Tuesday, April 19, 2005

It's Finals Week...

...I'm busy and there will be no more blogging 'till after graduation. (Yes, I am graduating from college. If you have an internet marketing position that you would like to offer me, feel free, because I'm looking.) ;-)

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Web Site Credibility: Give and Get

I have written before about web site credibility because I think that it is an important topic, especially for an affiliate marketer. Large web companies can establish a great amount of credibility through high-profile advertising campaigns that introduce people to their brand. For the lone webmaster, which is what affiliates tend to be right now, that kind of publicity is hard to achieve. For many of us, our biggest branding opportunity is a visit to our site.

So, how do you establish credibility on contact? As I have discussed before (and has been shown in studies) the look and feel of your site is important. If your site looks good, people might stay around to check it out. Many new affiliates have problems in this area. I think it's because we, web site builders, all have a "crappy web site" phase in our lives. Mine was in Junior High. Since then I have become more enlightened. I ditched the tiled background image, the animated mailbox, the guestbook, etc. If you are stuck in the "crappy web site" phase, please learn about the WWW Consortium, and visit W3Schools for some sweet tutorials.

Anyway, that wasn't what I wanted to talk about when I started this post. I wanted to talk about quality. About good content. If you want to be successful as an affiliate you're going to have to play by the rules of business (and life). The rules-or rather-rule, since there's just the one, is that you have to give to get. See, businesses don't make money, they make products. The ones that make the best products, the ones that people really want, are the ones that usually get the most money in return for their efforts. Essentially, we reward companies (or web sites) for helping us out, making our lives better, or otherwise fulfilling some need or desire that we had.

Here's where credibility comes in. A quality product, something that people can easily see for themselves, establishes credibility (or maybe trust, or confidence) like nothing else. No web design tricks will ever make your site credible if there's nothing of value on the site. In other words, a new suit can't make a dead man dance. On the other hand, if your site offers something of genuine value, your visitors will not only stay, they'll come back for more. They'll tell their friends. They'll link to you without you having to ask. You will become rich.

Moral of the story: Give something to the web and we will return the favor.

Friday, April 08, 2005

One Good Reason to Work Online

The title was prompted by a story I saw on Yahoo! News today about how "good-looking people tend to make more money and get promoted more often than those with average looks". This is based on a study done by the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis.

Of course, the article points out that the study was "less clear...whether the less attractive are victims of bias, or if good-looking people tend to develop self-confidence and social skills that simply enhance their marketability".

In any case, whether attractive people earn more because they're attractive or because they're confident, the point is this: Your website visitors don't know what you look like. Online, ugly people can earn just as much as anyone else.

As a footnote to that, it can be a good idea to have a little photo of yourself on your site to make it seem more personal. People seem to like that. Just make sure that it's a good picture (maybe do a little touch-up in photoshop, eh?).

P.S. This message was written yesterday afternoon, but Blogger pretty much died on me until now. I thought that my post was gone forever until I found out that Blogger periodically saves your posts to a cookie as you write them so that you can restore them in case something like that happens. I was impressed. That feature definitely makes up for the outage.

Thursday, April 07, 2005

$1 for Your Lost Rank

If I had a dollar for every time someone asked why their site dropped down in (or out of) search engine ranking, I would have all the money I need. I am tired of reading this question on every webmaster-type forum I visit. Therefore, I will now sarcastically answer this question in a generic manner that will apply to most cases:

1. Most search engine results are born out of a complex algorithm which is subject to change at any time. If the algo changed, that might explain the drop (and your site is doomed).

1.5 Even without a change to the algo, SE's can (and do) alter their results by other means. We do not know why, because they do not tell us. SE's are not here to serve webmasters, they are here to serve searchers.

2. You may have made a change to your site that the SE's didn't like, thereby causing your downfall. You should document the changes that you make to your site in order to test this possibility (i.e. retract your last change and see if that helps).

3. The web is changing all the time. It is different right now, than it is right now (or right now). Did you catch that? It changes fast. Perhaps the SE's little spider has found a few sites that are more relevant than yours. Perhaps it found 450 of them. This is quite possible.

3.3 The scenario in #4 is all the more likely because most SE's do not update dynamically. That is, they go around collecting sites but don't add them to the index as they find them. Instead, they add them at a later date, all in a big clump. Complicating this process even more is the fact that large SE's, like Google, don't have just one database, they have many spread all over the world. Updating that beast of a system is no small task.

3.6 In addition to new sites, spiders also pick up on new links, which are created at an even faster rate than sites. Your competitors may have gotten some shiny new links over the weekend that pushed them up top.

3.9 Spiders also note removed links. Do you know where your links are? Maybe your buddy with that PR8 site stopped linking to you. Maybe you should give him a call.

As you can see, there are almost four possible reasons why your site may not be where it was this morning. The SE's aren't going to tell you why it's gone (they probably don't even know themselves), so all you've got is guesses. The best you can do to educate your guesses is to track your major backlinks and all of your site changes. That way you might not be completely in the dark.

Note: Tracking the search results (amount returned as well as order) can also yield insights, but only the truly obsessed (or very well paid) can put in the time required.

I hope that your question has been answered and that I will never see it in a forum again.

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Making Money with Content

I recently became aware of a site called EContentMag.com. Not only does this site have excellent articles about online content-based business and a bunch of other stuff, they also employ a clever advertising technique.

Of course, there are normal banner ads above and along the sides of the articles. This is nothing new. But there is also a subtle gray bar that runs straight through the article near the top of the page. That bar contains a text ad that is the same font and size as the rest of the text. I read half of it before I realized that it was an ad for the same thing as the banners.

In my opinion, that is a good way to include advertising. I think so even more after reading about Google's little Forum in San Fran were such techniques were endorsed for use with AdSense. I suggest you take a look.

All I need now is confirmation that those ads are, in fact, working well for them...

AdSense Update

I logged into my Google AdSense account today and I noticed a significant and wonderful change. It was subtle, but it warmed my soul. Before today, when I would select "Channel Data" to see how each of my sites had performed, the Date Range would automatically change from "Today" to "2 Days Ago" (because data from "Today" could only be seen as "Aggregate Data").

Today it did not. Today I was able to see how each of my sites had performed "Today". I like that a lot (since I'm obsessed with my stats) and consider it to be a significant improvement to the AdSense system.

I assume that I was not the only one with late coming stats and that this was a system-wide change. If that is the case, then go check your stats and go out to dinner to celebrate.

By the way, here's an FYI to all you budding internet marketers out there: I have earned more with AdSense than with any affiliate program. I would recommend it to anyone with a content-based site.

Monday, April 04, 2005

Urchin, Google and You

There has been some talk lately about Google's purchase of Urchin, a low-cost web analytics company. Word on the street is that Google will be using the service to help its many advertisers better track their ROI. From the press release at Urchin:

"Google plans to make these tools available to web site owners and marketers to better enable them to increase their advertising return on investment and make their web sites more effective. "

This seems like a fairly natural move since Google's biggest competitor, Overture, Yahoo's PPC advertising solution, already provides something similar.

I am going to further propose the idea that this might help the situation in the click-fraud department, currently the greatest plague to PPC advertising. Detailed client side tracking might offer more chances to catch blatant abuse. That would be nice.

Saturday, April 02, 2005

Increase AdSense Revenue

I recently stumbled upon something that I should have heard about earlier. Apparently, Google held an Adsense Users Forum on March 16 to discuss best practices for publishers and get feedback from the publisher community.

What has come out of the forum is some very interesting information that just might help you to squeeze a bit more revenue out of your Adsense ads (if you have them) without angering the folks at Google. For example:

"He shared test results he found while in search of the best placement for monetiziation, and the best was using the borderless blended technique. He is a strong believer in blending the ads into content, so when readers finish an article, the natural inclination is to click one of the links suggested by AdSense." (Emphasis added)

If you'd like to read more, here are a few write-ups and discussions about the event: First WebMasterWorld, then some guy's site, and finally a discussion on AssociatePrograms Forums started by the aforementioned guy.


Friday, April 01, 2005

Poor, poor, me...

A creative implementation of a tried and true money-making technique that I like to call "Begging" (just scroll down a bit and keep your eyes to the left). Pathetic.

How much 'candy' do you think he gets?

Design and Analysis

Referring to my last post, I talked about how the marketing sector may be trending towards a reliance on more scientific-type analysis versus the current focus on creativity. I would like to flesh out my opinion on that subject.

First of all, Mr. Brett Error (CTO of Omniture) mentioned something else in his presentation that I left out last post. In response to a question, he said that the analysis that Omniture provides is retroactive. That is, they don't analyze a website before you make it (which makes perfect sense).

As I have referred to previously, there are studies about landing pages, etc., which lay down some practical ground rules for web design that sells. Those studies are important. However, Mr. Error made an interesting claim during the presentation. I'm paraphrasing here, but he essentially said, "You build the best landing page that you possibly can, following all the marketing rules and whatnot, and we can make it better."

The implication is clear: There is no 'ultimate landing page'. There can't be. Every site has a different audience, with different interests, internet experience, attitudes, desires, etc. To the extent that you can quantify those variables and understand how to respond to them, you will be able to improve the user experience of your site. That's what Omniture and other web analytics companies are trying to do. That's what managerial accounting is for.

(As an aside, I think that if a company were to combine a robust web analytics system with a complete, database-driven managerial accounting system, thereby forming an all-in-one business analysis package, that company would make a lot of money selling that solution. Remember me when you're rich.)

However, the question of the original design still remains and, I believe, still requires creativity. Especially when you're dealing with established brands that have a certain image to maintain. People would think they'd gone to the wrong place if they visited Disney's site only to find some sterile, white-background, informational sales page. On the other hand, that strategy might work if you're selling a white paper, e-book, or other corporate-type information product.

So, in my opinion, the future is not conspiring to destroy creative marketing design jobs any time soon. Those jobs may change a bit, but what job doesn't? That's business. A possibility for growth in the creative design market is in 'customer experiences'. See here.

What do you think?