What makes a compelling contact page?

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Just found this excellent article on creating a compelling Contact Page on the Flying Solo site: Lots of sensible, practical, easy-to-implement ideas (which is true of many articles on Flying Solo), which I've already implemented for my clients across a number of websites. If you're unsure what to put on your own contact page, do read it. Most small businesses are very forwarding in providing contact details to their readers. But it's surprising just how hard it is to find relevant contact details for larger organisations. It's almost as if some of the behemoths only want to you contact them via Liking their Facebook page or following them on Twitter. Sometimes you only find the Contact link in the footer rather than logically in the menu. When I come across sites who don't make their contact details obvious - or worse, don't provide any contact alternative other than an email form - I'm suspicious about their commitment to customer service. The page with only an email form says, "Yes, I'll reply to your enquiry - sometime. But I don't want you, my customer, ringing me up and asking questions. That would be a bore for my staff. They're too busy to deal with you and I don't want to put any extra staff on just to man the phones." Think carefully about what your contact page says about you and your organisation and how you are prepared for people to contact you. Many of us, me included, are wary of putting our email addresses on the web as spammers harvest them and bombard our inboxes. While there are ways of obfuscating your email address so hackers can't easily grab it, one option for people editing their own site is to replace the @ sign with (at) and the . with (dot), therefore not creating a string of text that a robot can identify as an email address. Yes, it's a bit harder for your clients to simply click and send an email, but then you'll likely have a form they can complete as well. I hope. WordPress has several plugins which obfuscate email addresses and links. I'm currently trialling the Hikari plugin on this site. I've found a few little glitches but so far overall it's working well. It also obfuscates links; from praising you for plenty of links on your site several years ago, Google now punishes you in the page rankings for your links, even if you put a 'no follow' tag on them.  Why? Well, links used to be an easy way to get to the top of the tree, and spammers took advantage of this - and also harvested links from other peoples' sites. If you are still using a basic HTML site or a web builder program that doesn't give you a choice of options to obfuscate your email and other links, you might consider moving to WordPress. Contact me via my friendly contact page (which has a range of contact options), and find out how easy managing your WordPress site can be.

Google – what a lack of customer service!

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I'm cross at the moment - not a good way to start the working year. I have a problem with Feedburner that the FAQ can't fix - so why can't I contact a real person? I've tried to transfer an RSS feed for a client from my Google Feedburner account to his, and Feedburner has conveniently lost the feed. Google's customer service means I can only access a forum (in which no Google staff member ever seems to respond) or read a list of FAQ. There is no contact form for people like me to request assistance with a real problem. I tried phoning Google in Australia but of course they don't offer help via the telephone, as a pleasant voice told me in a recorded message. Unless of course I want to spend money on Adwords or other paid products, in which case they'll be only too pleased to help. I realise that a massive global organisation is going to have to spend a bomb to man a real live help service; but it's something they need to do if they want to keep their customers satisfied. Google is where Microsoft was a few years ago - dominating its own part of the IT industry. It has a plethora of free products, it is growing exponentially, almost everyone uses at least one Google product - but it WON'T OFFER A PROPER HELP SERVICE AND THIS IS UNACCEPTABLE. Not to mention short-sighted. How long before a competitor who can offer live help starts capturing the market? In perusing Feedburner's Help Forum (and adding my own problem there) I noticed several people had my issue. The feed they were trying to transfer from their Feedburner Account to someone else's had gone into limbo. (In my case my client clicked on the "transfer" link and was provided with an error message saying there was a problem and Feedburner would fix it. Well, it's not fixed and now the transfer link has expired. The feed has left my account and is in limbo; still working, still providing feeds, but we need to access it and fix the feed's title and do some more tweaking to it.)  What was noticeable was a complete lack of support from Feedburner staff - many forum posts were followed up by the author wondering if anyone was there at all and complaining, as I'm doing now, of a lack of customer service. Feedburner is introducing a new interface and thankfully there was a feedback form I could complete, so I put my problem into it and sent it off. I'm not confident that anyone from Google Feedburner will bother to contact me. It seems all Google want to do is pump out software, get users committed to their products and services and provide third party help through FAQ and help forums in which the blind have to lead the blind. I'll be tweeting this post and sharing on Facebook in the hope that someone can help me find a solution or at the very least some kind of contact point to talk to a Google customer service rep by email or phone. Google, lift your game. Listen and RESPOND to people like me who have problems. You want to be the biggest in the world? Then offer a proper help service.

Recommended Reading: Corporate Blogging for Dummies

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So, you want to start a blog and use it to gain customers and raise awareness of your products and services. Everyone tells you it's the thing to do. But how do you blog successfully? I recommend reading "Corporate Blogging for Dummies", by Douglass Karr and Chantelle Flannery. Then get some help from myself and my social media expert colleagues to get yours underway. This book will help you choose a blogging platform (including of course the wonderful WordPress which I highly recommend), and guide you through developing a strategy for your blog. Because what you post on your blog - or indeed your website or any social media platform - is in the public domain, you'll have legalities to consider such as copyrights and ownership, especially if you use material taken from another website. This book will tell you all the CYA (Cover Your Ass) stuff you'll need to know. The authors share best practice tips, as well as the all important What Not To Do. The book features successful corporate blogs as examples you can learn from. Best of all, at my bookshop prices start from around $16 (exc shipping). With the Aussie dollar almost at parity with the US$, that's fantastic; even with shipping included it's cheaper than buying it in Australia. So go forth - buy! Part of a successful blog is the look and feel of the site it's on, and that's where I can help you (as well as with actual content if you need help writing). If your blog is a standalone site rather than part of your corporate site, I can match your corporate look and feel so you have consistent branding across your sites. Contact me about getting your blog up and running as part of your social media strategy.

I do love a good scam!

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Our wonderful wired world is bliss for scammers. Remember the old days? You'd get a letter offering you untold riches for something like $9.99 upwards. Owing to being a member of the Sydney Turf Club 20 years ago I still get hard copy letters offering me membership to a betting system from some hopefuls in Victoria. I've never bothered sending back 'not at this address'. Let them waste the postage. But I digress. Internet scams are brilliant. Really, I can spend hours stunned at websites that offer the world for so little. So much is at my fingertips with a little click or two. Sometimes I laugh out loud. Sometimes I shed a tear for the gullible. Have you ever clicked on one of the ads that appear in the sidebar in Facebook? I get lots about weight loss, because I'm female and therefore must be worried about my weight. I've clicked, out of interest, on every diet ad there is. Some of them radiant good common sense (= not scam). Some of them ask you to pay a fair amount of money for good common sense advice (=not scam but really, you can find this stuff out for free if you look around).  Some of them offer a magic pill. Aha, the scam alarm sounds. How do you identify a scam webpage?
  • Firstly, they're miles long. If you decided to print one out you'd be condemning at least one pine tree to eternity.
  • They are stand alone pages which don't have a friendly "about" or anything else useful. The contact address is typically a PO box or serviced office.
  • They usually throw in plenty of offers "worth" X amount of money. "Worth" is an interesting description. What, I can get $1499 'worth' of goodies and extras for only $79.99? Sign me up, Scotty!
  • Oh, let's not forget the testimonials. There have to be testimonials. All glowing. Often with before and after pics, particularly in health sites (diet, skin conditions, you know the ones)
  • They feature primary colours. Websafe blue and red, usually, occasionally with a hint of yellow.
  • Best of all, lots of ALL CAPS and EXCLAMATION MARKS!!!!!  The more exclamation marks after a statement, the more scammy is my rule.
I've mentioned Diet Scams as an example. With obesity raging through the western world there are a crapload of people trying to make money out of the insecure and overweight. Here's a useful website with the lowdown on some popular diet scams. Read it. Do Diet Patches, Dieters Tea et all ring a bell? A shame they didn't include some links. Never mind, I've got a few here:
  • Balance bands. They really work? Um.....nice use of bright colours in a mid-90s-I've-just-discovered-Front-Page way.
  • Foolproof 30 day diet. This one is just beautiful. A classic example of design. Lots of lovely testimonials too. It might not actually fall into the scam category as the sample menu sounds sensible, but the design, and use of bold type, makes it look very suspect
  • I do like this one. Liproxenol and its metabolic enhancing ingredients. Classier than the classic Lose Weight Now!-type website, but still a magic pill, and as we all know magic pills don't work... eating sensibly and exercising regularly does
If you're on Twitter, there's a lesson here. Before you retweet a link that shows up on your page, click through if it sounds remotely suspect. Check if it looks or sounds too good to be true. If it does, it's probably a scam. Twitter is a lovely new way for scammers to get their products out there. Passing on the odd scam tweet might not damage your credibility but passing on several a day might. Particularly if your Twitter account is biased to a particular industry. The same goes for blogging. If you have an automated blog such as one offered by Blog Overdrive, for heaven's sake, take some control. Moderate what's being posted on there. Oh, and really obvious point: If some unknown wally starts sending you email that's clearly spam/scam with an unsubscribe link, don't click on the link. Just add the emailer to your junk or blacklist. Otherwise you'll still be getting invitations to buy a betting system in 20 years' time. Hang on... just found a brilliant site offering dieter's tea with real herbs. Be back later.

New to blogging? Here’s the gen to get you rating from day one

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I love WordPress. So does Google. They're a pair made for each other.

But simply starting up a blog on WordPress itself or one your own domain name isn't enough.

If you're a newbie to blogging, there are things you need to know. Obviously you have to have your blog topic all thought out (and I'm not talking about the posts themselves, I'm talking about what your whole blog is going to be about.). And I'd advise, if you're using WP to build a corporate site, to sit down with a pen and paper or better yet an Excel spreadsheet and work out the framework of your blog before you press the 'install' button on WordPress.

Once you've done all that, and preferably chosen a good professional theme (as professional themes are better built for SEO), there's something you should read: 43 Blogger Tips for WordPress Installations.

Andrew Rondeau is from the UK and a very experienced and successful blogger (by the way, I am not affiliated by him, but rather impressed by his entrepreneurship). While I implement a lot of his tips on my site and sites I build for others, Andrew puts this advice so succinctly and clearly it's worth directing you to his post.

One thing I can add to Andrew's advice is to tweet your blog. Get on Twitter. Install Twitter Widget Pro on your site and tweet every post. More than once, if you can find something different to say about your post on a separate tweet or two.

Social media works best when it works in partnership: blogs with Twitter, or YouTube, or Facebook. Try and combine your social media memberships with your blog.

I’m on a horse. Wondering what the next viral marketing success story will be.

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Who'd have thunk it? Old Spice is now the top-selling body wash for men in the USA - primarily because of THAT commercial. You know the one. Isaiah Mustafa, telling female viewers to "look at your man. Now back at me". And not just because the commercial has run on prime-time telly. No, the success of this campaign is worldwide viral marketing on YouTube. At the time of writing the Old Spice YouTube channel is the most viewed channel ever, with in excess of 145,000,000 page views. The ad itself has been viewed more than 20,000,000 times. Mustafa has responded to requests via Twitter and filmed another 180 or so videos. Now, most men don't have the cut, muscly, eye-candy physique of Mustafa, or his onscreen charisma. On or off a horse. And Old Spice, frankly, ain't no L'Eau D'Issey Pour Homme. It's the smell of childhood for many of us. Did your Dad wear it? My grandfather did. My aunt gave him one of the two basic supermarket/chemist shop choices (Old Spice or Blue Stratos) every birthday and Christmas. For me, Old Spice is my grandfather. For those of us who remember the scent on our dad, grandfathers and uncles, do we want to smell it on our lovers? Isn't there something a little incestuous about that? Something you might like to talk to your shrink about? But then Old Spice isn't aimed at our age group. Remember here that Old Spice was very uncool for decades; scents for men rose to giddy heights in the 70s and stayed there; Old Spice, Blue Stratos and their friends were left behind in the wake of new, hip and expensive scents. Old Spice has been a desperate hanger-on, the cheap supermarket alternative. Nobody much bought it for years as much nicer-smelling blokey scents were out there. So for Gen Y buyers, the scent is new. Their dad wouldn't have worn it, even their grandfather probably preferred Aramis. Along comes a man on a horse in a superbly executed and edited commercial, and Old Spice is reborn via today's viral marketing methods. An article in today's Australian says the success of the commercial hasn't made a difference on brand distribution here.  Old Spice's owners Proctor & Gamble don't even have a brand manager in Australia, nor anything in the Old Spice range save stick deodorant, nor, indeed, any plans to expand the range despite increased sales as a result of the commercial. It will be interesting to revisit this campaign twelve months from now and see what has happened: whether the campaign itself, with the compelling Mustafa, continues to draw a viral audience, or whether Old Spice sales peak and drop as the novelty wears off. (Maybe Australia's P&G management is thinking the same way.) Whatever happens, this campaign has been a brilliant example of how viral marketing works and how advertising channels have changed forever. (If you're interested in reading more about getting onto this bandwagon, might I suggest this book, Viral Marketing by Russell Goldsmith.) What's going to be the next big viral success story? Have you found a winner? I'd say 'answers on a postcard please' if this was the previous Old Spice heyday but drop me a comment instead.

Monetizing your website

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Eager readers will know I've just added a bookstore to my site. Does that fit with what I'm doing in terms of business communications? Think about it - yes, it does. I'm offering people an easy way to get inspired and do more with their business as part of my portfolio.  And yes, if enough people buy books from me the nice people at Amazon will send me a cheque. Monetizing your website, whether you choose the way I've done it or accept paid advertisers, is a sensible move if the company you are monetizing with is a good fit and adds value to the products, services or information you are offering. I read a cycling blog, Lovely Bicycle, the owner of which has recently monetized her Blogspot blog. Her blog, which is far more regularly updated than mine, has superb photos and an engaging narrative style, was taking up so much of her time it was a case of either ditch the blog and concentrate on paid work or make the blog pay. She put the word out that advertising was available and was bombarded with suitable advertisers from the elegant cycling world (the lycra-free world... my world... where people cycle in normal clothing). Her blog has been a real success story in the 18 months since it started. Her advertisers pay her monthly for graphic links on her blog. Asking for paid advertising isn't something I feel comfortable with on a couple of levels. In all honesty my blog hasn't reached the same level of readership (yet) so expecting people to pay to go on my blog would make me feel like I wasn't giving them the best deal possible. Aside from which, this is my company's site with its own domain name. I will happily promote and link to people I work with - clients, associates - but essentially this little patch of digitalia is my online home and I don't feel comfortable with houseguests. On the other hand, a colleague put me on to Amazon affiliation. It costs me nothing to have my bookstore, and any money I've earned from it is from people who have used it to buy from me. Amazon doesn't give me a monthly retainer to have a store that might sell ten items one month and a thousand another. It's up to me to promote it or Amazon users to find it for themselves. Nor do I have to pay to use it; I can tap into one of the biggest sites on the net for nothing. Best of all, I can choose products that are a good fit for the services I offer. How good is that!? Essentially, I can target what I want to sell. Amazon has a huge range of merchandise these days; it's long past simply being a bookseller. I've started small and chosen to offer a range of books and software, as you'll see if you visit the store. I plan on extending the range a little but ultimately want to keep a balance of selling what I personally love to read in fiction and non-fiction (my hand is hovering over including cookbooks!) and what I believe are the best business and motivational books on the market at the moment, aimed at existing clients and potential clients, or people who simply are interested in my point of view on business communications. Setting up the store was a painless business. It's something anyone can add to their website with a little bit of time and patience. I'm now planning my social media-heavy marketing strategy for the store. I'll be telling people about specials and new releases on a regular basis via Twitter and Facebook; through Twitter it will also get to my LinkedIn contacts. Again, this costs me nothing. The potential for people monetizing their websites is enormous; if you're going to do it, do it now. The market will be saturated in a few years and only the strong will prosper from it. Most importantly, make sure that your monetization is a fit for your business and not just something you'll think will add to your bank balance. Your business is your credibility. If your business is selling cupcakes and you suddenly start advertising hardware on your website, your audience will scratch their heads. It's not a credible fit. So start looking now for your perfect match.

Digital Publishing

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Digital evangelist Seth Godin has advice on navigating the new media landscape you can listen to here. It's a keynote address on the publishing industry. The digital age has certainly impacted on non-fiction publishing. According to Godin people who may have bought around 200 non-fiction books a year now buy around 50, and get their knowledge fix from blogs and other alternative media sources. Companies like Amazon provide infinite shelf space, especially for e-books. Traditional marketing methods such as launches and press releases have been superceded by viral marketing via Twitter and Facebook. So how do publishers change and adapt and thrive in the new media? And is it a better world for prospective authors? You'll have to listen and find out. A plug here for my bookshop: Seth's books are here for you in digital and traditional form.