Monthly Archives: May 2010

Drive-by traffic (the blog post SEO guys don’t want you to read)

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In real estate, location is everything, right? Put your business on the right street and you could make a killing. Put it in a dumpy neighborhood and you could be closed in six months.

The Internet’s not all that much different.

I’ve been in the Internet business a long time. Longer than Facebook. Longer even than Google or YouTube. I make a decent living helping clients use the Internet to promote themselves, better serve their customers and keep their own doors open. It’s a vocation I enjoy. One thing I’ve learned? The whole Internet is a dumpy neighborhood.

That’s right. I said it. The whole Internet is that dumpy neighborhood. It’s filled with perverts, lurkers, sleaze balls, snake-oil salesmen and worse. And more than that? There are way more people there who don’t want your product than there are who do — hundreds and hundreds of millions of people who want absolutely nothing to do with whatever you’re selling.

People love the idea of doing business on the Internet, because opening a storefront there seems like opening a storefront on the busiest street in the city. But it isn’t. It’s more like opening a storefront on the Autobahn, where the vast majority of the traffic is flying by, and nobody stops unless their car breaks down or they need to take an emergency bathroom break.

If we continue to torture this metaphor, I’m sure our search engine optimization friends will say that’s exactly what SEO is for…it’s like a road map, telling drivers exactly where to go to find what they’re looking for. And perhaps they’re right.

But as I tell my clients, think about your own shopping habits. When you go shopping, do you bring a map, drive around town and hope you find what you’re looking for? Or do you head to the mall and know exactly what stores you like? Do you pop into every store on Main Street, or do you read through the Sunday circulars and know where the sales are?

I’ve been harsh on SEO in the past, primarily because in my experience the vast majority of SEO “experts” know just enough to be dangerous. And with that nugget of knowledge, they’re willing to charge a fortune — all based on promises they can’t deliver on. And while I believe websites should be search-engine friendly, I can’t stand idly by and allow good people to be taken in by the idea that generating sales online is as simple as spending money on SEO. I can promise, without hesitation, that it does not work that way.

Very few people shop blindly. They aren’t typing in some random phrase  and then buying the product from the first website they see. In fact, the vast majority of traffic — and therefore the vast majority of sales — on any website should be “direct request” — meaning someone actually typed in your name and visited on purpose.

I’ve had plenty of lively discussions on this site about the importance of drive-by traffic — the folks who google some term and stumble across a particular website. My argument is now and will forever be that this “drive-by” traffic is just that — it’s folks who were just driving by on that busy freeway. Perhaps they craned their necks as they passed, but they aren’t going to buy from you. They may even be on the wrong street.

Some of my SEO friends will tell you to take advantage of this traffic — to optimize your site so drive-by traffic becomes a profitable. But doing so is pandering to the lowest common denominator, and it isn’t serving your actual customers.

As I’ve said a thousand times: Advertise. It’s the only way to become a destination. No matter what you’re selling, make sure you’re an expert on that product. Make sure nobody knows it better than you do. Provide value and an amazing customer experience. Get people excited about supporting you. Create an ad campaign that targets your market and actively reach out to help people who could use products you’re selling.

SEO can get your address on the map, but advertising is the big billboard above the building, shouting “_____ on sale today!”

Before you spend money on anything, think about your own habits. If you aren’t excited about the way you’re marketing your business, chances are nobody else will be either. Be dynamic, incredible, and worthy of your customers. Don’t just rely on putting your business on the busiest street.

Why you should delete your Facebook account (and why I wish I could delete mine)

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It may be piling on, but I can’t be quiet about Facebook anymore. I don’t want to be there and if I could, I’d have been gone ages ago. But if you can get out, I suggest you do so now…before it’s too late.

Let’s break it down:

Back in the beginning, Facebook seemed so…friendly. It was an exclusive club, open only to students. And it felt so much cleaner than the MySpace cesspool. Everyone was eager to join Facebook, and as soon as Zuckerberg opened the doors, millions streamed in. Now Facebook is the biggest, baddest social network on the block…a nation of 350 million unto itself. Problem is, this isn’t just a social network of your friends, and you aren’t just sharing your photos, antics, likes and dislikes and your bathroom habits with your buddies. You’re sharing them with Facebook itself. And Facebook isn’t laughing with you or consoling you; it’s making money off of you.

We knew that, didn’t we? I mean, Facebook is a business. But it really hasn’t been apparent to most of us just how Facebook was going to make money outside apps and ads. In plain English: Zuckerberg is selling access to your “private” information to other companies. There’s no “stupid” or “blind” ad network serving up ads. Facebook is a recon mission; you are the target. It’s a brilliantly executed social engineering plan, wherein Facebook earns your trust, gets you to tell all your dirty secrets, and then sells you out. So…basically the Linda Tripp of social media platforms.

That should scare the crap out of you. Especially given Zuckerberg’s track record with private information.

On Mark Zuckerberg’s Facebook profile, he lists his personal interests as “openness, making things that help people connect and share what’s important to them, revolutions, information flow, minimalism.” That all sounds pretty good, right? But how open is Zuckerberg? Let’s just say his profile updates are generally about his company, and he has a total of 40 pictures uploaded on his account. He wants you to share things that he won’t. That says a lot to me.

I count myself lucky that I’ve never been a fan of oversharing. My own Facebook account has precious little on it…a couple of pictures, a few updates, a sparse bio…and that’s how I wanted it from the beginning. I can’t trust a service that wants too much access to my life and, frankly, neither to the hundreds of “friends” one can accumulate on Facebook in a short period of time. But it only takes five minutes browsing lamebook.com to realize there are a bajillion Facebook users who have no problem posting anything and everything they can think of. And as the entire web becomes a Facebook application, even more of your information is going to be stored in the Facebook brain.

Drop the Kool-Aid and run.

Facebook is like the Hotel California: You can check out any time you like, but you can never leave. That’s because the second you upload or post anything, Facebook owns it. And now Facebook’s Open Graph API means Facebook even owns your online habits. I’ve been stunned over the past few weeks to hear folks talk about leaving Facebook, deleting all their embarrassing pictures and disabling their accounts. But disabling and deleting are not the same thing. If you’ve disabled your account, you can still be tagged in photos and notes, you still get update e-mails and if you log back in at any time, it’s like you never left. If you want to delete your account, instructions are here.

How Adobe should have responded to Apple

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Adobe has finally come out with its official response to Apple CEO Steve Jobs’ now-famous Thoughts on Flash blog post. In reading it, one gets the sense the Adobe is very angry, but fears defending itself. Instead of the milquetoast response, Adobe should have gone point by point to counterattack Jobs’ claims.

Since Adobe won’t, I will.

1. First, there’s “Open”. Jobs says Flash is 100 percent proprietary, and therefore doesn’t fit into Apple’s version of what the Internet should be. And though Jobs admits Apple has proprietary products, he doesn’t admit that the vast majority of Apple’s products are proprietary — so proprietary, in fact, that Apple’s license agreements don’t allow users to run Apple’s operating system on anything but an Apple computer. And Apple has updated iTunes several times to keep users from synching the Palm Pre to iTunes. Jobs cannot argue that he is now or ever has been a proponent of “open.”

2. Second, there’s the “full web”. In answer to the claim that iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch users don’t get the full web, Jobs responds by ignoring the point. He says there are plenty of places to get video from, and that although Flash games aren’t playable on his devices, there are plenty of games available in Apple’s App Store. Perhaps. But he ignores the large volume of rich content residing on the web that was built in Flash. Not just videos and games, but whole websites, advertisements, photo galleries and more. On the iPod Touch, iPhone and iPad, you’re barred from that content — not because it isn’t possible, but because Steve Jobs has decided it isn’t necessary.

3. Third, there’s reliability, security and performance. Jobs says Flash is full of security holes and bugs, and therefore not trustworthy. Know what else is full of security holes? Mac OSX. As was recently widely reported, Macs are more susceptible to viruses than PCs. Fortunately for Apple, market share is still so low that malware developers just don’t bother writing malicious software targeting Macs. Jobs says Flash is the number one reason Macs crash. That surprised me, particularly because I’ve heard that Macs never crash. But if we take Steve on his word, wouldn’t that make Apple partly responsible? Wouldn’t the team at Apple want to figure a way to work with the plugin and create a more stable OS?

4. Fourth, there’s battery life. Jobs says using Flash will drain batteries. Again, Jobs defaults to the video argument. Frankly, I don’t disagree that video is better served in h.264, and if that means longer battery life, all that better. But Apple could better serve its customers by allowing customers to control their own experience. If it means battery drain, so be it. The user learns something. But the bigger point — getting the full web — wouldn’t be a substantial draw on battery life. Video here is the straw man set up to redirect attention from the essential parts of the web that are missing.

5. Fifth, there’s Touch. Jobs says much of the content developed in Flash does not interact well with touch devices. For that, he blames Flash. But I believe the opposite is true. Flash was around long before the iPhone. The fact that Apple hasn’t figured out how to handle simple things like rollovers is not Adobe’s fault. In fact, it shows a huge lack of understanding about how people use the web. It isn’t the Internet’s responsibility to live up to Jobs’ vision; it’s Apple’s responsibility to deliver the content people are looking for — whether Jobs like it or not.

6. Sixth, the most important reason. Jobs says Apple won’t let iPhone and iPad developers build apps in Flash because it will lead to clunky, slow, bloated and substandard apps. And, according to Steve, it’s important to protect the user experience. In response, I’ll say that I own an iPod Touch. I use it daily. I’ve downloaded plenty of crappy apps that crash and freeze, games that nag you to buy the full version or just don’t work at all. And if Jobs wants to talk about bloated, slow, substandard apps, he needs look no further than the PC version of iTunes. Without a doubt, it is the absolute worst, clunkiest, slowest piece of software I have ever run. Ever. Even last night, it halted the download of my daily podcasts and would not resume the downloads. I couldn’t even close iTunes without using my Task Manager. The point is that Jobs is only concerned with user experience when it suits him…and it suits him in this case because his team can’t figure out how to get the iPhone to run Flash.

Bottom line: Adobe was essential to Apple’s rise from near death a decade ago. Products like Flash, Photoshop and Illustrator were (and are) considered standards for the creative class that kept Apple afloat. Apple owes it to Adobe to be more open, more cooperative, more forgiving, than perhaps it would be with any other company.

If I were running Adobe, my response would have been more simple, more direct, and have greater impact: I would announce that Adobe is no longer developing Mac OS versions of its products, because Mac OS is not open, Apple does not support the “full web” on its products, Macs are too vulnerable to security breaches, Apple’s mobile devices do not offer sufficient battery life, Apple product developers don’t understand the way users interact with the Internet, and Apple doesn’t care about user experience.

I’m sure the Windows crowd would accept that in a heartbeat.

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