Back in the Saddle Again

After a week out of the office, I am back at the computer again. Please hold your applause…

Isle Royale Recap

My backpacking trip was amazing. Isle Royale is unimaginably beautiful, pristine and refreshing place. I logged 32 miles of backpacking and hope to go back soon for more. Living outside of wireless and cell phone range for a week is a transformational experience. Try it. It’s difficult at first but gets easier every day.

I’ve posted the pictures on Facebook. It’s a public album so you can see them even if you aren’t a member or logged in. Here are a few of my favorites (click to enlarge):

Isle Royale LandingA Scenic MeadowIsle Royale Pike

New Site Design

The newest iteration of YourSearchAdvisor.com is nearly complete. The design is finished and I am working on writing the new copy. I hope to have it up on Wednesday. I’ll write more about the re-design process and all of the SEO enhancements I’ve made. My site has always had a case of the “cobbler’s children” syndrome, so this time I am practicing what I preach.

Email Newsletter Shipping Soon

As soon as the new site launches, I will send out the second issue of my monthly client newsletter. If you haven’t already, you can sign up to receive it here: Sign up for our Email Newsletter

Backpacking on Isle Royale

Just a quick FYI, I will be out of the office Friday July 3 until Monday July 13. Thankfully this is the last trip scheduled until the fall (following trips to Atlanta, Richmond, Sea Island, Hawaii, Rochester, NY and Boulder, CO).

As if you weren’t jealous enough, the upcoming trip starts with two nights of camping in Traverse City, MI where we will visit the National Cherry Festival, among other things. From there, my wife and I are headed to the Upper Peninsula (the “UP”) for a week. She is going to be working at the Baycliff Camp as part of her residency program and I am going backpacking on Isle Royale for 4 days.


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My email access will be very limited all week and nonexistent when I’m on the island. See you when I get back…if the wolves don’t get me first!

When It’s Okay to Cheat

I have a confession to make. I’ve been unfaithful. Before you call my wife (and her attorney), I’m not talking about my marital status…which is great, by the way.

Google and I have had a long-term relationship that has rarely been challenged. I’ve used it for nearly everything: web searches, email, calendars, blogging, photo sharing, advertising, website enhancements, research, and about a million other tasks critical to my personal and professional lives (I try to keep them separate and balanced).

But lately I’ve been visiting another site for my basic web search needs. Okay, a few other sites. And you know what? I like it! I recently changed my browser’s default search engine from Google to Yahoo!, simply to get another perspective on “relevance.” Who knows? I might try Ask or MSN Live Live Search next week.

browsersearch

You see, I’ve had Google set as the default in Firefox’s search bar for as long as I can remember. Years. Possibly nearly a decade. It’s been so easy just to query the world’s “database of intentions” without having to type in yet another URL.

It’s Okay to Cheat

Switching search engines periodically will expose you to new search tools, new definitions of relevance, and different types of search results.

Pay attentions and you might discover some actionable intelligence about your competitors’ search marketing strategies.

Try it, you might like it. Just don’t tell Google.

25 Things I Learned at UR

I recently discovered that The Collegian, the University of Richmond‘s student-run newspaper, is online and published in a very cool WordPress theme. So, naturally, I subscribed to the RSS feed and love reminscing about the “good ole’ days”.

A recent post caught my eye called “25 Things I Learned at UR“. Although similar to the “My 25 Things” Facebook meme that I dislike, I clicked over and settled in for a quick jaunt down memory lane.

I started off nodding and smiling at the first few items, such as:

1. Walking around campus and asking every acquaintance about their general well being. This instinctual habit throws off my friends from home, who don’t quite know how to respond: “Er…I’m okay, I guess. Thanks for asking.”

and…

7. Looking forward to the beginning of every semester to check out the new batch of exchange students.

After that it started going downhill.

8. Every moment is a Facebook moment.

Facebook wasn’t around when I was in school, and I didn’t graduate that long ago (Class of ’03). Okay, starting to feel a little old.

12. Learning fratty lingo: bro out, freshman skeeza, care, etc.

Hmmm…not sure but I can probably guess.

I could go on, but I don’t want to give away too many sordid details about my college experience (my parents read this, and they still think they paid for a late night study sessions and weekend cultural activities).

After all, it was years ago and thankfully Facebook had not yet been invented to document every single detail of our transgressions. So I have that going for me, which is nice. Sorry college kids, your exploits are captured, documented, tagged, shared, and waiting to be dug up several years from now when you run for office or apply for a job.

My Facebook “25 Things About Me” Post

Rules:
Once you’ve been tagged, you are supposed to write a note with 25 random things, facts, habits, or goals about you. At the end, choose 25 people to be tagged. You have to tag the person who tagged you. If I tagged you, it’s because I want to know more about you.

(To do this, go to “notes” under tabs on your profile page, paste these instructions in the body of the note, type your 25 random things, tag 25 people (in the right hand corner of the app) then click publish.)

1. Made you look.

2. Don’t you have anything better to do?

3. What’s with the sudden fascination with intimate details of people’s lives?

4. Would you ever ask somebody about these details of their life if you were talking to them in person?

5. What about if they could track who was reading their “25 things” note?

6. Did you know I can track who reads my “25 things note”?

7. Did you know Facebook changed their Terms of Service recently and now they FOREVER OWN the rights to every bit of information, photos, “25 things”, and comment you ever make on here? http://consumerist.com/5150175/facebooks-new-terms-of-service-we-can-do-anything-we-want-with-your-content-forever

8. I consider most of you “friends” or “acquaintances”, but only a handful of you could write my “25 things about me” note for me. You know who you are, and you know exactly what would be in it.

9. I don’t dislike this trend, just think it’s a little voyeuristic and impersonal.

10. If you want to know more about a person, why don’t you call them more often or grab a coffee or a beer?

11. I vowed not to write my “25 things note” and I still don’t think this counts.

12. Some of you may take this personally. Don’t. Social media changes the way people communicate, but it doesn’t replace personal relationships developed over long periods of time and/or shared experiences.

13. – 24. I’ve got nothing else to go here, but if you want to catch up sometime over a coffee or beer, I’ll be happy to chat.

25. #6 is a lie. I can’t tell who reads this. But would it change things if I could?

Goats On The Roof Marketing

Differentiating a commodity is difficult, just ask anybody that sells gas, rice, or copper. These products are relatively undifferentiated and therefore can’t be sold at a premium. A supplier must bend to the will of the market and price their products properly or risk being undercut by another supplier selling the same product at a lower price. These price wars benefit the consumer but hurt the suppliers.

What if you are a supplier in an increasingly commoditized market such as Search Engine Optimization consulting? How do you differentiate your services from your competitors without straying too far from the “mainstream” SEO consulting business?

Unique Selling Propositions

Vast fortunes can be made based on a proprietor’s ability to develop and promote a Unique Selling Proposition (USP, also called a Unique Value Proposition or Unique Selling Point) for their product or service. A USP is critical because it conveys a unique benefit to the consumer.

Unique: radically distinctive and without equal

Benefit: something that aids or promotes well-being

If you sell pizza and can demonstrate that YOUR company delivers pizza faster than anybody else, you can persuade a lot of customers to buy from you simply based on the fact that they will get it sooner. Although your pizza may be exactly like your competitors’, your faster delivery time is the unique benefit.

Goats On The Roof

Want a practical example? Imagine you own and operate a small country store in small town in rural Georgia. Thousands of travelers drive through your town each week on their way to and from a nearby recreational lake and they have a half dozen country stores to choose from in your town alone. How do you differentiate your business and get more than a 1/6th share of the customers and revenue?

Simple, you put goats on your roof. Build them an intricate series of bridges, houses, and ways for visitors to feed them.

Goats On The Roof

Goats On The Roof

The Goats

The Goats

This is an actual country store in Tiger, GA named Goats On The Roof.

The Results

Drive through Tiger, GA (Google Map) on any given weekend and you will see that almost everybody stops at Goats On The Roof simply to feed the goats and marvel at the novelty of the idea. My hunch is that not many people would care to stop if it were simply Goats In A Field or even a Goats In A Petting Zoo. You can bet this attraction has resulted in significantly more business for the proprietors and a better shopping experience for the customers.

The Lessons for SEO Consultants

You may notice a lot of competition in your town or across the country for the consulting services you provide. This is validation that SEO works and that companies are deriving enough value from it to invest and recommend it as part of a larger marketing strategy to other businesses.

What are you doing to differentiate yourself from the other SEO consultants or firms in your town? Livestock might not be the answer in our industry, but perhaps you can position yourself as the “go-to” person for reputation management crises, local search marketing, or mobile search optimization.

Can you offer anything different? Faster turn-around times? Better and more useful reporting? On-site training and knowledge transfer for your clients’ marketing teams?

By developing and promoting your USP, you are able to differentiate yourself from seemingly similar businesses. This will lead to greater visibility and for your services, and most likely improve your client acquisition and retention efforts.

Harmful Google SERP FAIL?

[update] Of course this was a human error. Google Skynet isn’t supposed to gain sentience for a few more years yet.[/update]

Something’s not right here. Either Google was hacked (which I seriously doubt), every site on the interwebs is now malicious, or Google SERPs are a giant FAIL right now.

Google is Malicious?

Google is Malicious?

I have two working theories:

  1. Somebody googled “Google”, which set off a chain reaction that nobody anticipated like a snake swallowing its own tail, or
  2. Skynet!
This site may harm your computer

This site may harm your computer

Would You Rather Have an Educated Client or a n00b?

The ThinkerThis one seems pretty obvious, but it might be worth pondering for a minute or two.

Would you rather have an educated client or a complete newbie?

This isn’t just an SEO question. Any consultant, agency, or service provider is in business to help other people and/or companies accomplish their objectives. Sometimes the clients are knowledgeable about your area of expertise and just need a little outside support, and other times they are completely clueless about what you do and how you do it. They just know (or were told) they need it.

For me, an educated client is a bonus but not required. And in my line of work it’s rare. The more a client understands SEO, the better. Even if we disagree about something related to SEO strategy or tactical implementation, it’s easier to have a discussion about the pros and cons of each other’s approach if there is a common vocabulary and understanding of the main principles. Sometimes, though, a “know it all” client can be annoying and stuck in their ways.

Conversely, a client that has no preconceived notions can also challenge a consultant to break things down to the most basic elements and transfer that knowledge. In my experience this adds value to the client’s investment and gives the consultant an important chance to re-visit the fundamentals. Yes, it’s more time consuming and sometimes frustrating to offer remedial SEO tutorials, but it’s nice to see them start to “get it”. It builds trust.

So, would you rather have an educated client or a complete n00b?

BlackBerry Storm Review

BlackBerry StormI’ve had my BlackBerry Storm for 72 hours now and I think I’ve gotten familiar enough to write up my thoughts to share with some Twitter friends that wanted to know what I think of it, especially in comparison to an Apple iPhone.

First off, I’m not here to say whether or not the BlackBerry is better or worse than the iPhone. I don’t care about technical specs. Oh, and Apple fanboys, don’t bother. I work on a Mac all day long and love it. I just can’t justify the added expense and diminished cell coverage inherent in the iPhone to get a little extra emotional satisfaction from a device. My judgement criteria are purely selfish and apply to my personal situation and needs for a cellular device.

I was skeptical when I walked in to the Verizon store. But the 30-day return policy convinced me to try it, knowing I could always cancel and switch to AT&T to get an iPhone. Here, in descending order of importance, are the reasons I decided to keep my BlackBerry Storm and not trade it in for an iPhone at the end of my contract this coming May:

Service & Reliability

Advantage: Verizon. I have been 99% happy with Verizon since I got my first cell phone in 2003 after graduating college. I’m a consultant with two offices and no landline at either. So my cell phone is my one and only phone line. It just has to work. I can’t risk dropping calls with clients or not having sufficient service to send and receive emails at critical times. While I’ve never had AT&T service, my family does and several friends in Richmond do, most with iPhones. They complain about the lack of cell coverage in various parts of town and actually described dropping that many calls as “embarrassing”. This would be unacceptable.

Email / Calendar

Advantage: Tie. iPhone and BlackBerry have sufficient native email and calendar apps that sync with my Google Apps service very well. Again, these just have to work.

Mobile Internet

Advantage: iPhone This is an important feature for any internet marketer. I frequently have to search for something or look at a client site from a mobile browser while out of the office. The iPhone’s Safari browser is superior to the Storm’s, hands down. But, the Storm’s browser is surprisingly strong (much improved over previous BB’s) and performs all the basic functions I need, although without as much “sizzle”.

Cost

Advantage: Storm As any self-employed person can tell you, every incremental dollar spent comes straight out of your take-home pay. As a long-time Verizon subscriber, I got a $100 credit towards a new phone because my “New Every Two” discount kicked in. Add the $50 main in rebate and I got the Storm for about $100, compared to the $199 iPhone.

Keyboard/Typing/Input

Advantage: Tie Despite some negative press about the Storm’s clickable touch screen, I actually find that I can type more accurately and just as fast as I can on my wife’s iPod Touch (the keyboard of which gets some negative reviews as well). It takes a little practice, but I don’t see a compelling reason why either phone is superior. It just depends on your taste.

Apps

Advantage:iPhone The iPhone wins this hands-down, based purely on variety. But even iPhone users will agree that most of the available apps are crap and not worth it. I have found all the basic apps for a BlackBerry that will keep me connected and entertained while on the go, so I’m only really missing out on a few games and time wasters. Currently I have installed: Flickr, Facebook, Google Maps, Google Sync, YouTube, TwitterBerry, WeatherBug and there are plenty more out there that I haven’t installed yet. Plus, the BB AppCenter is going to keep expanding and will offer a lot more variety in the coming months/years.

What do you think? Did I miss anything?

Would You Rather #2: Work at Google or Cuil

It’s Friday afternoon and I’m getting ready for the weekend. Which of course means my mind is starting to wander and I start to think about the answers to very open-ended questions. This week’s question is:

Would you rather work at Google or Cuil?

The ThinkerOne is the undisputed industry leader with a market share that just won’t quit…rising. The other is the cagey start-up that has nowhere to go but up.

One has tens of millions of loyal users that have formed habitual search behaviors that are hard to break. The other has the opportunity to revolutionize search and change the status quo.

One has shareholders to please and SEC regulations to abide by. The other only answers to their venture capitalists and their entrepreneurial mindset that keeps saying, “It can be better.”

I am not asking which is a better search engine. I’m not asking which one has better products, more users, or a cooler favicon. I’m simply asking that if both companies offered you the same job at the same salary, which offer would you take?

Are you more comfortable in a relatively stable corporate environment or do you like the unique pressures and roller coaster ride of a start-up?