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This, that and more!

and more!

Have you created a website, brochure or other marketing material and finished off a ‘list’ type paragraph off with the phrase ‘and more!’  I know that I have, and I do it too often.  Even my clients will send me copy which includes ‘and more’.

I could not find a good resource to inform me about the origin/use/contention of that phrase, so I will place my best guess… which is probably not too accurate, but bear with me.

I think that the marketing of businesses always wanted the best ad – to promote the best business.  And which business is better?  The one with MORE!  So, my ice cream parlor serves not only banana splits, sundaes, milkshakes and 12 different toppings – which is what the guy down the street sells – but I offer a few extra things.  They just aren’t that interesting so I finish off my ad sentence by making sure everyone know I have more than that guy!

Or- maybe an overzealous marketer ran out of space reserved for the ad – so he HAD to let you know there was more.

Either way, is this an effective, or overused?

New Years Resolutions vs. This Years Goals

About Resolutions

Every year, I hear people discussing their New Year’s Resolutions and I can understand why people decide to set them and why they choose January 1st to start their quest. However, I have never been able to jump on board with this tradition.

It’s not that I am ‘better than that’ or don’t have any changes in mind for my life.  I simply think that if I have a change to make, I am going to make it NOW!

While others are deciding in early to mid-December about what they want to change (or what the media tells them to change), I’ve got a 2 week head start.  More likely, it is a larger advantage than that, because the moment I feel unhealthy, behind in my work, or overburdened, I can adjust my schedule and make a change to include a new behavior.

The definition of resolution is “A firm decision to do or not to do something“.  Why do we have to wait until the first day of a new year?

How About Goals?

The majority of businesses (especially small ones) chart their fiscal year from January 1st to December 31st.  Most personal calendars work this same way as well. Goals are much better positioned to be set in a given year.

Revenues, salaries & budgets are all set in the fiscal year (or quarters, but we are talking years today).  It makes sense to set goals within the constraints of your revenues, salaries and budgets, right?

Of course, you can set new goals at any time – and I recommend that you do, if:

  1. You don’t have any goals set yet and it is not near the beginning of your fiscal year.
  2. You have beat your goals already, and it is not near the new goal setting period.
  3. You have overwhelmingly under-performed your goals (see goal setting)

The definition of goal (in our context) is “the result or achievement towardwhich effort is directed“.

Goal Setting

How do you go about setting your goals?  There are quite a few ways.  For me, it is always a list that I feel is attainable within the year.  Most goals require some effort, but should not be out of reach.

I recommend that you use the SMART technique; Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic and Timely.  Search SMART on Google.com for many writeups on how to do this.

My Interesting Conclusion

I have always found that goals, written down and kept handy, are the best way to ensure consistent growth in your business and personal life.  Keep them handy and visible, such as pinned to a wall, PC desktop image, the default homepage on your browser, etc.

I claim that my conclusion is ‘interesting‘ for this unintentional, unconscious result.  A few years ago, I created a list of items I wanted to accomplish on a yellow legal pad.  It was not titled as a set of goals, but they were just that.  Then, I promptly lost that pad.  A little over a year later, I found this pad and its list.  As I looked down the list, I realized that I had accomplished over 75% of the ‘goals’ on that list.

Simply writing down the ideas in my head may have been the thing to push me forward and complete those goals.

What about you?

Do you prefer Goals or Resolutions?  Do you wait until a certain point to start a resolution, or dive right in?  Do you set goals for your business and personal life each year?  Have you in the past and did it work?  Let me know in the comments below!

 

 

Definition Source: Dictionary.com

Big Budget, Low Quality… Why?

I am not that creative…
I don’t use Photoshop well…
I rarely create something with gloss…

But I don’t have a HUGE budget, either!

So tell me this…

With large hotel tax budgets, why are so many of the websites for official cities, counties and states just not up to step with current trends or even visual appeal?

When I want to redesign a website and I can’t hire a professional to do it for me, I search for similar websites to find trends and examples.   Note: I work better in the backend of a website than the front.

Just now, I got tired of searching through official state/city/county websites around the US for nice examples of design – rated for 2010!

Maybe I am wrong about all states and localities getting revenue from taxes (like the 4% hotel tax in PA that specifically goes to tourism related organizations).  Maybe they don’t have the budget.

What is so bad about the sites?

I see too many examples of crammed design – small, narrow websites, with small text and no spacing for the copy.  Images that are small and boxed in.  Hard to read, too much going on.  Maybe there is just that much to tell.

How often should sites be updated or redesigned?  Is that the budget restraint?

Why Am I Ranting?

Yeah, why am I ranting?  Well, I get slightly jealous when I see these designs that I know I can’t even come close to duplicating.  I tear my hair out (ok, the hair has been gone for years) trying to replicate something even close!

I am ranting because I know the budgets of these organizations.  I know the prices that some of these design firms are charging.  And I think that the touring, visiting, hungry citizens (that pay for this) are getting shortchanged.

They are not all bad…

True – I am really looking for cutting edge design in these sites, or at least an update.  I guess the toughest part for most sites that I visited – is that I started with the site I feel sets the best example:  Visit Philly.com

Q: Am I setting my expectations too high? Let me know in the comments below…

Your Business on Google Maps

Google Maps introduced a new feature a while back that now shows the names of businesses, right on the map, no charge, one postcard.

Try This

(As of 02/22/2010) go to:  maps.google.com, type “Boiling Springs, PA”  into the search box.  No big deal, right – you get a map centered on Boiling Springs.

Ok, so on the left hand side, right below the orange man – there is a plus sign, to zoom in the map.  Click that once.   Now you can see the High School, Gelinas Bed & Breakfast, and Allenberry ‘listings’.  Click the plus sign again and you see the Boiling Springs Tavern, Boiling Springs Pool, Village Artisans Gallery, Mateya Law Firm, the Boiling Springs, PA Post Office and more.   Another click shows a few more businesses.

I am not sure what rankings determine at what zoom level your business shows up, but it should be clear that your business NEEDS to be here.  Look closer at the listings.  The pool shows a swimmer, using the normal signage icons that you see on the highway.  The tavern shows a martini glass.  Gelinas shows a lodging icon.

Your Business

Check out your own town.  Is your business there?  Can someone stop by your business because they saw you on the map?

If your business is not there, or if you have not taken ‘ownership’ of your business in Google’s directory, you need to do that.  Once you have control of your listing, you can add hours, services, special information and even coupons.  If you work at all on improving your businesses relevance on the internet, this is one thing you need to address.

Get Listed

So – how to get your business listed, if it is not there already?  Go here: Google Local Business Center and follow the instructions.

Dealing with Projects

The Dilemma

I have  a dilemma…  I run quite a few websites as you know if you have read this site.  All of them need work, either in maintenance or upgrades.  I guess I have more of a problem than a dilemma.  I can’t stay focused because I like all of them.

I am only talking about the ones that get maintenance or need work, because there are others…  and those are in a dark place… poor lost websites!  But that is another story.  Right now, I never seem to complete ideas or tasks.  And now I feel like I am beating myself up a little, since there are things that I have done and am doing rather consistently.

The Solution?

I know what I did to solve the task that I am now doing consistently, a To-Do list.  I knew about Remember the Milk, but I didn’t use it at all.  Now, on a recurring schedule (depending on the task), I get an email reminder, to do the task that I set up.  This works well for tasks I want to complete each week or month, but what about the big projects?

There are 3, 4 current ideas and redevelopments that I am trying to get accomplished.  Each has potential to bring in more revenue if accomplished.  Most of these are hard though and will take hours to complete.  My time is limited due to a large commute and long ‘regular’ working day, so daily hours are not very available.  On the weekend, if no major project occurs, I may have 8 hours (non-continuous) to spend on a project.

I think the real problem is that even when I have a plan laid out for the final result, I am not comfortable enough to put in the work for fear that my plan was not good, or doesn’t design as well as it did on paper, or is (temporarily) technologically over my head.  So then I procrastinate, then I get sidetracked, and then all the time I did have, is gone.

Fear of Failure

Perhaps “fear of failure” is the real cause holding me back from completing some of these projects.  In some cases, it also feels overwhelming when I think of the amount of work that needs to be done (1 project in particular).

So – many people hit this wall…what have you done to overcome this?  Let me know!

An Update 02/22/2010

The Remember the Milk idea worked great through January – and also with little one time tasks that I am adding.  However, the recurring ones are getting stuck.  Now I know that I need to add 4 Festival Listings and 3 Attractions to current websites, but they now sit there as a nag.  Will I get them done and get caught up with my goal of one additional listing (per site/each week)?  Yeah, probably, but that task list is getting longer!

Using Favicons

There are basics that every site should have, although not everyone will agree on what those ‘basics’ are.  For PaMidstate MEDIA, you can get an idea of basics (when applied to WordPress) by reviewing this post about standard WordPress Plugins.

All sites need to have some sort of branding, right down the the fine details.  I am horrible at fitting all this into place, so whenever I find a site that makes that job easier, I use it.  And in this case, I am posting that information here – partially to help you find easier ways to do things, and partially as a reminder or bookmark.

An Easy Way to create a FavIcon

Simple – do you have a picture of your logo or something that can create a memory of your site for users?  Make sure it is as close to ‘square’ as it can be, remember where you saved it on your PC and go here: http://tools.dynamicdrive.com/favicon/

Easy – like I said:

  1. Choose the image from your PC.
  2. Upload the image (they even give you a button to do that!)
  3. Click “Create FavIcon”

That was easy.  Now – just upload that file to the root of your website and you are done.

WordPress vs. Custom Scripting

I run a bunch of sites, as you may have read.  But I often run into the problem of deciding whether to use WordPress or writing my own custom script to create a site on a template.

The Major Tipping Point

So what causes this difference?  Well – I think I would like to use WordPress for every site I create ( at this time ) – however…  I am having trouble locating a plugin or script that will allow me to upload a large database of information into WordPress – AND – allowing me to upload it again and overwriting/updating information.  Some plugins that I have found MAY do the trick, but I am not interested in purchasing a script that will become useless immediately… but perhaps I should.  Suggestions?

So, How do I Choose?

Up to this point I have wasted a lot of time thinking about which way to go.  Until I find a plugin that can handle entering new ‘posts’ and categories – then being able to update those ‘posts’ again just by uploading the database, I am going to do it like this:

1. Is the database big, like 50 or more records?
2. Is the data in this database going to change regularly?
3.  Is this the kind of database that I can ‘drip post’ in over time?

If the answers are yes, yes, no – then I am going to write my own scripts.  If the answers are no, no, yes – it is WordPress all the way.  If the answers are yes, no, maybe – then I am back at the crossroads.

Why Don’t I Write the Plugin Myself?

There is the big problem.  I ‘barely’ know PERL.  I can just scratch an itch of PHP.  WordPress is PHP.  In order to write a plugin, I am going to have to learn PHP.  Right now I am just too busy.  PERL is still very powerful and still widely supported.  PHP is going to overtake PERL if it hasn’t already.

I am sure that someone has already written the perfect CSV or Text file to WordPress plugin.  I have seen a few that I have tried and can’t get to work the way I want them to.  And I am also sure that someone has privately built one and is using it to make a killing.

Drop me a lead and I will follow it to find out how well it works… and promote the plugin if it does what I need.

How do I Register a Domain?

When I first started back in 1997 … ( see History External Link to PaMidstate MEDIA History ), you could really only use Network Solutions.  And they STILL (2009) charge about $35 per domain!

Once the domain market opened up to more registrars (those that manage the domain name registries), you could easily find other companies and get a much more competitive price.  I found GoDaddy – and really haven’t looked back.

GoDaddy

Although I have heard of nightmares from others around the web, I have not had these same issues.  So – I can recommend them for a decent price, continuing service, and no real outages that I have noticed.

You can start your domain search right here if you would like to ( [HTML1] External Link to GoDaddy )… but picking a domain name is not as easy.

Choosing your Domain Name

This can be difficult and is becoming increasingly difficult every day as the ‘normal’ domains that are words become taken/used/squatted on.  If you are creating a site about New Mexico, how do you decide what domain you want to use?  NewMexico.com is taken – and has been for quite a while.  You could pickup something like MyNewMexico.com (not anymore – and no, I am not using it), but those are not too creative and (to me) overused.

If you are not creative enough, try a domain name suggestion service (just search, there are many) and see what you get.  I got lucky with some domains, pushed my luck with others, and for the rest, just concentrated on building content.  Search engines find valuable content – ‘almost’ regardless of the domain name itself.

Almost Regardless?

Well, I say almost regardless because engines like Google saw a trend of hyphenating keywords for domains, a tactic used by spammers.  Think, ‘my-hotel-and-motel-site.com’ (available as of 10/12/09 – but I don’t want it).  They are not easy to type in because they are built for the search engines.

Off Topic

I kind of got off the real topic of this article, but it really turns out that registering the domain is easy.  Coming up with something you will want to use and is easy for a visitor to find/type/remember; that is the hard part.  Good Luck!

How I Doubled Daily Visitors

About the Website

I built a website back in 2006, coded with FrontPage (yeah, I just hadn’t switched at that point) and custom coded with PERL for the database elements.  You could search, view and rate restaraunts.  That was about all you could do.  I was a nice website, served its purpose which was to provide information on local establishments.  No reviews, no categories.  Not WordPress!

What I Did

For this case study, you have to start with a not-very-user-interactive site.  This one did have voting and a top ten list, but nothing else.  Essentially, I moved the original site over to a WordPress operated CMS site.  By going to a WordPress site, I added (instantly) reviews (as comments), more searchable listings, categories and tags.  No extra effort on my part.

The Hard Part

It was time consuming to update all the listings from the original site and enter them as posts on the new site.  I know there are plugins that can take a CSV or Flatfile and update that database to posts, but I have not found a free one that worked to my specs; and I did not want to pay for a plugin at this point.  [Anyone have a suggestion?]

So, I watched TV, entered listings from notepad and over a couple of evenings had all my listings posted.

So Why do I say ‘Easily’

Granted, that grunt work was especially draining.  Doubling my visitors was easy, because now I had a new system, set up to be more keyword, title and overall site friendly than it was before.  Adding listings became easier when needed.  Updating listings is also a breeze.

I was also able to add a few plugins.  Plugins are easy.  Restaurant voting, easy… search “Post Ratings”, review the install, and click ‘activate’… done.  Add the plugin for Google Sitemap, activate… done!  Easy.

Users started interacting more.  More votes, user reviews and more REPEAT visitors!

Check out the Stats and my Analysis!

Statistics

The actual growth in visitors  for the beginning 9 months of last year compared to this year was actually 87%, so I didn’t really double, but it is close.

Pageviews/Pages per Visit is an interesting stat combination.  My visitors are viewing 35% less pages per visit – which in turn reduces my pageviews from a doubling to only 20%.  There are a couple of factors that cause the reduction in pageviews.  First was the voting script.  The original site caused 3 page views if a user voted.  The new version is AJAX, so no reload, only one pageview.  Also – I believe that my visitors are hitting the page they want right away, instead of having to dig through the site (see Bounce Rate).  So, am I providing a better resource and hitting better SERPS?

My Bounce Rate has climbed 65%!  This could be interpreted as disappointing – but I am going to spin it a little.  I believe that my visitors are landing on the right page – the first time – and possibly leaving my site for the restaurants website.  If this is the case, I can be satisfied that my visitor is getting the best results for their time spent, which may also be the reason that time spent on the site is also down.

New Visits are down as well.  What is the spin on this one?  If I have more visitors overall, but the percentage of new visits is down by 3.5%, then I am still seeing an increase in total new visitors.  But… visitors are also finding that this website is a good reference, bookmarking or emailing it to a friend, and coming back!  Checkmark that as a plus as well!

Final Reflections

Even though this site isn’t a wildfire with daily visitors (around 100/day), the site has maintained the incresased traffic for nine solid months.  Take from this what you will, but I recommend that you do one of two things;  improve sites you own by finding better backends like WordPress;   and/or find websites that have not been optimized with a system like WordPress, buy it, update it and you might just double the value of the site … or more!