Do You Really Own Your Domain Name?
May 8th, 2013
In short, the answer is “no”. Nobody actually owns their domain name. Think of your domain name as a lease that may be renewed indefinitely, as long as you keep up with your payments. An international organization called ICANN – the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers – is responsible for coordinating the Domain Name System (DNS), the registry of Internet Protocol (IP) addresses, and the management of both generic and country code Top-Level Domains (TLDs). To register a domain name under a generic top-level domain, you use one of several hundred ICANN-accredited registrars located throughout the world. The most commonly used generic top-level domains are the original .COM (commercial), .NET (network), and .ORG (organization). Once again, there are hundreds of accredited registrars, not simply GoDaddy and Network Solutions.
A few Internet acronyms to confuse people.
The idea behind all of this bureaucracy is to ensure that anybody using any computer anywhere in the world (other than in countries that try to keep a lid on democracy by restricting Internet access) can connect to any individual or legal entity that is represented by any particular domain name. When somebody in either Cincinnati or Sierra Leone types in your domain name, you want to ensure that they reach your website and nobody else’s. In most instances, your involvement in this process will be limited to selecting a registrar, checking on the availability of the domain name (or the best available option, if your first or second choice is not available), paying to register the domain name (for a period of time ranging from 1 to 10 years), and pointing the domain name (using the aforementioned DNS) to the name servers where your site resides.
In most instances, you want a domain name that is as short as possible, is memorable and easy to spell, relates to the name of your business (in three words or less), and is based upon the .COM top-level domain. In many instances, your first choice may not be available, often because there is another business somewhere else in the world with the same or a similar name as yours. In other instances, a domain name may be assigned to another company or individual hoping to profit from your current need. In the early days of the Internet, a modern version of the California Gold Rush took place, where speculators and cyber-squatters became abundant. I define a domain name speculator (also known as a domainer) as someone who had the foresight to register (and maintain the registrations) of domain names made up of a logical combination of words that are not currently associated with a known company or organization. I, for example, own several dozen speculative domain names – such as FamilyCampingUSA.com – many of which I have sold over the years at fair prices (typically $500.00 or so). A cyber-squatter, on the other hand, is somebody who intentionally registers the domain name of another company or organization or who intentionally grabs a domain name that was allowed to expire by a careless registrant, all in the hope of releasing what is essentially a hostage in exchange for a sizeable ransom (typically $10,000.00 or more). In some cases, a domain name that generates traffic will not even be available for sale, but simply maintained as part of a large portfolio of domain names that might be flipped for millions of dollars. There is money to be made in clicks!
There are also instances when a business is willing to pay to transfer a domain name from another registrant for a mutually agreed upon fee. For example, Good Sam recently announced the purchase of the RV.com domain name from Dometic Group. An established site with existing traffic, such as RV.com, will command a higher price. If you are curious, you can check out the continually updated “Year to Date Top 100 Domain Sales Chart” at the DN Journal website. Some are private sales, but most are handled by domain name brokers such as Sedo and Afternic. So far this year, the price leaders include Booker.com (which sold for $375,000.00) and Mojo.com (which sold for $300,000.00). Within the last decade (mostly before the burst of the so-called “Internet bubble”) some of the highest domain names sales prices have been commanded by Hotels.com ($11,000,000.00), Beer.com ($7,000,000.00), Loans.com (bought by Bank of America for $3,000,000.00), and YP.com ($3,850,000.00).
In most instances, you will want to register the best available domain name (not already registered by another company or individual), using an accredited registrar and paying an annual fee of no more than $35.00. You may perform these domain name searches and registrations yourself, or you may rely upon your webmaster to act on your behalf. How do you know what is available? You cannot simply type a domain name into a Web browser (such as Internet Explorer, Firefox, Chrome, or Safari) and presume that it is available just because a website does not appear. You need to perform what is called a “whois lookup”, using a tool that is provided by any registrar and many independent search websites. If a domain name is available, you may register it using the registrar of your choice; however, you should be prepared to register a domain name immediately or risk losing it. Some registrars provide reports of whois search queries for unregistered domain names to unscrupulous parties who will then put a lock (using a process called “domain tasting”) on a domain name, hoping to sell it to you at a quick profit a day or two later.
Back to the original question: Do you own your domain name?
Don’t only perform a whois lookup when you are looking for a new domain name. Do a whois lookup now to confirm that you are, in fact, the registrant of your existing domain name(s). Did you buy your business and never update the previous owner’s registration records? Did your webmaster or the company hosting your website (or a former webmaster or host) register the domain name on your behalf? You may be surprised to discover that you are not actually listed as the registrant for your domain name. I see this on an almost daily basis. Usually there is no ill intent involved; however, YOU want to be the owner of your domain name(s). Your webmaster may be listed as the administrative and technical contact, as well as the billing contact if he or she handles the registration renewals on your behalf, but you need to be listed as the registrant. If your webmaster is handling your renewals, be sure that you can rely on that individual or company to not drop the ball and risk jeopardizing your domain name.
If you are not, in fact, listed as the registrant for your domain, don’t panic … but also don’t ignore the situation. The whois lookup will tell you the name of the registrar. If you have the login credentials to the registrar account (not usually the same as the login credentials to your hosting account, unless the registrar is also hosting your domain), go to your account to modify the settings. If you do not have those login credentials (which will usually be the case, if the registration and renewals are handled by your webmaster or hosting company) and you recognize the name of the registrant, I would suggest contacting that individual or company. Explain that this “unintended error” has just come to your attention, and ask that the registration record be corrected. If you have trouble with any of this, feel free to contact me directly for personal assistance at no charge.
You will be glad that you have taken a minute to check your domain name registration records should you decide to make a change at some future date. You do not want to find yourself in a situation where you need to fight for what should be your own or, worse yet, have to start with a new domain name because you have essentially lost what was never actually yours. While you are at it, check to be certain that the e-mail address that is associated with your contact information is valid and not an old e-mail address that you replaced 4 or 5 years ago and can no longer access. The administrative contact generally approves changes to a domain name registration via the e-mail address on record. Having a valid and current e-mail address associated with your account can save you from endless hassles on down the road, when you eventually need to make changes to your registration. Investing a few minutes today could save you from hours of headaches in the future. Knowledge is valuable!
This post was written by Peter Pelland
QR Codes – Dead or Alive?
April 24th, 2013
Everybody is familiar with QR codes, those two-dimensional barcodes that bear a resemblance to square Rorschach tests but provide informational links to the user of any Smartphone with a QR code reader app installed. QR stands for “Quick Response”. Originally invented by Toyota back in 1994 as a means of inventory control during automobile manufacturing, QR codes have been widely adapted to a variety of advertising uses in recent years, generally linking to a website or a page on a website that provides either more information or a call to action.
There are several newer technologies that now compete with the open-source QR code concept, and even the QR code itself has been adapted to offer more colorful, brand-recognition alternatives; however, the bottom line is whether or not any of these marketing tools have been broadly adapted by consumers. There are certainly applications that make sense. A poster on the streets of New York City might advertise a first-run feature film or off-Broadway theatre production and include a QR code that takes users directly to online ticket sales. A transit ad in an airport shuttle might allow users to check the status of arriving and departing flights. I have even seen QR codes on potted plants in garden centers, where a scan will display information such as growing conditions and guidelines. All of these are brilliant applications, but they still do not overcome the fact that QR code adoption and usage rates have been consistently low.
QR codes can be displayed almost anywhere – direct mail, packaging, magazine and newspaper ads, websites, posters, e-mail, and TV commercials. Although there are studies that present encouraging statistics about young adult usage, the studies generally only ask respondents if they have scanned a QR code within the past 12 months; there is little or no data to support consistent repeat usage. According to a study conducted by Pitney Bowes and released in January 2013, the highest usage rates are for QR codes that appear in magazine ads and, to a lesser degree, other printed materials. QR codes on websites, embedded into e-mail messages and on TV commercials get very low rates of response. (Think about it: Is somebody already on a website going to click on a QR code to … go to a website?)
Use the following QR code to download the complete Pitney Bowes report:
There are many reasons that QR codes have not been more broadly adopted, either in the United States or internationally. One reason is that neither Android nor iOS (Apple) phones come with a QR code reader app pre-installed. Other reasons include QR codes being displayed in places with poor quality or nonexistent wi-fi signals (like subway stations and many campgrounds) and the disappointing initial experiences of users who have been brought to Web content that was not optimized for mobile devices.
Most campgrounds have limited advertising budgets and need to spend their dollars wisely. Few campgrounds advertise in magazines, although most advertise in printed directories that bear some similarity to magazines. With regard to printed materials, QR codes certainly do no harm (other than their lack of visual appeal) when added to things like directory ads, rack cards, postcards, and business cards – allowing users to scan through to further information. None of this makes sense, however, unless it is supported by actual scans by end users who embrace your subsequent call to action and are converted into buyers.
How Do You Measure Effectiveness?
All online traffic needs to be measured. Thanks to Google Analytics (which should be running on your website!) we can easily measure the amount of traffic to any particular page of your website from any search engine or referring site. What about traffic from your QR codes? Without taking a few added steps, that traffic is nearly impossible to measure. One solution is to have the QR code link to a specific page that is uniquely linked to the code. That works fine, but it requires your webmaster to create a separate landing page for each code that you generate (so that you can measure the traffic from each specific code application, not simply overall traffic from any and all QR codes that you may be displaying).
A better approach is to have the QR code go to a specific URL that you can create for free using the Google Analytics URL Builder, a very useful tool that is not widely known. (The URL Builder is primarily intended for tracking traffic from a Google AdWords campaign, but it will also work perfectly for this purpose.) First of all, determine the page that you want people to reach through your QR code. Keep in mind that this should probably be both a “call to action” page and a page that is at least mobile-friendly. It might be an existing page on your website or a new page that you will want to create.
Go the Google Analytics URL Builder – http://support.google.com/analytics/answer/1033867 – and follow the instructions. Enter the URL of your landing page in the box that says “Website URL”. For “Campaign Source” and “Campaign Name”, you might enter something like “2013 Rack Card” or anything else that identifies where the QR code will appear. For “Campaign Medium”, enter “QR Code”. Click “Submit” to generate your tracking URL.
The next step is to copy and paste that tracking URL into a QR code generator. I particularly like QuikQR – http://quikqr.com/ – an easy-to-use, free QR code generator, where you simply paste your URL and generate your QR code in one quick step. An optional step would be to paste your tracking URL into Google URL Shortener – http://goo.gl/ – to generate a shortened version of the tracking URL. After generating the shortened URL, click on the “details” link under the new URL, and you will be shown a QR code for your shortened link. Click on the QR code, then right-click on the image on the next page to save the file to your computer to be used in your offline advertising campaign.
Follow the same process to generate QR codes for any other advertising campaigns that you would like to measure. Now any traffic from that QR code will be tracked in Google Analytics, under Traffic > Sources > Campaigns. A few weeks, months, or a year down the road, you will be able to know – with certainty – whether your QR codes are being used and whether or not the traffic is converting into sales!
One caveat: As with any of your advertising, do not presume that the traffic that is generated directly from a QR code is the sole measure of an advertising campaign’s effectiveness. This exercise will only measure whether or not QR codes are generating business in your advertising, as well as whether their adoption over time is trending upward or dying a slow death.
This post was written by Peter Pelland
Have You Heard that the Internet Can Be a Shady Place?
April 17th, 2013
Remember the days when landline long-distance telephone service was profitable and highly competitive? Back then, even the major carriers would engage in a practice known as “slamming”, which generally consisted of mailing out solicitations that appeared to be invoices, often accompanied by a check that you were encouraged to sign and deposit into your bank account. The fine print indicated that the solicitation was not actually an invoice, and that, by endorsing the check, you were agreeing to transfer your long-distance service to another company. That check was a token to lure you into the offer, and they would more than recover that small cost in your first month’s fees. Nowadays, with the dramatic adoption of cellular phone service, the carriers protect themselves from this type of deceptive competition by locking their subscribers into two-year contracts in exchange for the latest phone models. Not to worry, there are infinite numbers of fish waiting to be caught in the Internet Ocean. We are all swimming in that ocean, and you simply need to learn to recognize a hook in order to avoid getting caught!
Check them out before signing a check.
If an unsolicited communication from a company seems suspicious, I always advise doing a search on Google or Bing for the company name followed by the word “scam” or “complaints”. The results could save you from being the next victim. The most recent scam involves a company called DNS Services. For the last 6 months, if not longer, they have been sending out mailings to the owners of just about any and every website. The mailings look like invoices in the amount of $65.00 for “backup DNS service” – something that nobody needs. Only the fine print reveals the disclaimer that, “This is a solicitation for the order of goods or services, or both, and not a bill, invoice, or statement of account due. You are under no obligation to make any payments on account of this offer unless you accept this offer.” Most people do not read that fine print, and many people unwittingly mail in the $65.00. The mailing looks particularly legitimate because it includes your name, domain name, and the name servers where your website is hosted (all public information). If 1% of the people who receive these solicitations pay the $65.00 fee, these scam operators are making a fortune! What about a Google search for “DNS Services scam”? At the time of this post, there are 2,900,000 results!
Another scam that has been making the rounds for a long time involves mailings from a company called Domain Registry of America. If you are the owner or administrative contact for a website domain name, you can expect a mailing from this outfit about 5 months prior to your registration renewal date. This is a spin on the old long-distance telephone service “slamming” from years ago, except that in this instance, they don’t send you a check and it is your domain name registration that is being “slammed”. Nobody wants to lose their domain name, so many people pay the fee out of fear of that possibility. The letters, which include the disclaimer, “This notice is not a bill”, ask for a response within 30 days – presumably before the recipient might learn the truth behind the mailing. A Google search for “Domain Registry of America scam”? Only 39,900 results at the time of this post (probably because Google considers this scam to be “old news” and has decided to display fewer search results.)
Finally, there is a phone-based scam from an outfit called Main Street Host. This company employs telemarketers out of offices in Buffalo and Amherst, New York and Las Vegas, Nevada. It is basically an SEO (search engine optimization) scam, where they promise you top search engine placement for a very low initial fee (sometimes even free). It is once they have their victims hooked that they get many people spending thousands or even tens of thousands of dollars on their worthless services. There are 987,000 results in a Google search for “Main Street Host scam” (which is a 50% increase within the last week alone!), including links to complaints filed with the Better Business Bureau of Upstate New York. The Buffalo office has a C- rating, based upon a total of 32 consumer complaints over a variety of deceptive practices. Don’t be their next victim!
There is one interesting thing in common among these three companies. DNS Services is located in Vancouver, WA; Domain Registry of America is located in Buffalo, NY; and Main Street Host is also located in Buffalo, NY. The common element is the Canadian border. In all likelihood, these addresses are simply mail drops for businesses that are actually located in Canada, making them difficult to prosecute. In fact, the Federal Trade Commission actually ruled against Ontario-based Domain Registry of America nearly 10 years ago, in December of 2003. The result? The language of their solicitation letters was modified slightly, but the mailings continue to this day. Ripping people off is a very profitable enterprise.
This post was written by Peter Pelland
A Quick and Brilliant Social Marketing Campaign from Ace Hardware
March 15th, 2013
Yesterday on Facebook, I was presented with a link to a brilliant promotion from Ace Hardware. They call it Free Paint Saturday, and it encourages you to print a coupon for a free quart of Clark+Kensington paint. The coupon can only be redeemed at a local participating Ace Hardware store on Saturday, March 16th. It appears that the offer was also promoted on the Ace Hardware website and in its weekly circular. Here is the original Facebook post:
Note that within 10 hours of the original post, the offer had gotten 378 likes and – more importantly – 688 shares. No doubt, there were many more people who simply proceeded to download the coupon. The intermediate step took users to a Facebook App, shown below, that explained more about the line of paints and the services available through the local Ace Hardware store. It also included a link to print the actual coupon. This app had generated 309 original comments at the time of this post.
Finally, clicking on the link allowed users to print the coupon, shown below.
Okay, why do I say this is brilliant? Let me count the ways:
- Saturday is the highest traffic day in the hardware industry. By offering a limited supply of the free offer per store, customers are encouraged to arrive early, getting sales records off to an early start.
- Each store has an average availability of 40 quarts. How many things can be covered with a single quart of flat enamel paint? I believe that flat enamel paints are most typically used on interior walls and ceilings, where a single quart is going to provide very limited coverage. Chances are that customers will purchase additional paint (probably gallons) to go with the free quart.
- The offer presents a perfect opportunity to introduce a new product line or to attract customers who might otherwise not think of Ace Hardware as a paint store.
- No purchase is necessary; however, most people, once they have entered a store, are unlikely to leave without making a purchase. People who have gotten something for free are even less likely to leave without making a purchase.
- Each quart of paint probably costs Ace Hardware a maximum of $5.00. With participation on the part of the paint manufacturer, their cost is probably less than half of that. I cannot find statistics for the average consumer transaction per hardware store visit; however, this customer acquisition cost is extremely low.
Clearly, this is an example of how profitable it can be for a business to give products or services away, particularly when the reach of the promotion is dramatically extended through the social media. Can you think of ways that this same concept could work for the benefit of your business?
This post was written by Peter Pelland
Software That Everyone Can Afford
January 7th, 2013
Over the last month, there have been several notable changes in the delivery of popular software and online services. In the final analysis, this is good news for folks who cannot afford the price of entry into much of the digital world.
First the bad news: If you have a small business, you have been able to rely upon Google to provide free POP and IMAP e-mail hosting services in recent years. What was not to love? Google would provide you with over 10GB of storage space, some of the best spam filtering in the industry, and the familiar Gmail interface at zero cost. That all changed on December 7, 2012, when Google stopped providing this free service to businesses, a change in policy took effect after only 24 hours of advance notice. Ironically, there was an entire chapter (Chapter 8: De-Monetization – Google and the Birth of a Twenty-First-Century Economic Model) in Chris Anderson’s bestselling business book, Free: How Today’s Smartest Businesses Profit by Giving Something for Nothing about how Google could make a fortune by giving away services – including Gmail – for free. I suspect that this chapter will be edited prior to the next printing!
Now for the good news: As somewhat of an early Christmas gift, Microsoft quietly announced on December 22, 2012 that it was was throwing in the towel on its Expression suite, including Microsoft Expression Web 4, immediately taking it off the market and making it a free download (with no technical support). Essentially, Microsoft decided that it would no longer continue trying to compete against Adobe’s more popular Dreamweaver software. The software that you could purchase for $149.95 on December 21st could now be downloaded for free. Finding the download link can be like looking for a needle in a haystack, so here is a direct link:
More good news came today, March 7, 2013, when Adobe announced that they would make the second generation version of their Creative Suite available as a free download. Keep in mind that CS2 is a ten year old version of one of the world’s most popular software suites, currently in version 6, CS6. That said, most people cannot afford to shell out up to $1,899.00 for the current version of the software (or $49.99 per month for the cloud version that Adobe is now promoting). This free download is a nice alternative to people who previously settled for one of the open-source Photoshop alternatives, such as GIMP. As the entire Creative Suite, the package includes the CS2 versions of Photoshop, Illustrator, and InDesign, along with Acrobat Pro 8.0. Here is a direct link to the download page:
Whereas Microsoft appears to be essentially admitting defeat in a highly competitive market, Adobe’s strategy is as brilliant as Google’s earlier strategy with e-mail hosting services. By introducing new users to their products, chances are that they will like what they use and decide to upgrade to a newer version. This is the same reason that most software developers have made academic versions available over the years, fully featured versions of software that are deeply discounted and intended to be used by students and teachers. They know that most people tend to agree that the later price of admission is lower than the cost of learning to use an alternative product. At the moment, many consumers are now on the winning side of the equation.
This post was written by Peter Pelland
Putting a Price on Business Loyalty
October 21st, 2012
Back in my college years, I earned a degree in Natural Resource Economics. That specialized field of economics allows its practitioners to calculate measurable values for intangibles such as environmental and social impacts. For example, the costs of nuclear power far exceed the mere costs of uranium and plant operation and must include a long list of associated impacts, not the least of which are the long-term costs of waste disposal. Conversely, the benefits of organic farming far exceed the wages earned by farm workers and the income generated from the sale of their produce. Those benefits include improvements to soil structure, fewer chemicals entering the soil and surrounding environment, and healthier lifestyles that are accompanied by a probable reduction in a wide range of illnesses.
As a small business owner, I often challenge myself to attach values (both costs and benefits) to day-to-day business decisions. Most often, there is not a need to painstakingly calculate the specifics of those values, instead simply recognizing that they exist and are an integral part of the equation. For example, there is something inherently intuitive that tells me that – whenever possible – I should choose to work with local small businesses rather than large, distant corporations. (In the world of virtual business, where transportation costs do not enter into the equation, distance may not be as much of a factor, and the best decision may be to work with the smallest possible business that can meet our needs and that shares our business philosophy and objectives.) My business purchases a significant volume of printing services on behalf of our clients, and we favor vendors who have made an ongoing commitment to green printing standards – everything from the highest practical recycled content in paper to the use of non-petroleum based inks to the lowest possible VOC (volatile organic compound) atmospheric emissions. Generally speaking, green printing standards also represent efficiencies in production and highly competitive pricing.
When a supplier consistently meets or exceeds our expectations with respect to quality standards, and provides us with personalized service at a fair price, another factor comes into play. That factor is perhaps the most important of all, and that factor is loyalty. Loyalty inherently works in two directions and is based upon mutual respect between both parties. It also operates through what is essentially a chain of custody. If I am loyal to one of my suppliers when purchasing goods or services on behalf of one of our clients, that loyalty is indirectly extended to the client. Loyalty has its rewards, typically in the form of preferential pricing, and the result is that everyone even indirectly involved benefits from its presence. It may seem odd that loyalty tends to take pricing out of the equation; however, the accompanying respect and trust ensure that the best possible pricing will always come into play.
When a business is fortunate enough to enjoy this type of arrangement, it is essential that it be consistently maintained and its fragility protected. Just as an instance of marital infidelity may be forgiven, the offense will remain unforgotten and it will forever change the dynamics and purity of the relationship. If you are fortunate enough to have built this type of relationship in your business dealings – and I like to believe that this is the only type of relationship in which my own business seeks to engage – do everything possible to see that it is protected and preserved.
It is the routine practice of my business to do everything possible to help our clients’ businesses to succeed. We try to proactively develop new ideas that will benefit our clients, we make ourselves readily accessible far in excess of what others might consider to be normal business hours, and we do our best to treat even the smallest client as our single most important account, with every project our latest opportunity to creatively excel. When a client needs us, we drop whatever we are doing to focus on that new top priority. We also make an ongoing effort to routinely provide services that have a significant and measurable value – without charge – to each client. Our business is not obsessed with billing at the expense of doing what is right.
As I have alluded right from the start, a tangible price can be attached to business loyalty. That price equates to the incremental business income that is generated as a result of the loyalty factor, compounded by the financial savings that result from this same special business relationship. We all like our efforts to be both appreciated and acknowledged, and loyalty is the perfect means of expression. Not surprisingly, we go far out of our way to do our best work for our most loyal clients, and that “best work” has a positive impact upon the bottom line of the clients’ businesses.
In summary, yes you can calculate and attach a price to business loyalty, but the value of the loyalty itself is totally immeasurable.
This post was written by Peter Pelland
Simple ways to use Facebook to maximize visibility and interaction.
September 13th, 2012
Far too many businesses let the potential of Facebook go to waste. Even if you have invested in a custom Facebook page, what’s the use if almost nobody is interacting with it? Perhaps you sign into your Facebook business page every few days, post a comment to your wall every now and then, but aren’t getting the amount of “Likes” and positive interaction you had envisioned. Most likely your business does not have the kind of national household name brand identity, where you can expect a great deal of people to seek you out because it so frequently occurs to them how much they like your product. Small businesses have to put in some work to get their first 50, 100, or 200 “Likes”. So if you have a Facebook business page, and you’re already putting some time into it, I have several suggestions to make the most of your efforts and generate interaction that will lead to “Likes”.
1. Take some time to create an editorial calendar for your future status updates. What are the goals and objectives for your business in the near future? Months down the road? A year from now? Write down a number of potential status updates which you can post in the future at certain times, so that your updates are aligned with your goals rather than always being random acts of marketing. The majority of status updates should keep in mind two goals. The first is to provide good content which strengthens your brand. The second being to generate interactivity in the form of positive feedback, “Likes” and follow-through of your calls to action.
2. Include photos in your status updates whenever is clever. People like to click interesting photos. It makes them bigger. By attaching a photo to your update, your update has also multiplied it’s real-estate on the “Timeline” or Facebook “Wall”. People like photos, and therefore people like to “Like” photos. Why not have a photo of the week? You could ask people to “Like if you wish you were here right now”. Every time somebody likes a photo, this activity shows up on the Newsfeed of all their friends. Not only is this free exposure, but it encourages people to interact with your update more than if you had only used text. How about a caption contest?
3. Create a new photo gallery and ask people to “Like” their favorite or have a caption contest for a random prize drawing. This will encourage a lot more people to “Like” or respond to your content, which in turn increases your reach through the activity on their Timeline and Newsfeed.
4. If you have a popular event, why not take a photo containing a large group of people, post this to Facebook and ask your fans to tag themselves and their friends in it? This activity will be posted to their friends’ Timelines as well as the Newsfeeds, introducing more people to your business (and showing them how many other people really do like your business at the same time).
5. Use polls. Create a poll, asking your fans the kind of fun and easy question that lets them express their opinion about something involving your business. Keep it positive. What’s their favorite nearby attraction? What is their favorite product in your line? Then ask them why to encourage discussion below the poll. Note that when making a poll, you will want to tag your business name (by typing @ followed by your business name) by including it in the brief description of your poll that you will write in the area for text above it. That way when your poll gets passed around, it will still be linked to your business.
6. If your business has a lot of local customers, use the “Recommend this Place” feature. When people have recommended your page, these recommendations show up on their nearby friends’ Facebook. Typically only people within 12 miles of your listed address will see the “Recommend” widget on the upper right corner of your page when they visit. In your page settings you can improve this function’s reach somewhat by including a few nearby cities in the “Choose Your Audience” dialogue. Once you have done this, create a status update inviting people to come to your page and “Recommend”.
Furthermore, there are a few simple ways to leverage the presence of your web site to benefit your social media marketing campaign. If you’d like any of the following changes made to your existing web site, just ask us!
1. A simple link to your Facebook page is somewhat minimal. There is not a whole lot of incentive for somebody who is already on your web site to go and visit your Facebook page. However if instead of a normal Facebook link, you use Facebook’s Like Box plugin (which gives people the opportunity to “Like” your Facebook page straight from your web site, also showing how many “Likes” you have and thumbnail photos of ten other people who already have), you give people the opportunity to sign up for your status updates quickly and easily without leaving your web site.
2. Use the compact and relatively unobtrusive Like Button widget on your web site. Place this next to interesting content, certain special items or special events. This will allow people to “Like” certain pages of content on your web site, and a link to this content will appear on their Timeline. Use this widget selectively; not every item you stock or piece of information you offer deserves its own “Like”. You don’t want this to look tacked on like an afterthought to everything on your web site.
3. Use the Facebook Comments plugin below interesting or newsworthy content on your site. Chances are you have seen this used on other sites, usually below articles or pieces of news. When people post a comment and leave the “Post to Facebook” boxed checked, your business gets a link, with comments, on their friends’ Timelines.
This post was written by Josh Pelland
Give Things Away and Increase Your Profits
August 10th, 2012
I have been reading (and highly recommend) the book “Free: How Today’s Smartest Businesses Profit by Giving Something for Nothing” by Chris Anderson, the editor of Wired Magazine. Despite mixed reviews and charges of plagiarism, I am a fan of both the book and the concept that it promotes. Practicing what it preaches, there is a FREE audio version of the book that can be obtained online (285MB). Using many historic marketing examples (such as the way that demand was created for Jell-O at the turn of the century through the distribution of recipe books that told people how they could use this new dessert), as well as current examples (such as how Google concentrates on providing dozens of free services that help to enhance their branding and insure that theirs is the – highly profitable – search engine of choice), the book presents a convincing argument for embracing the concept of businesses giving products or services away for free.
To be effective, what a business gives away must have genuine value.
Ideally, it will be something that the business’ competitors are not offering for free … or perhaps not even offering at any price. Some of my favorite local spots for breakfast offer pure maple syrup to accompany pancakes and similar breakfast entrees, while other restaurants (and even many upscale hotels) do not even have pure maple syrup available at a price. Guess which restaurants I patronize when going out for breakfast or brunch! Pure maple syrup is not inexpensive; however, it builds loyalty and introduces many people to a product that might be a new culinary experience. If the sugarhouse that supplies the product is named on the menu or a label on the container, they might very well realize a new source of business.
For another example, Lake Compounce – a popular family theme park in Connecticut – has offered its guests unlimited Pepsi-Cola products for several years now. That fact is promoted in all of the park’s advertising, and the products are probably provided to the park by Pepsi at either no charge or a serious discount in exchange for the promotional opportunities (and the fact that rival Coca-Cola products are probably not sold at the park.)
Consumers are getting something for free, the business benefits, and in many instances another business enjoys indirect benefits through cross-promotional opportunities.
Do your competitors charge for parking? Differentiate your business by offering free parking. It can be as simple as that! Since my company works with a large number of family campgrounds, let me start a list of suggestions for how campgrounds might profit by giving things away for free.
- Give away a free round of mini golf on Friday night. If campers enjoy the course, the are likely to return for paid play on Saturday. They are also likely to tell other campers how much they enjoyed the game, increasing paid usage by other guests. Casinos have been doing this for years, giving new guests free plays to get them using the slots.
- Do you have paddleboats or canoe rentals? They are not earning any income when they are tied up to you dock. If they are sitting unused early on a Saturday afternoon, offer free half-hour rentals on a first-come, first-served reservation basis during a limited time period. People who enjoy using your boats will likely pay to use them again. Other people will see campers out on your lake and may decide to give it a try themselves, making this almost a form of free advertising.
- Offer your guests free wi-fi. This is pretty widely available these days, putting a campground that charges for its wi-fi service at a competitive disadvantage.
- Offer free coffee in your store between specific hours in the morning. Guess what? Those people who come in for the free coffee will usually purchase other items. How about displaying the donuts and pastries right next to the free coffee, or offering premium blends and other beverages at full price?
- Does your store sell postcards? Why not give them away for free? A postcard typically includes an indirect testimonial – “Having a great time at XYZ Campground. Wish you were here!” – and is sent to friends or relatives who may also be campers. I would even supply the stamps for free!
What are your own ideas for how you can profit from free? As always, the only limits are your imagination and your desire to grow your business!
This post was written by Peter Pelland
SmartPhone Apps or a Mobile-Friendly Site?
February 15th, 2012
There has been a growing debate recently among small businesses attempting to choose between the development of SmartPhone apps and mobile-friendly websites. Let me try to cut through the clutter with a bit of common sense.
Let’s start with a few statistics. At the end of 2011, there were 140 million SmartPhone subscriptions in the United States alone. This represents over 50% of mobile phone customers, and well over 50% of the users of handheld devices access the Internet using those devices on a daily basis. According to a study conducted on behalf of Morgan Stanley, it is projected that the volume of mobile Web access will overcome conventional desktop access by 2015 (if not sooner)!
According to some of the “strange, but true” statistics compiled by the Mobile Marketing Association, there are more people – worldwide – who own a cellphone than who own a toothbrush. Here are some perhaps more meaningful statistics provided by the same organization:
- 70% of all mobile searches result in action within 1 hour.
- Mobile coupons realize 10 times the redemption rate of conventional coupons.
- Although it takes the average person 90 minutes to respond to a typical e-mail, the same person responds to a text message within 90 seconds.
SmartPhone Usage Is All About Here and Now
Although the typical website provides a wealth of information that is carefully organized to be highly persuasive and carefully orchestrated to lead to a buying decision, SmartPhone users begin their search for information much further along in the decision-making process. SmartPhone users are dealing with a compact display screen and want to make a quick decision. It is not time to try to sell them (or force them to read) the Encyclopedia Britannica! You need a mobile website that is clean and gets to the point. It should be optimized for a small display and stripped of any non-essential text and graphics.
To start, look at your current website on your own SmartPhone. (If you are the last holdout on the planet who has not yet embraced the technology, ask a friend to show you your site on his or her phone.) Almost all websites will work on a handheld device, but some work much more effectively than others. Certain features are best avoided, such as the use of Flash (particularly in navigation), since that format is not supported by iPhones and iPads. You should also avoid framed content (generally sound advice for any website), streaming video, mouse-overs, and high-resolution graphics. In some instances, the amount of data on a page can exceed a phone’s memory capacity and prevent a page from loading. Sadly, a recent study has shown that 50% of small business owners have not taken the time to view their website on a handheld device, even though their Google Analytics may be showing that 10% of their visitors are accessing their website on a handheld device.
Now that you have viewed your website on a SmartPhone or other handheld device, what do you see? Chances are that you are seeing a totally functional website that is simply not doing its best to capitalize upon the characteristics of these devices. It doesn’t take long for a visitor to tire of the “pinch and zoom” style of surfing the Web, when they have to zoom in and scroll to read small text, and zoom out to navigate and to view graphics. Complicating matters, our thumbs are not nearly as precise as a computer mouse or our fingers on a keyboard. The bottom line is that a frustrated and inconvenienced visitor better really want what you have to offer because he is otherwise highly unlikely to become a customer. Your site is probably among the 97% of websites that were not considered mobile-friendly in early 2011.
The fact than only 3% of websites are mobile-friendly is not particularly surprising. In the overall scope of small businesses struggling to define their social media strategies, developing a mobile website is secondary in importance to the development of more pressing social media content such as a company’s Facebook business page. That said, an effective mobile presence is a very important secondary step for most small businesses. Going back to the statistic that 70% of all mobile searches result in action within 1 hour, it should be clear that you need to be an active player. The question involves which way to go.
For Most Small Businesses, the Answer is a
Mobile-friendly Version of their Primary Website
Here’s why. An app must have a practical use if you expect people to download it and then use it more than once. By far, the most popular apps are games, followed by mobile versions of established online services such as Facebook, Twitter, Skype, and Google Maps. Keep in mind that app development costs are significant. Although more than 10 billion apps were downloaded through 2010 – an average of 60 apps installed on each device – over a quarter of those are used only once. Users are also expected to download and install frequent updates, a non-issue with a mobile website that simply presents content that is updated on the server side, as needed. Beyond the development costs, plan on spending a tidy sum of money just to persuade people to download that app that they may use either infrequently or only once. The question you must ask is why users would use your app. An app makes perfect sense for businesses such as local television stations and newspapers, where they can present breaking news stories, weather forecasts, and sports scores. They also have the resources to promote downloads of their app. On the other hand, the “breaking news” of a more typical business might be better presented on Twitter or Facebook (which have their own SmartPhone apps).
Applications in the Campground Industry
My company is a major supplier of Web development services to the family camping industry, and many state campground associations are considering the development of both mobile-friendly sites and SmartPhone apps. I believe that a mobile-friendly site makes perfect sense; however, the development of dedicated apps for these associations makes little sense as I see it. I have already cited the expense of development (and don’t forget to double that expense because you will need to develop your app for both the iPhone and Android platforms) and the expense of promotion. Before one of these organizations takes that expensive plunge, there had better be a sound objective that will generate usage.
According to the recently released Special Report on Camping 2011, compiled by the Outdoor Foundation, over 50 percent of summer campers make their decisions more than a month in advance. Those making reservations for those trips book an average of 77 days in advance. Combine these statistics with the fact 70% of all mobile searches result in action within 1 hour, and you will begin to see the disconnect. SmartPhone users are generally looking to make a last-minute decision on where to camp this weekend, not weeks or months in advance. In the travel segment, this explains why some of the most popular mobile apps include Priceline, Kayak, TripAdvisor, Southwest Airlines, and Restaurant Finder. All of these apps are designed to alert flexible consumers of last-minute travel bargains. Of course, a campground association could present last-minute “unsold inventory” on their app, listing campsite and cabin vacancies prior to a holiday weekend, but the appeal will be limited. Most campers are loyal to a familiar campground or are at least looking to camp in a specific region of a state. Just because a site is available 100 miles away from their planned destination will not lead most people to be willing to make such a drastic change in their plans and preferences.
Regardless of your business or industry, before investing in a mobile app, give the concept a more careful analysis. Unlike that toy or power tool that you thought you couldn’t do without, but then ended up doing nothing more than taking up space in your garage, you are not going to be able to sell your SmartPhone apps at a yard sale or flea market. Unless there is a clear path to monetizing your investment, spend your money more wisely on something else.
This post was written by Peter Pelland
Friendly’s – A Sign of the Times or Simply Behind the Times?
October 12th, 2011
It came as no surprise when I learned of the Chapter 11 bankruptcy filing for Friendly Ice Cream Corporation last week. The company, which was once a local success story, was founded in Springfield, Massachusetts by brothers S. Prestley and Curtis Blake at the height of the Great Depression. From those humble beginnings, the company grew into a regional chain of over 500 restaurants, but neither the restaurants nor the company seemed capable of keeping up with changes in consumption patterns, despite belated efforts in that regard. Changes in corporate ownership in recent years compounded a general lack of focus, starting with the ill-fated purchase by Hershey Foods Corporation in 1979 and ending with current owners, Sun Capital Partners, Inc. What went wrong?
As a young child, I fondly recall trips to the Friendly’s restaurant located in the center of Chicopee, Massachusetts, not far from the company headquarters in Wilbraham. It was located in an early strip mall that was anchored by a W.T. Grant five and dime store that later closed and was replaced as an F.W. Woolworth store which, of course, closed soon afterward. This was a time when competition was sparse and the American public needed to pay little regard to dietary concerns. It was not a time when a restaurant chain needed to either continually evolve or be cushioned by sister properties. For example, if business should slide at Olive Garden, the slack can be absorbed by Red Lobster, LongHorn Steakhouse, or one of the other chains operated by Darden Restaurants. In recent years, the handwriting has been on the wall for Friendly’s.
• Problem 1: Lack of diversification. Sun Capital Partners is a Florida-based investment firm without a broad restaurant portfolio or an apparent interest in food that extends beyond profits.
• Problem 2: The menu. Consumer patterns and tastes in dining have evolved in recent years, with a growing emphasis on healthy menus. The concentration at Friendly’s has remained desserts. Most of the people who I know who dine out frequently probably skip the dessert course 9 out of 10 times. Why are they going to eat at a restaurant where the dessert is the featured course?
• Problem 3: The ice cream. At one time, Friendly’s was a premium brand of ice cream. As times changed, it simply became an ice cream brand with name recognition. It is not a Häagen-Dazs, a Ben & Jerry’s, or an Edy’s. It became just another store brand of ice cream, pumped with air, artificial color, artificial flavor, and high-fructose corn syrup.
• Problem 4: Advertising. A couple of years back, Friendly’s introduced one of the most annoying TV advertising campaigns in history. A 30-second ad was seen daily on local stations within Friendly’s market. I cannot even estimate how many times I either changed the channel or turned off my television within two seconds of recognizing the start of this ad. You be the judge, although I have warned you that this ad is extremely annoying: I Wanna Go to Friendly’s: Mom’s Turn!
Will Friendly’s recover? Can nostalgia come to its rescue? I doubt it. Like so many other brand names from the 1950s, Friendly’s is probably destined to fade into oblivion. You may miss the original double-dip 5-cent ice cream cone or the Friendly’s Fribble; however, like childhood, there is simply no return to the past.
This post was written by Peter Pelland