Author Archive | jacob

I’m Nothing Like Daredevil

Daredevil is an awesome Marvel superhero who was blinded as a child by some chemicals. In the process his sense of hearing was enhanced so significantly that it became a sort of radar that allowed him to essentially see even without traditional eyesight. 

At age 15 I lost hearing in my right ear. A nasty ear infection ate out my inner cochlea and at most pitches I'm about 90% deaf in that ear. 

Now, while my vision is very good, better than average, it isn't enhanced to superhero abilities. Instead, like Daredevil, my good ear has become more and more sensitive over the years as if to compensate for my bad ear. 

Now, unless you get the impression that my good ear has Daredevil like powers let me remind you of the title of this personal rant I call a blog post. I'm Nothing like Daredevil. My super power good ear is frankly nothing but a curse. 

It makes any loud environment physically painful to endure. I do not go to concerts. I avoid sporting events, festivals, and any places with big crowds but that is just the tip of the iceberg.

In recent years I've found I can't deal with church singing, movie theater speakers, some shower heads, anything at my children's school auditorium, the average bathroom fan, airplanes, or other things you just wouldn't think Daredevil would have had issues with. 

In addition to my car keys, wallet, and gun I also carry a single ear plug everywhere I go and I will pay a happy premium for good noise cancelling headphones. When I walk into a restaurant I request to be seated at the quietest table, and I've mastered the art of covertly blocking my ear canal with a finger while appearing to be leaning against my arm. I wear protective hearing protection when I mow the lawn or operate a vacuum cleaner. 

What is the point? No point really… Just wanted you to know that despite amazing increased sensitivity in 1 ear I'm nothing like Daredevil.

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Drama Credit Card Processing

Look how happy the lady in this stock image is to buy something online!

I've been through my fair share of Credit Card Merchant providers. It's a mess of an industry. If you are new to e-commerce you may be scratching your head in frustration.

I'll first describe some of the common issues I've dealt with then I'll give you the solution.

Sorry, You Need Signatures

Yep, had a provider a few years ago start to hold back 20% of my money in a reserve account because I don't get customer signatures. Have you ever heard of the internet?

Sorry, We Don't Support Your Industry

Yep, I'm in the firearm industry and way too many hipster startups in silicone valley and most of the other moron credit card companies hate guns and anything associated with them. My industry isn't the only one on the no-charge list either.

Sorry, You Need To Connect The Processing Gateway to A Merchant Provider and Then Maintain PCI Compliance With This Other Provider

You would think the government runs this industry with the amount of confusing stuff you have to deal with. It's sometimes like trying to juggle 3 plates at the same time. Forget dropping them I can't even remember which plate does what.

Sorry, You Have To Respond To This Chargeback Via Fax

Sometimes customers don't recognize your company on their card statement or they hate you or you legitimately have been taken advantage of by a con artist who has used a stolen card to buy something on your site. When this happens the Card company sends you the Chargeback paperwork via snail mail and expects you to respond within 2 days explaining why you charged the person's credit card and include proof like signatures (remember it's the internet) and shipping tracking info etc. My last 2 providers gave me 2 days to respond and required I do so via fax. Follow up info about these chargebacks was also send via snail mail. I had spreadsheet just to keep track of this nightmare.

Sorry, You Have To Be Approved By The Underwriting Department

At the point of initial application merchant providers love to pretend they are considering giving you to secret clearance. The application process reminds me of getting a home loan. Recently our company changed company names and I was informed this required submitting a new application for which I was NOT approved.

Sorry, We Don't Work With / Connect With That Software

There are endless shopping cart applications and our company has 4 different systems that capture customer credit card information for purchases. There are only a few credit card gateways that work with ALL of those systems. This question of compatibility is sometimes more complex as a software system may show it works with your provider only to find out some features are not supported with your gateway.

Sorry, Your Charge Activity Has Grown Too Much/Too Fast

Remember these companies make money when you make money so you might think they would send me a bonus gift and lower my rates when my charge volume increases. I had one provider increase my reserve and make me get emails from customers confirming they did indeed authorize charges.

My Solution? Stripe

I opened a Stripe account about a year ago and at first I didn't think it could be legit because they didn't run be through any sort of complex approval process. Despite this we decided to use it for a few of the applications where it was the only option and it worked.

Further there is no question about gateways, merchants, and compliance partners. Its just Stripe.

When we did our company name change I contacted their support… and they changed it. End of story.

They connect with everything because one of their core company “dealios” is an awesome API. My developers LOVE Stripe and apparently every other application dev team does too.

Chargebacks? No more letters in the mail. They send an email and I respond online via an interface!

Life is good again. What are you using? Do you love or hate it?

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Has Amazon Ruined eCommerce For Everyone Else?

I operate an eCommerce website. We sell stuff… and while as a consumer I LOVE Amazon I can't help but wonder if, as a business owner, I should hate Amazon.

I'll get specific in a moment but the short story is that Amazon has raised the bar so high that the rest of us almost can't compete. If you are a consumer this is great news…. just get Amazon Prime and always check there first but as you will see below… don't assume Amazon always has the best deal either.

Amazon As A Marketplace Drives the Price Down on EVERYTHING

Imagine a world before Amazon.com. Imagine that there is a product that many different companies choose to stock and sell. As an example lets talk about a book. Before Amazon.com existed you would probably search for that book on Google and click through to about 10 different websites checking prices on each before you ultimately just got tired and bought. Most people will only check 3 sources before making a purchasing decision. All the different websites who sell that book are likely to list it at or near the MSRP price because there isn't a lot of reason to believe that customers are going to do a lot price comparison and even if they do it can't HURT you to be the same price as the next vendor.

Enter Amazon.com: Now consumers are likely to check Amazon first or at least last before making a decision so at least one vendor is going to make sure they list that book for sale on Amazon.com. The other vendors will follow. Now you have a dozen or more vendors that all sell the same book on Amazon.com. Now the vendors are far more likely to recognize the power of undercutting the competition. They all win the eyeball/attention game of getting the customer to look because they are all on Amazon in the same place. The ONLY way they can now compete is to lower price. This of course leads to the proverbial race to the bottom. Who is willing to make the least amount of money on the sale?

Amazon Won't Let Me Do Any Ongoing Marketing To Customers

Now, traditionally I wouldn't mind making little to no profit on acquiring a customer because once that customer has completed a transaction with my brand I can build a relationship with content, email, and social media which will eventually lead to additional sales from that customer.

Enter Amazon.com: Amazon is not incentivized to allow me the vendor to have an ongoing relationship with the customer because I might drive them to my own website to purchase more products. Amazon wouldn't like that. So they have policies that prevent me from sending the customer an email with anything other that current transaction related messaging. They also have policies that regulate what I can put into the packaging of the purchased product I ship to the customer.

Amazon's 2-Day Shipping Magic Creates Unrealistic Expectations For Normal Companies

Last week we had a customer place an order on Friday night after business hours. Between Sunday and Monday morning early he left us a voicemail, text message, and an email. Our customer service team doesn't currently work weekends (which it shows on our website next to the contact info) so we didn't get back to him until Monday late morning. At that point he was angry enough to berate us on YouTube and call us out as a SCAM.

Consistently we have customers who place orders on a Friday and wonder where there tracking number is on Sunday. The Amazon.com consumer expects not only for their order to be shipped 2-day delivery but it should be out the door within 12 hours and the app on your phone notifies you when it ships and when it is delivered. While there are a lot of great solutions out there for small businesses like us you need to understand that Amazon's execution in this arena is mind-blowing and not duplicable… which they of course love and their customers do too.

Amazon's Commission Forces Me To Charge More For Amazon Customers

Depending on the product category, Amazon.com will keep about 15% of the product purchase price for any sale. So if I sale a product via Amazon for $100 only $85 will get to my account. For a lot of small businesses operating on small margins this is an extreme challenge. One that could be overcome if it were not for Commodity Issue and Ongoing Marketing Issue referenced above. Given those challenges vendors are crippled and forced to take a hit or get out.

What Does This Mean To The eCommerce Company?

First, it means that exclusivity on products is critical. If you are a company that has products that are your own… meaning you are the manufacturer of the product you have the ability to create the rules to protect your business. Either not allowing dealers to sell your product online or forcing a MAP (Minimum Advertising Price) is SUPER IMPORTANT to prevent the race to the bottom that will otherwise destroy the value of your products and lead your dealers to hate selling your products. If you are selling your own products and don't have to worry about competition you may charge more on Amazon.com for the same product in order to offset the Amazon commission while giving the customer an incentive to buy direct from your own website where you can build a relationship in ongoing communication.

Second, it means you have to more carefully choose what products to stock in your own store. I have vendor's whose products I'm interested in selling on my site but effectively cannot because the products are marked down to cost or close to cost by the vendor or their dealers on Amazon. So while I may think I'm getting a great deal in sourcing the products at 50% below MSRP I may be buying them for about 2% under the Amazon Advertised Cost (AAC). This leads me to walk away from what could have been a great product to sell in my store… but gone are the days that I want my customers to have to overpay for a product in order to buy it from me.

Well Amazon… I love you when I need to buy stuff… but I hate what you do to me as a vendor.

And to you manufacturers of products…. set a MAP and enforce it. It may be the only thing that saves you from long term collapse from the Amazon Effect.

 

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Business Owner? Wondering What to Do About SEO?

I was in church and a man came up to me to ask me a business question. My friend is a local business owner and heard from someone that I know a thing or two about internet marketing. He then asked the question that I hate most of all. Why do I hate this question… because it makes me feel the most helpless…

What Do I Do About SEO?

Ask me anything else about internet marketing and I probably have a solid answer for you. I might be wrong and my advice is only as good as my own knowledge and experience but ask me what you should do about SEO and you may get a look on my face that probably communicates something to the effect of: I feel bad admitting this but honestly you are in big trouble. You are opening up a can of worms that you don't understand, that is super important to your business's long term success, but ultimately is going to cause you more frustration and expense than you would ever willingly take on.

Of all the internet marketing topics SEO is fully in my wheelhouse (currently my greatest endorsed skill on LinkedIn) but even if it is among the things I have the most experience with and among which I've had great success… I would still much rather talk about paid search, display ads, email marketing, or virtually anything else that has some ground of consistent and reliable best practices and immediately measurable results.

SO… next time someone asks me the question, “What Do I Do About SEO?” I'm going to direct them to this blog post. Here is what you need to know:

SEO IS MISSION CRITICAL BECAUSE

Search Engine Optimization is the coveted holy grail of internet marketing because obviously your customers are searching on Google (and other search engines) for your products and services and being among the top of the first page of results will bring you a ton of web traffic and customers forever. Sounds great right? Here is where the problems begin…

WHY IS SEO A HUGE PROBLEM FOR MOST BUSINESS OWNERS

  1. SEO is a long-term marketing plan. Unless your website already has a ton of internet traffic, content, and domain authority (more on this later) you should expect that it is going to take a LONG time to get enough organic traffic from search engines for it to make any substantial dent in your business's bottom line. It takes time.
  2. SEO is a moving target… or at very least its super hard. Search Engines have the job of making sure that customers (searchers) find the very best results for any given search but they have to use code, algorithms, and patterns to determine what makes one website better than another for the end customer/searcher. Marketers spend a lot of money and time trying to optimize websites to those patterns and algorithms used by search engines in order to get to the top of the results. As marketers figure it out, the search engines change it. Its a bit of a game…. until you realize that in order to win you have to care a little less about the algorithm and start just putting out amazing/awesome website content that is actually the best thing the searcher could find/want… and that can be even harder than trying to guess what Google is thinking this month.
  3. SEO is a chicken and egg problem. You need domain authority to get rankings and you need rankings to get domain authority…. (sort of). So, how do you get either? Well a little at a time… inch by inch… fighting for it with content over time. Sound fun?
  4. SEO requires something far more different and expensive than money. Time. Most advertising and marketing is simple. You just give money to a vendor and wait for the clicks, phone calls, or walk-ins. SEO doesn't work that way. If you do it yourself then you have to invest a lot of time. You have to create content and that content has to be awesome. Its consuming and even more challenging when you do it for months on end without knowing if it is working (see number 1). You can always hire someone else…. but…
  5. SEO Outsourced Is Mysterious. If you hire a 3rd party company to help with SEO you have a unique set of challenges. First they will rarely tell you what they are doing. If they told you, you would probably fire them and do it yourself. Second, you are going to spend money for weeks or months without results… and only if they do it right after time you start to see any results at all (see number 1). If they don't do a good job they can do long term damage that you can't even see or understand.

Now that I've thoroughly depressed you…

SO HOW DO YOU GET STARTED WITH SEO?

Here are suggestions that might take the sting out of all this doom and gloom:

Start With Paid Traffic

Your #1 Goal in any online advertising is to optimize your marketing funnel. It doesn't matter how much traffic you can drive if none of that traffic opts in, buys, or contacts you with interest in your service or product. In order for any marketer to optimize the sales/lead funnel they need to drive traffic into it. SEO just can't do that in the beginning. In addition having to pay for advertising will force you or your marketing agency to make the funnel as good as it can be… something you will be grateful for when your SEO work starts to pay off in the future.

Favor Quality Over Quantity

A big evolution of SEO is the move away from content for the sake of content toward content for the sake of a quality user experience. This favors a small business that is low on resources. Don't feel like you have to create a blog and post to it once a week. Instead carefully consider valuable content pieces and spend time and energy making them awesome… even if that means you only put out something once a month or less.

Get Obsessive With User Experience

Put yourself in the shoes of your customer, user, or reader and ask yourself how your website makes it easy (or not) to find the right information, research products, and make buying decisions. How does it look on a mobile phone? What information is missing that would make the customer's experience better?

SEO OVERVIEW CONCLUSION

The objective of this article is to explain the complexity of SEO for the small business owner, while still giving you some clear and simple things you can do to start. This isn't the end-all but it should at least make you feel empowered to start somewhere. Until next time!

Some other things you may want to read next:

The 3 Ps of Getting Web Traffic

SEO or Paid Traffic? A Conversation About Priorities

I’m a Bear… Learning About One’s Chronotype

Apparently I'm a Bear… which means I'm part of 50% of the US Population whose bio-clock rises and sets with the sun.

A friend recently told me to visit this website and take a short and no-cost quiz that would identify me into one of 4 “chronotypes” named after animals. Different than most of the quizzes I see floating around social media, there is actually some legitimate value to knowing ones chronotype and understanding how to optimize one's schedule to be more productive and happy.

The quiz was created by Dr. Michael Breus, PhD. It correlates with a book he has recently published titled, “The Power of When” which I finished reading a few days ago. At the end of the quiz Dr Breus presents a short video explaining more about your chronotype (Bear, Lion, Wolf, or Dophin) and then of course tells you how important it is that you buy his book so you can understand WHEN you should do things.

It is actually a little crazy to consider that with all the business and self-help books I've consumed there is a ton of information about WHAT to do and HOW to do it but as Breus points out there isn't really anything out there about WHEN to do it.

WHEN TO DO WHAT?

Everything. When to eat, write, be creative, be funny, take medicine, exercise, ask for a raise, sleep, nap, play, etc. The book doesn't suggest any chronotype is better than any other but the purpose according to the author is to optimize WHEN you do things to best fit in rhythm with your own biology. Biology is the best word because, according to Breus, your chronotype is in your DNA and is heretic.

The book is more or less broken down like this:

  1. The Quiz for people who like math, writing with a pencil or are otherwise unable to operate a computer (Point: do the quiz online and skip this part of the book)
  2. Chapters specific to each of the four chronotypes with more info about their bio-clock and an ideal schedule.
  3. Chapters about specific activities and when to do them like: Sleep, Work, Sex, Play, Eat, Exercise, Be Creative, Be Happy, Be Flexible, Be Agreeable, etc.

There are also some nice parts of the book that are about interacting between people. So for example if a wolf is married to a lion; when should them have constructive discussions, have sex, and avoid each other completely?

Ok, so you get the gist of the book…. but what are my own thoughts?

I Dig It. I give this book 4 out of 5 stars because the author doesn't babble… short and easy to consume chapters. The content is valuable and immediately applicable… no finishing the book and saying to yourself… huh… interesting but what do I do with this info.

You might be tempted to skip the chapters that you don't think apply to you. Avoid this temptation because understanding other chronotypes will be immensely helpful in life and even though I don't consistently take any medication I still learned some things in that chapter that may be valuable to me later in life.

Bears vs Dolphins?

My wonderful wife is a dolphin. Reading about dolphins gave me renewed respect and understanding for her. Life is always better when you understand the WHY behind things and this book was a journey of discovery not only in understanding myself but also my wife and others in my life. In total I've probably “forced” about 30 people around me to take this quiz so far including all immediate family members, all my employees and major business partners, etc.

The book is available in audio and I listened to it in it's entirety however I also purchased a physical copy because there are a lot of charts and other info that the audio book constantly calls out with “visit the website for the PDF download with this chart.”

When Should You Take the Quiz and Read this Book?

NOW.

As soon as you finish the quiz comment below and tell us what you are and what if anything in the video (free video after the quiz) resonated with you!

Good Business Books for Startups?

The below first appeared on Quora as an answer to the question, “What are some awesome books to read for business startups?”

Naturally there are going to be some books that I would recommend for companies in certain industries and not others… but since your question is more generic… here is a generic list of books you should consider: (links will direct you to Amazon)

*NOTE: All of these are available in Audio from Amazon/Audible. Follow links to Amazon for all available versions.

The E-Myth Revisited: Explains the difference between entrepreneurs, mechanics, and managers and helps you understand how to find the right people to grow an organization by beginning with the end in mind.

The Lean Startup: The book that revolutioned the idea of the MVP (Minimum Viable Product). Explains the method for getting a product to market and developing a fast feedback loop so the product can evolve and you can win the market lighting fast.

The Personal MBA: The book is meant to be a crash course in everything you need to know about running a business from accounting to marketing. Its a great rough overview.

Start With Why: Helps you understand how to find purpose as an individual, organization, and product so as to allow one to find the right customers, develop the right products, and maximize profits.

If you want to clarify the type of business you are starting or specific concerns you have I could make more specific recommendations.

Here are a list of Business Books that I may not directly recommend for a “startup” but I would say anyone in any business who wants to succeed and grow the company should read regardless:

I could continue but the list would get long very quickly 🙂

SEO or Paid Traffic? A Conversation About Priorites

I was talking to a business owner this morning who is in this dilemma. The business is starting to become stable enough that they want to invest in advertising (we should talk later about why they should have been advertising since the beginning). Today, businesses hear all about how valuable and important SEO is but they are also being sold paid advertising by a variety of vendors. Trying to sort out where online to allocate a small budget is really challenging. Vendors are calling and talking about directories, SEO, social, search ads, social ads, banner ads, text messaging, and much much more. I get it… I spent years being one of those vendors.

For the purpose of today's article I'm going to simply lump all the PAID advertising into the category of Paid Traffic and compare that to SEO with an emphasis on where a new business should begin to invest.

SEO or Search Engine Optimization is the process of TRYING to get one's website or web content to appear or rank high in organic search results. If I'm an attorney in Phoenix and people type “Phoenix Attorney” into Google I want my site to organically (not in the paid ads) be high in the search results. This is SEO.

Paid Traffic is any online advertising vehicle into which you insert a paid ad budget and expect to get some amount of qualified traffic to click through to your website.

Today's advertising community loves to talk about the benefits of SEO… and here is why:

  1. When done properly, work can pay off for years in the form of “free” traffic because you did the work to rank well
  2. Vendors who sell SEO services aren't held to a high standard because they are being paid to do something that is often unmeasurable and generally won't show any results for weeks, months, or years to come.

It is easy to see why some small business would be lured in by the idea of spending minimum amounts of money in advertising but getting super high on Google so that the leads and customers come in forever without any significant work. The pitch is however, a big fat lie. Here is how, as a vendor of SEO services, I would have to pitch you if I was being fully honest:

Mr Customer, being at the top of Google's organic search for your top search phrases will pay off endless future benefits but frankly, it often takes years to get into the top five results for competitive search terms unless your website already has a lot of traffic and domain authority from Google. Domain authority is built over time by showing Google and the other search engines that you can and do produce content that is relevant and valuable to an audience which brings me to my next point. The number one core activity in SEO work is content generation. Not junk content for the sake of having content… that stopped working in 2010. I mean legitimately valuable content that is better for the reader/consumer than your competitors content. Now, regardless of the work you are in; I suspect that in order to generate that type of content you will have to be involved. There is nobody at my agency/firm/office that produce content about your company and industry as well as you can so even though you are going to pay me to help you format it and train you to write it in the best way possible YOU are still going to have to write it. Lastly, you should know that because SEO benefits come so long after the work is done; if at all, we won't have enough traffic coming to the site in order to generate enough data to know if the lead/sales funnel is actually working. Meaning; the reason you want traffic to your site at all is because you have a service or product to sell. If we bring 100,000 new visitors to your website and zero of them contact your or buy your product then the work was for nothing. We need to optimize the marketing process and lead/sales funnel on your site in order to increase the CONVERSION RATE of that traffic to buyers/leads and in order to do that effectively we need a steady inflow of predicatable traffic… and SEO won't bring us that for a long time. So not only do you need to wait for any results at all but you also will waste a lot of eyeballs on your site because we won't have enough data in order to optimize the marketing funnel. You should also be aware that we do not own Google, Bing, or Yahoo and despite having some sense for what they are looking for in web content; we don't actually know for sure exactly how they choose to rank sites and they tend to change that criteria and methodology from time to time so its possible that our efforts even if successful could become worthless if the algorithm changes in a way that is negative to the work we've been performing at your cost. Lastly, please know that while we will do “stuff” for the money you pay us each month we won't be able to guarantee ANYTHING and may not have great answers about the impact that our work is having for at least 6 months until after we get started. Ok?

Would you Buy From Me????

Is this starting to make it clear why you need to prioritize Paid Traffic over SEO efforts?

Your #1 Goal in any online advertising is to optimize your marketing funnel. It doesn't matter how much traffic you can drive if none of that traffic opts in, buys, or contacts you with interest in your service or product. In order for any marketer to optimize the sales/lead funnel they need to drive traffic into it. SEO just can't do that in the beginning. In addition having to pay for advertising will force you or your marketing agency to make the funnel as good as it can be… something you will be grateful for when your SEO work starts to pay off in the future.

In addition, while paid traffic sources are sometimes finicky or can shut you down for misuse; they are still FAR more consistent and reliable a source of traffic than is SEO.

Now don't misunderstand me… I'm a big advocate for SEO. We take content creation and SEO ranking very seriously in our business. We set goals, and we work to achieve them… but SEO is our long game… Paid Traffic is our short game and it should be yours too.

Resource: Entrepreneurs You Are Machine Builders

Resource: Our Content Creation Formula for SEO

How We Approach Our Social Content Strategy

social-media-management

This article is meant to review our own company appraoch to dealing with social media and leveraging it as a platform. Not to suggest we have it all figured out but I think this may be helpful to a really small business who is feeling overwhelmed by the consumer expectation.

Objective

Our customers and members of our tribe/audience want to consume relevant content and engage us in a digital relationship. Our primary social objective is to facilitate that relationship and deepen the connection between brand and consumer while also providing quality service.

Primary Challenge

Time and Resources about sums it up. Big brands like Cabelas, Geico, and Pizza Hut have the resources to hire entire teams to manage a social strategy and conversation. This has raised the expectation in the mind of today's consumer.

If our brand doesn't come at least close to that Geico level of engagement consumers get angry and won't engage with the brand. It isn't entirely fair as most small businesses don't have the resources to hire dedicated staff to manage social profiles and content… but alas nobody ever said Capitalism was easy.

So, to the best of one's brand-ability, we have to take the resources we have and do the best we can to arrive at or beyond the consumer expectation… even though we know we will fall short of perfect until the business can scale big enough for us to dedicate the resources.

Approach

Given those constraints our company dedicates itself to three primary goals:

1: Publish relevant / valuable content on our social networks consistently even when it isn't our content or doesn't directly lead to a sales funnel

We schedule daily posts to publish to our social pages/profiles with content we think our audience would care about. While we certainly don't miss the opportunity to publish our own content and announcements we also fill the gaps with other industry relevant and quality content. For some of the social sites like Facebook and Twitter we can share the same content to both… but for other sites like Pinterest and Instagram we have to be more image than headline focused and it takes incremental effort to find the best content.

While there are some tools out there that one may be able to setup to automatically publish blog content to your social profiles my experience has been that these tools don't work really well or reliably. At the same token the burden that would come with manually publishing every content piece the same hour it is published on our site is very high and not something we are currently willing to deal with. So instead we publish our content to social about 3-5 days behind the publish date on our site.

So essentially about once or twice a week we go into Hootsuite (more details below) and we schedule the next 3-5 days worth of content to schedule. We currate this content from our own site and from other sites in our industry (using feedly also discussed below). This does mean there will be a delay between the publish date and the share date but that hasn't bugged me or our followers in the slightest and in fact I believe it has been good for our SEO rankings.

2: Listen to the social audience, reading and responding to messages and posts

It isn't easy but it is important that we listen to our tribe and respond. We leverage a few tools (mentioned below) to monitor the conversation and chime in as appropriate. We don't feel the need to have something to say about everything but people do need to know the brand is there and is available when a question is asked.

3: Optimize social channels as a monetizable property. This means finding ways to track the traffic from social and learn the best and appropriate ways to leverage that asset to sell products

We use the right tools to encode links we publish to social and we leverage Google Analytics to track the traffic that comes from different social platforms and this makes it much easier to assign a dollar figure to that traffic. We also carefully optimize content that we know can lead to sales. We write better headlines, carefully consider the image being shared and when necessary ask our audience very directly to take action.

Social Properties

Each brand has to prioritize social channels based on where your audience spends the greatest amount of time. For our primary brand we use the following channels in this order of priority:

  1. Facebook – still the behemoth and very relevant to our primary and secondary audiences.
  2. YouTube – Too big for us to ignore for our industry and audience… debatably more important than Facebook for us.
  3. Twitter – huge traffic and still relevant to most of our audiences although fairly static
  4. Instagram – The next upcoming massive giant and already critical for our secondary audience
  5. Pinterest – We can't neglect it and over time it is growing in importance for our audiences

You may also want to focus energy on LinkedIn or Tumblr or some other website where your tribe spends time.

Tools

Feedly

If we intend to have at our fingertips quality content that isn't our own that we can share with our followers we need to have a system in place by which we can currate and sift through that content. Setting bookmarks for 50 different industry websites and going through them once a week sounds painful enough to make me want to die… so we don't do that. Instead use a RSS reader like Feedly to subscribe to the feeds of those industry websites. The RSS Reader will pull in all the headlines from all the collective content. Then based on your own workflow you can login and very quickly scan for the best content for your tribe.

Hootsuite

Hootsuite performs several functions for us. The tool is advertised as a social media client. It allows you to manage, publish to, monitor, and respond to all your various feeds and profiles in one place. It doesn't connect to every social media site but it does help us manage Facebook, Twitter, and Google Plus.

We use it to publish. When we identify a piece of content to publish now or later we use Hootsuite to schedule that content to publish to our profiles.

We use it to listen. When we get direct messages, mentions, or replies to our content we use Hootsuite to see all of that content in one place and quickly respond.

Zendesk

Our customer service team uses Zendesk and one of our favorite tools is the ability to import Facebook messages right into Zendesk and respond from within the Zendesk interface. It is a life saver.

CapitalOne is the Best Credit Card Company Ever

This Picture is Fitting For My Below Rave About CapitalOne because the only thing better than being this happy on Splash Mountain is knowing that your credit card cash back rewards just paid for the trip to Disneyland

This Picture is Fitting For My Below Rave About CapitalOne because the only thing better than being this happy on Splash Mountain is knowing that your credit card cash back rewards just paid for the trip to Disneyland

I have a biz crush on CapitalOne. There are very few companies that I 100%, without any hesitation, endorse like I own them. CapitalOne is toward the top of that list.

My experience with CapitalOne has been flawless and awesome from day 1.

My first interaction with CapitalOne was many years ago when I was a broke college student who couldn't get qualified to buy a car with any lending institution… not even the credit unions who will take anyone with a pulse.

Capital One sent me a blank check and gave me a… decent… interest rate.

I've had various credit card accounts with them over the years and here are a few things I will share with anyone with is bored enough to listen to me rave about CapitalOne:

  • At one point I filed bankruptcy and I had a balance on a CapitalOne card that went into the bankruptcy. A lot of creditors hold a grudge and are hard to deal with in a bankruptcy. CapitalOne was as smooth as butter and welcomed me back with open arms.
  • CapitalOne has an awesome online interface and an even better mobile app. Love how easy it is to navigate and make payments.
  • CapitalOne lets me download all transactions from any date range I choose to a spreadsheet for various accounting purposes. *Awesome
  • CapitalOne has the very BEST cash back reward card I can find or get approved for. Their Quicksilver card is 1.5% cash back on EVERYTHING all the time. You can't beat that. My wife and I both have a Quicksilver card and we try to put everything on it. We feel like we are getting a 1.5% discount on everything we buy. (Of course that only works because we always pay it off in full and don't pay any interest fees ever).
  • CapitalOne's Spark card for businesses is equally awesome offering a flat 2% cash back on EVERYTHING. To get the 2% cash back you do have to pay a $59 annual fee but that is an absolute no brainer. If you don't want to pay $59 a year you can still get 1.5% cash back. (The math works out that if you charge more than $12,000 a year it is worth it to pay the $59 annual fee.)
  • CapitalOne is amazing at fraud prevention and fraud restoration. Its very common for me to get a text message and/or email from CapitalOne asking me to quickly verify purchases. I don't find this annoying… rather satisfying.
  • All the same, likely due to my own behavior and not the fault of CapitalOne, I have on more than a few occasions had card info stolen and unapproved charges appear on my card. I make a call that lasts no more than 4 minutes… identifying the charges that I didn't approve and then they… take care of it. All of it… with speed and awesomeness. Every charge is immediately credited back and the replacement card is in the mail.
  • The other day I called to request a new business card for an employee. Phone call lasted about 4 minutes. New card was at my front door the next day… FedEx Overnight at no expense to me.
  • When you call customer support, you get someone in the USA… or at least if they are off seas they must find English speakers that are really good!

Seriously get rid of any existing crappy card you have and go with CapitalOne.

And if any CapitalOne employees are reading this and want to thank me for this endorsement… how about 2.5% on the Spark Card???

How to Approach WordPress Updates

wordpress-589121_1280Software developers love to update software. Once an initial set of code has been released the developer either needs a new project and/or sets out to make improvements.

In the online world updates are valuable as they serve two key purposes.

First, updates bring new features. Version 1 of anything is rarely very good and never as good as version 2. Who doesn't want stuff to be more awesome?

Second, updates are made to close potential security gaps. Developers are in a constant game of chess with hackers in which the hacker attempts to find vulnerabilities in the code and the developer tries to close those vulnerabilities before too much damage can be done.

With that said there is huge danger because updating WordPress plugins occasionally can cause havoc if a combination of plugins has a compatibility issue they didn't have previously. Version 2 of your theme along with Version 1 of Plugin A and Version 3.2 of Plugin B may live in harmony together but updating any of them might disrupt the harmony. When this happens the site owner seeks to find a 3rd party solution to force harmony or has to replace the offending plugin with a competing piece of software that is more compatible.

To minimize this issues and to make the troubleshooting as painless as possible follow these recommendations when running WordPress updates.

Update 1 plugin at a time… generally 1 per day. If daily sounds extreme you could do it more often or less often but the key is to allow enough time to go by to be able to determine if any issue has arisen. The more traffic your site gets the more likely you are to be alerted by site visitors quickly when an issue arises. If you only update a single plugin at a time solving or at very least identifying the culprit is much easier.

Keep a change log for the site. Every time you update a plugin or install something new put that in your internal change log. This history of changes will also help you identify where to troubleshoot first.

Update plugins later in the evening when traffic volume is lower. After you run an update do some basic testing of the site yourself. Should the update cause an immediate error you have the maximum amount of time to address it before high traffic returns.

If you have high levels of risk or liability if the site does experience issues you should setup a dev version of your site on a different server or host. Run all updates on the dev install first to monitor and test for any issues before making the changes live on your actual website.

Cheers,

Jacob