Archive for February, 2010

8 Blogs For Web Design Inspiration And Information

Posted on February 25, 2010. Filed under: Web Design | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

Have you noticed how many online marketing books claim web design doesn’t matter?

Yes, it’s all about content, social media, search engine optimization, landing pages, calls to action and other ways to persuade people to buy.

The authors of Inbound Marketing believe most websites look perfectly fine and web visitors “are not particularly interested in your site’s colors or the type of menus used.” Per my recent review, I think this book offers good insight, however, not on this score. The web is has plenty of poor looking sites.

Appearances matter

Just as people can judge a company by its office space, a restaurant by its décor, or a person by the clothes he or she wears, presentation matters. This does not suddenly change once you hit the web.

Of course, a great looking website with crappy content won’t get you far. Yet to say design doesn’t much matter is bogus. You don’t need to get all fancy, still, you want to provide an optimum user experience, and that includes good design.

Great sites for web design inspiration

It helps to know where to go for design inspiration and information. So I’ve noted several sites to help get your creative juices flowing.

Even if you’re not an artist, these are still excellent resources; for ideas to pass on to a web designer. Do a little window shopping in the galleries and showcases. Check out different font options. When something catches your eye, show it to the designer and say, “I’d like this kind of visual style for my site.”

Then too, if you’re like me, it’s just plain fun to peruse really cool design.

Smashing Magazine

One of the premier sites for web designers and developers, Smashing Magazine keeps you up-to-date on the latest trends and techniques, in lively fashion. Graphics, coding, software — Smashing covers the gamut with thorough articles rich in resources.

Vandelay Design blog

When Vandelay Design first started this blog the idea was to show off the company’s expertise in a more creative way than a typical portfolio site. They surely succeeded — the blog has in excess of 38,000 readers who appreciate its useful posts, which often include examples of stellar web work. Comments to posts provide more great sources of info.

Inspired Mag

Inspired’s motto is “daily graphic design inspiration” and that’s what you get as applied to products, websites and blogs. Twitter and WordPress get added attention, and there’s a forum where you can ask and answer questions to engage with others in the Inspired Mag community.

Crazy Leaf Design Blog

Another one that covers the gamut (to include print; yes, it still exists) Crazy Leaf goes deep with tutorials, videos, photos, advice, templates, freebies, and more. Interviews with bloggers and authors help you learn how successful artists go about their business.

Design Reviver

An excellent source to find out about all kinds of freebie stuff: fonts, icons, applications and blog themes. A tutorial section puts special emphasis on how to make of most of Photoshop.

Speckyboy Design Magazine

The main navigational links for this one sum it up right nicely: Ajax & Javascript, CSS, Firefox, Fireworks, Icons, Inspiration, Graphic Design, Logo, Photography, Photoshop, Tutorials, Typography.


If you believe the devil is in the details then you’ll dig Onextrapixel, a self-described “digital playground” dealing with user interface experience, programming, workflow, trends, techniques, plus web marketing and branding. The latter two topics push this site beyond pure design to shed light on how design fits into broader web strategy.

The Web Design Blog

An aggregator of useful articles, tutorials, how-to guides and other information to keep your web design and development know-how up to speed. If you happen to write or read a worthy blog post, there’s a simple form to submit an article for possible inclusion. Approval is usually within 24 hours, so they’re pretty attentive.

– Deni Kasrel

Why not check out these websites and share your take on them? Do you have others to recommend? Comments welcome.

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Maximize Your SEO: Grab It By The Long Tail

Posted on February 22, 2010. Filed under: Best practices, Search Engine Optimization | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

If you’re hip to search engine optimization (SEO) then you know the importance keywords play in the process.

You think about things like keyword density – a ratio representing total number of words on a page divided by the number of times a given keyword (a word or phrase someone types into a search box) appears on that same page.

You want to strike a balance between strategically including keywords enough times that search engines see your page as relevant to the term you want to rank for, while keeping in mind the content needs to be useful and enjoyable to the reader.

Along with website text, it’s important to include keywords in page titles, navigational links, meta tags, meta description tags and ALT image tags.

This is basic SEO.

Length of the average search query is getting longer

One thing even those who know SEO can fail to take into account is the need to incorporate terms of three, four or even eight words. Then you’re really capitalizing on how people search online.

A survey by Hitwise shows there’s a nice amount action to be had with longer keyword phrases.

Longer queries bring more targeted results

Based on my own experience this is surely so. I use longer search queries because they tend to bring up more relevant results. This makes sense, of course – I’m giving the search engine more specific details about what I’m looking for.

Also, if I look at the statistics for this blog, The Communications Strategist, I see a fair amount of traffic comes from queries of between four and six words.

Bottom line: If you want to maximize SEO take advantage of the multiple keyword factor.

This is what’s known as catching the long tail — meaning you’re going for precise phrases, sometimes referred to as problem/solution specific keywords, that individually make up a small volume of search activity, yet when added together generate a sizable chunk of web traffic.

For example, if someone is interested in business financing, a short tail search term could be “business loan” while on the long tail there’s something like, “how to get a small business loan with bad credit.” It’s a more targeted type of search.

One size does not fit all

Then too, you need to take into account where your audience is located. Apparently, Americans are wordier with search terms than people in Canada or the U.K. Take a look at this chart, also from Hitwise:

So fine-tune your keyword strategy to suit your target audience. Keep in mind global differences. With certain locales on this good earth the more particular the better, while for other places less is more.

– Deni Kasrel

What do YOU think? Do your online search habits reinforce the research cited in this post? Have you used longer keywords as part of an SEO program? Please share your stories. Comments welcome.

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Should Social Media Sites Monitor Their Platform To Prevent Crime?

Posted on February 18, 2010. Filed under: Commentary, Social Media | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , |

When teenagers create a mob and then wreck havoc on city streets who is to blame?

If the messages to congregate are sent via Twitter and Facebook, does that mean those sites are responsible in some way?

We’ll soon find out, if politicos in Philadelphia, Pa. have anything to say about it.

Two City Council members, James Kenney and Frank DiCicco, are hopping mad at social media, because they believe it fueled a Center City melee.

A ruckus likely organized through social media

This past Tuesday approximately 150 teens gathered at an urban shopping mall. They damaged a department store then took to the streets. The throng fought amongst themselves, tossed snowballs at cars and pedestrians, and knocked down startled bystanders.

Police rushed to the scene but were initially overwhelmed. Eventually the cops arrested more than a dozen participants who were reportedly charged with disorderly conduct and rioting.

Kenney and DiCiccio have asked the City Council president to sue social media sites, if it is determined they were the means used to organize the dust-up. Kenney is quoted in the Philadelphia Inquirer as having said: “This is urban terrorism. If they’re using those sites to conduct this thuggery, then I want to find out if it’s true, and I want to get the appropriate legal action to get them to warn us.”

Should social media sites intervene to prevent crime?

By all accounts the incident sounds scary. Had I been there, I’m sure I would have been terrified.

But I would not blame social media for the brawl.

Think about it: when thieves use phones to coordinate a heist, is the phone company complicit in the caper? What if the crooks use text messages, or email; does that make it any different?

Is the conveyance through which a crime is planned responsible for prevention of the crime?

I’m no legal eagle, but I don’t see how.

How do you monitor an entire social media platform?

You can argue that Twitter is an open platform where messages enter a public stream that anyone can see. It’s possible to watch the stream and perhaps figure out when people are up to no good.

Maybe so. But who should do the monitoring? Do these council guys expect Twitter, which according to pingdom processes in excess of 40 million tweets on a daily basis, to baby-sit and make reports on the stream? The notion is far-fetched.

Same goes for Facebook, where an estimated 175 million users log on per day, and which has privacy features that can prevent posts from going fully public.

Meanwhile, do we even want social media sites to monitor and make judgments on what we’re posting? Who’s to say if a message harbors criminal intent?

If I write a tweet that says “My neighbor makes so much noise I just want to kill him” should I get reported? The expression “I just want to kill him” is a common expression of anger or blowing off steam.

What if the perpetrators use a code? Suppose the kids who created havoc in Philly had just sent a message that read “Let’s all meet on 8th street.” Based on those words you can’t tell they intend to go on a rampage.

I just don’t see how you can expect the sites to keep a watch over all the content.

Big Twitter is watching?

I understand why the Councilmen are incensed about the melee. It was an outrageous event.

Even so, demanding social media sites do routine surveillance work is spooky.

– Deni Kasrel

What do YOU think? Should social media sites monitor and report activity that runs across their transoms? Anyone know the legalities here? Please share your thoughts.

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Inbound Marketing: How To Get Found On The Web

Posted on February 16, 2010. Filed under: Books, Business Strategy, Marketing and Public Relations | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

Here’s a tip to ensure you rank high on search engine results for a particular concept: make it up yourself.

Start a company, write a bunch of blog posts and offer webinars — all based on the concept. Once the idea gets some traction, write a book about it.

Do this and you own the keywords for that concept.

That’s the deal with inbound marketing, a term popularized by Brian Halligan and Dharmesh Shah — the founders of Hubspot, an internet marketing company, and co- authors of Inbound Marketing: Get Found Using Google, Social Media, and Blogs (The New Rules of Social Media).

Present your message when people want to receive it

What is inbound marketing? Well, it’s the opposite of outbound marketing, a.k.a. traditional marketing, a.k.a. interruption marketing. Which is to say, the opposite of print, TV and radio ads, direct mail, telemarketing and any other way companies push a message in front of consumers.

All this is becoming less effective because we tune it out, either psychologically, or for real — via DVR, satellite radio, spam filters and do-not-call lists.

Meanwhile, we’re ever more inclined to shop, and do research on what we want to buy, through search engines, and by reading information and recommendations posted on social media sites.

Enter inbound marketing, where you create ways for people find your message when they’re amenable to receiving it.

How do I find thee? Let me count the ways.

It’s things like RSS feeds, opt-in email newsletters, blogs that are not simply about your product or service but are more broadly informative about the industry in which you operate, search engine optimization (SEO), pay-per-click advertising and having a presence on social media outlets.

All of which is addressed in Inbound Marketing, a guide for success with this 21st century marketing method.

Smart strategic advice

The book presents step-by-step plans plus strategies and tactics.  It explains the fundamentals; RSS, blogs, SEO, Twitter, etc. — to include how to track your progress. Halligan and Shah are data guys — hey, they’re MIT grads — sticklers for measuring results.

Smart advice supplements copious how-to material. For instance, a “Getting Found on Google” chapter notes the importance keywords play in search engine optimization while cautioning that choosing only the most popular relevant terms is not necessarily the way to go — because the most popular keywords are also the most competitive, making it harder to achieve high rank.

For sites just starting out the authors advise choosing keywords with low competition: “Then, as you build authority for your web pages, and start ranking for these keywords, you can move up to higher volume keywords that have more competition.”

If you’re hedging between several keywords, the suggestion is to “consider launching a small PPC (pay-per-click) advertising campaign to determine what your best keywords might be.”

A practical primer

Advice on how to drive traffic to a website is all well and good, however, Halligan and Shah realize the ultimate goal of all that effort is to drum up business. Once you figure how to get found, Inbound Marketing provides tips for turning interest into sales, with landing pages and calls to action.

Each chapter concludes with a case study plus handy to-do list for implementing an action plan.

Concise and straightforward, there’s no fancy theories or eloquent prose. This is a practical primer. Read it and learn how to be found on the inbound.

– Deni Kasrel

What are  your thoughts on Inbound Marketing? Do you think Halligan and Shah are onto something?

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Is This The New Model For Local Journalism?

Posted on February 11, 2010. Filed under: Commentary, Trends | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

Tom Ferrick Jr., a former columnist and reporter covering government and politics for The Philadelphia Inquirer, believes the continuing demise of in-depth news coverage signals the loss of a check in our national system of checks and balances.

After all, he asserts, democracy is a form of government that relies on an informed citizenry.

So what happens if our sources of investigative news coverage die out?

It’s a scenario he’d rather not live to see.

Tom recently launched a website called Metropolis, with in-depth news, analysis and commentary for the Philadelphia region.

I’m a former journalist and the concept of Metropolis piqued my interest. So I gave Tom a ring and we chatted about his new venture. Here are highlights from our conversation.

Interview with Tom Ferrick, Senior Editor for the website, Metropolis:

What’s the impetus for Metropolis?

Tom: You’re seeing the decline in traditional media. Journalism is still sound but the economic model is failing. And my argument is we’re still fine with breaking news — TV and the newspapers do a good job with breaking news. But it’s the other stuff they used to do — the analysis, the investigations — those kinds of things that are broader. The real hard work. That stuff is diminishing and we sort of end up with this news and information gap.

Locally and regionally, it’s declined, …  so my argument is we’ve got to find a way to fill that void and that’s what this is designed do.

Do you have a content strategy?

Tom: The content is very much local, or regional. It’s a combination of commentary, good analysis, in-depth stories and investigations. That’s the portfolio.

Right now, if you look at the site it has four main components. There’s a main story, a commentary called Publius, which is about politics and government and commentary and analysis of that. VoxPop, which is more personal essays and reflections — people’s voices that reflect life in Philadelphia today. And then I have New and Recommended that points people to other interesting articles. I’d like to expand that over time.

And you picked those four main areas because they are personal interests?

Tom: I spent my whole life covering politics. I played on my strengths. I would not put up a sports site — let’s put it that way. It’s not where I’m at.

How are you getting contributors?

Tom: I advertised on Craig’s’ List and that was mostly for the VoxPop personal essays. I’m getting some of the political commentary that comes over the transom, and rest is people in the business I’ve known for years whom I’ve recruited to write stories. I don’t pay much… $50 for the first article, $75 for the second, and $100 for the third… For the bigger pieces, I can’t pay these people what they’d normally get. But I’ll pay them 400 to 500 bucks. My feeling is free is the new model, but I think if you’re going to ask people to do professional quality work, you can’t ask them to that that for free… If it’s a professional writer, I think you should pay them. Even if it amounts to an honorarium.

Is it self-financed?

Tom: Yes, at this stage.

You’re not soliciting for ads?

Tom: Not yet. I think I have to have an audience before I start charging people [laughs]. It’s a radical idea.

So what’s the economic model?

Tom: My hope is, because this is a non-profit that I’ve established, called the Public Media Lab, there will be a foundation or wealthy individuals who see the value of it and want to see it expand and sustained, and will step forward to provide some funds to operate it.

Well there has been talk of non-profit foundations stepping in to save traditional journalism, as we now know it. Just as an idea; not that a foundation has said they’re going to do it.

Tom: Right. And I think the other side of that is, the economic model for making these kinds of sites go forward has not yet been found. It’s all a process of discovery. I don’t think it’s a good idea in the long run for foundations to pay for news operations. But I think it’s a good idea to provide the research and development money. The seed money.

What’s the case you make? Why should they support you?

Tom: The simple case is this: Good journalism is really important to a good democracy. You need it. It serves a public purpose in that sense. And if we’re sort of headed into the dark ages through the collapse of the big news institutions, you have to ask yourself, what is going to replace it, if anything?

So what do you see as the damage being done? What’s lost?

Tom: The information that citizens need to not only monitor the politicians who are supposed to serve them but can also help the neighborhoods they live in.

One could argue that people just don’t want to read that kind of thing and that’s why you see so little of it nowadays.

Tom: My argument is there is a market. I think this kind of stuff will find a niche.

Do you think what you’re doing can serve as a potential model that may be picked up in other cities?

Tom: I think there is a core of people who see value in what I call American style journalism — which is independent of political party, fact-based, verified. As opposed to a state-run paper or infotainment. And I think the people who practice that type of journalism are going to have to look for new venues to continue to practice that.

As the old ones fall you’re really emerging into an era of experimentation as to what new venues you can find. This is what I am trying to do. There’s a lot of this stuff going on like this around the country.

– Deni Kasrel

Do you think Tom is on the right track with his new venture, Metropolis? Do you think it’s a good model to help save the future of local hard-news journalism. Please share your thoughts. Comments welcome.

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Recommended Reading: The Facebook Era

Posted on February 9, 2010. Filed under: Books, Facebook, Social Media | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

It’s so easy to set up an account on Facebook or Twitter pretty much anyone can do it.

Knowing how to effectively use those sites for business purposes?  That’s more complicated.

Different social networking sites present different opportunities — and challenges.

You can try and figure it out through trial and error. Or, if you prefer to minimize mistakes, read The Facebook Era: Tapping Online Social Networks to Build Better Products, Reach New Audiences, and Sell More Stuff, by Clara Shih.

A cut above the rest & especially for business

Of course there’s an abundance of books about social media marketing. Why pick this one?

Well, few go at it so sharply from a corporate perspective, and fewer still are written by someone who has as much first-hand experience as Shih, who created a successful Facebook business application (Faceconnector). Her highly informative book goes deep with details, to include case studies and a plentitude of screen shots that help make things crystal clear.

It’s about more than Facebook

FYI, the book’s title tells but part of the tale. Sure, it’s full of tips on how to leverage Facebook — still, Shih delves into other social networks, too, as well as associated tools and applications. In fact, it’s an eye-opener in this regard.

Shih covers corporate-centric tools like Hoover’s Connect, which helps sales reps understand complex organizational structures, and Yammer, for intra-enterprise microblogging. Much attention is paid to offerings — Shih was working for the company when she wrote the book. If The Facebook Era sometimes feels like an ad for that company, well, so it goes.

The how and why of social networks

The book details how the online social graph — the world wide web of interconnected people — fundamentally changes ways we relate, both personally and professionally. It examines the intricacies of how and why social media works the way it does, including sociological factors that come into play. “We are moving from technology-centric applications to people-centric applications that conform to our relationships and identities,” Shih declares. ” It is the death of the anonymous Web.”

Building better business processes

Shih then breaks down how online networks can be a boon to the sales process. For instance, a sales rep can use LinkedIn to search out qualified leads and mine all kinds of information available on that site in order to prepare sale calls that are personal and relevant to individual prospects.

Other sections cover how to leverage social media for recruiting and product innovation, and again, Shih clues you into handy enterprise tools, like Connectbeam, a collaborative platform for building employee expertise profiles.

Step-by-step Facebook guide

When considering how online networks change the ways we receive information about brands, Shih writes, “The new mantra is don’t advertise to people, advertise between people.”

That’s the heart of the matter when it comes to social marketing. Here’s where Facebook takes center stage. Shih shines a bright spotlight on the site, via a step-by-step guide that digs into strategies, best practices, methods of interaction, hypertargeting and more.

Facebook applications get a fair amount of attention. “Apps are the new ads,” Shih writes. “The idea is people tend to spend more time on apps — such as playing games, looking through slideshows and taking surveys –than traditional advertising, so apps might provide more memorable and lasting interactions with your brand.”

Shih adds that creating your own app from scratch is risky business. You may be better off with sponsorship opportunities offered by existing apps that are popular with your target audiences. To help determine what these might be Shih conveniently lists Lookery — which provides a directory of ad network publishers, including Facebook apps, with analytics, demographics and other useful data.

This is mighty meaty material. Shih covers a tremendous amount of ground detailing how to power-up your business’ social media presence with a clear plan of action.

Now, if you want additional info, visit The Facebook Era’s Facebook page.

– Deni Kasrel

What are your thoughts on The Facebook Era? Have you read the book, too? If so, what’s your take on it? Comments welcome.

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The Real Job Of A Manager? Waiting For Something To Happen.

Posted on February 4, 2010. Filed under: Business Strategy | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , |

This is a guest post by one of my social media friends, Jarie Bolander, who recently published a book: FRUSTRATION FREE TECHNICAL MANAGEMENT: Proven Techniques to Thrive as a Manager. This tidy tome offers techniques using the POEMS (Personal, Organizational, Emotional, Managerial and Sustaining) process.  Jarie’s advice is applicable to communications managers—including the following intriguing thought…

Waiting for something to happen does not mean doing nothing

Most managers fill their day with productive work. They usually don’t connect the dots that their real job is to wait for something to happen. That’s right. Wait for something to happen. This is a foreign concept to most managers since they got to where they are by doing something. Waiting around for something to happen does not mean you are doing nothing. Quite the contrary. While you wait, you think about what could go wrong, monitor your environment and think about your strategy. You do tasks that need to get done but that can be dropped quickly. Monitoring your surroundings will allow you to anticipate the barriers your group will face and eliminate them. Monitoring also prepares you for the inventable crisis. This is particularly important in our hyper-connected word where communications travel as fast as electrons, bad and good news can’t be controlled and trends are created and destroyed within days.

Be Ready To Jump In

A crisis is unplanned and random. You will never know when a crisis will strike so you must be prepared to drop everything and jump in to help solve it. If your day is booked solid, then how can you deal with these random crises? This can be a major challenge for managers since waiting is not something they easily do. They got to where they are by doing. In some respects, managers tend to think that the only valuable work is something that produces a tangible result. This is true for their team but not necessarily for them. As a manager, your other job is to think about your strategy and how to deploy your resources, crisis or not.

Practical Advice

So I know this sounds like a hard thing to do but if you manage people, your best bet is to wait around for the next crisis while you think about your groups overall strategy. Doing that takes discipline and some planning. In reality, it’s about being available for your people so that you can assist them when things go wrong and thinking more longer term so you can guide your groups overall strategy. In order to achieve this, consider doing the following:

  • Take Yourself Out of the Critical Path: If you are tempted to do actual work, then at least do work that’s not in the critical path. If you are in the critical path, then when a crisis hits, it becomes a double crisis since your critical path tasks slip as well. Doing work in the critical path also dulls your forward thinking mind because you are solely focused on getting the task done and not on thinking about the longer view.
  • Delegate, Delegate, Delegate: One way to have more free time is to delegate to your staff. This is a great way to not only free yourself up but also allows you to stay about the fray so you can have some perspective. Staying above the fray will allow you to think more about how your strategies are taking shape. This is critical to a well-formed, overall strategic plan.
  • Schedule Thinking Time: On your calendar, create pockets of time to think. Preferably, hour or so chunks of time with no interruptions. These blocks of time will allow you to have a consistent time for reflection and to ponder longer-term strategies. With reflection, you will be able to handle the inventible crisis while still keeping your strategic vision in focus.
  • Train Others: The best way to free up your time is to train others to do tasks you need done. Of course, there are some tasks that you should only do but the more mundane or repetitive tasks, train someone else to do. Mangers should be involved in doing some things but in general, it’s best to have plenty of free time to ponder the deluge of data that is flung your way.
  • Ask What’s Going On: Don’t just bury your head in your own work. Ask your team what’s going on. Doing this will connect you with the action and make it easier for you to ponder what challenges your team might face. The people on the front line also see what is really happening. This data is invaluable to collect and filter because it shows whether or not your strategic vision is taking shape.

It’s About Your Staff, Not You

Having your day mostly free also allows you to be available for your staff when they need you. Since the performance of your staff is how you are judged, you need to ensure their success by always being available to them. Having a jam-packed schedule does not say you are busy but rather it says you are unavailable. This seems trivial but is a powerful tool to effectively manage people. Being free to help shows that you know what is important – your staff’s success. The other part of your job is to set your group or companies strategic focus. Being too busy to think about how best to implement your strategy will prevent it from happening. This gets compounded when a crisis hits. Your team’s ability to react to a crisis will be directly proportional to the amount of time you have spent thinking and communicating your group’s strategy for success.

Jarie’s Bio

Jarie Bolander is an engineer by training and an entrepreneur by nature. He is currently VP of R&D at Tagent, a company working on breakthrough technology that will help reduce medical errors. Jarie also blogs about innovation, management and entrepreneurship at The Daily MBA and has recently published his first book, FRUSTRATION FREE TECHNICAL MANAGEMENT: Proven Techniques to Thrive as a Manager.

Thanks to Jarie for sharing his ideas with us. If you want to know more about how he thinks, buy Jarie’s book or follow him on Twitter @thedailymba.

It it really a good idea for managers to wait for something to happen? Do you have a story to share that applies here? Comments welcome?

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