Useful Tool – Atomic Clock Sync

What time is it?  Not “approximately” but down to the nano-second.  Check out the Atomic Clock Sync utility from WorldTimeServer.com.  Now in Version 3.0, Atomic Clock Sync automatically synchronizes your computer’s clock to National Institute of Standards and Technology.

I also use a utility called “L-Clock” which puts a configurable clock on my System Tray.  Now I will always know what time it is, despite my wife’s insistence that time has no meaning for me!

There are, of course, many reasons to have an accurate clock.  If you use an online backup program, for example, you will want to schedule your backups for 3AM when you are most likely not online.  An accurate system clock insures that your scheduling does not cause a utility to run when you need full processing power.

Atomic Clock Sync can be run manually, or set for automatic updates.  Highly recommended.

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Useful Tool – FriendFeed

If you use the Internet for business, you have no doubt come across numerous social networking sites.  There are a mind numbing number of these sites, all of which help you share what you are doing with the world, and to establish relationships with others who share common interests.   Examples of these social networking sites include:

  • Twitter
  • Facebook
  • LinkedIn
  • YouTube
  • StumbleUpon
  • del.icio.us
  • digg
  • flickr
  • yelp
  • Mixx
  • Reddit

These social networking sites can be useful if you want to learn what industry leaders are doing and thinking.  I frequently learn about new tools, websites and tactics from some of the people I follow.

The problem, of course, is time.  How do you follow a couple dozen thought leaders on multiple networking sites?  One elegant solution is called FriendFeed.  FriendFeed is basically a social networking site aggregator.  Once you sign up as a user, you enter all of your social networking feeds into a simple form, then save.  Next, you allow FriendFeed access to your email account to search for other FriendFeed users.

You can then “subscribe” to other FriendFeed users and other users can “subscribe” to you.  Every day thereafter, FriendFeed will send you an email digest of posts and activity by those in your subscription list.  This email digest is a fast and convenient way to keep up with any social networking activity by those on your list, all in one place.

Obviously the big drawback is that you can only subscribe to your target if that person has a FriendFeed account.  Still, for those who do participate in this service, it is a breeze to quickly track what they are up to.

If you are interested and want to subscribe to me, the link is http://friendfeed.com/jginsberg.

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Useful Tool – Gmail

Gmail is certainly not an unknown product, but I am including it in my “useful tools” directory because it is such a good product.   For those who do not know, Gmail is Google’s free email service.   Now, there are plenty of email services out there – what makes Gmail so much better than other services?

First and foremost, it is web based.   This means that your Gmail account is not tied to your home or office computer.  You can access it from any computer or computing device that is attached to the web, and this includes web enabled wireless phones.  If you don’t currently use more than 1 computer, you will and it simply makes no sense to tie yourself to a particular machine.  My wife is dealing with this problem right now.  Her email goes to an account that is processed by Outlook on her office machine.   At the same time, she uses a Verizon “wireless synch” service to send those emails to her wireless phone/pocket PC device.   Although the Verizon service is reliable, it does get out of synch periodically necessitating either a phone call to customer service or my time in reconnecting the synch.  Additionally, her email responses from the phone/wireless device do not end up in her “sent” directory on the Outlook program on her office computer unless she sends herself a copy.

By contrast, I use Gmail for my office email.  I can check it at home, at the office on or my Blackberry.  Gmail can be open on 5 computers at the same time and it always stays in synch.  It automatically saves work in progress as a draft, so if I start an email at work, but then have to run home, my work in progress shows up as a draft when I open Gmail at home.  I also added the Gmail application to my Blackberry so I can receive and respond to emails in real time.

Gmail also has a robust search feature, it allows you to label emails based on the sender or the topic and Google gives you enough space to save everything – I am going on 2 years and I have plenty of space.  I have several Gmail accounts for different businesses so as a practical matter, space is not an issue.

Google also updates Gmail regularly and new features are frequently coming on line.  There are also a number of third party applications that add to Gmail’s functionality including applications that allow for multiple signatures, applications that allow you to upload files to Gmail and use it as an external hard drive, backup utilities, etc.

I suppose that Gmail would not be a good choice if you still use dial-up or have only periodic access to the Internet.  There is also the risk that Google will someday start charging for Gmail or that it may snoop into your email messages, but I think we should all assume that any email is not “secured” no matter who the provicer.  All in all, Gmail functions as a simple, elegant and powerful email application that will enhance your productivity.

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Useful Tool – Foxmarks

In my view, one of the nicest things about the Internet relates to the multitude of “free” tools and resources out there.   This free stuff may not last forever (if you are old enough to remember the original Napster – and its promise of “free” music, you know what I mean).  In the meantime, I will periodically post reviews about some of the free stuff that I actually use.

The first tool I want to discuss in this series is called Foxmarks, which you can find at Foxmarks.com.  Foxmarks is an add-on to the popular (and free) web browser Firefox.  It syncs and backs up your bookmarks and passwords across multiple computer.  Here’s how it works for me:

I work on three computers regularly – my office desktop computer, a laptop that I take with me everwhere, and a home machine that I use primarily for video editing.  Before Foxmarks, I had three different lists of bookmarks (favorites).  If I saved a site to Favorites at home, that site would obviously not appear on my Favorites list at work unless I wrote myself a note or sent myself an email.

Foxmarks works by creating a web based “master bookmarked favorites” list.  If you install the Foxmark add on to each computer and then log in to your web based account, Foxmarks sychs all of your bookmarks and each machine has an identical “Bookmarks” list of favorite sites.

You can also log in to your master list from any computer to access it, thereby making your bookmarks portable.  A new feature adds password portability to the service but I have not yet activated that.

The add-on also reminds you to synch your local machine to the web based master list if you add a site to the local Favorites list of any computer that you happen to be on at that time.  All in all, Foxmarks functions as an essential tool in a world where more and more people own or work on multiple computers.

Foxmarks gets my highest recommendation as an essential tool.  Here is a link to the Foxmarks blog if you want to learn more about the service and about forthcoming features or if you want to post a question.

I have no idea how Foxmarks makes money, although I do note that its founder is Mitch Kapoor, who gave us Lotus 1-2-3 back in the early days of the PC.  Presumably Mitch doesn’t need any angel investors.

One clue to what Foxmarks may have in mind can be found in its about us page:

We are hard at work analyzing over 300 million bookmarks managed by our systems to help users discover sites that are useful to them. By combining algorithmic search with community knowledge-sharing and the wisdom of crowds, our goal is to connect users with relevant content.

Sounds like a social networking application may be on the drawing board.  Whatever they do I’ll certainly check it out as these folks have saved me hours with a must-have application.

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Avoid Unsolicited “Reciprocal Link Exchange” Requests from Link Builder Vendors

If you have a web site, there is a good chance that you will receive unsolicited emails from “link managers” working on behalf of other web sites looking to exchange links with you.  Often the link manager will be from India or Pakistan and his/her English will be overly formal or contain spelling or grammatical errors.

Frequently, the email solicitation will state that your link has already been posted on the other web site, with a link that looks something like www.abcwebsite.com/links_2.html.  If you should happen to visit that page, your link will be there along with a few dozen other links that may or may not be in your business category.

My advice is to ignore these requests for link exchanges.

Years ago, the major search engines gave some credit to links on “link directory” pages on a web site.  Back in 2000 or 2001, a “reciprocal link exchange” might have some value to both parties.  Unfortunately, those days are over.  Search engines generally do not give any authority credit to a link that exists in a link directory – at least that has been my experience.

Link directories that exist solely to pass “page rank” or site authority defeat the purpose of a good search result – to indentify authority sites that provide topical and relevant information.  This bias against link bartering is why some search engines are punishing links sold by link brokers.  Take a look at an article by bodybuilder Mark McManus entitled “Google Slashes MuscleHack’s PageRank.”   Mark earned $18.95 by selling space on his blog to a text link ad company, only to see his ranking in Google plummet.   Mark happens to have a legitimate blog that contains fresh, original content that is frequently updated, yet he got slapped.  Take heed.

If you are going to “exchange” links with another web site, ask the other site’s editor if he/she add an article that you have written to his/her web site.  The article you write should be topical and relevant and it should contain a relevant link text phrase back to one or more pages on your site.  You would never want to use “link here” as your link text.

At this point it does appear that the major search engines are still giving authority credit to “blogroll links” on blogs.  In theory blogroll links don’t differ much from link directory pages on web sites, but obviously Google and Yahoo must see some reason to still consider blogroll links.  Don’t be surprised if this linking tactics disappears at some point.

I’ll post about some of the link building tactics that I use in a future post.  For now, however, don’t waste your time or your site’s credibility exchanging links with link builders who are using 10 year old tactics and putting links on link directory pages.

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Adverbs Often Mask Poor Writing

As a licensed attorney in the State of Georgia, I am required to attend continuing legal education classes yearly.  Several years ago, I attended a seminar taught by Steven Stark, a writer and consultant who taught a CLE seminar about how lawyers could improve their written communication skills.  Although I chose this seminar because I needed some credits for that year and it was already December, Mr. Stark’s seminar turned out to be one of the most useful and practical programs I have ever attended.

I was reminded of Steven Stark by an article in the October, 2008 issue of the Georgia Bar Journal.  Entitled “The Road to Heaven is Paved with Good Verbs,” authors Karen Sneddon and David Hricik echo many of Mr. Stark’s suggestions when it comes to using adverbs and adjectives.

Specifically, Ms. Sneddon and Mr. Hricik, as well as Mr. Stark, argue that adverbs should be used sparingly, and that strong verbs will produce significantly more impact.  Ms. Sneddon and Mr. Hricik note that less effective writers use adverbs as intensifiers – words like “really,” “clearly,” and “very,” and they give examples:

Less effective: “The police officers ran really fast across the lawn.”

More effective: “The police officers dashed across the lawn.”

Mr. Stark takes the same position with regard to adjectives.  He argues that strong noun and verb combination create a much more vivid mental picture in the reader’s mind.   Mr. Stark also advises writers to avoid using weak verbs like “is,” and “was.”

I think that if you sensitize yourself to how much adverbs and adjectives are overused, you will discover that sentences with strong nouns and verbs make for much more enjoyable reading.

As a marketing consultant I find myself writing a lot – blog posts, web pages, articles for republication, autoresponder series, and sales letters – and I make a conscious effort to think about my choice of verbs and nouns and to limit my use of qualifiers and intensifiers.  You will likely find discover that your writing will improve when you keep these suggestions in mind when for your writing projects.

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Another Reason to Add Multi-Media to Your Web Site or Blog: Google Adds Audio Indexing

For several years, I have advised clients and colleagues to add audio and video to their web sites and blogs.  From a user’s standpoint, audio and video personalize the experience and help establish a relationship between you, the publisher, and your visitor.

I also suspect that audio-visual content will serve to establish your site as an authority site for search engine purposes.  While I obviously am not privy to Google’s search algorithm, I do find that on my own sites, the ones with audio or video tend to climb the search engines faster and go higher than the sites that are purely text.

Now, Google has begun implementation of something called “audio indexing.”   According to Google Labs:

Google Audio Indexing is a new technology from Google that allows users to better search and watch videos from various YouTube channels. It uses speech technology to find spoken words inside videos and lets the user jump to the right portion of the video where these words are spoken.

Right now, Google is only using audio indexing on political videos and election related videos.  But I suspect that within the next few months, Google and the other search engines will add audio indexing features to all video and audio content.

If you would like more information about adding audio or video to your web site, please feel free to contact me.

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How Much Will it Cost to Optimize my Website?

It is no surprise that the question of cost often comes up early in my discussions with potential clients of my search engine optimization consulting practice.  This is perfectly understandable – there is something of a “wild west” element to the search engine optimization business, and there are no real standards about what it should cost.

This past week alone, I discussed SEO with two friends – one is a lawyer who lives in my neighborhood and the other is the promoter of a non-profit charitable organization.  Both could benefit from improved search engine positioning and both asked me early in the conversation “what is this going to cost me?”

Asking an SEO consultant how much his services cost is like asking a travel agent how much a business trip will cost.  The travel agent will respond “where do you want to go and what is the purpose and length of your trip?” which is exactly what I would ask.   Generally search engine optimization involves modifying or creating web site pages so that they will appear in the top five to ten search results for one or more desired search phrases.  Search engine optimization is not a “thing” – instead it is a process that includes among other things:

  • site topic market evaluation
  • search phrase (key word) research
  • site structure outline creation
  • content creation and planned release of new content
  • existing content modification
  • on-page optimization (adding title tags, header tags, page description tags, etc.)
  • Yahoo search monkey codes (new technology)
  • quality link building
  • site conversion analysis
  • adding analytic software and setting up conversion funnels and tracking reports
  • sitemap creation and submission
  • content rewriting services for article marketing and press release marketing
  • blog development
  • creation of audio and/or video segments for web site

A web site in a minimally competitive niche may only require a few of these techniques and a minimal investment of time.  A more competitive niche may require many months to fully implement the SEO strategy.

The cost will also be a function of who generates new content.  If you can provide the content and/or the underlying research material, your cost will be less than if I have to write or outsource the content creation.

Generally the optimization process will take a minimum of three to six months to produce noticeable effects, although this could be longer in more competitive niches or for more competitive search phrases.   Once the initial optimization is done, most clients will benefit from a maintenance program that keeps your web site in the top 10 or higher for specific search phrases, and that expands your exposure for additional search phrases.

Examples of SEO projects in which I have been involved:

  • local law firm looking to increase search engine visibility in one small geographic market for less than 10 search phrases – I have worked with this lawyer for close to 18 months, added video to his site, created a blog and provided new content for the blog ongoing – the initial cost was $1,500, the video components were $750 and the blog maintenance works out to $50 per month
  • local medical practice with three web sites looking to increase patient numbers – I have generated multiple pages of new content and worked to incorporate existing video into the various web sites.  This project started 6 months ago and the cost to this client so far has been $2,500.
  • national home remodeling contractor looking to expand into a new (large) city.  I was retained to set up a pay per click campaign and to create topics for new content – my fee for this project totaled $750
  • regional law firm with multiple offices retained me to create new web sites for their new markets and blogs for their new markets.  My job also involves writing the content, rewriting the content on existing sites, adding analytics, and many of the other elements identified above.  I personally visited this client’s new office in another city and recorded multiple video clips.  This client now has #1 position on the major search engines in five large cities and we are generating dozens of potential clients weekly.  This client pays me a signficant monthly retainer for on-going services
  • local jewelry store with two web sites looking to improve search engine positioning for less than 10 search phrases – I took over the SEO from another vendor who was using “black hat” techniques.  The annual cost to this client will be around $2,000.

The starting point for any SEO project is for you to take a few minutes and brainstorm about what you want your site to do for your business, and what you expect from your site as a marketing tool – in three months, in six months, in a year, in 2 years.

When I practiced law on a daily basis, I learned early on that you can’t possibly convince a judge or jury about the merits of your case if you don’t have a working theory of your case and a defined goal for that case.  You need similiar goals for your web site.  I can certainly help you firm up your vision of where you want to go, while my main task is to identify the techniques that will help you fulfil your strategy in the least amount of time with the lowest possible cost.

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How Long Should Your On-Line Video Last?

Over the past year or so, I have been recommending that my clients add video to their web sites and blogs.  Thanks to sites like YouTube and other free video storage sites, consumers have become comfortable viewing videos on web sites and in some cases, potential clients expect video on web sites and blogs.

I work with lawyers and other professionals and very few of these service providers use audio or video.  Thus, for the time being at least, you can really stand out by adding video to your site.

My colleague Jay Douglas has been creating professional videos for clients for over ten years and he tells me that a web site video should not last more than 3 or 4 minutes.   Time Magazine columnist Bill Tancer notes that the average YouTube session lasts no more than 20 minutes.

When I videotape and produce videos for law firm clients, I generally limit the segments to one to three minutes.  If I have an hour’s worth of information to convey, , I’ll create 5 to 7 minute segments and stack them on the web page.  I have seen knowledgeable web developers post 90 minute videos – this makes no sense to me at all.

Columnist Tancer contends that web information consumers are not willing to spend a great deal of time viewing video on a computer or laptop screen.  This does make sense, given that most people consumer video on television, where content (the shows) are broken up by commercial breaks every 7 to 8 minutes and the quality of the video feed can be high definition beamed to a 55″ monitor.

So, the bottom line for me: put video on your web site, but keep the segments as short as possible in easily digested chunks.

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Don’t Throw Money at Your Online Marketing Program

Earlier this week, I ran into an attorney friend of mine who owns a thriving personal injury practice in the Atlanta area.  He told me that he was in negotiation with a “pay per click” (PPC) management firm and that he planned on testing PPC to attract personal injury cases.   He would be testing this tool to the tune of $3,000 per month for a minimum of three months.  What did I think of this?

I responded by asking him if he had tested his web site for conversion.  It turns out that his web site is not yet live – it is in production and will be produced by a friend at no cost.   I just took a look and, yes, the domain is registered, and the “in production” version of the site is there.  The designer is using a template downloaded from Free Website Templates, and the site looks to be about 10% complete.

Now let me stop right here and say that I have nothing against a free website template.   In my view money spent on expensive design is often money wasted as one can have a very effective web site with a free template that displays good content.

My point here is simply that before my friend even thinks of signing on for $3,000 per month of pay per click traffic, he needs to have a live web site up and running and he needs to test that site to verify that live visitors are responding appropriately.  If live visitors don’t like your site, and if they don’t follow the path that you have set out for them, you are wasting your money with paid advertising.

I explained to my friend my concerns about marketing for personal injury online and that in my view his target ought to be the “researcher” type who will spend hours online looking for a vendor who will provide extensive information.

I also suggested to my friend that he should capture names and email and add a sequential autoresponder to his site to communicate with past, present and future clients.

Now, my friend is a very smart and successful lawyer.  But this episode shows that even smart, savvy, trained minds can fall prey to the hype of a good salesman and the excitement of wanting to tap into the Internet gold rush.  My friend needs to either educate himself about how the Internet might work for his practice or he needs to associate a consultant like me to advise him.  Otherwise the $9,000 he plans on spending will do him no good at all.

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