Marketing Communications: The Amazing Power Of FAQs

Posted in Tips on 02 September 2014
Whether it’s a Web page or a document, the FAQ is one of the most powerful tools available to marketers and other communicators. It can strengthen your sales efforts, overcome resistance, minimize misunderstandings, and boost customer satisfaction. Best of all, you already know everything you need to develop yours.
I’m not sure who first created the FAQ (frequently asked questions) document or page, but I do hope I get the opportunity to thank her someday. (And yes, I’m pretty confident that it was a “her,” given the innate male reluctance to pose questions.) In the unlikely event that you’ve just awakened from a couple decades of suspended animation, an FAQ is a list of questions frequently asked by stakeholders such as customers, along with answers to those questions.
Generally, websites, brochures, and other communications tools take the place of one of your employees. They provide information to customers, prospects, and other stakeholders when you’re not around to do that. Most of the time, their information is promotional and focused on what you see as the key points. So what happens when those stakeholders don’t see all the information they need or have more questions? They could contact you, but that takes additional time and effort. By the time they do that, they may have already decided to do business with your competitor — or they may just forget all about it.
A well-crafted, thorough FAQ page or document fills the gap. Take a customer who is considering a purchase. She may be a bit hesitant and ask herself, “Well, what about… ?,” and that question will create enough uncertainty to stop her from buying. But if she drifts over to your FAQ and sees her question along with your reply, you’ve instantly addressed and removed that hesitancy. You’ve turned a browser into a buyer.
If you kept a list of the questions you receive from prospects or customers, you’d determine that there were a dozen or so you hear again and again. In fact, you’re probably so tired of those questions that your answer sounds as bored as you feel when you deliver it. Those are exactly the kinds of questions that should end up in your FAQ. And, as customers and prospects spring new questions on you, you can add them to the FAQ, so it becomes even more effective over time.
It’s easy to develop an FAQ, but keep one critical point in mind: your FAQ cannot strengthen your sales efforts, overcome resistance, minimize misunderstandings, or boost customer satisfaction unless it’s completely candid and honest. An FAQ isn’t the place to duck tough subjects or hide behind weasel wording. That’s because your stakeholders are much better at spotting that kind of stuff than you realize. If they sense that you’re not being completely forthcoming, they won’t trust anything you have to say.
On the other hand, when your FAQ answers are candid, you instantly build confidence and trust in the reader’s mind. Imagine this question on competing manufacturers’ FAQ pages: “How hard is it to assemble your veeblefetzer?”
Company one responds: “It’s amazingly easy to put your veeblefetzer together with common tools you have around the shop. Before you know it, you’ll be using your veeblefetzer to core radishes faster than ever!”
Company two says: “Most buyers tell us that it takes between 90 minutes and two hours to assemble their veeblefetzers, slightly more for people who aren’t used to mechanical projects. You’ll need a hammer, a #2 phillips screwdriver, a pair of small needle-nose pliers, and a 3/8-inch socket wrench. A bench vise or bar clamp may make assembly easier. Just be sure to read the instructions completely before beginning work, because buyers who encounter problems typically confess that they missed a step.”
Which company’s FAQ would you trust? And which veeblefetzer would you buy?


Mobility is Key

Posted in Tips on 02 September 2014
With wireless technology taking the world by storm, you’d be hard pressed to find someone that doesn’t carry a mobile device with them wherever they go. If your company isn’t taking advantage of mobile marketing to promote its products and services, then you’re missing out on an ever-growing market. To help you better corner the mobile market, here are a few ways mobile marketing is critical when promoting your brand:
Just about everybody and their cousin carries a Smartphone, tablet, or laptop with them wherever they go. As society goes mobile, more and more consumers are looking for the convenience of mobility, especially when it comes to shopping for products and services.
Implementing a mobile marketing campaign into your company is the perfect way to tap into the growing mobile market. By marketing on a mobile level, you are speaking to your customers’ sensibilities, which creates a convenient environment for on–the-go consumers and a unique marketing opportunity for your company.
Unparalleled Reach
People worldwide depend on their mobile devices for almost everything including surfing the Web, checking e-mails and perusing social sites. With mobile utilization like this, if your company isn’t taking a mobile approach to its marketing endeavors, then it’s missing out on a massive audience.
By promoting your products and services on a mobile level, you’re extending your company’s marketing reach far beyond the confines of desktops and Wi-Fi hotspots. Mobile marketing means you’ll have the ability to reach your consumer base anywhere, at anytime and on a very personal, handheld level.
Blank Slate Possibilities
Mobile marketing is a relatively new marketing strategy, which means marketers the world over have barely scratched the surface. When it comes to how to make money for ideas, mobile marketing is a blank slate that allows for a “sky’s the limit” approach to promoting your company’s brand.
Whether you want to do something as simple as offer your mobile customers coupons via their handheld devices or accompany your mobile marketing with a full-scale, intuitive mobile app, there’s plenty of room to experiment. With mobile marketing, anything’s possible.
Hassle-Free Implementation
Mobile marketing is much easier to implement than traditional forms of marketing. Designing and building content for mobile purposes is easier than creating large-scale website-based content. Making advertisements and video promotions for a mobile platform takes less time and money, which means your company can employ marketing campaigns quicker.
In addition, creating digital coupons, email campaigns, and other consumer incentives is much faster and effective on a mobile platform. Consumers who have promotions in the palm of their hands are more likely to take advantage of those promotions spontaneously, which means more business for your company.
Tracking Made Easy
Data analyzing is quickly becoming a critical component to successful marketing. Mobile marketing has the ability to track your audience instantaneously, which means you can adjust your marketing attempts as needed.
Instead of simply guessing which consumers are responding to your promotional campaigns, mobile marketing not only tells you which customers are engaging, but which customers actually click through. This allows your company to customize its marketing approach based on past and present success.
The Future of Mobile Marketing
As mentioned before, marketers have only scratched the surface of mobile marketing. Improved marketing techniques are always on the horizon. For example, more and more companies are experimenting with location-based mobile marketing, which instantly reaches the most relevant audiences in real-time.
Likewise, private message marketing is also taking the mobile industry by storm. With private message marketing, companies are sending sneak previews of their products and services as well as delivering promotional messages directly to their customers’ mobile devices. That’s just the beginning of what the mobile future holds.
If your company is in need of a marketing reboot, then mobile marketing might just be the right approach to take.


What You Don't Know About Bad Online Reviews Can Hurt You

Posted in Tips on 02 September 2014

Back in the day, before the advent of the Internet and the computer age, I had the dubious honor of receiving a call from a local businessman inquiring about the cost of our marketing services. It didn’t take me long to realize that his attitude was dripping with condescension. All of 23 years old, short on patience and big on insolence, I had the audacity to accuse him of just “shopping.” Well! Livid is hardly a strong enough word to describe his reaction at having been caught in the act, an insult for which he threatened to report me to the Better Business Bureau.

Fast forward to today, such a conversation would never have elicited that kind of response from me. First of all, experience has taught me that the customer is king, no matter how pompous his conduct. Secondly, shopping has become such a reality of consumer behavior that entire fleets of businesses exist just for the purpose of price comparison. Furthermore, the threat of a poor business rating has put the fear of God into every breathing business owner, the viral repercussions of which can totally wreak havoc on a company which took years to build.

If running a business in a bad economy weren’t difficult enough, now the daily looming prospect of a bad online review makes it even more intimidating. Terrorizing may be a more accurate description.

After all, unlike days of old, you cannot ignore a bad online review. The longer you procrastinate, the more damaging it becomes. How so? A lack of response is admittance of guilt. You must respond. And, the sooner, the better.

It’s a Whole New Ball Game

Ever since the U.S. federal government passed the Communications Decency Act in 1996, free speech on the Internet has been encouraged because websites which publish user reviews are immune from liability. This includes such sites as Google, Yahoo, Yelp, Angie’s List, Consumer Reports, Better Business Bureau, and Citysearch; not to forget, Amazon, eBay, Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter, among many others. Unless the review is proven to be a blatant lie, most sites will protect the reviewer’s rights and the review’s availability. So much for having the review removed.

If you’ve received a bad review, your first step should be to confront the bad online reviewer in as courteous and professional a manner as possible. The purpose of doing this is to defend your business practices, explain your position and convey to all other readers that you are an upstanding business professional with only the best of intentions. Usually this type of response contrasts dramatically with the reviewers’ typically angry accusations which sometimes make them seem unreasonable, hysterical and absurd in their claims.

Maintaining your composure under the duress of such severe criticism is highly recommended since the bad review will likely remain online for a long time, regardless of your complaints about its inaccuracy. We all know that you cannot please all the people all the time and we all have bad days now and then. Gaining the respect of all the other readers is your biggest goal under the circumstances. In fact, Angie’s List states that it can actually work to your advantage, when certain kinds of prospective customers decide they like your attitude when faced with a problem. They may feel more comfortable doing business with someone who can handle adversity with the same aplomb as success.

Do You have a Legal Leg to Stand On?
If you feel the review is a complete fabrication meant to denigrate your business, you have the option of suing the reviewer for defamation. Certainly you can hire an attorney who specializes in such matters, but establishing which cases can proceed to a successful outcome remains a daunting challenge. There are many circumstances in which legal “privilege” allows someone to make certain claims without risk of committing a crime. If the review was posted anonymously, you will need time to investigate its source and you only have one year in which to bring your case forward. Those are big hurdles to overcome.

And what exactly constitutes defamation? Encompassing both libel (written defamation) and slander (spoken defamation), this crime is defined as the false accusation of illegal, immoral or unethical conduct which results in damage to the victim’s reputation. If the accusation is the truth, if it is someone’s opinion, or if it is allowed because of legal privilege, defamation has not occurred. Since most user reviews are considered opinion, being able to sue for defamation is a rare situation indeed. Yet, when it is determined that the reviewer deliberately manufactured lies to intentionally defile your reputation, successful judgments can result in multi-million-dollar awards for damages, as exemplified by two recent cases: one for $11.3 million in Florida in 2006 and one for $13.8 million in Texas in 2012.

Absorbing the Shock of a Bad Review
As a case in point, one of my clients is a landscape designer who has been the recipient of ten reviews by Angie’s List members, all of which have earned him a straight “A” average. Consistently among 10 different members, all of whom spent a range of $14,000 to $125,000 on various large projects over a couple of years (an average of $60,000 each), comments are emphatically positive, with raves about his performance, customer service and high quality work. All would recommend him highly and would themselves hire him again. What makes Angie’s List reviewers more believable than many others is that they are identified with their real names and addresses. His outstanding reputation among members has influenced Angie’s List to bestow its highest honor on him this year, its “Super Service” Award.

Then, one Sunday morning, a terrible review arrived with a rating of “F”! To say we were shocked would be putting it mildly. However, this review was not about his actual work. It was about his not showing up for a scheduled appointment to discuss a possible project. The reviewer spent many a sentence describing how poorly he had been treated and how disappointed he was in my client’s performance. Then, another review of the same type appeared soon after that with the same rating and same problem. When questioned about these two cases, my client mentioned he was suffering from Lyme Disease which runs rampant in our tick-laden area, an occupational hazard he faces on a daily basis. He also denied both charges, saying he had shown up at both appointments after driving long distances to find it was the customers who were not there.

While I did not witness these two issues, I have to give my client the benefit of the doubt based on all the excellent reviews he has received. My first thought was that perhaps these reviewers were actually friends of his competition who had been enticed to post bad reviews to hurt my client’s business. I suggested that he contact each of these people to try to rectify their experiences perhaps with an offer of a discount or a free service if they would remove the bad review. However, I worried that such a tactic could lead to their blackmailing him with the threat of posting another bad review in the future. Plus, all those good clients who had paid full price would stand the risk of insult. Besides, isn’t it illogical to reward a negative reviewer with a better price?

A Better Way to React

Although my client declined the idea of calling these two people, he had the presence of mind to contain his anger and post a polite reply to each of their reviews explaining his side of the story and offering another chance to meet.

Since I handle all of his online social media, his website and his overall marketing, my client asked me to contact Angie’s List to discuss how to remove these two dishonest reviews. Although Angie’s List asserts that they will intervene by asking reviewers whether they could possibly have reviewed the wrong business, unless the reviewer himself is willing to remove the review, it will stand untouched. Angie’s List also states that reviews that do not involve business services per se, have little effect on an overall rating.

Still, my client feels abandoned by Angie’s List to whom he pays thousands of dollars for an advertising campaign in both their printed and online magazine. In fact, he is constantly receiving e-mails from them showing his demoted presence in these vehicles because of these two “F” reviews, which indicate “poor member communication.” Their solution? More advertising expenditures! In comparison to what members pay for the privilege of posting and reading other member comments, a mere $10/year, my client is exasperated about such inequitable treatment. Ironically, Angie’s List has been publicly criticized for “favoring” its advertisers by boosting their rankings on their site for monetary purposes. If my client were to respond favorably to these recent e-mails, that certainly would be appear to be true. But in his present state of disgruntlement, just the opposite seems to be true. Angie’s List seems to be penalizing my client by obscuring his advertising prominence under the guise of shielding members from a less-than-perfect communicator.

Angie’s List also pointed out that since the two “F” reviews have been published, there has been no decline in his number of e-mailed requests for quotes from members through his Angie’s List account. Granted, he can hardly dispute the overwhelming power of all his excellent Angie’s List reviews. In fact, he sees their influence in the constant emails through his website, clicks on his Google AdWords advertising and phone calls from new prospective clients. Although it is difficult for him to accept this unfair set of circumstances, he must soldier on, day in and day out, in his extremely demanding, enormously tiring occupation, maintaining a positive attitude and doing his best for every new client he serves.

The Best Recourse for the Future
It is a well-known fact that the best resolution to negative online reviews is to constantly provide fresh positive content. Already, new glowing reviews by other Angie’s List members have appeared with straight “A” ratings on expensive projects which has lessened the impact of the two embarrassing “F” reviews. If favorable comments greatly outnumber those to the contrary, the obvious conclusion will be that you have a business of reliable value. While we would all like to be perfect, few things in life really are. So, if you get a couple of negative reviews, take heart. All is not lost.

A Word to the Wise
Plus, a few new developments are interesting to take into account. Businesses are not the only targets of criticism online these days. Customers are also being scrutinized for inappropriate conduct and behavior on a number of new sites. And anyone who thinks they can say whatever they want without risk of prosecution is greatly mistaken. Reviewers who post anonymous comments identifiable only by a nebulous username are completely traceable using technologies that source their computers’ IP addresses. That means that what you say online can hurt you to the tune of thousands, if not millions of dollars in legal damages if your lies are ruled a crime of defamation. And whether negative reviewers’ names and addresses are evident for all to see or not, people should weigh the risks of criminal retaliation by a berserk business owner seeking revenge in much the same way that road rage kills out on the open highway. One woman commented online that she would refrain from reviewing anyone on the Internet for fear of physical retribution to her home, her family, her reputation or her life. That is certainly a sobering thought when you read some of the supposedly anonymous comments people post thinking they are beyond reproach.



Stealing Apple's Thunder: New Releases that Could Overshadow the iPhone 6 Release

Posted in News on 02 September 2014
With every new release of an iPhone, Apple gets worldwide fanfare unlike any other device. The company is currently revving up for its fall release of the iPhone 6, however, there are now a growing number of Windows and Android enthusiasts that are more excited about other new device releases. Although some think there isn’t a cloud big enough to overshadow anything Apple does, there is a chance that the iPhone 6 could get lost in the mix this fall with so many banner releases. Here is a look at some of the fall 2014 releases and how they could change up the industry, or cast a shadow over Apple’s big moment.
Moto X+1
The 2013 Moto X received relatively good reviews as well as improving Sony’s share of the Smartphone market, but it still wasn’t quite a contender for the older iPhone models. With the newest Moto +1 model (release date set for late fall 2014), all of the specs have been improved from top to bottom. This includes the new Snapdragon 800 chip for lightning fast multi-tasking as well as the ability to customize the appearance of the phone straight from the store, an option that the iPhone 6 lacks almost entirely.
Sony Xperia Z3
The tentative release date for the Xperia Z3 is around the end September, which gives it the perfect position to compete with the iPhone 6. The Z3 is slated to come out with upgrades on almost all hardware and software including the Snapdragon 801 chip, 3GB of RAM, and a forward-facing camera rated at more than 20 megapixels. The truly standout feature of this phone is its water and dust resistance with an Ingress protection rating of IP67, one of the highest on the market and a great option for the adventurous user.
Galaxy Note 4
The Galaxy Note 4 now finds itself in the relatively new “phablet” market with a display that measures nearly six inches from corner to corner. This makes it an unwieldy option for some, but the perfect product for those that would like a more functional tablet that is able to make and receive calls. The standout feature is either going to be the iris scanner, or finger the scanner, both of which have been mentioned by Samsung as a possible security addition not seen on many other Smartphones.
Nexus 6
Much like Apple, Google makes a habit out of shrouding their biggest releases in mystery, and this includes the upcoming Nexus which has been dubbed the Nexus 6. With a release date most likely in October, the Nexus 6 will be another major holiday Smartphone contender with seamless integration to all of Google’s most popular software and hardware. The standout feature for the Nexus 6 is the upcoming Android L operating system, which will offer performance boosts on almost all attached hardware.
The competition for the iPhone 6 is now streaming in from dozens of Smartphone manufacturers, and this makes the fall 2014 season an exciting time for those with a finger on the pulse of this industry.


Google Encourages Users To Upgrade

Posted in News on 02 September 2014
Some web surfers may have felt they stepped back in time this past weekend.
Google, reportedly, began using older versions of its search home page when surfers were using out-of-date browsers. A number of posters on a Google group page complained of seeing the older page versions while searching on the Internet.
The BBC reported the problem was most common for users still using variants of Safari 5.1 and Opera 12.
However, it was not a glitch as a Google official assured users the company is simply hoping to encourage people to upgrade their browsers.
“I want to assure you this isn’t a bug, it’s working as intended,” stated a poster identified as nealem. “We’re continually making improvements to Search, so we can only provide limited support for some outdated browsers. We encourage everyone to make the free upgrade to modern browsers – they’re more secure and provide a better web experience overall.”
It’s not a new thing for Google to try and get users to upgrade.
For the past three years, The Inquirer reported, Google has followed a policy of supporting only the most up-to-date versions of web browsers.
It became a larger issues with the release of Internet Explorer 11. Google stopped supporting Internet Explorer 9 leaving some users in a lurch.
However, some of the current users who found they were looking at older pages were not impressed with the encouragement to upgrade. The forum postings continued with some users saying they preferred the older version of Google and some even said they’d be better served by switching over the Bing.


MSN Messenger Shutting Down

Posted in News on 02 September 2014
The final message will be delivered next month.
After approximately 15 years, Microsoft will officially decommission its once hugely popular service, MSN Messenger , in October. The service has seen dwindling numbers, and availability, in recent years and is slated for its finale next month.
The company began to phase out the service across the globe beginning in April 2013, Forbes reported. As of Oct. 31, though, all users will be discontinued as the final area serviced by MSN Messenger, mainland China, will be forced to permanently log out.
Users are being encouraged to change over to Skype.
That makes sense considering the hugely popular video-messaging service was purchased by Microsoft two years ago.
In 2012, Skype was boasting 300 million users. Three years prior to that, MSN Messenger had 330 million but those numbers began to drop as Skype grew in popularity.
It was only in 2005 when China was introduced by MSN Messenger, reports BBC, but it faced competition from Cinese-based services such as QQ messenger.
Late last week, Chinese users of MSN Messenger began receiving e-mails instructing them the service would be closing. That same e-mail said users could get free Skype credits if they chose to use the newer service.
MSN Messenger was introduced, as a competitor to AOL’s Instant Messenger, in 1999. As Microsoft’s service grew in popularity it added a handful of features including video calls. It was renamed to Windows Live Messenger in 2005.


6 golden rules for responding to emails

Posted in Tips on 01 September 2014
Email still rules all as a business communications tool. It's the gold standard.
That doesn’t mean there shouldn’t be rules regarding how to better use email, especially when it comes to communicating with our most important audience, clients.
So, what are these golden rules for using email with clients? I came up with six, in no particular order:
1. Use “reply all” sparingly.
In a business setting, you should be very careful about using that “reply all.” In fact, I would argue you should very rarely use it. Instead, only send to those who actually have to know what it is you’re discussing.
2. Resist sending the "thanks" email.
Communicators often over-communicate. We want to dot every "i" and cross every "t." But by sending all those “thanks” emails, you’re just cluttering up your colleagues' and clients' inboxes. You’re accomplishing nothing. They sent you the note. They assume you read it. Leave it at that, if you have nothing substantive to add.
3. Unless it's an emergency, don't reply after hours.
You want balance? Here’s your chance, but you have to set the ground rules early. Resist the urge to respond to emails after hours and on weekends. Most of it can wait until tomorrow or Monday anyway. In crisis or emergency-type situations by all means, respond. But set a high standard. Once you start responding to emails after the bewitching hour, colleagues and clients will expect you to always respond to emails after hours. Don’t do it if you can help it.
4. If you’ve traded more than three emails, call.
Classic case: You email a colleague about a project he’s responsible for. He responds clarifying your question. You respond with more information. He responds that he still has a few questions before he can get to work. That’s when you pick up a telephone and call your colleague to hash it out. Some things are just meant to be managed voice-to-voice. Not everything can or should be done electronically, believe it or not.
5. Use subject lines wisely.
If you have an urgent need, and you have to communicate it via email, use “Urgent: Immediate action required” in the subject line. I know this probably seems offensive to some, but I’ve found this to be very useful in spots. Another case: You know your client is mobile, but she’s checking her phone. Why not try to use the subject line as your chance to get her attention and immediate action? Ask, “Got 5 minutes for quick call to discuss an urgent item?” She’ll see this in as she scans subject lines on her phone and if she has the time, I’d be willing to bet she’ll respond.
6. Keep it short.
A former boss of mine sent very short emails to clients. I remember thinking it was odd. Years later, I understand it. Clients have limited time. Most  are stuck in meetings most of the day, or they’re, you know, doing work and stuff. Much like us, they don’t have time for 150 emails over the course of a day. So, the shorter and more succinct you can keep your message, the better. Bonus points for using bullets and one-line sentences when possible.


Black Hat Social Media: An In-Depth Look

Posted in Tips on 01 September 2014

Black hat SEO is a well-known practice these days with a bundle of sneaky methods to trick search engine bots. Since algorithms in the world of search are ever-changing and dynamic, in part to weed out the scammers doing black hat tactics, it’s a hard game to win.

The same is true for black hat social media. By definition, a black hat strategy is anything that focuses on cheating the written and unwritten rules of a given system. In social media, the name of the game is engagement. Black hat tactics, then, aim to fake or purchase such appearances, and some methods go far into the realm of dishonesty. But do these tactics have any long term benefit? You’d be surprised how tricky some of these can be, and chances are, you’ve tried or at least considered trying at least one black hat social media method.

Black Hat Tactic #1: Buying Your Audience

The first one on this list is an obvious one; buying followers or fans for one of the major social media sites. When you stop and consider this tactic, it’s borderline ridiculous, and clearly doesn’t work. Social media is not about the number of followers you have; it’s the level of engagement that audience has with your content. If you buy a list full of fake profiles, those “people” will never buy, support, or even like one single product or post.

Think about it in terms of popularity. If you have to pay a bunch of folks to pretend you’re lovable and worthy of an entourage, it’s not genuine, and these folks have little to no value. The same is true if you’re buying social media popularity. There’s no value if people aren’t truly interested in what you have to say.

Worse yet, if the public becomes aware of your fake followers, it can be devastating. And finally, purchased lists are often wrought with scammers and hackers, and they can wreak havoc on your marketing efforts, pillaging the few genuine followers you may have amassed. When it comes to this black hat method, the message is clear: don’t do it.

Black Hat Tactic #2: Evil, Awful Comment Spam

Spammers who comment en masse on articles and posts are the bane of the internet. They clutter up otherwise legitimate comments with horrible, lying posts like “Oh, great content here, check out my stuff and buy something!” They pretend to care about the topics discussed, then quickly attempt to drive traffic to whatever horrendous site they represent.

I’m sure if you’re reading an article about why black hat tactics are useless, you already know this is a vile and evil practice. Please also understand that clicking these links only encourages such despicable behavior. This, therefore, is another no-brainer: content spam and those who click on their links must be stopped.

Black Hat Tactic #3: Facebook Promotions Sneakily Placed in Feeds

Here’s where things get a bit dicey. Prepare for blurred lines.

Brands are all over Facebook these days, and often are guilty of black hat methods, whether or not they are aware of the offense. Technically speaking, promotions on any Facebook page are prohibited unless submitted through Apps on Facebook, through a Canvas Page or a Page App.Facebook’s User Terms make it very clear that any other promotional attempt is not kosher. And yet it happens all the time. Is this the worst offense? No, not in the least, but it can get your brand in hot water with the social giant if you’re caught red-handed. If you choose to roll the dice, so be it; but first make sure you’re educated so you can weigh the risks.

Black Hat Tactic #4: Promotional Facebook Cover Photos

Since Facebook is the most popular place for black hat social media, #4 lands squarely here as well. This one involves profile photos, or cover photos for brands. Technically speaking, the rules state these cannot be promotional in nature; they are supposed to simply communicate your brand. Very little text is allowed – Facebook (and its users) does not want the site to look like a glorified billboard, and their rules of engagement reflect that tenfold.

You can, however, be crafty. The main thing here is to never advertise a specific sale or promotion, but you can alert users to a new feature or product – either with limited text or photographs. For example, you can post a cover photo that says “Coming on March 15th!” enticing folks to uncover what the big reveal is. You cannot post “Coming on March 15th, a 25% off everything sale!” on your cover photo – but be creative with your promotions and everybody wins.

Black Hat Tactic #5: Lies, Lies, Lies

Remember the recent story about KFC defaming a little girl mauled by a pit bull? By all accounts, that story appears to be a hoax. The family of the three-year-old dog attack victim hit social media hard with accusations that a KFC near their home asked the girl to leave because her scars disturbed their customers. After an in-depth investigation by an independent source, the Laurel Leader-Caller in Laurel, Mississippi, it was shown that the “facts” put forth by the family kept shifting and changing. Even the exact location of the KFC flip-flopped, and they finally landed on a location that had been closed for some time.

In the meantime, the family raised over $135,000, including $30k pledged by KFC when they first thought their employees may have been guilty of discrimination. Regardless, the dog attack was real, and ideally, the little girl got some much needed help. But the lies spread via social media certainly caused unimaginable damages to KFC’s brand.

The moral of the story: blatant disregard for honesty is as black hat as it gets. If this Mississippi family were a brand or company, they would be out of business by now.

Just like black hat SEO, black hat social media holds little to no long-term successes. Your best bet in both arenas is to stick to what you should know best: honestly representing the true value of your company. Social media is indeed your company’s friend; just don’t use it to try to scam your customers.



Five Tips that Boost Sales and Search Rankings for eCommerce Sites

Posted in Tips on 01 September 2014

I’ve had my fair share of conversations with eCommerce site owners. The two issues that seem to always come up during the course of our discussions are search engine optimization (SEO) and sales. Frankly, some get it and some just don’t.

Truthfully, most of what you read online regarding SEO and conversions is outdated misinformation that has simply been repeated (inaccurately most of the time) from someone else. There are precious few actual authorities that you should follow. This is one reason so many eCommerce sites have a hard-fought battle when it comes to getting rankings and converting shoppers into buyers.

Allow me to offer five tips (based on serious mistakes I’ve seen other eComm sites make) that can help you boost sales and search rankings.

1 – Take Some Time to Plan

During all those conversations I’ve had with eCommerce site owners, another issue also typically comes to light: lack of planning. There are some that take the necessary steps to research keywords, outline a logical navigation structure and determine a sales flow from site entry to the buy now button. Kudos to you.

I’ve said it a hundred times before: Planning isn’t sexy, but the results it brings are.! If good SEO and high conversions are two of your priorities, you’ll want to take time to look over:

  • Keywords that cater to every phase of the buying process (see No. 2)
  • Logical site navigation that intuitively leads shoppers to where they need to be
  • Cross-sells and upsells that flow effortlessly with the products your visitors are looking for
  • Copy that unquestionably lets customers know why they should buy from you and not the 1,000 other sites selling the same things
  • Elements that lend to your site’s trust and credibility and help shoppers to feel confident buying from you

2 – Choose Keywords that Drive the Sales Process

Keyword research for eCommerce sites is a bit of a different animal than doing research for – say – a services-based site. Buyer intent plays a huge role in the keywords you select for the various types of pages on your site.

For instance, did you know that the more specific a keyphrase is, the closer the searcher is to making a buying decision? Putting very broad keyphrases on a product page typically isn’t the best idea. Those types of terms are better suited to your home page, which attracts general traffic and then directs it to the next phase in the buying process.

Not familiar with the buying process?
There can be numerous steps, but in its most basic form, the buying process has four steps: need recognition, information search, evaluation of alternatives and decision-making.

During the need recognition phase, shoppers are trying to decide what they need/want. Maybe they have a problem (leaky faucet, something for kids to carry books in at school, etc.). They understand the need and have thought of a few things that might solve the problem (a new faucet, parts for the faucet, a backpack for kids, a book bag, etc.).

Here you’d use broad keyphrases in your copy and content marketing such as “Moen faucet parts” or “back to school bags.”

In the information search phase, shoppers investigate the options they thought of and look for ones they might not have known about. They are trying to create a list, per se, of all the items that might solve their problem/want. Category pages tend to show up well for these types of searches because they offer groups of products/solutions.

Once customers begin to evaluate all the products they’ve found, they begin typing in searches such as “Moen faucet reviews,” “denim vs. leather satchel book bag” or “Lands’ End backpack comparison.” Having this content on your site can be very helpful in returning your pages to customers who are very close to making a buying decision.

Finally, when the shopper has decided what to purchase, s/he begins to compare stores and prices, look for coupons, etc. Precise model or style names and numbers as well as keyphrases that deal with sales or coupons are best used on product pages or in content marketing efforts designed to drive traffic to a particular item.

3 – Differentiate Your Site from Other Resellers

Think of your own shopping experience. Put yourself in the customer’s shoes. Your MP3 player starts acting weird and only playing out of one channel. It’s time to buy a new one before this thing dies completely. What do you do?

You go through a buying process pretty similar to the one described above. And, then you look for the cheapest price. That’s how most shoppers go about it, too. Other than low price, how can you set yourself apart from all the thousands of other sites that sell MP3 players? This is a vital question for eCommerce resellers to answer. Otherwise, you’re doomed to constantly fight the price battle.

I know what you’re thinking… customer service! Yes, that’s important, but here’s the thing about customer service being your differentiator… most people will never experience your customer service unless something goes wrong during the sales/shipping process.

Give some serious thought to what you can offer that sets you apart. This article from my copywriting blog will offer some ideas.

4 – Write Unique Copy (for Two Reasons)

I know that creating original copy for all your products can be a big challenge depending on the size of your site. But think of it this way: When you have the exact, same product descriptions and other content on your site that every other eCommerce reseller has, you are training visitors to look only at your price.

Unless you give them something that others aren’t giving them, the only differentiator is how much the item costs.

Secondly, if you’re using identical copy as other resellers, Google will have a harder time judging the value of your site. Contrary to popular belief, there is no duplicate content “penalty,” but Google does filter out web pages that don’t offer some sort of unique value.

If you must use manufacturer-provided (aka canned) copy, add unique value somewhere else on the page. Enable customer reviews or Q&A. Add care and use instructions or demo videos. There are dozens of ways to add value to your product pages to offset the use of duplicate descriptions.

5 – Reduce Friction to Increase Sales

Another issue common to ecommerce sites is elements or processes that add friction. You want the sales flow and checkout processes to be as smooth as possible. The more questions or hesitation a shopper has while on your site, the higher likelihood she/he will abandon her/his cart and go elsewhere.

Consider your own shopping experiences for a moment. You get to a site, find what you think you’ll like and add it to your cart. Then – about the time you’re prompted to give your credit card information – the questions start to fill your mind:

  • How much is shipping?
  • What if it doesn’t fit?
  • Am I going to unknowingly sign myself up for a bunch of e-mail that I don’t want?
  • These prices seem really low. Is this stuff new or refurbished?
  • Is my credit card info safe or has this site been hacked before?
  • Can this site be trusted?

Your customers have the same questions you do. When they are on your site, they need this information in order to feel confident buying from you. Otherwise, there is friction, and where there is friction, people leave.

The answer? For one thing, you can create brief, easy-to-understand policies for customers to read. Make any stipulations for free shipping clear. If you just post “Free Shipping!!!!” in your banner area without explaining that there is a minimum $100 purchase, then when visitors get to your checkout, they will feel as if they’ve been tricked.

Quickly let shoppers know what your return policy is and then link to a more detailed explanation if necessary. Use trust icons and secure checkout symbols to affirm to customers that your checkout process is secure. Taking a few extra measures to clearly communicate can seriously reduce your shopping cart abandonment rate and increase sales.

Take some time this week to evaluate where you stand in these five areas. Just making a few simple changes over time can bring significant increases in traffic and sales.



Microsoft Weeds Phony Apps From Windows Store

Posted in News on 01 September 2014
Microsoft is finally cracking down on phony apps in its Windows Store.
The software giant has given the boot to more than 1,500 “crap apps” and more are likely to follow as the company continues its review of applications in its store.
“Earlier this year we heard loud and clear that people were finding it more difficult to find the apps they were searching for; often having to sort through lists of apps with confusing or misleading titles,” Microsoft said in a blog post. “We took the feedback seriously and modified the Windows Store app certification requirements as a first step toward better ensuring that apps are named and described in a way that doesn’t misrepresent their purpose.”
App creators must now ensure the app’s name clearly and accurately reflect its purpose. Also, apps must be categorized according to the app function and purpose and icons must be differentiated so there are no look alikes. The new policy is being applied to all new app submissions and existing app updates for both the Windows and Windows Phone Store.
“The Store review is ongoing and we recognize that we have more work to do, but we’re on it,” Microsoft said. “We’re applying additional resources to speed up the review process and identify more problem apps faster. No approach is perfect, so we encourage people to report any issues they may encounter with Windows Store.”


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