Monday, January 31, 2011

Five ways to improve your site search


If you are looking for ways to improve your business in 2011 without having to spend inordinate amounts of your budget you should review the fundamental areas of your online presence that can provide an exponential return.
Site search is a key way to improve online performance that is tangible and offers near immediate payback. After all, there’s no point driving visitors to your website to then offer them a poor user experience.
Here are five ideas to help you improve your site search...
Site search is an area where a slight tweak can lead to significant and immediate increases in your KPIs (key performance indicators). You probably already have many of the tools required to maximise your site search in which case you can achieve the following with a small investment of time.
Here are five ideas to help you improve your site search...

Spend some time defining your most useful site search reports

You can have these emailed to you on a regular basis so that you can identify and monitor trends and user patterns which will help the business.
Key reports to consider include poor results, facet activity, phrase reports, and the number of search users.

Normalise your data (colours, sizes, specs)

Refer to colours by their standard names. In other words, call blue – blue or consider the use of swatches.
You can still retain your brand's preferred naming convention but from a user perspective minimising the amount of guesswork and thinking (translation effort) means they can focus on the objective of their visit (think conversion!).
Other examples where data normalisation is useful includes technical specifications e.g. Blu-ray, BD-Rom, BD-R/BD-RE or HD, hdmi, 1080 or size data small, medium large, 6,8, 10 etc. 

Use high quality images

There’s no doubt that high quality and good sized images will increase the appeal of your site and the product you are selling.
Using icons to denote whether a product is on special offer or is perhaps a new addition to your range encourages interaction and engagement. So consider having a library of images that can be used for seasonal promotions and other specific offers such as 'sale' 'special offer' 'new', and so on. 

Review and update your copy

That doesn't mean cramming the descriptive text with SEO friendly terms. In fact that's exactly what you shouldn't be doing. Not only will it potentially 'confuse' your site search solution, it will also score a bad mark from the search engines if done without careful consideration.
Instead, use strong descriptive language that is accurate and supports the merits of the product as well as buying it from you. Use clear and relevant titles for the product and above all keep the descriptions concise enough to get the main points across in a sentence or two. 

Check, Clean and maintain you data

This is arguably the hardest task of the lot and encompasses some of the points above but should be one of the first things you do.
The ability to present or refine searches (and navigation) based on attribute data such as colour, type, brand, category, size, price is all driven from having a reliable and well maintained source of data (information architecture).
Additional imagery and associated content (video, social media etc) can all be used to promote your products and services as well.
Done once and done properly a structured and well organised set of data will provide additional benefits beyond site search such as creating feeds for partner organisations and expanding the capability of your site.

Learn more...

Econsultancy's Site Search Report contains a comprehensive analysis of this marketplace and includes valuable insights into how companies are using site search on their web properties. 
The research looks at how much companies are currently spending on site search, how they are measuring success and the extent to which different types of tool and functionality are being used. 

Is Quora the Next Red-Hot Web Start-Up?


With websites, as with bands and restaurants, few things feel as good as discovering the next big thing before it gets big. If you were on Twitter back in 2007, for instance, you got in when the service still felt like a cool private club — long before Lady Gaga, Justin Bieber and millions of their admirers moved in. If you belonged to Facebook before mid-2004, you were used to being part of an elite class: only students at Ivy League schools and Stanford were eligible for membership.
Today, there's Quora. Founded by two former Facebook bigwigs and opened to the public in June 2010, the Q&A site isn't yet a household name. But it has a feeling of hip exclusivity and impending greatness that's reminiscent of early Twitter and Facebook. Silicon Valley ├╝berblog TechCrunch is already covering the service so obsessively that the comments on its Quora posts are rife with pleas from readers begging it to take it down a notch.(See "Your Best E-Reader May Be No E-Reader.")
Like many Web 2.0 services, Quora isn't so much a new idea as a fresh take on a leftover concept from the Web 1.0 era — it's a spiritual descendant of long-forgotten 1990s start-ups such as Abuzz, AskMe and Keen. You can post questions and answers on any topic and search for ones that have already been posted, from the mundane ("When did Steve Ballmer become CEO of Microsoft?") to the metaphysical ("Why do people lie?"). As with Twitter, you can follow other members (as well as specific questions); as with Digg, everyone can vote answers up or down, so the best responses are easy to spot and the worst ones stay out of the way.
Nothing extraordinary about any of that. So why is Quora attracting so much attention? It's the community. On an Internet that can feel as if it's inhabited largely by belligerent know-nothings, Quora is a place where the average citizen is an intelligent, well-informed person — and where, in a Lake Wobegon–like effect, most everybody seems to be above average. If you ask a question about a particular Web start-up, odds are that you'll get one or more thoughtful replies. And it won't be the least bit startling if one of them comes from a founder of the company in question.
Even if your questions don't get good answers — some of my queries have been ignored, period — reading other users' conversations is addictive. In one example that's the stuff of legend among Quora enthusiasts, a member asked how much AOL spent to send out the zillions of trial-software CDs it distributed in the 1990s. The closest thing to an answer that person got was the less-than-definitive "over $300 million." But among the respondents were AOL founder Steve Case and Jan Brandt, the marketing executive who came up with the idea of carpet-bombing the country with sign-up discs in the first place. Both gave personal looks at a topic they know better than anyone else.(See the 100 best gadgets of all time.)
You don't have to be a geek to love Quora, but it helps. For one thing, its interface is impenetrable—I've been using it for months, and I still feel like a clueless newbie at times. Right now, it's saying I have 1,010 notifications, 899 items related to me, 97 items on my home page and one message in my inbox. I'm darned if I can remember the distinctions among them. For another, Quora — which is headquartered in Palo Alto, Calif., not far from Facebook headquarters — is still dominated by chatter of interest to tech-start-up types. So much of the fodder is Silicon Valley–centric that I'm startled when someone recommends a restaurant or other local business and it turns out it's not in the Bay Area.(Comment on this story.)
For Quora to have the lasting impact of a Twitter or Facebook, it needs to appeal to the masses. It's tough, though, to imagine the service welcoming an influx of millions of new users while retaining its cozy, smart feel. If you believe there's no such thing as a dumb question, you haven't spent much time on the big Q&A sites. The quality of the conversation at Aardvark, another such service that once seemed full of potential (and which is now part of Google) has been suffering lately. As I was writing this column, it sent me this important missive from a user: "Can someone tell me what is the time right now?" And on Ask.com — which recently announced it would de-emphasize its venerable search engine and focus on questions and answers — one of the most popular questions at the moment is "Can penguins fly?"(See 10 start-ups that will change your life.)
Still, it's not unthinkable that Quora could both get big and stay good. Twitter was once just as cryptic and insidery, and it's managed to grow with surprising grace. (If you don't want to interact with the Gaga freaks and Bieberites, don't follow them, and they'll be all but invisible.) I'm sure rooting for Quora — and if you're a fan of Web services that are bursting with potential, so should you.
McCracken blogs about personal technology at Technologizer, which he founded in 2008 after nearly two decades as a tech journalist. His column for TIME.com, also called Technologizer, appears every Thursday.


Read more: http://www.time.com/time/business/article/0,8599,2044521,00.html#ixzz1CbZIn0Nx

How to Drive Tons of Traffic to Your Site from One Post


Ask friends to help spread your content on Twitter & Facebook, too.
Spreading Valuable Content on the World Wide Web is important for increasing traffic to your blog or website. I wanted to show you a marketing tactic that works for increasing traffic to your site. And its all FREE (I love FREE marketing. Don’t you?)!

ONE Post

Take a post, any post. You now have a gold mine on your screen. How so?
Take your one post and…

Create a PowerPoint Presentation

Early, we discussed taking about an hour of your time to create a presentation that you can upload to ShareSlide.net.
Don’t have the PowerPoint software? Use OpenOffice.org.

Create a Video

You can create a screencast video about your blog post – a how-to video. Camtasia is a great software program for this. But its at a price of $300. However, there is a free 30-day trial period.
Don’t be dismayed. Use Firefox’s CaptureFox for FREE. It records audio, too. Just download it to your Firefox browser. The only draw back – some people experience audio lag – when the audio is not in sync with the video.
Consider doing a web cam video presenting your article. Make it informative. Stress your main points.
Now submit your video to:
Don’t forget to link back to your site in the video description field.
Counting your blog post – we’ve theorectically submitted to 6 different places to help bring in traffic.

Submit to your other blog sites

Don’t have any other blogs? Time to set some up to share your content. The reason is to boost your rankings due to high quality backlinks. Higher your ranking – more people will find you in the search engines. But it also works for bringing in more traffic from the blog.
You could put the same {post/video/powerpoint} on each site. If you do this method, set up your autopost option on Posterous. When you publish a post on Posterous, it will automatically send it out to your other websites. Its a nice time saver method.
Another method is to alternate posts for each of your blogs. Consider one of your blog sites to host just videos. Then alternate your powerpoint presentation and post on the other sites.
Alternate or Automate your posts on different blog sites:
  • Self-hosted domain
  • WordPress.com
  • Posterous
  • Tumbler
etc…

Submit to directory sites and bookmarking sites

This part of the strategy may require a bit more time than the rest. It’s time to spin your articles and syndicate your content.
Spinning your articles basically means to rephrase your article for directory submission purposes.
Yes, there is article rewriter software (aka, spinning). But I have not used them. Not sure that I will. I prefer manually spinning my articles and its not too time consuming.
For a great read on manually spinning your articles, check out: David Leohardt’s Article Spinning – Spin Like a Pro
Different directories have different submission guidelines. Don’t feel you need to submit to them all. Pick a couple of good ones, like EzineArticles or ArticleBase, and have a go.
Yes, there is also article submitter tools (that promise to “submit your article to over 700 directories in less than 5 minutes!”). But by manually submitting I can guarantee they are going to high PR ranking sites.
The idea is to start submitting your link/post to a few directory and bookmarking sites. Then build from that.
Here is a list of some social bookmarking sites, web 2.0 sites, blog sites, and article directories you can start with:
  • Ezine Articles
  • Article Base
  • Buzzle
  • Mixx
  • StumbleUpon
  • Zoomit
  • Digg
  • Old Dogg
  • Google Buzz
  • Yahoo Buzz
  • Twitter
  • Facebook
Start a networking group with some friends. Where you can help promote eachother’s articles on these social bookmarking & directory sites.

Create a Web Effect

Kind of ironic – spider ‘web’ and WW ‘web’. In essence, we are creating a (spider) web effect with our one post. Creating links to our site = backlinking & increasing traffic to our site.
Your Ezine article will link back to your blog.
The video will link back to your blog.
The video post from your other blog will link to your YouTube account.
And so forth.
Publishing one post a week & spreading it on the web in different formats will have a more profound effect on your blog. Than trying to blog everyday without efforts to increase traffic.
My favorite quote,
“Take time to work ON your blog, rather than IN your blog”
To help you get started, I’ve created a Starter’s Checklist to help you get started:https://s3.amazonaws.com/syob/Starter+Checklist.pdf
How do you promote your blog posts?

Six steps to determine if it's time for a website redesign


The prospect of a website redesign can be daunting for any small business owner. Before investing the time and money necessary for such an undertaking, entrepreneurs should consider six factors.
Does your site feel fresh? If your site feels as though it no longer accurately reflects your company, feels stale, is overly complicated or just unmemorable, it's time for an update.
Does your site feel effortless? Your site worked exactly the way you wanted it to when it first launched. Does upgrades, changes, expanded product categories and new content made it unwieldy and difficult for visitors to navigate (and for you to manage and easily update)? If so, it's definitely time for a redesign.
Are you really as customer service oriented as you think you are? What and how your customers order (or don't order), their comments and phone calls, tell you everything you need to know about how user-friendly your site is. You might believe you are doing everything you can to make their experience positive, but their words and actions will tell you if that is true. Listen and redesign around their feedback; it will pay off for both of you.
Are you really as shopper-focused as you think you are? Your site's design must cater to your customers. Your content and labeling should speak their language. Your navigation structure should allow for customers to shop the way they want to shop – not how you think they should. Be there when they need you, and get out of their way when they don't.
Are you utilizing social media? The time when you could ignore social media is gone. Integrating sharing and interaction features with your site will increase traffic and sales. Different businesses need different amounts of social exposure, but almost every site can benefit from it in some way.
Are you capitalizing on recent technology advantages? Every day, new technologies are making more and more things possible and raising consumers' expectations. These days, it is imperative to offer location-based functionality, integrated product reviews, fast page load times and simple methods for browsing and finding products.
If you answered "no" to any of these questions, it's probably time to at least consider a website redesign.
Josh Levine is the founder and CEO of New York-based Alexander Interactive, which specializes in building and designing websites, including e-commerce sites.

20 Simple Steps to the Perfect Persuasive Message


Post image for 20 Simple Steps to the Perfect Persuasive Message
Craft messages that change minds using these 20 principles of persuasion, all based on established psychological research.
Perfection is hard to achieve in any walk of life and persuasion is no different. It relies on many things going just right at the crucial moment; the perfect synchronisation of source, message and audience. But even if perfection is unlikely, we all need to know what to aim for.
To bring you the current series on the psychology of persuasion I've been reading lots of research, much more than is covered in recent posts. As I read, I noticed the same themes cropping up over and over again.
Here are the most important points for crafting the perfect persuasive message, all of which have scientific evidence to back them up.
    1. Multiple, strong arguments: the more arguments, the more persuasive, but overall persuasive messages should be balanced, as two-sided arguments fare better than their one-sided equivalents (as long as counter-arguments are shot down).
    2. Relevance: persuasive messages should be personally relevant to the audience. If not, they will switch off and fail to process it.
    3. Universal goals: In creating your message, understand the three universal goals for which everyone is aiming: affiliation, accuracy and positive self-concept.
    4. Likeability: ingratiating yourself with the audience is no bad thing—most successful performers, actors, lawyers and politicians do it. Likeability can be boosted by praising the audience and by perceived similarity. Even the most fleeting similarities can be persuasive.
    5. Authority: people tend to defer to experts because it saves us trying to work out the pros and cons ourselves (read the classic experiment onobedience to authority).
    6. Attractiveness: the physical attractiveness of the source is only important if it is relevant (e.g. when selling beauty products).
    7. Match message and medium: One useful rule of thumb is: if the message is difficult to understand, write it; if it's easy, put it in a video.
    8. Avoid forewarning: don't open up saying "I will try and persuade you that..." If you do, people start generating counter-arguments and are less likely to be persuaded.
    9. Go slow: If the audience is already sympathetic, then present the arguments slowly and carefully (as long as they are relevant and strong). If the audience is against you then fast talkers can be more persuasive.
    10. Repetition: whether or not a statement is true, repeating it a few times gives the all-important illusion of truth. The illusion of truth leads to the reality of persuasion.
    11. Social proof: you've heard it before and you'll hear it again—despite all their protestations of individuality, people love conformity. So tell them which way the flock is going because people want to be in the majority.
    12. Attention: if the audience isn't paying attention, they can't think about your arguments, so attitudes can't change. That's why anything that sharpens attention, like caffeine, makes people easier to persuade. And speaking of attention...
    13. Minimise distraction: if you've got a strong message then audiences are more swayed if they pay attention. If the arguments are weak then it's better if they're distracted.
    14. Positively framed: messages with a positive frame can be more persuasive.
    15. Disguise: messages are more persuasive if they don't appear to be intended to persuade or influence as they can sidestep psychological reactance (hence the power of overheard arguments to change minds).
    16. Psychologically tailored: messages should match the psychological preferences of the audience. E.g. some people prefer thinking-framed arguments and others prefer feel-framed arguments (see: battle between thought and emotion in persuasion). Also, some people prefer to think harder than others.
    17. Go with the flow: persuasion is strongest when the message and audience are heading in the same direction. Thoughts which come into the audience's mind more readily are likely to be more persuasive.
    18. Confidence: not only your confidence, but theirs. The audience should feel confident about attitude change. Audience confidence in their own thoughts is boosted by a credible source and when they feel happy (clue: happy audiences are laughing).
    19. Be powerful: a powerful orator influences the audience, but making the audience themselves feel powerful increases their confidence in attitude change. An audience has to feel powerful enough to change.
    20. Avoid targeting strong beliefs: strong attitudes and beliefs are very difficult to change. Do not directly approach long-standing ideas to which people are committed, they will resist and reject. Strong beliefs must be approached indirectly.

    Change minds

    You should be aware that many of these factors interact with each other. For example when the message is strong but the source is dodgy, the sleeper effect can arise.
    Argument strength is also critical. The basic principle is that when arguments are strong, you need to do everything to make people concentrate on them. When they're weak, it's all about distracting the audience from the content and using peripheral routes to persuade, such as how confidently or quickly you talk.
    Weaving all these together is no mean feat, but look at most professionally produced persuasive messages and you'll see many of these principles on show. Incorporate as many as you can for maximum effect.
    Image credit: Maigh