, a blog, podcast or other digitally-formatted data that can be

broadcast by you (just add the icon to the piece so other RSS

gatherers know its useable).

Who Benefits from Feeds?

Everyone, once you have the software set up and configured. Here’s how the site players all gain from your feeds.

You gain by eliminating the need for a publisher – an entity willing to put your words out there. The traditional publishing model, popular since Johan Guttenburg created moveable type, is dead. You don’t have to submit your article to 20 periodicals and suffer through those rejection notices.

You don’t have to truck your treatise on hyperspace travel from one publisher to another and you certainly don’t need an agent. (Talk about a dying profession!). You decide what gets published and what doesn’t. Writers will quickly start coming to you to see if you’ll carry their latest blog post and syndicate through your feed.

You gain again. Once you start broadcasting your own content, you start to build a following. Readers like what you write. Podders like what you say. Broadcasting your own RSS feeds makes you an instant authority – especially if what your writing is accurate and on topic.

Your visitors gain. They gain time, they become more productive and best of all, they come back everyday to see what’s new in your site’s newsroom. This kind of site stickiness is invaluable. Instead of searching 10 or 12 sites for the latest in stock analysis, a trader can simply log on to your financial news section and discover dozens of feeds from around the world.

Yes, this cuts down on web ambling, but when you need it fast, RSS delivers it like yesterday. Your visitors can amble about when there’s time. Speed and conveneince – that’s what RSS feeders want.

Advertisers gain. Advertising your message via feed simplifies distribution of the message and eleiminates many of the challenegs of traditional online marketing channels. Advertisers that use feeds don’t have to sneak past spam filters (everyone’s got one), they don’t have to worry about delayed distribution, especially critical when the item or sevice is time-sensitive.

Search engine page rank is no longer a concern. Used to be the higher the PR, the more the site owner could charge for advertising space on his or her website. With advertising delivered via feed, you get the same exposure to the same demographic – free.

So Who Uses RSS Feeds?

The better question is who doesn’t? Virtually every 24-hour news channel – CNN, MSNBC and Fox all broadcast by way of a feed. This allows viewers to get the latest news while riding home on the bus.

Other feed broadcasters include,, Yahoo and Google. Visit Google News for everything from the latest American Idol losers to the weather out where the folks live. And what’s great is you pick the news you want to read or hear in whatever order you choose.

How Do I Broadcast My Feeds?

First, it helps to have something to say or see. Otherwise, no one is going to pick you up except your mom – and chances are she won’t understand what you’ve done!

It doesn’t matter the format – HTML web site, audio and/or video content (pod and webcasts), a blog and even pictures of the newest member of the family. Whatever the format, you can create a feed and send it to the world or just the family.

There are lots of free blogging software available. Basic feedware is free. If you want to soup up the looks of your feeds, you can purchase feed software at reasonable prices – especially when compared to your ROI on the software.

Some of the more popular publishing tools include Blogger, TypePad and Wordpress. These software packs publish your feed automatically. Simply type in your words of wisdom, click the “SEND” button and you’ve just gone global.

Another way to get your ideas out there for the world to share is through non-blogging social sites like Flickr and FaceBook. These social sharing sites are adding RSS technology to enable their members to broadcast anything – from their latest tune, rant, screed, picture or lesson. There are also tools to convert older, traditional content to make it feed-worthy. That’s good if you have a substantial site archive loaded with good information that just happens to be in a .wps format.

Does This Mean the End of Search Engines?

The fact is, feeds won’t eliminate the need for search engines but it will change the purpose of Google, Yahoo and Inktomi. Right now, in the early stages of RSS aggregation and broadcast, most web users still rely on search engines to find what they’re looking for. But that’s going to change thanks to RSS feeds.

Here’s why. RSS is totally interdependent of search engine rankings. Many RSS users are setting aside their browsers to use feed readers to deliver all the news of interest to that site visitor. So, instead of the web surfer searching high and low for the latest in hobby news, in 30 minutes that same, one-time Google-user can collect RSS feeds on topics of interest and skip using a browser altogether.

This may explain why Google is doing double-time to, not only be the web’s address book, but a major content provider, as well. It could also explain the $1.8 billion price tag for YouTube. Google is a cash machine but now it needs content to keep up with RSS technology.

So, if you don’t bring the news to your site visitors, they may or may not be back. And, if you don’t broadcast your own feeds, you’re missing the best marketing opportunity since AdWords.

Go RSS. Become your own publisher, make your site convenient for repeat visitors and stop worrying about your site’s PR. With RSS, page rank has no value any longer. Simply broadcast your advert and your done.

So, no matter how you use this interactive technology – as a reader or broadcaster, RSS is changing the face of the web. And, if your site isn’t in the RSS race, that site will out of business before you reach the finish line.

Friday, August 28, 2009


Web Site Pages: Wasted Opportunities

Even the simplest web sites have a number of pages in common. Every web site has a home page, an About Us page, a products page, a Contact Us page and so on. Now, most of us expect to see a sales copy on a web site homepage and complete product descriptions on the products page. However, virtually every page of your web site can and should sell your products, your company, your trustworthiness and your great terms of service. Sound like a lot of hype?

It doesn’t have to be if you structure the text of each page to deliver the information visitors expect to find, along with a little sizzle –something that sells visitors on you, your products or services.

The Home Page

The home page has to be a grabber. No news, there. Otherwise, you can anticipate more bounces than you should. A bounce is simply a visitor who accesses your site but never gets past the home page. They bounce off in another direction. Why? Because the home page is boring, confusing, unattractive or maybe just “been there done that.” Visitors expect some sales copy on the homepage. In fact they expect a lot of it. It’s your first opportunity to present your wares. It’s also your first opportunity to get a bounce, i.e. lose a potential buyer.

That’s why home page text must be tight, specific and totally engaging. In many cases, this text should identify a problem the visitor is experiencing and list the solutions that your products or services deliver. People want answers. They want solutions. List those answers and solutions on the homepage above the fold and you’ll quickly see your site’s bounce rate shrink.

If you’re selling a product, be sure to include a clear, sharp image of at least one of your best selling products in use if possible. Pictures attract attention so use them on the home page. But what about the other pages of your site? How do you use them to sell?

The Products Page

Of course people expect to see sales copy on the products page. This is where the bulk of your sales copy will appear. For each product or service you sell, be sure to provide sales text clearly identified and associated with a picture of that product.

In each case make sure you describe the user benefits of the product or service to the site visitor. People want more than a list of features. They want solutions. They want to know what’s in it for them. How will this product or service make their lives easier or better? How will it solve a specific problem?

Be sure to include a complete description of the product, including technical specifications, sizes, and anything else the buyer might need to know in order to make a purchase. This text description does a couple of things. First, it makes the sale so be sure to highlight all of the product’s benefits. Second, a complete product description will cut down on customer returns and customer care telephone calls because buyers will know what to expect when they place an order.

Don’t be afraid to put a little sizzle in each picture’s copy. After all, you’re selling something! However, remember that search engine spiders can’t read text that appears within an image, so be sure you don’t include critical information within the product picture itself.

The About Us Page

If you do a little web surfing, you’ll quickly discover that the About Us page on many web sites is simply a lost opportunity. You might get the company’s philosophy or mission statement, a brief history of the company, and maybe contact information. Important message coming up: if the visitor takes the time to click on the About Us tab, use that action to sell the company to the visitor who is already genuinely interested.

“ At the XYZ company, we put our clients first. We know that without exceptional service, clients won’t come back. In fact, most of our clients have been with us for years because they recognize the quality of service we provide. Many customers have become friends, and we hope you’ll become part of the XYZ family.”

Now that’s an About Us page. In a short body of text, you’ve highlighted the importance of client satisfaction, the quality of the services you deliver and the friendliness of your company. Who cares when the company was founded, or who founded it? Who cares what the company’s stated mission is? The IRS might be interested, but visitors are there to make a purchase, not conduct a tax audit. So don’t miss the opportunity to sell yourself, your business and your terms of service on the About Us page.

The Contact Us Page

This is one of the most crucial pages of any web site, though few site owners recognize its true value. It’s the place where your customers can interact with you, hopefully in a positive way. Once again, if a site visitor has taken the initiative to click on the Contact Us link, you have another opportunity to sell.

“ We want to hear from you – good, bad or indifferent. We want you to tell us how we can improve our services to you. If you’ve encountered a problem with one of our products, or with our website, don’t tell others –tell us!

Are there new products you’d like to see available on our web site? Is there a way we can make your on-site experience a better one? Drop us a line. We read every e-mail and respond to every one of our friends who has taken the time to contact us.”

Interactivity Sells

The web has become much more interactive and site visitors expect to have the option to interact with your site. Don’t believe it? Visit to see how the professionals have created a fully-interactive web site. Buyers are encouraged to write product reviews for posting on-line. In fact, some Amazon reviewers have developed their own followings. With a click of the mouse, visitors can see all reviews written by an Amazon customer.

Another way to add interactivity to your site is to welcome visitors by name and to recommend products based on the visitor’s past buying history. Now that’s interactive!

Maximize What You’ve Got

You’re paying a web host to maintain your presence on the World Wide Web. It’s simply part of the cost of doing business on-line. It’s also one of the best reasons to take advantage of every page on your web site to do a little selling. It doesn’t have to scream at the visitor. It doesn’t have to be hype –just a friendly one-to-one with the visitor.

Subtlety counts. There’s enough overstatement on the web as it is so play it straight with site visitors. But don’t miss a single opportunity to sell.

We all know the importance of the home page and landing pages within a site. Visitors are used to sales copy on these pages. However, way too many site owners fail to recognize the sales value of the “back” pages of their sites.

Use the About Us page, the Contact Us page, the Terms of Service page, the Checkout and every other zone within your site to monetize every pixel you’re paying for.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009


A competitor?

What's this clown up to?

You oughta know.

Are You A Site Owner?

Then Opt-In To Keep Tabs on the Competition

Most site owners know the story behind opt-ins. Webmasters bait the trap with a free eBook download or “10 Tips to Immediate Wealth.” Pretty tempting. But, we all know what happens when we give up our email addresses to receive a weekly newsletter about a particular industry.

But opting in provides more than straight information. A newsletter from the competition gives you a peek behind the curtain, a look at what the competition is doing. And that info is delivered to your inbox weekly or monthly. Can’t get easier than that.

Opt Ins – Beware the Backsell

You know it, I know it – anyone who’s spent more than 15 minutes on the web knows it. The object of an opt in is to get that email address. Then, backsell. Once the user has given up his or her address, you’ve established a relationship with that buyer. That makes it legal to email them. In fact, it makes it legal to slather the poor opt in with spam until her inbox explodes!

So, do you want to plow through 100 hard sells each morning, along with the 250 legitimate emails you get from customers, clients, vendors and site owners looking for a links exchange? Surprisingly, the answer is yes.

Making Opt Ins Work For You

First, opting in to competitor sites offering a weekly or monthly newsletter reveals a great deal about the web site and the humans behind it. And that information is very useful in creating your site’s unique selling proposition or USP.

Sure, each site owner is going to urge you to sign up for the $97 (why $97?) secret charting system for picking micro-caps, or the seven signs of some horrible disease. You know this going in, so it’s a given. Delete, delete, delete.

But some of the information is going to be very useful to you. For example, let’s say you’re in the micro-cap oil and gas sector. Sign up for every newsletter, free eBook or the “12 Secrets to Micro-Cap Millions.” It’s free.

The secret, of course, is to dissect the newsletter, not as someone interested in buying micros drilling for oil in the Tasmanian Sea. Instead, analyze the content. Is there an article about some aspect of micros you think might make a good piece for your site?

You can’t steal the words. They’re copyrighted and belong to the site owner. On the other hand, as we’ve mentioned previously, you can’t copyright an idea. That means that you can use the competition’s newsletter to spark ideas. Conduct your own research on the topic, rewrite the text (so that it’s completely unrecognizable in relation to the original), add your own spin (so and so says blah, blah in his weekly newsletter but I must respectfully disagree with my competitor.) Then, off you go presenting a different view, opinion, slant or position. Controversy sells.

Don’t be afraid to name your source of inspiration. As long as the rewrite is different from the original in content architecture, vocabulary and even point of view, you haven’t violated any copyright laws.

Meet Your Competitors

As an op in, you hold a special place in the hearts and minds of site owners who now consider you part of the family. This does a couple of things that work to your advantage.

First, you understand more clearly the SEM efforts of your competition. Some provide more news and a little hype. Others cram those weekly missives with garbage that surrounds the one actual news story. Read between the lines. Is the competitor driven by dollars, by slow and steady connectivity and expansion, building links popularity and other reasons the W3 is strewn with digital litter?

Second, as an opt in, you usually have an access point to speak directly to the site owner. If you send a note to, you may get a response. Or your email may be deleted without even a look. The person sorting through the swamp of e-garbage in the inbox clicked you to oblivion.

On the other hand, as an opt in, you’re in a much better position to contact the site owner and say ‘Hello.’ Why? This is a great way to build links popularity – a reason for competitors to link to your site. If you contact Ol’ Bob over at, Bob is going to be more interested in linking to your site for seniors, And why not? You aren’t a direct competitor (you’re not selling eyewear), but your typical site visitor wears glasses and may be looking for a place to order on line.

Links popularity increases all on its own. No more links begging. “PLEASE link to my site. Aw, come on. I’ll be your friend?!) Tough nuggies. If there isn’t symbiosis – if there isn’t something in it for the newsletter publisher, you won’t get the link.

Building Your Own Weblet

As you opt in for more and more free newsletters and eBooks, you have the opportunity to meet other site owners who make up parallel competition. They don’t sell the same products but they do market to the same demographic. So, using our seniors’ site, you could create a small group of sites – a weblet – that’s inter-connected with 10 or 15 different sites all marketing products to your target demographic - seniors.

A word of warning: owners of higher ranked web sites will be reluctant to link to you PR2 site. On the web, you’re known by the company you keep. Conversely, if your site can deliver real, cash-carrying traffic, the fact that your site has a lower PR than your new opt-in friend won’t matter much. You’re making the site owner money.

Expand to other goods and services using the members of your weblet to build links popularity. “Hook up with us and you become a member of a 15-site weblet. That casts a wide net and will drive traffic to your site. In turn, you drive traffic to the sites of other weblet members.”

It All Starts With That Opt In

That’s the door opener. That gives you a look behind the curtain at the people who have created and run the site. Once you’ve become a member of that site’s community, you’re in a much stronger position to seek out a links exchange. And the more opt ins you sign up for, the bigger your site family becomes.

Use the opt in for good topic ideas, but remember, it’s not nice to steal the work of others. In fact, it’s plagiarism and just not worth the hassle. But an idea is just that – an abstraction. Take ideas from competitors’ newsletters or eBooks and rewrite them for your own newsletter or site news section.

Track the competition for a few months until you develop an idea of the drives behind the site. Rip off, low life, straight up, well researched, expert in her field. It won’t take long to determine the nature of the author. As an opt in, the newsletter will also provide contact information that may or may not appear on the site itself. Try to reach the site owner directly.

Explain that you’re a fan of the newsletter, you look forward to it each week and “would you be interested in a links exchange to create marketing synergy.” The site owner is much more likely to listen to your proposition because you’re a member of his or her site community. You opted in.

Finally, if you find that your being spammed to a slimy, spammy death, most newsletters have an opt out link somewhere on the newsletter. If you’ve contacted the author of the opt in and it’s a no-go, opt to take a hike to find another site owner who recognizes the importance of connectivity within a narrow market segment.

Don’t fear the opt in. Take advantage of it to build your own small, interconnected weblet. You’ll expand your site’s exposure, you’ll help visitors continue their searches and search engines will think your site is tops, increasing PR, albeit gradually.

So, don’t view opt ins as time wasting opportunities to backsell. See them as entre into the office of the competitor webmaster – the one who shares your interests and your desire for success.

In no time, you’ll have your own weblet, your own newsletter opt in and a bunch of new online friends all eager to create synergies within their sites and the market.

Sunday, August 23, 2009


Website Media Kits:

Downloadable Free Marketing

Fortune 500 companies have press kits available on their websites. So do most of the sites that comprise the Russell 2000. Even small, one-person service providers make press kits available in the hopes of getting some free “ink.” And why not? Print media needs green content just as much as web sites so, if you have an interesting idea, promo, freebie, service, give-away or contest, put together a downloadable press kit.

What should your press kit include?

1. Well, obviously, it should include a brief description of your site, your goods and services, coupled with your unique selling proposition. What makes you so good?

2. A one-page list of bullet points. Remember, this press kit is being read by a journalist who wants the facts fast so she can move on to her next assignment.

3. Your picture, and one that’s been done by a professional. A picture of you playing with the kids at a theme park does not say “Professional Investment Advisor.” You, in that standard corporate pose from the waist up, set against seamless paper, as boring and mundane as these business pictures are, represents the best of you.

Dress the part. Suit. Take out the ear stud and, if at all possible, cover the neck tattoo. (What were you thinking?) It’s not a trust builder and that’s what your picture is all about. Building trust. There’s a guy behind this web site and you’re looking at him in a suit.

4. Complete contact information including: name, email address, phone, physical address, Skype user name – whatever makes it easy for a reporter to contact your PR Director for more information.

5. Production values count. Yes, the media kit will be downloaded and who knows what will actually appear in the viewer’s browser. It depends on which browser he’s using and what settings she has clicked on or off.

Do bear this in mind. As many as 50% of all recipients of your media kit will not be able to view images – charts, graphs and other picture-type files. Instead, they see that box with the red ‘X’ inside it.

Send images as bitmaps (bmp), gif or jpg files. One of them should work in the reporter’s browser.

Back to production values. You can look good on a budget. One advisor rented an office from a friend to shoot his online video. No deceit. You see this kind of thing on TV ads all the time. The advisor, who worked out of his house, was shot using a broadcast-quality DV camera with interchangeable lenses, the set was lit to compensate for image compression (needs a bit more light in this case), the shooter rented a teleprompter ($25 for the day) and the video welcome looks absolutely first rate on this financial advisor’s website.

Remember, as we’ve said many time before, perception is reality on the W3. If people perceive you to be a well-established consultancy because your web site maintains high production values and offers a lot of good information, you’ve done a good job. And it’s not cheating if you deliver high-quality services to fit the standards set forth on your online outlet.

6. Testimonials. A few, not pages and pages of raves from satisfied buyers. A couple of good testimonials using complete names and community addresses to add validity is all you need in a media kit. Reporters want facts, not opinions – unless they’re professional opinions.

One web site sells used medical equipment – expensive stuff – hundreds of thousands of dollars for a CAT scan with only 40,000 miles on it. Any way, the owner of this site has testimonials, with pictures, from MDs and hospital administrators who testify about the money they saved buying this or that piece of medical hardware. Those “professional” testimonials work better than the one from Martha B., Los Angeles.

7. Often forgotten, be sure to include your company’s logo in the most common image formats (bmp, gif and jpg). A reporter may use your logo in the piece and that’s free advertising. Don’t miss the opportunity.

8. Finally, include a contact card. A business-sized card with your company name, your name and other contact information. The reporter may not want to run a story on you now, but may want to keep your name on file. A contact card is ideal, especially if it slips right into the Rolodex.

A press kit that presents the best image of you and your business takes a little time and a little money to compile. And, for sure, not every site owner needs one. However, if part of your marketing campaign is to grab some local or regional ink from your hometown print media, a press kit will more than pay for itself after your first feature runs.

So, do it right. Look good. And create a link on your site for a downloadable press kit. As one of millions of web reporters, I promise – we’ll all appreciate it.

Looking to grab a little digital ink for your web business? No sweat. Drop me a line or give me a call and let's start seeing some traffic. It ain't rocket science.

Friday, August 21, 2009


Product Shots Add Visual Appeal AND Sell Products by answering prospects' questions.

Turn Your Website Into A Photo Gallery

Camera Tips for Killer Product Shots:

Turn Your Website Into a Photo Gallery

First, let’s start with a basic, fundamental principle of advertising: products sell better when people can see them. That’s why every product in your Lands’ End catalog has a nice (really nice) product picture taken by a pro photographer using professional models. Oh, and a Nikon commercial, digital camera that costs more than $2000 before you start adding lenses.

Here’s the thing: you don’t have to be a pro, use professional models or own a $2K digital camera to improve the quality of your product shots. Even if you take them into Photoshop to enhance them, Photoshop can only work with what you’ve produced so take a lesson on producing product shots that sell the product.

The Only Thing Worse Than No Photo Is a Bad Photo

Pop over to eBay to see this point in action. The better, more professional sellers have nice looking product shots, often ripped from printed product information. First-timers, or sellers that just don’t get it, plop the product on the kitchen table, snap a digital picture, upload and they’re done.

You can actually go to eBay and see some of the most awful photos ever taken. A chimp could take a better snapshot. The point, here, is that if you aren’t going to do it right, don’t do it at all. No picture really is better than a bad product picture.


Staging involves laying the product out for the shoot. Consider a couple of factors here. First, if the product contains more than one item, i.e. a headset, separate ear cups, a USB adapter and a user’s guide, show the entire package and all of the components in the package.

You usually see this with the unopened pack center stage with the components laid out around the complete package. The reasons for this are obvious. It shows all of the pieces the buyer will receive and it presents an array (display) that looks pretty impressive.

Another staging tip? Use a neutral colored background. If you’re serious, go to a photography store and buy what’s called “seamless.” It’s thick, seamless, matte (no shine) paper used by professionals. It creates a neutral background that keeps the buyers’ attention on the product.

Keep it simple. Don’t dress up the “set” with distracting doo-dads. One thing you can add is a human being – all of one or just a part of one. For example, if you’re selling wet suits for scuba buffs, having your brother wear one of your products is a pretty good idea – as long as you can still shoot against a neutral background! If you plop your brother in the backyard for your product shot, guaranteed visitors will be looking at the above-ground pool behind him.

A hand, foot or face is also a good addition for some product shots because it provides scale. The buyer can see how large the handbag is or how small the MP3 player is. Just make sure that the hand is clean, well-manicured and nail-polish free. Focus on the product, not on the shade of polish she’s wearing.

When staging products, prop them up rather than lay them flat against seamless or some other neutral background. Pick up a children’s block set. You’ll find blocks of different sizes you can use to create a professional looking layout that catches the eye of the web buyer.


For some reason, lighting is always a stumbling block to high-quality product shots. Maybe it’s because the photographer simply uses the direct flash from the camera, which is product photo death in most cases.

You usually see a bright, white reflection of the flash off the product, making the product look like it’s glowing, while the rest of the background goes dark. It’s terrible. Looks like a five-year-old took the shoot.

Never use the camera’s built in flash as your sole source of light. It’s fine for holiday snapshots but it does absolutely nothing to make a product look better.

Actually, the best light for many products is natural light, preferably on a partly cloudy day. Photographers call it “gray” or “flat” light and they love it. You will, too. It’s even, it’s just bright enough to light the product without any glare and it creates a neutral “atmosphere” invisible to the viewer. Once again, we want them focused on the product.

If you do shoot indoors, use at least two different light sources. Incandescent lights don’t work. They aren’t bright enough and they cast a yellowish hue. And stay away from florescent bulbs entirely. They give your shots a sickly green hue guaranteed to make the best product look icky.

You can rent lighting at the local photo shop or ask your friends. The best lighting setup? One general fill light on the right, a narrower spot light focused on the product from the left and the camera’s flash from the front. The side lighting mutes the harsh camera flash. The result is a well-lit, clear, professionally looking product photo.

Shooting Tips

The quality of digital cameras is measured in pixels. The more pixels, the sharper the image. Now, you don’t have to go out and buy a top-of-the-line camera. A mid-priced camera, like the Panasonic Lumix FX01, is available for less than $250. If you plan on taking lots of product pictures, a decent camera is well worth the money. And, you can use it to take pictures on the family vacation. Not bad.

Use a tripod. If you don’t have one, borrow one or buy one. You can find just what you’re looking for at less than $35. A tripod not only gives you clearer shots (less hand shaking), it gives you an extra set of hands.

While staging your products, lock down the camera so it covers the field you want – the height and length of the actual, finished picture. Now you can make adjustments to products, glance at the camera screen and readjust as necessary. You don’t have to keep reframing each shot. The camera is locked into position so all you have to do is stage the products and click.

It’s also a good idea to take a backup shot of each product. Adjust the lens aperture or speed a notch. This will give you a couple of exposures from which to choose. Another tip: identify each shot you take by product number, or at least a brief description so you can find a particular shot when you need it. Believe it – this is a real time saver when you start uploading shots to your site.

If you intend to change products often, it might make sense to set up a simple studio somewhere. You’ll need fill and spotlights, a flat surface, seamless paper and blocks to show products in their best light. If all of your photo supplies are in one place and set up to shoot, regular updates of new products on your site won’t be such a time-consuming chore.

You don’t have to be a professional. You don’t have to hire a professional photographer. But you do need some basics to take product shots that actually sell the products – the right lighting, background and a decent digital camera.

Oh, and you’ll also need to practice and experiment. So, take your time, have some fun and save some money by creating your own product shots.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Time To Move Up To a Dedictaed Sever? It Is If You Want To Grow Your E-biz.

If you're still using shared hosting, there's as many as 2,000 websites on your shared host's gear.

You're competing for CPU access, bandwidth and your site is at greater risk of cross-side server attacks.

Maybe it's time to move on up to a dedicated server.

Dedicated Hosting Services:

Not Just For The Big Guys Anymore

Chances are, if you’re like most website owners, you started with a shared hosting program with a web host. In this case, you rent a given amount of disk space and share use of resources, like bandwidth and CPU access, with other shared hosting account holders. In the case of shared hosting, a web host can cram over 1,000 sites on a single box (server). If some of your neighbors are bandwidth hogs, it could mean longer download times and slower response times from your site when interacting with customers.

And customers aren’t a patient bunch. In this day of DSL and cable modems, web users want speed. They expect it, and if you aren’t delivering content fast, some site visitors are going to grow tired of watching that blue line slowly crawl to the right. They’ll click off and go somewhere else to purchase products or services.

Dedicated Servers

Just as the name states. Dedicated service consists of one box, one business. This provides unlimited access to all the server’s assets. No competition for CPU access. When you subscribe to a dedicated hosting program you rent the whole server.

In addition, the host provides an operating system (usually Linux, Windows or some variant), ecommerce software bundles that include site building software, a secure checkout, a database and other site enhancement tools, like blog modules that you can plug in with a couple of clicks on the administrator’s console and, if the host is good, you’ll also get access to 24/7 tech support on a toll-free line. Lesser-quality hosts (that still may charge high monthly hosting fees) provide email-only access to tech support. You, the webmaster, prepare a trouble ticket that’s emailed to tech support (somewhere on this planet, but that’s an assumption) and wait for a response and a fix. When your server is down, your business is down. How long can you afford to be offline?

Who Needs Dedicated Hosting?

Not everyone. That’s why shared hosting is the best option for start-ups. The hosting costs are low, usually less than $7.00 a month, and until your business concept and execution have been proven, don’t spend extra for dedicated hosting services. It’s like driving a thumbtack with a sledgehammer. Overkill.

However, if your site has been up for a while, it’s no doubt changed with the times, with a menu of new features and increased interactivity with visitors. For example, a blog takes up disk space and bandwidth as you and your site community interact. RSS feeds, a fully-customizable content management system and other front store and behind-the curtain features all take up disk space.

And, if you’ve enjoyed retail success online, chances are your product offerings have expanded over time. You’ve added pages to your site, pushing your shared hosting space to the max. Well, a good host will sell you disk space a la carte (by the gigabyte). That’s one way to expand. Or you can take the plunge and sign on for a dedicated server.

Multiple Sites

For many site owners, once they get “the bug” and see that there’s money to be made on the W3, building additional websites takes on greater appeal. If the site owner is clearing $500 a month with one site, 10 sites should deliver a $5,000 return each month. At least in theory.

If you manage multiple sites, all of which are deep in features (you manage 12 blogs, for instance), it’s time to move to a dedicated server. You can run a number of different domains from one server, expanding your web presence. In fact, if you plan on building more than one website (and why not, it doesn’t cost any more each month), a dedicated server is a must. A simple administrator console will quickly provide access to site data and activity from many different sites.

Site Functionality

Some sites contain 20 or 30 pages of static text and a simple opt-in form. However, for enterprise-grade businesses and web retailers, a dedicated server is a must-have. Many business sites contain hundreds of pages and are employed for a variety of purposes such as email and other inter-department communications.

Remember, you can customize your dedicated server any way you want to best suit your business needs. So, you’ll get much more functionality from a dedicated server – especially important when you’re running a virtual office with employees spread out across the globe, or a company with several brick-and-mortar outlets all delivering data simultaneously.

Data Security

If your database is loaded with sensitive, personal information like customers’ names, addresses and credit card numbers, you’ve taken on the responsibility of keeping that data secure from hackers.

Using a dedicated server, you can install your own security software and hardware – multiple layers of security on top of the security the web host provides as part of its service to you.

Managed or Unmanaged Hosting?

Dedicated hosting is offered in two formats: managed and unmanaged.

With unmanaged, dedicated hosting you’re responsible for the whole shebang. So, you and your team are responsible for everything – from the installation of your customized database to the creation of customer service responders. You do it all.

The advantage of unmanaged dedicated hosting is cost savings. Since the web host doesn’t do any hand holding (except for routine trouble-shooting) you’ll pay less for an unmanaged, dedicated server. However, either you’ll have to study up on site construction and connectivity to an ever-growing web, or pay some design guru to build the site to meet your company’s needs.

Also, with unmanaged hosting you’re responsible for your server security. It’s your anti-virus software, your hard-wired firewall, your everything.

Managed dedicated hosting puts you in partnership with the web host. You work with the host techs to come up with business solutions. If you’re employing your dedicated server in a variety of ways, services have to be synced up. Storage space has to be configured and managed so inter-office emails remain secure in transit. Hackers love dedicated servers because they know that these online businesses house hacker gold – personal information and lots of it.

Managed dedicated hosting also delivers managed database services for the most popular database platforms, i.e. Oracle, MySQL, Microsoft, etc. With managed services, you’ll also receive customized, configured security that syncs up with the box’s server-side software.

Managed dedicated hosting is also necessary to create multiple, “virtual servers” for different business functions that may or may not include interaction with clients and customers. Working in tandem with the host’s on-site team of networking professionals, you’ll create the superstructure of your online business – communications, data collection and collation, accounts management, inventory management and all of the other functions of a busy and growing company.

Shopping for a Dedicated Web Host

If you opt for unmanaged dedicated hosting, you will save money. However, you should compare disk space allotted, CPU speed and other apples-to-apples comparisons to get the most for your hosting costs. It’s a simple calculation of: features + cost = value.

However, if you envision an expanding business that relies more and more on the web and the Internet ( they’re two different things) to conduct daily operations, you will pay more for managed service but the price you pay for that extra attention will deliver a site that functions as you envision.

Before you sign an agreement with any web host, contact the business solutions professionals on staff. Discuss your current needs and needs going forward and get a feel for how the team adapts to your thinking.

As in any business, including the web hosting business, the client or customer is always right. So look for input from professionals and follow good advice when you get it, but make sure the managed services team at a prospective host is prepared to solve your online business needs – from site migration to multi-purpose server apps – to your specifications.

Once you find the right team, with the right attitude and the understanding that their success is dependent on your site’s ability to meet all of your business objectives, you’re not just getting a dedicated server, you’re getting experience and peace of mind that your site will be right, right out of the gate.

Sunday, August 16, 2009




Six Stumbling Blocks to Making That Sale:

Why Make It Harder to Sell?

What if you went to your favorite clothing boutique and discovered the door was locked? A note on the door states “Please enter your access code to enter.” Access code? Never mind, I’ll just go across the street to buy a new tie.

In the real-world retail sector, merchandising is a science. Makers of your favorite breakfast cereal fight for shelf position at the supermarket. They all want the eye-level shelf because that’s where most shoppers look first. The boxes of cereal on the top and bottom shelves don’t move as fast because of shelf placement.

And how about those displays of soda and hot dog buns you see at the end of each supermarket aisle. This is prime selling floor real estate and food makers pay the store for these prized locations. Same with all the gum, candy and other “impulse” items by the checkout. Those products are there because people waiting to get checked out buy them on impulse. “Oh, I deserve a treat,” so a Mr. Goodbar gets tossed into the shopping cart along with this week’s fabulous edition of The National Enquirer. The buying activities of store shoppers are studied, critiqued, focus-grouped-to-death, analyzed, utilized and ultimately, the entire store is arranged to generate more sales.

Well, the same principles apply to website design. The design of your website can make it easier or harder for a visitor to make a purchase. Here are six stumbling blocks you can remove from your site today to see your conversion ratios improve in a matter of days. Really.

1. Eliminate the member log-in from the home page. You see this a lot and you wonder what the site designer was thinking. When most visitors see a log-in box, they know they’re giving up their email addresses to gain access to the goodies on your site. And they expect the back sell – the sell that takes place once a visitor opts in.

But it makes no sense to place the opt in log-in on the home page because visitors don’t even know what their opting for yet. Instead, use the home page to entice the visitor deeper into the site. Show visitors that by opting in they get a valuable service or good information – free. In other words, prove the worthiness of site information before making the pitch for an opt-in.

2. Provide good information free. And plenty of it. Articles, stories, pictures of products in use embedded in informational content lends credibility to you, the site and the product.

Often times, buyers don’t know what they don’t know. They’re trying to learn as they window shop and you’re going to teach them by providing good informational content about product pros and cons. You want the buyer to purchase the right product. It saves time, money and the hassles of returns so teach and sell on your site. It’s a potent combination. And it works, too.

3. Make it easy to find the right item. There are two ways to do this. Use both.

There’s a web design dictum: The fewer the number of clicks the more sales. Absolutely true. The easier it is to make a purchase the more purchases will be made so making it easy to find a specific item, or to browse items, is essential.

Most sites use a “Products” link off the navigation bar, which works fine if you only sell a few items. This drill down screen can also be used as a product category directory with links taking the visitor to a specific product ‘section’ of the site. This is especially useful for companies that market diverse inventory.

However, even this drill-down design requires some discretionary thought on the part of the site visitor, and if seems like a hassle, a lot of visitors will get tired of endless clicks and move on to a simpler site.

The second option – and frankly a must-have in this era of site interactivity – is a ‘Site Search’ feature. By far the fastest way to find a specific item by name, by make, model number or any number of other search criteria. A ‘site search’ feature contributes to the reason most web shoppers shop online – convenience.

Everything – everything – about your site should point to ease of use, accessibility, functionality and moving the visitor through the purchase cycle without so much as a blip.

4. Add shopping cart convenience. Even if you sell a limited number of items, offer visitors the opportunity to place items in their digital shopping carts – even if it’s one item.

The shopping cart should allow the visitor to:

  • Review items purchased.
  • Change quantities.
  • Delete items.
  • See the total cost of items in the cart.
  • See the shipping and handling costs for the items in the cart.

Also, throughout the purchase cycle, reassure the buyer by providing prompts on each page. A perfect example: a link to the “Check-Out” on every page – prominently displayed. Easy, easy, easy. Shoppers want convenience and reassurance that “they’re doing it right.”

5. Check out your checkout. Remember that number of clicks axiom from above? This is doubly true during the checkout sequence. Simplify the process for first-time buyers by limiting the number of pages (clicks) required to “get outta here.”

Simultaneously, provide reassurances that the buyer is doing it right. If a piece of information hasn’t been entered properly, return to the form page and tell the visitor what needs changing. Don’t make them figure out what they did incorrectly. Tell them so they can fix it and get outta here.

Provide a final review page of all order information as entered by the buyer. Even the most seasoned web buyer sits at the monitor reviewing everything – name, address, credit card number, quantities and so on. It’s so much easier to get it right the first time than to hassle with returns or unfulfilled orders because of some confusion.

Finally, there needs to be some trust building going on during the checkout sequence. Knowledgeable buyers look for security logos from companies like VeriSign. They also look at the address box of their browser to make sure there’s an ‘s’ in ‘https’ indicating a secure site. Provide buyers with assurances that all is secure just before they click the ‘Submit Order’ button.

6. Deliver an immediate order confirmation. As part of the checkout sequence, buyers provided an email address. Once the buyer has made the purchase an auto-responder should be generated describing all details of the purchase, including tracking information. This assures buyers, cuts down on customer care calls and enables quick resolution of any customer complaint. (Good customer care is a basic building block of any retail business, online or in the real world.)

It’s simple, or at least it should be. The first time buyers are gently guided through the purchase cycle, reassured at every stage and in control, and regulars should have the convenience of providing all information required for a one-click checkout. Ship it here. You’ve got my credit card. I’ve got other things to do. Convenience. That’s what today’s web buyers want.

Think of it this way: a confused customer is a gone customer.

Yeah, I know, it sounds like a lot of gibberish until YOU get down to business. If you have a web biz or you're planning to launch one( who isn't), sweat the details. Call me and let's solve problems before they become problems.


Thursday, August 13, 2009



Disappearing Domains

I can buy a dedicated server from a web hosting company and load it up with two or three thousand web sites. I can set it up so you'd think I was the web host, when in fact, I'm simply reselling web hosting services at a nice profit.

All I need is a server in my dorm room closet. Then, when I get tired of the hassels of customer service, or I graduate, I can simply shut down that server and when you log on to your site's dashboard, you get a 404 message - can not conect to server - because I turned off the server.

Your business disappears in the night without a word. All your hard work, all the money you invested, all your income - gone with the flip of a switch.

Scared? You should be.

If it happens to you what have you lost? Much more than just your website. You also lose access to your site’s databases – databases filled with invaluable customer information. You also lose inbound links, critical to higher page rank. Even worse, you disappear from search engines altogether. You can see how this nightmare can go on to the point where you’ve lost it all – and who knows where your web host is. Maybe he graduated from high school.

There are lots of horror stories about deleted domains – websites that have been zapped simply because the owners forgot to pay the annual domain registration fee, for instance. If you’re the forgetful type, you don’t want to work with a host that deletes your livelihood over a $4.95 charge – but it’s happened.

What are the domain registrar’s responsibilities?

There is some law and order on the W3. A consortium called ICANN oversees the relationships between web hosts and site owners. You can access the agency’s rules and regs on-line to see what your “legal” options are when you encounter a problem with your web host. Any reliable hosting company is going to adhere to ICANN guidelines. Look for some kind of sign that a potential web host is ICANN-savvy.

Next, before you sign up for an expensive, long-term subscription for hosting services, read the TOS – the Terms of Service. And not just the big text, either. Before you sign up with any web host, read the entire TOS – even the finest of fine print. Know how a given host deals with deleted accounts and what steps the hosting company takes to provide access to databases and other critical information if your domain is deleted, and what steps it takes to rectify the problem if technically feasible. All of this will be laid out in the TOS. Read it very, very carefully.

However, if you’re reaching for a copy of your host’s TOS, chances are you already have a problem and you’re looking for the host’s contractually-binding responsibilities. So, even if you’ve been zapped contrary to ICANN guidelines or even the TOS of your web host, there’s not much you can do about it. It would cost much more to litigate and even then, getting payment is going to be difficult if not impossible. (And don’t think the unscrupulous web hosts don’t know this. They count on it!)

It all comes down to the way web hosts treat their clients and fulfill the legal requirements of a client subscription. Some web hosts operate out of a spare bedroom (or even a closet) and just don’t have the time to oversee simple, administrative chores like automatic domain renewal for their clients. If you’re working with an unreliable or uninvolved hosting company, you may get deleted, along with an auto-responder in your inbox.

On the other hand, working with an engaged web host – one that provides the tools you need to build a site to success – eliminates a lot of uncertainty and sleepless nights. It’s all about the quality of the hosting services you receive.

The quality of hosting

How do you know your site won’t be vaporized overnight without so much as a heads up from your hosting company? Fly-by-night web hosts disappear all of the time, taking with them their subscribers’ money and all of that hard work. It’s a fact, not all web hosts provide the same level of service, or the range of services, that better web hosts do. That’s why it pays to shop around.

As you’re comparison shopping look for signs of reliability. Does the host’s site look good? Is the text professionally written or is it just some kid working out of his dorm room hosting a few hundred clients on a shared server? It doesn’t take much to call yourself a web host. A small investment in server hardware, administration software and the ability to take credit card payments are about all you need to call yourself a web host company.

However, it takes much more to call yourself a good web host. Think of your web host as a silent but critical partner in your on-line endeavor because, in fact, that’s just what a web host is. Why? Because if you lose access to the world wide web, you lose access to your customers or clients and you aren’t making any sales during downtime. So you want reliability – even if it costs a few bucks more each year.

What are the “signs” of quality web hosting?

Does the host offer an automatic renewal service? If it does, it’s a sign that the host is involved in the success of its clients.

Does the site display any logos – the ICANN logo, the on-line Better Business Bureau or some other affiliation that instills confidence? Look. Ask.

Are the TOS clear, simple and straight up? It’s in the best interests of a quality hosting company that clients not have any misunderstandings before buying hosting services.

Does the host offer 24/7, US-based tech support? If your site has suddenly disappeared you want to talk to someone who can fix the problem – now!

You also want to look for a host that’s been around for a while. Now, this is no guarantee that your site won’t be deleted for some infraction (or for no reason at all). The nightmare scenario described above involved a huge domain registrar with a long-time, web presence.

Is the web host involved in the success of its clients? The good ones are because it’s easier to keep a client than find a new one so quality web hosts build their client bases by delivering quality services, near-perfect uptime, tools and applications required to build and launch a website and grow it to profitability. The more freebies a web host offers the better. That’s a great measurement of how the web host sees its responsibility in your partnership.

So, scour the blogs, read the reviews and visit each potential web host’s site for a thorough evaluation. Read the TOS agreement from top to bottom so you understand just what you’re getting and for how long. Finally, look for a web host that wants to partner with you for mutual success.

Websites will still disappear and the horror stories will continue to make the rounds on the web. But if you go with a hosting company that delivers, has a track record and a commitment to your site’s success, the likelihood that your site will be deleted are greatly diminished.

Your web host is your on-line partner. That's why it pays to shop around and not let cost be the only deciding factor. Looking for some web-based business security? Drop me a line. Let's get you hooked up to a web host that'll look out for YOUR business' best interests.

Saturday, August 8, 2009



Hey, now that’s a headline that got your attention, didn’t it? You’re still reading so it did get your attention – and that’s what a good headline on your homepage does. It gets attention.

There are plenty of high-priced, Fortune 500 company sites that have ignored this basic marketing axiom – headlines grab attention. Don’t believe it? Okay, imagine the next issue if your favorite magazine arrives with no contents page, no headlines or subheads – just big globs of text and pictures without any captions. How long are you going to wade through all of that content to find the stuff you really want to read?

Same idea with your website. A grabber headline will lower your bounce rate because more visitors stick around, pulled in by a great headline.

Okay, what’s a great headline?

A good headline is one that keeps the visitor on site. So what are we talking about, here? What’s going to keep a visitor from bouncing?

Self-interest headlines identify the benefits of the product or service to the reader. The objective of these headlines is to be as specific as you can about the benefit(s). For example:

Double Your Portfolio Return Without Risk

Backache? Let Acme Pregnancy Pillows Make You Comfortable

Lose 30 Pounds in 60 Days: FREE Recipe Book

Notice that each headline defines specific benefits: double returns, get comfortable, lose weight easily. Self-interest headlines describe the key benefits of whatever it is you’re selling.

A note worth noting here: web users are NOT idiots. Headlines like:






(May not be legal in all states.)

You still see this ridiculous bombast all over the web. Look, all you site owners who are doing this. Web users are smart so treat them with respect and don’t insult their intelligence with this kind of hype. Self-interest headlines work but screw the top back on the hype jar. People aren’t idiots.

News Headlines present information without any sales spin, though spin is usually the point.




Now, the news headline should be void of any type of sales or promo. Think of it as a press release or newspaper headline. These headlines work well for NFPs, service organizations, pharmas, micro-cap companies (penny stocks) and other agencies projecting a non-commercial, online persona.

Even though these headlines should be void of sizzle, they should still draw the attention of the reader. Boring doesn’t sell. The sites that use this type of headline are usually sites that attract the needs-driven buyer – the guy facing foreclosure or the gal who just lost her health insurance. Needs-driven buyers want information. They don’t want (or need) a lot of sales hype. The sale is already made.

Intrigue Headlines appeal to the curiosity of the reader – evoking a need to learn more.




Hmm, do I have any of these symptoms? Hey, I better do something. These headlines tease the reader into digging in and reading the rest of the piece, which can include some sizzle, but please remember the hype quotient (HQ). Keep it to a minimum.

Designing the Perfect Headline

Check out that sub-head: perfect headline above. So, if you’re a site owner and you’ve read this far, you’re going to want to learn some tips for developing the “perfect headline.” Get it?

So, okay, the headline should fall into one of the three categories described above. The headline should be the largest design element above the fold on the homepage. Bigger than your business logo, company name, contact information – the perfect headline demands attention.

Turn the spotlight on the reader. Don’t talk about “me” and “my.” Who cares? Talk to “You.”




People are motivated to read content that applies to them. It may sound callous, but it’s the old “What’s in it for me?” mentality. So tell the reader what’s in it for her – in the homepage headline.

Avoid any kind of negativity. It’s okay to say “We’re the best.” That’s positive. It’s not okay to say “Our competition stinks.” Way too negative so keep the focus on your positives, not the competition’s negatives.

Tests indicate that long headlines, as long as no scrolling is involved, work as well as short headlines. So, go for it:






You get the idea. Visitors will read the long headline as long as it continues to point out benefits to the reader. So go short or go long. Just keep it focused on the reader.

Avoid headlines designed to show just how clever or witty you are. Again, the site headline is designed for one purpose – to grab and hold the visitor’s attention, not to “wow” the visitor with your rapier wit.

Don’t use industry insider jargon, either. You can’t be sure who will be reading the headline and if it’s a clerk in ‘Purchasing’ he may not understand the headline.

Finally, test different headlines to determine which is stickiest. You might think it’s the greatest headline ever written but if it isn’t pulling, move on and try something else that focuses on the benefits of the product or service to the reader.