Is Comment Kahuna Good Or Evil? (Do Guns Kill People?)

The denizens of Internet Marketing Planet are hammering inboxes this week with another promotion, this time for Jason Potash of "Article Announcer" fame. I have to admit that I haven’t been paying much attention to what he’s selling, if it’s even been disclosed, but I do know that he’s been giving away some software called "Comment Kahuna."

Comment Kahuna allows you to search for blogs and posts on a topic. So far, pretty harmless. The feature that’s being touted so widely is the ability to search for blogs that aren’t using nofollow on their comments. I’m sure we can all see what might be disruptive about that.

Andy Jenkins posted his thoughts on the Stompernet Blog, about the right way for commenters to participate in blog communities, and I couldn’t agree more. Comment Kahuna can be used for good, or evil… OK, maybe not evil, just unwise. :D

A cool thing happened after he posted – the first comment comes from Andy Beard, who does exactly what Andy Jenkins said commenters should do – he added value to the discussion. Kudos to both Andys for bringing some signal to the web, and not just with this one post.

Mr. Beard and I disagree as often as we agree, but I will argue to the end that he brings something important to the conversation.

Required Reading on Conversion: Seven Testing Pitfalls

Stompernet faculty member & "Chief Scientest" (sic) Andy Edmonds pointed out a very useful resource the other day:

Seven Pitfalls to Avoid when Running Controlled Experiments on the Web is a great white paper by Thomas Crook, Brian Frasca, Ronny Kohavi, Roger Longbotham from Microsoft. Check out the site for the MSFT Experimentation Platform while you’re at it. Cool stuff.

For those of you who don’t know Andy, he used to work at Microsoft, on the Live Search team. He does research, actual work, tool development, and training for us at Stompernet, on analytics, usability, testing, and conversion. He is smarter than everyone I have ever met, combined. Andy’s "Always Be Testing" blog is required reading for anyone working in any of the above areas. Seriously.

Andy’s "Scrutinizer" tool is also one of the coolest free things any web designer, conversion/usability professional, or web entrepreneur could ever wish for. It lets you see your website the way your visitors do, by simulating human vision. This allows you to spot subtle weaknesses in design, usability, and conversion that would otherwise require expensive eye-tracking studies to understand.

Die, Call Center, Die! (Why Your Call Center Sucks)

Sorry folks, this one has nothing to do with search marketing… unless, like EVERY business, you use the telephone to interact with customers. Oh right, that’s almost all of us.

Why? Why? Why?

I spent last Thursday-Sunday at Stompernet’s "Live 5" Conference, so called because it was our 5th live event… really an amazing event, which I’ll cover in more detail at another time. If you must know what happened there, new member Lynn Terry has some interesting perspectives.

What I want to talk about today comes out of a conversation that I had after the conference, while I was sitting in the hotel’s coffee shop on Monday morning. I was chatting with Mark Benda of Faster Audio, creator of the soon-to-be-famous Benda Index. We got to talking about support costs for software developers, and that wound around to a question I have been asking for years…

Why Aren’t Call Centers Profit Centers?

Some of the activity of your call center (wherever you answer your phones) is definitely costly. Customers calling to check on order status, that costs money. Customers calling about returns and refunds, that costs money. Customers calling because they can’t figure out how to use your product, that costs money. In a moment, I’ll suggest some ways to turn a profit, even with these calls.

If you’re doing business on the web, of course, you just might be able to reduce those costs by doing a better job with your website.

Personally, I buy a lot of stuff online, and fewer than half of the merchants I deal with provide any kind of order status information online or by email. Of those who do, fewer than half give me a way to track shipments – most of the time, you don’t even know that your order has been shipped.

Even those who provide tracking information, at best, only provide a tracking number, and *maybe* a link to the FedEx or UPS web site. Why? Is that all your "free" shopping cart software will do? Do you realize how much "free" costs yet?

Shippers can get detailed tracking information automatically, and send that directly to the customer. In fact, you could even send an email with a subject like "Your Order Should Arrive April 9, 2008 via UPS." Wow – wouldn’t that be nice… and I wouldn’t be calling you about it.

A call for returns or refunds is probably worth taking, but you could at least give your customers a way to initiate the process online, and call them back with instructions. I’ve seen good phone reps with a good product save many sales by talking to the customer, and in fact, I’ve even seen them generate new sales.

Most of the time, though, a conversation with a customer is an opportunity. A chance to learn what they want. A chance to collect testimonials. A chance to find out what your website doesn’t do well enough. A chance to sell them something. A chance to regain their trust. A chance to create a raving fan.

If you can’t turn a profit by answering your phones, you probably aren’t thinking hard enough, and you may need a better business model.

Die, Bad Call Center Practices!

This isn’t a comprehensive list, but it’s a good sampling…

  1. If you call your customers with a machine that puts them on hold, you should just go die. I know that it saves precious seconds of labor when your phone reps have zero idle time between calls, but it makes your customer and your phone rep less friendly, and leads to a much lower quality of interaction. You saved 20 seconds dialing time, and the customer is going to spend part of that time complaining about being called and put on hold. Let your reps breathe and compose themselves between calls, or one bad call will lead to another. You’re already interrupting your customer, so try not to be a jerk about it.
  2. If your call center that’s trying to do outbound selling does #1, you should die hard with a vengeance, you idiot. I’ve had this happen so many times, and I seriously don’t get it. Your robot calls me up, puts me on hold, and then your poor rep gets on and pitches your offer to me? Unbelievable. You’re throwing away opportunity, and wasting customers’ time, all with one bad practice.
  3. If you ever tell your customers that they called the wrong toll free number, and tell them to hang up and call someone else, you don’t deserve to suck any more of our precious air. Bonus death points if you made them sit on hold for several minutes, tell you their entire story, and then asked them to hang up and go get in another queue. A humane death by lethal injection if you at least told them to call elsewhere quickly.
  4. If you transfer customers to another queue, after they’ve already sat in one, because your reps can’t handle the slightest exception, go die, and then sit in Purgatory for 999 years and think about what you did wrong. Do I even need to explain how bad this is? Figure it out yourself, call center guy. Go ahead, we’re waiting.
  5. If you make a man named Vishy tell customers that his name is Mike, you don’t have to die, but please stop. Seriously. We know his name isn’t Mike, and it’s insulting to all of us, especially Vishy. He works hard for you, much harder than you deserve. He’s probably smarter than you. He lives in a country where this is actually a halfway decent job. What’s your excuse?

Now, Some Ways To Get Better

In addition to being whipped to death by bad call centers, I’ve also been pleasantly surprise by some astonishingly good practices, and even used some myself…

  1. If you can’t answer the phone immediately, collect information from the customer while they wait. Some call centers get all the information they needed from me automatically, and when I get a rep on the line, they know exactly how to take care of me. In fact, you might be able to collect some fantastic data on what your customers want. "We’ll be with you shortly, and if you don’t mind answering a quick question we’ll move you to the front of the line." Ask them what their favorite color is, ask them anything that might help your business make better decisions.
  2. If the wait time is going to be anything but brief, offer to call the customer back. This seems like such a no brainer. Humans do it all the time – ever called someone’s office where their assistant takes a message and asks when they can call back? "This is a very busy time for us, and our current wait time is approximately 19 minutes. We’d be happy to call you back if you prefer. If you’d like us to call you back within the next hour, press 1. If you need to schedule a later time for us to call back, press 2. To continue holding, press 3." How hard was that? Your robot can call me back and connect us, and nobody has to sit on hold.
  3. Why not make a little cash on the phone? If repeat business matters to you, offer customers coupon codes when they call. If they’re using an older model, ask them if they know about the new one. If you sell software, why not offer the tech support customer a great deal on training DVDs, add-ons, or upgrades? Points off if you try to do this before you take care of the customer’s need, bonus points if you actually start turning a profit in your call center. It can be done.
  4. Staple yourself to a case! There was a great article in HBR about 100 years ago called "Staple Yourself to an Order." The idea was to see the entire process… if you run a call center, put together a list of common customer stories & cases, set it up in your CRM system so it will look real, and make the calls. Over and over. Don’t just listen to recordings, experience the whole process just like a customer. Bonus points if you attach a blood pressure monitor and note what made your blood boil.

Thanks for listening, folks.. I feel better already. If you offer good call center or phone solutions that can help my readers fix what’s bad and do more of what’s good, I’m happy to hear from you in the comments.

PS – Quick thanks to Linda and Craig @ Kinko’s who helped made the phone my "favorite machine."

Big Screen – Cool Firefox Extension

Quick hat tip to Andy Edmonds, for his "big screen" extension, which helps those of us with giant monitors view pages that don’t render so well at large sizes. Allows you to split your screen up into multiple panes, plus a couple other cool features like draging-n-droping links between windows. Andy has been working on issues like this for a while, his earlier linked views FF hack allowed you to scroll two side by side windows at the same time.

Andy Edmonds is one smart guy, BTW. If you care about testing, you want to grab the "Always Be Testing" feed in your newsreader. Here’s a recent example, where he shows how test results may vary between new & returning visitors… and how to get at the truth with Google Analytics.

Risky Advice on Evading Adwords Display URL Rules

Just a quick heads up for my readers here…

Adwords new display URL rules went into effect yesterday. Pretty simple stuff – the domain name you show in your ad’s display URL must match the domain name where the visitor actually lands after they click the ad. Pretty simple for most advertisers, but for affiliate marketers who want to avoid looking like affiliates, a little troublesome… and even for honest affiliate marketers trying to play by the rules, it creates a challenge.

Affiliate marketing via PPC advertising is tough, and one of the ways you try to get ahead in the game is by split testing domain names, and using keyword-specific domain names to raise the click through rate as much as possible.

Bryan Todd, over at Perry Marshall’s shop, wrote an article on how to get around these rules in order to split test domain names in ads. I appreciate Bryan offering a solution, but I wish he’d been a little more careful with his research. While the process Bryan outlines apparently worked with *his* hosting setup, it won’t work for everyone, and there are SEO implications that weren’t considered.

Bryan’s plan (pointing another domain at the I.P. address of the existing web site) works if the web server is configured to serve up the same site as the default. Many servers will instead deliver something else, like a default page, if you do what Bryan recommends.

If your server configuration happens to work with Bryan’s method, you’ll still have more than one domain name serving up the same web site. That’s duplicate content. If you must split test domains (affiliate marketers are advised to do so), and you care about SEO, you’ll want to copy the site and use robots.txt to make sure that only the Adwords quality bot reads the extra domains.

What "Internet Marketers" Can Teach Search Marketers

Don’t you just hate "that kind of marketing?"

Most of my readers, and in fact most search marketers, have at best an uneasy arms-length relationship with "internet marketing."

You know, the kind of marketing that uses long sales letters with with big red headlines, bold claims, and gushing testimonials. The kind of marketing that bombards your inbox with the latest and greatest "new" thing.

Most of us naturally recoil at "that kind of marketing." We don’t want to use it in our own businesses, because it just makes us feel kind of slimy. I get that. I’m with you… but the truth is, "that kind of marketing" does work.

With a little understanding of the principles behind it, you can make it work just as well without all the hype. When you understand how it works, you can use it to sell more of whatever you sell, not just information products.

In fact, if you’re reading this, there’s a good chance that I used "that kind of marketing" to get your attention in the first place.

You probably didn’t think of it as an "internet marketing" type of promotion, but when I relaunched SEO Fast Start last May, the process was the same. Same principles, same methods, the only difference is that I used my "inside voice" instead of shouting… and it worked.

How well did it work? Well, we’ve had over 20,000 downloads since last May, and a huge portion of that audience actually read the book and took the time to register for my newsletter.

It’s Not About The Hype & Claims, It’s About Building Anticipation

I’ve been getting a lot of emails about Jeff Walker’s "Product Launch Formula" for the past couple weeks. I’m sure some of my readers have as well, because it seems like every "internet marketing guru" is pushing it like mad.

Some of you may already be jumping out of your pants with excitement about it. Or, if you’re like me, all that hype makes you skeptical.

In this case, though, the product merits the attention. Having purchased and used the first edition of Jeff’s course a couple years ago, I can tell you that it has been tremendously helpful, and not just in selling information products about online marketing.

Jeff has distilled what’s true out of the hype-laden world of internet marketing. You can use Jeff’s formula to sell more of anything you sell.

You don’t have to launch a "product" at all – it could be a special sale or promotion, an end-of-the-month inventory blowout, anything. The point is to get your customers and prospects interested, and make whatever you’re doing into an event.

How Does Selling Out Amazon Sound?

The most recent email I got about the PLF was from Andy Jenkins at Stompernet. Andy’s a good friend, and a business partner, but make no mistake about it, he’s a lot closer to being one of "those types of marketers" than I’ll ever be. He just happens to be one of the honest ones.

Jeff Walker helped us out (a lot) with Stompernet’s most recent launch of SMARTS, a social marketing course & coaching program that I helped put together. He was deeply involved in Stompernet’s initial launch in October 2006, which set all kinds of records in the IM world.

Jeff has talked about those launches in depth… but Andy’s email didn’t mention those "internet marketing" launches at all.

Andy tells the story, in great detail, of how he used Jeff’s product launch methods last year. Not to promote Stompernet, but to save a movie that he produced from dying on the DVD racks.

Even though they had a major studio involved in distribution, it was the producers’ own online promotion that really made the DVD release into an event. Such an event, in fact, that they caused Amazon to sell out their entire inventory in 36 minutes.

How Do You Hype A DVD?

This is where it gets interesting. "That kind of marketing" was used to sell a movie, folks.

They didn’t use a big red headline. They didn’t tell everyone that they’d made millions of dollars just by watching the movie. How could they? For one thing it wasn’t true, and unlike some internet marketers, Andy doesn’t just make stuff up. More importantly, that kind of hype wasn’t what the audience wanted!*

What did the audience want? They wanted what movie geeks always want – insider information, behind the scenes stuff, trivia… so that’s what Andy offered them. People watched the trailer, signed up for the mailing list, and got a PDF chock full of that stuff for their trouble.

When it came time to "launch" they had a huge list that was eagerly anticipating the release… and it sold like crazy.

Chances are pretty good that if you walk into a Blockbuster store today, you’ll find Andy’s film, Altered, occupying prime shelf space. Internet marketing, done the right way, has a lot to do with that.

What does your audience want?

I don’t know your customers like you do, but I do know that they want… something. I know that Jeff’s course can help you identify that something, and show you step by step, how to use that knowledge to sell more stuff.

I don’t promote or recommend products that I don’t believe in. I wouldn’t suggest that you run out and buy something, unless I would buy it myself. I have no idea what the price of Jeff’s course will be, but I do expect it to be worth every penny.

Hey Dan, Is That An Affiliate Link?

Yes, it is, and I think the product actually goes on sale this week. If you buy Jeff’s course through my links, I will earn a commission, and *you* will earn a free pass to my next online class.

If you bounce over to Andy’s blog and buy through their links, then Stompernet will earn a commission, and you’ll get whatever they decide to offer as a bonus. Naturally, I like my bonus better.

BTW, like Jason Calacanis, I do believe that affiliate links should be disclosed in some fashion… and I think we’re all better off doing so before the FTC forces us to do it. It’s kind of a no brainer, and if anyone but Jason "Hate Bait" Calacanis had said it, I think the reaction would have been very different.

Go Watch Jeff’s Videos For A Free Education

The  good news is that you don’t need to buy anything to learn a lot. Jeff Walker has produced several case study videos that are themselves an excellent course on his methods. The first video is here, but I recommend that you start with this case study instead. You can watch a short sample and then opt in to his list to get access to all of the videos.

Since it’s easy to unsubscribe, I recommend just opting in first, and then watching them all. The sample video is just the first part of a longer video, so if you watch the sample and then opt in, you get to watch the same part twice. Seems a little silly to me, but hey, I never said he was perfect!

Trust me, whether you buy Jeff’s course or not, these videos are worth the time.

You may not like "that kind of marketing" as it’s practiced by most internet marketers, and I don’t either… but  it does have some real value when you understand the principles behind it.

* note: sometimes, red headlines and bold claims are exactly what the audience wants… knowing their audience is why a lot of these guys are successful. What makes so many of us uncomfortable about "that kind of marketing" is that we’re often exposed to messages that were written for an audience that we aren’t part of.

Adwords "Landing Page Quality" & Search Ads

Google has announced that "landing page load time" will "soon" become a factor in "landing page quality scoring."

Okay, so what does that mean to you? Well, if you listen to the blogs & forums since the announcement, it means, of course, the end of civilization as we know it. You’ll need to buy a dedicated server, stream every bit via Akamai, blah, blah… Hold on. Stop panicking. Use your inside voice. Think for a minute…

First of all, if you don’t advertise on the content network (Adsense), this shouldn’t be a big deal, unless it actually creates a minimum bid issue for you. Why do I say this? Well, because Google says so – "landing page quality" is not a factor in ranking search ads.

Is it possible that Google could change their policy, and let landing page load time influence search ad rankings? Sure they could, but to date, they haven’t said so.

Otherwise sane people are insisting that they’ve already been slapped over landing page load times. I’m sure some folks have noticed higher minimum bids this week, but that happens every week. I’m not buying cause & effect with this announcement, because that idea makes no sense. Some of them are even prescribing fixes based on nothing more than complete speculation. Fixes that, if done wrong, could leave your site offline until a professional fixes your mistakes… Relax, people!

According to Google’s announcement, this hasn’t even rolled out yet. When it does happen, we’ll get another announcement and we’ll be able to see the load time score in our Keyword Analysis Page. We will then have an entire month to make adjustments, if it’s even necessary. Until then, take a chill pill, and just wait to see if this means anything to you. My bet is that very few advertisers will be affected.

Adwords' New "Automatic Matching" – Don't Fall For This!

A friend just tipped me off to this offer they received from Google Adwords:

I’m excited to tell you that you have been selected to participate in a beta for our new Automatic Matching feature which will be starting on February 28th.

Automatic Matching automatically extends your campaign’s reach by using surplus budget to serve your ads on relevant search queries that are not already triggered by your keyword lists.  By analyzing the structure and content of your website and AdWords campaigns, we deliver more impressions and clicks while maintaining your current CTRs and CPCs.

For example, If you sold Adidas shoes on your website, Automatic Matching would automatically crawl your landing page and target your campaigns to queries such as: "shoes" "adidas" "athletic", etc., and less obvious ones such as "slippers" that our system has determined will benefit you and likely lead to a conversion on your site.

Be assured that automatic matching will try to never exceed your budget. If you’re already meeting your daily budgets, automatic matching will have a minimal effect on your account.

The broad match feature of Adwords is bad enough, folks. Now they’re offering you the exciting opportunity to bleed every penny of your budget every day, advertising against keywords that you didn’t want to bid on. Sure, if I sell Adidas shoes, why wouldn’t I want to get some traffic from people who searched for slippers? I mean, it’s not like I’m trying to turn a profit or anything, right?

This is pathetic. Don’t get sucked in.

(some of the) best posts from last week

This week, we’re starting something new!

Introduction from Dan Thies:
This week, we’re kicking off something new. My evil apprentice, PJ, has been assigned to scour the web for the most interesting articles & posts each week.

You won’t find industry gossip or merger & acquisition news in here. As much as possible, we’re trying to pick out a few useful and informative things that you may have missed I would have missed some of these myself if "Da Peej" hadn’t found them for me.

Please enjoy, and let us know what you think of this as a regular feature.

What we’re reading this week:

5 Lesser Known Google Analytics Features by Thomas McMahon

Online Reputation Management for Individuals by Lee Odden

28 Ways to Make Money with Your Website by Daniel Scocco

Internet Marketing Strategy: A Step-by-Step Diagram by Ian Lurie

How to SEO Your Site in Less Than 120 Minutes by Brendan Picha

A series from Matt McGee: A Guide to Social Marketing on Yahoo! Answers

Part One: What Is Yahoo! Answers?

Part Two: Why Use Yahoo! Answers

Part Three: How To Use Yahoo! Answers

Finally, our favorite LOLCat of the Week:

We originally planned to make this an "all business" weekly post… but Dan has become obsessed with LOLCats. In the hope that this is a short-lived feature, we present the LOLCat of the Week:

funny pictures
moar humorous pics

What were your favorites? Did we miss any? Let us know!

 If there are any posts you think *we* might have missed, please feel free to let fly in the comments. Pathetic link spammers, be advised that comments are moderated.

SEO Fast Start Video Contest – Cash Prizes

The game is afoot! The first SEO Fast Start video contest is on!  I’m looking for the best instructional videos I can find, in two categories, and I am willing to pay for it:

  • Search Engine Optimization – $500 prize
  • Pay Per Click – $500 prize

I will be the sole judge. I alone will decide the two winner in each category. This means that you might want to steer toward the "white hat" side. You might want to actually read my book. You might want to bring your best stuff.

The rules, such as they are:

  1. Videos should be your own original content.
  2. Videos must be no more than 12 minutes in length. Science proves that everyone falls asleep after that.
  3. Videos should be posted to an open, public site – your blog is OK, YouTube is OK, etc. – I personally recommend FreeIQ.
  4. Your entry becomes an entry when you post the title, a short description, and the URL in the comments on this post.
  5. The contest will run until March 1, 2008 – or a total of 100 valid entries, whichever comes first.
  6. It’s my contest, I make the rules. I reserve the right to add new rules or to change these rules. I don’t owe you anything.
  7. If I decide to hand out additional prizes, that’s my business.
  8. Anyone who has paid me large sums of money in the past year is not eligible.
  9. If you bought me a drink at a conference or something, that’s OK, because I will have forgotten about it by now. I probably forgot about it as soon as you handed me the drink. But thank you anyway.

Game on. Let’s see your entries!