January 12, 2009

Explore the Web with Alternative Browsers

Web browsers are integral to everyday life for anyone who spends any time on the Internet. Whether you work for an online company, spend your days blogging and tweeting, buy everything from clothes to airline tickets online or connect to friends, music, and your community on the Internet, you do so within the confines of a browser. Most people use the same few browsers, and probably don't think much about what their particular browser choice offers (or doesn't offer) when compared to other browsers. Since the space in which you interact with online content does help shape your online experience though, I thought it'd be interesting to present alternatives to the most used browsers.

Almost everyone - 98.09% of web users - access the web using three basic browsers - Internet Explorer, Mozilla Firefox, and Safari according to research from Net Applications. The Net Applications graph below shows 2008 web browser market share in the 3rd quarter. It's interesting to note that the introduction of Google Chrome in September of this year actually altered the browser share landscape - when I looked at the data for the entirety of 2008, Chrome didn't appear. When I looked at the data for the third quarter however, Chrome made a slight difference in the browser shares.

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So what do the "Other" browsers offer that differentiates them from the Big Three?

Released as a beta product in September, Google Chrome is attracting attention with its simple design and open source code. Designed to support web applications that run within the browser and prevent the entire browser from crashing if one tab crashes, Google Chrome solves problems that other browsers have not yet fully addressed. Google Chrome also has helpful features - like the ability to open web applications via desktop shortcuts (instead of through the browser) - that offer users flexibility in how they access their favorite applications.

A multi-platform supported browser that works on Windows, MacOS, Linux, Solaris, QNX, OS/2, FreeBSD, and BeOS, Opera browsers are available for the desktop, on advanced mobile devices (such as Blackberries), and even on low-end phones. Opera offers advanced web browsing features that include advanced tab management, customizable web searches, a "Speed Dial" feature that allows you to access your favorite websites using visual bookmarks that appear when you open a new tab, an email client that indexes and sorts your messages for you.

Though not listed in Net Application's data, Flock is another browser that connects users with social networks and Web 2.0 features. Powered by the same technology that runs the Mozilla Firefox browser, Flock integrates photo, video and social networking services right into the browser. When using Flock, it's easy to create blog right from the interface, subscribe to and read RSS feeds in the window, and log-in to your favorite networks and communities automatically when opening the browser. Flock has also developed the Gloss Edition browser, which is the first browser designed specifically for people interested in fashion and entertainment.

As people reach the limits of interacting with the Internet and its content, companies are bound to jump in and offer new, different, more personalized and ever-increasingly niche ways of working online. What browser you choose (and which add-ons you install) can change how you view the web and how you view the world. If you've never experienced browser beyond Internet Explorer or Mozilla Firefox, consider checking out one of these alternatives. To learn about browsers not mentioned here, check out the Wikipedia article dedicated to the subject.

December 12, 2008

How B2B Marketers Can Monetize Social Media

If you've been trying to introduce social media and networking tools and create an online community centered around your company, products or services, there's a good chance that you've hit walls when it comes to explaining how exactly these new products can be monetized. While B2C has leveraged the power of social media and social networking with great success, B2B is still struggling to justify the investments required to develop, host, and manage social tools and communities on their websites.

In most companies, new product ideas are welcomed and products are developed when there is a clear path to ROI - if something isn't fiscally viable, it probably won't last long in many marketing departments. Since social media and networking is still relatively young, there isn't a vast repository of information that explains how social media usage can be measured, benchmarked, analyzed and monetized - especially in the realm of B2B.

This creates a catch-22 of sorts for many B2B marketers - all kinds of companies WANT to employ social media tactics in their marketing strategies, but no one has the cold, hard data proving that doing so will result in a positive ROI. Until someone takes the plunge (and reports on their findings) however, no one has the ammunition to prove the profitability of using social media as part of their marketing campaigns.

You can sense the impatience of some of the media industry's most influential players in this roundtable video produced by FOLIOMag. In this video, Creating Community media insiders discuss (and sometimes argue) why social media is so important, and how it can be monetized when partnered with existing lead generation efforts.




Some of the benefits of social media highlighted in the video include:

1. The ability to use social media to extend your content (by allowing users to create their own content, comment on existing content, and share your content via bookmarking/tagging tools), extend your reach (by breaking down your website's "walls" and connecting to users via widgits and sharing tools), and increase your site's stickiness (by giving users a reason to stick around and interact with your site's offerings).

2. The chance to give your customers what they want, all while gathering deeper information about your audience. This allows you to deliver content with greater relevance and selectively target users with the data they've openly provided.

3. The opportunity to grow your audience by attracting social-savvy users (and their friends), establishing deeper relationships with your users (by responding to their messages, comments and content), and moving away from the current "broadcast" method of communication (1-way communication from you to your users).

4. The competitive advantage of being able to deliver an increased level of depth, quantity, and quality with your leads based on the new kinds of information able to be gathered via the social tools.

5. The capability to reach new advertisers by offering social media as a product on its own merit, or as a part of an integrated marketing campaign.

If you're interested in learning more about how you can measure ROI and monetize social media as part of your overall marketing strategy, the resources below should help you get started.

Social Media ROI Resources
from Constructing Social

Online Community ROI: Models and Reporting - Research Study Posted
from Bill Johnston: Online Community Strategy

A Marketing Charts Study: Marketing Execs Must Realize and Learn to Use Power of Social Media

Frogloop's ROI Calculator: Is It Worth It? An ROI Calculator for Social Network Campaigns

The Online Marketing Blog post: Social Media Analysis and Tracking

November 18, 2008

Using Social Media to Shorten Sales Cycles

Social media and online communities have exploded over the past few years, but most B2B marketers still haven't figured out how social media can be implemented and monetized as part of their overall marketing strategies. With stable revenue sources already in place, insignificant budgets for developing and building new (and untested) marketing tools, and little data on the ROI of social media, B2B marketers are sticking with traditional online models (including lead generation and banner advertising) and resisting the inclusion of social media tools on their sites and in their campaigns. staircase.jpg

If your company is already running a website that, through email marketing, SEO tactics, and organic traffic, attracts return visitors regularly and requires users to register to view content, than adding social media and networking tools is a logical next step for growing your business. By providing loyal users with a website focused on serving their needs and hearing their opinions, you build stickiness into your site, encourage increased engagement with your content, and gain priceless insight into what your members are researching, testing out, engaging with, and most of all - thinking about purchasing.

B2B marketers already know that the buying process is lengthy, especially when big businesses are making the purchases, and everyone from the development group to the CFO is involved in making the final decision. This process means that B2B buyers seek out content, share their findings with colleagues, engage with various kinds of research materials, and consume educational materials until a consensus is achieved and a purchase is made.

If marketers already know that the B2B buying process lasts anywhere from 3 - 18 months (depending on the size/revenue of the buyer & the costs involved), and that successfully navigating this process requires offering a range of content and content delivery methods that appeal to potential buyers, than creating a venue where users return regularly, engage with your content, and express their needs (via created content, forums/commenting, reviews, and content consumption) is an ideal way to identify and target users with appropriate and timely messages that ideally help shorten the sales cycle.

By implementing social tools on your site, the quantity, quality, and type of user data that can be collected and analyzed changes, and you gain access to previously unavailable information that can guide you in targeting, customizing and delivering content delivered to users right as they realize that what you've delivered is exactly what they need. While you may need to develop new ways of tracking and reporting how users interact with your site, your efforts will pay off in the form of new types of data that can be used for marketing purposes, included as part of your lead scoring efforts, or offered to clients in an effort to increase your overall cost-per-lead.

In these challenging economic times, vendors are looking for as much information about their prospects as possible, so they can leverage the data and reach out to niche markets, segment their leads according to their stage in the buying cycle, and arm themselves with a better understanding of each of their leads. Allowing users to express themselves via social media tools, self-submit personal information related to their buying needs, and engage with content on their own terms allows leads to fulfill their own research and education needs, and provides sales with a more complete picture of their prospect. Armed with this kind of full-bodied data, you can potentially remove yourself from having to nurture leads through parts of the buying process, and shorten the sales cycle.

Opening up B2B sites to social media has the potential to be a win-win situation: users benefit when they content more deeply, and engage with your content, and sales benefits when they are handed sales-ready leads who have nurtured themselves through the buying process by actively engaging and interacting with your marketing materials. People want their voices heard - and by offering social media on your site, you show users that you really are listening and responding to their needs.

November 03, 2008

The Basics of Content Jacking

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There's a new criminal in town, and it's out to get your content! As the web expands, and content creators face increasing pressure to develop new, unique, interesting and accessible content for the masses, content theft increases too. Content jacking is the unauthorized, unattributed redistribution of content from its original website to another site, and content thieves will sometimes post articles without permission, or even scrape entire websites and steal all of the content contained therein. Either way, content thieves break copyright laws and can even damage a website's site rankings or reputation, depending on how they use the stolen goods.

In his blog Social Impressions, blogger Reem Abeidoh writes about his experience having his content jacked in Keep Your Sticky Fingers Off My Content! Having found out his content was being stolen after checking out his Google Analytics data, Abeidoh contacted a fellow blogger, who quickly initiated a campaign aimed at getting the offender (a site called inter alia) to remove the stolen post from his blog. Within a short period of time, Abeidoh's extended online community members had left 15 negative comments on the offender's blog, and stories were submitted to Mixx and Digg that pointed out the plagiarism and encouraged people to comment on inter alia's site about their cyber crime.

MIchael Stelzner, author of Writing White Papers, discusses Content Jacking in a post titled, Contentjacking: The New Cyber Crime. In his post, Stelzner mentions how an entire article of his was reposted on another blog. In the comments following his post, most bloggers agree whole-heartedly that content jacking is definitely a crime, although there was no true consensus in determining what should (or can) be done to stop the practice.

While some Content Jackers may unintentionally break the law in their theft (not everyone is familiar with the ins and outs of copyright law after all, and we might extend the benefit-of-the-doubt to some unknowing folks), the practice of Page Jacking is almost always done maliciously. Page Jacking, according to The ABC of SEO, is, "the wholesale rip-offs of multiple pages, (and) even whole sites." In their highly informative article titled, "Page Jacking," the good people who run The ABC of SEO define and really explain what it means, and what you can do, when your website is hijacked.

Apparently, some nefarious types will redirect websites, so that users land on their site instead of your site, and essentially steal your online presence, search engine ranking, and organically-generated traffic. To do this, the offending site can use a cloaking technique that serves to redirect your site traffic. According to the article, when this is done, you may not realize it unless you notice a drop off in your site traffic or in your search engine results.

Learn more about how you can stop content theft in The 6 Steps to Stop Content Theft from The Blog Herald, and in Thwarting Content Theft from SEO Chat. You can also find about more about stopping content theft in social media in the SEO 2.0 article titled, How to Spot Content Theft on Social Media and Elsewhere.

October 15, 2008

The Role of Social Media in B2B Marketing

For those of us who keep an eye on trends in social media, it seems as if EVERYONE is jumping on the social media bandwagon. From Barack Obama and John McCain's use of the technologies in their campaigns, to major IT companies like IBM and SAP's social efforts, one might easily get the impression that social media is everywhere.

world_background_v-.jpgSocial media isn't really everywhere - only 35% of B2B marketers participating in a Forrester Research teleconference currently use social media in their marketing efforts. With so few statistics available to those looking to learn more about social media's effectiveness, and no real way to test social media without investing time and money on pilot programs, B2B firms have little motivation to change how they do business and embrace potentially risky marketing methods.

In B2B Marketers Eye Social Media, Web 2.0 Tactics, , Forrester Research's Laura Ramos addresses the various difficulties faced by B2B marketers when considering whether or not they should incorporate social media tactics into traditional B2B marketing campaigns. Using data gathered from 300 B2B marketing professionals, Ramos outlines the 4 main components of social media that challenge B2B marketers and prevent them from embracing social media:

1. Social Media is still only emerging in the B2B marketing space.

2. B2B marketers don't know how to measure the success of social media.

3. Without an easy way to measure the impact of social media, B2B marketers are playing it safe and sticking with what they know.

4. B2B marketers don't understand how their customers are using social media, how their customers might want to use social media, or how to reach their customers and learn about their thoughts on social media.

Do you have these same issues in deciding whether to incorporate social media into your B2B marketing campaigns? Has your company embraced social media as an effective marketing tool? Have you determined how best to measure the impact of social media on your users, your ROI, your sales and conversions? Do you even know if your customers are already using social media in other areas of their lives, or if they would welcome the introduction of social media tools in their B2B decision making process?

It's certainly important to ask yourself these questions when thinking about how social media might fit into your marketing strategy. At the same time though, you may not be able to answer all of these questions until you take the leap and present your users with social media in your marketing efforts. When people are given the chance to participate in that which interests them, they seem to respond by getting involved.

Consider starting small - here are a few ways to get started with social media without completely overhauling your entire marketing strategy:

1. Add tagging or bookmarking capabilities to your website so users can tag, save and share your content.

2. Start a company blog and encourage user participation through comments.

3. Allows users to access your marketing content (new whitepapers, enewsletters) vis RSS feeds.

4. Create a presence on social networking sites and invite your users to add you to their networks.

5. Incorporate multimedia content (such as videos and podcasts) into your marketing efforts.

If you want to learn more about how companies are implementing social media into their marketing campaigns check out this Social Computing Magazine article, 130 Social Media Marketing Examples from Major Brands. You can also find useful information on social media marketing in SEOmoz's article Social Media Marketing Tactics, or in Marketing Pilgrim's Social Media Marketing Beginner's Guide.

October 02, 2008

Search and Google Aren't Synonymous

search.jpgThere has been quite a bit of disappointment over Google, Yahoo and Microsoft searches, and their agreement in censoring search results as part of China's Golden Shield Project. According to Wikipedia the Golden Shield Policy is the censorship and surveillance project operated by the Ministry of Public Security (MPS) of the People's Republic of China. Because of this policy, some people have ceased their use of Google, Yahoo and Microsoft searches, and are looking for alternative search engines to fill the void.

In complying with the Chinese government's censorship policies, the following appears when a censored term is searched using the popular search engines: In accordance with local laws, regulations and policies, part of the search result is not shown. (translated). And while the search engines have been censoring their results for several years at this point, the censorship controversy has been in the news recently due to the recent Beijing Olympics and the heavy media presence in the country.

Even though the problem encountered by journalists covering the Olympics had more to do with IP addresses being blocked (for "controversial" sites like Amnesty International and BBC China), the renewed interest in China's Internet policies has served to push the search engine censorship issue back into the mainstream. You can read more about what exactly Google (and other search engines) censors in Google Censorship - How it all Works, an informative article on Narender, an Internet marketing and creation oriented blog.

I've compiled a list of search engine alternatives that can be used as an alternative to the big 3 who operate under Chinese regulations.


dogpile_revised.gifDogpile
is a search engine with a twist - instead of indexing the results for one search engine, it compiles and indexes results from 6 separate search engines to return a robust selection of results. Owned by InfoSpace, Dogpile has been around since 1996, and has won awards for customer satisfaction. Be warned however! The list of search engines that Dogpile uses to compile their results includes: Google, Yahoo! Search, and Live Search. I guess it's not a great alternative if you want to go totally Google-Yahoo-Microsoft free.

Ask.com is one of the larger search engines, and has been around since 1996. Formerly AskJeeves (home to the online butler who was supposed to answer your questions), the Ask.com algorithm provides relevant search results by identifying the most authoritative sites on the Web.

FactBites has an interesting take on returning search results - instead of simply returning a site's description, it presents real, meaningful sentences related to the topics you're searching about. So instead of simply directing users to the self-created descriptions about the websites they're searching, FactBites digs a little deeper and gives you a more informed look at their results.

Mahalo_revised.gifMahalo (which means thank you in Hawaiian), bills itself as "the world's first human-powered search engine," and prides itself on better organizing the information they compile so that searchers save time and find what interests them quickly and easily. Search terms are organized into pages (like Fashion or Gadgets), and sub-topics are further categorized into lists on each main page. This kind of search is great for looking for topics to blog on (something I spend plenty of time doing), or for researching specific products.

ChaCha is a potentially cutting-edge earch engine that allows users "to ask any question in conversational English and receive an accurate answer as a text message in just a few minutes." ChaCha is a cool mobile tool, as you send text messages to the engine, and receive responses on your mobile device. Once your question is received, it's routed to the most knowledgeable ChaCha Community Guides (real people!) who are required to pass tests before they're able to work answering queries.

cuil_revised_2.pngCuil is a brand new search engine (launched on July 28, 2008), and claims to be the biggest search engine on the Web. Based out of Menlo Park, California, and founded by a former Google executive, Cuil claims to have indexed 120 billion Web pages - three times more than any other search engine. I checked out Cuil, and while this blog didn't come up in the top 10 search results when I entered the name (Accelerating IT Sales), the user interface is a pleasure, and I could see myself overlooking the ranking issue and giving the engine a fair shake.

There are plenty of other search engines out there just waiting to be discovered by those who are tired of, or want something different from Google. You can find comprehensive lists of search engines in this Wikipedia article, including topic-specific and niche engines that you might otherwise never hear about. Happy Searching!

September 25, 2008

Scrub Your Leads For Job Security

Email list hygiene - and the specific practice of scrubbing out bad email addresses - should be of the utmost concern for any of you out there who actively distribute marketing materials via email messages or enewsletters. When sending your marketing materials to huge lists that have not been scrubbed for junk, you run the risk of destroying your company's reputation and losing business along the way. And while it would be easy to sit here and cite statistics about email bounce rates, blacklisting and silent deletes done by ISPs, I think the issue of list hygiene can best be explained by putting yourself in your clients' shoes.

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If you are a third-party email marketer, your clients have placed their trust (and their money) in your business model - they provide you with content, you market their content with a variety of email messaging tools, and you send them a list of names (or leads) who have responded to their content. This method of generating leads is used by all kinds of companies (both consumer and B2B-based), and helps all of the involved parties in achieving their business goals. The client is presented with a list of high-quality, (hopefully) sales-ready leads, and the lead generation company is well-compensated for their efforts.

While mutually beneficial however, this relationship relies on the lead generation company's maintenance of their email lists. When working with a reputable lead generation organization, you should feel confident that the leads they deliver not only meet your specific requirements (such as being from certain geographical locations, or from companies of particular sizes), but that they also come with correct contact information. It's easy to generate 1000 leads, what's more difficult is generating 1000 qualified leads!

At the Web Buyer's Guide, we have developed a lead management system that allows us to scrub out junk leads on the back-end, and therefore remove junk from our lead databases. Before this system was in place, we would unintentionally sell those tricky-to-spot, but poisonous leads with titles like "None of Your Business," and names like, "Mickey Mouse." Since gaining the capability to scrub lists of new subscribers before they even become potential leads however, our rate of delivering junk leads has plummeted.

When we do occasionally deliver a random junk lead, I always feel bad, and worry about how our clients might respond. And while we never charge for junk leads, I also fear that some clients won't bother reporting their findings (and receiving a refund), and will instead simply choose to stop doing business with our company. After all, if a client purchases 100 leads and 5 are junk, they've potentially been gypped out of a couple hundred dollars worth of leads!

From years of experience in delivering leads, I've learned that it's easier to scrub lists when you're not under immediate pressure to deliver your product. By building some sort of system into your business practices that allows you to clean your lists before you're faced with the pressure of generating leads, you are more likely to remove junk that's both obvious (Mickey Mouse) and less obvious (Bart Simpson). Personally, I would much rather ditch the leads on the back-end than lose business by delivering junk.