Links: President’s Day Edition 2009

Friday, February 20th, 2009 at 10:45 AM | Category: Blogging, Books, Links, Marketing, Meryl's Notes Blog, Shopping, Tech 1 comment

And for fun because we’re allowed…

  • 50 Best Web Sites 2008 according to Time and the list all of them by most popular. Yes, some of the below come from Time. Great stuff.
  • I like totally love it: “The site allows users to publish and share products with the broader public which they find cool, innovative, exceptionally beautiful, or just weird.”
  • Nymbler: Enter six names you like to get ideas for more names you might like.
  • Ffffound! Image bookmarking — sharing beautiful images.
  • Lookybook: Look through children’s books before buying them. YES!
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Links: Love Edition 2009

Friday, February 13th, 2009 at 11:37 AM | Category: Blogging, Marketing, Meryl's Notes Blog, Tech, Writing 4 comments

PR Fail on Company Sites

Monday, February 2nd, 2009 at 9:04 AM | Category: Business, Marketing, Meryl's Notes Blog, Tech No comments

We won’t debate the changing PR landscape and how PR folks need to reach out to journalists. Instead, let’s talk about how companies can better serve journalists.

Jakob Nielsen provides five reasons journalists visit a company’s web site:

  • Locate a PR contact (name and telephone number).
  • Find basic facts about the company (spelling of an executive’s name, his/her age, headquarters location, and so on).
  • Discern the company’s spin on events.
  • Check financial information.
  • Download images to use as illustrations in stories.

As a person who targets journalists and is the subject of PR targetting, this list captures the bulk of the reasons. Yet, many companies fail to provide such simple information.

The following lists the frequent mistakes I see when going to business web sites:

  • Not telling what they do… FAST: Oh, most do talk about what they do, but it takes more than a few minutes to figure it out. Get tips for communicating what a business does.
  • Incomplete About pages: Companies forget to add names, photos, and bios of their management team. Create better About pages.
  • Generic contact information: Companies neglect to provide points of contact beyond the generic info@ or support@. Journalists want a name and real address.
  • Lack images: Companies may think journalists grab the logo on their web site. But usually those logos don’t meet the journalists’ quality needs. Add high quality images of your logo, product, and executives somewhere on the About page or Press page.

I try to walk the talk. I remember working on a redesign of my web site and noticing “meryl’s notes” in the navigation. It dawns on me that even my mother doesn’t know what that means. So “meryl’s notes” turned into “meryl’s notes blog” or “Blog.”

We take our own information for granted because we live and breathe it on a daily basis. If you need help, have friends and family members look at the web site to see if something doesn’t make sense, at least, not as fast as it should. Or you hire a consultant to give you a fresh pair of eyes.

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Striking Gold without Going to Eldorado

Monday, October 27th, 2008 at 9:42 AM | Category: Blogging, Business, Customer Service, Marketing, Meryl's Notes Blog, Tech, Writing 1 comment

“Gaily bedight
A gallant knight,
In sunshine and shadow,
Had journeyed long,
Singing a song,
In search of Eldorado.”

Eldorado by Edgar Allan Poe

Gold coinsBusinesses don’t have to journey long to find Eldorado of marketing. Most companies start right by establishing a Web site. However, some don’t make the most of having a Web site or build it without considering the requirements for building successful Web sites.

Some build Web sites more like elaborate brochures touting the company’s many qualities and competencies. A few companies, like Amazon.com, and retail giant L.L. Bean, have turned these online retail brochures into success stories. Many try to replicate this success with uneven results.

Web pages tend to require prospects to find them. Then, if the customers find them, they forget about it when they need something.

A few businesses counter these problems by complementing direct email offers with their Web sites. For example, a reader visits Amazon.com to look at the latest fiction releases. Later, the reader starts receiving emails Amazon announcing new releases of fiction, and some accompanied with a discount. These emails contain links taking the reader to the Web page.

Mining Internet for Prospects

Almost three-quarters of American adults are online with half of those having a high speed internet connection at home according to Pew Internet. They still use the Internet for two primary purposes, email (93 percent) and research to find information or driving directions (over 85 percent).

A JupiterResearch report indicates that over 40 percent of email users say that email compelled them to make at least one online or offline purchase. The report also emphasizes the importance of delivering relevant information in emails. Combine email marketing efforts with social networking to have the greatest impact. JupiterResearch also reports over half of business professionals with decision making power say that advertisers have the best chance of reaching them by internet and email.

A successful online marketing plan takes advantage of all online marketing tools including emails and social network sites. A newsletter should contain links to the company’s blogs, RSS feeds and social network identities and vice versa.

A Return Path study states that 85 percent of business people sign up for emails. Furthermore, marketers can reach them on the go as an Exact Target study in 2007 reports one-third of business professionals read emails on mobile devices on a regular basis. In 2007, Wall Street Journal writes that 81 percent of American executives subscribe to business-related email newsletters for product and business information.

What do all of these numbers say? Email and Internet are important marketing tools.

Compel Readers to Read the Newsletter

Business professionals get over 50 emails a day with plenty surpassing the 100 emails mark. When opening their email, they have three thoughts in mind:

  • Which do I read?
  • Which I save to read later?
  • Which do I delete without opening?

Rule number one: send your newsletter to people who want it, so encourage readers to opt-in to your newsletter.

Rule number two: provide value in your newsletter so they continue subscribing, opening, reading, and acting on your emails.

Most marketers want to thump the company’s chest by talking about great new products or amazing services, touting recent awards, or announcing new hires or mergers. However, the better strategy focuses on the newsletter’s content.

Pull rather than to push with your content by offering articles that explore issues, open dialogue, and solve problems your readers face. Do you care about Company ABC blowing its horn? Americans receive too much email, so they trash anything smacking of a pitch.

Keep your newsletter in the “read and saved” by making sure your content meets the following criteria:

  • Relevant: The content speaks to the customer’s interests and not your company’s.
  • Anticipated: Distribute on a regular basis so people expect your newsletter to arrive around a specific time, but don’t publish so often they tire of hearing from you.
  • Monitored: One of the best online marketing channels benefits is reporting. Monitor how readers are looking at your newsletter and alter it to conform to their interests.

Email newsletters with timely, interesting articles have a greater likelihood of readers forwarding them to others, which increases the number of readers with time. Everyone who reads the newsletter and decides to opt-in to a company’s turns into a qualified lead. Business to business newsletters remain an Eldorado in a Web 2.0 world.

As the Edgar Allan Poe poem ends with one modification…

Down the Valley of the Shadow,
“‘Ride, boldly ride,’
The marketer replied-
‘If you seek for Eldorado!'”

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11 Ways to Play the Name Game

Tuesday, October 21st, 2008 at 7:47 AM | Category: Business, Customer Service, Language, Marketing, Meryl's Notes Blog, Writing 3 comments

Call me goofy, but I loved singing “The Name Game” as kid:

Meryl, Meryl, bo-beryl,
Banana-fana fo-feryl
Fee-fi-mo-meryl
Meryl!

Yeah, yeah… I know how some immature kids like to use names like Chuck and Mitch. I’m sure you’ve heard your share.

I’ve always been fascinated with names, how they came to be, and their origins. So it’s no surprise that I do naming projects. Coming up with names can become a brain consuming process. By that, I mean your brain goes on a roll and just keeps spitting out names, words, and ideas — good and not so good.

You have many options and resources to play the name game to find a perfect brand for a product, company, blog.

  1. Make best friends with reference resources: Dictionaries (rhyming and specialty), thesauri, Flip Dictionary, word references, anagrams, etc.
  2. Ask clients about themes. Some clients may already have a theme going or planning on one to help with branding.
  3. Ask clients about their interests and favorite things.
  4. Ask clients what names they like and dislike.
  5. Use interests, themes, etc. and research them until you’re dizzy.
  6. Make an initial list.
  7. Mix and match words.
  8. Create variations of words and phrases.
  9. Subscribe to Marcia Yudkin’s Name Tales newsletter.
  10. Have POP! Stand out in Any Crowd nearby for use.
  11. Use a domain naming tool. I’ve heard how some of these tools use your search to grab domain names. But not all do that. Unbelievable. Blog entry: Brainstorming domain names.

Sometimes I go crazy in the process and my head won’t stop seeking names and playing with them. I’d be playing with my kids, hitting tennis balls, chauffeuring and my head would as play jigsaw puzzle with words and names. If something good comes to me, I quickly capture it in my TitaniumBerry (it ain’t black) so I’ll have it when I return to my desk.

So if I like names so much, why am I stuck with plain ol’ meryl.net? For the same reason web designers struggles to design their own web sites. Besides, I might as well as capitalize on my uncommon name and put a positive spin on it after has given me fits for years (I struggle with the “r” so I tell people “Meryl like Meryl Streep, two-syllables-not-one and rhymes with Cheryl.”

Oh, great… I have an old team song going in my head…

“Meryl’s my name and basketball’s my game. Blue is my color and …” I’ll stop there. Oh, now I have a Sesame Street song in my head… “We All Sing with the Same Voice.”

My hair is black and red
My hair is yellow
My eyes are brown and green and blue

My name is Jack and Fred
My name’s Amanda Sue
I’m called Kareem Abdul
My name is you

I live in southern France
I’m from a Texas ranch
I come from Mecca and Peru
I live across the street
In the mountains, on a beach
I come from everywhere
And my name is you

Stopping now before my brain becomes a jumble of names, words, and songs.

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40+ Easy Marketing Activities for Freelancers

Wednesday, September 3rd, 2008 at 9:41 AM | Category: Blogging, Books, Business, Customer Service, Marketing, Meryl's Notes Blog, Writing 2 comments

Writers don’t just write. They also must market unless they’re John Grisham or Mary Higgins Clark. However, Grisham had to market early in his career. So how do writers market themselves? Try any of these activities that would benefit writers, book authors, freelancers, and small businesses.

  1. Grow your portfolio. If you’re just getting started, many popular blogs and non-profit organizations might be willing to publish your article. Contact them first.
  2. Contribute articles to blogs and Web sites. I helped a client get published in CIO by proposing an article that would benefit its audience without any sales speak.
  3. Participate in blogs covering your topic. Most blogs let you enter your URL and some offer CommentLuv (see comments here as this one uses CommentLuv).
  4. Start a blog. It must provide valuable information not sales spiel.
  5. Have a Web site. Include an About page, testimonials, description of your services, and most important — make it obvious what you do.
  6. Contribute to an email newsletter. Start one or write a column for another’s newsletter.
  7. Collect email addresses. Of course, make sure you have permission. This comes in handy should you not have a newsletter yet. When you launch a newsletter or a column in one, let your mailing list know — but do NOT subscribe them. Let them subscribe themselves — point the way.
  8. Participate in Twitter (don’t just join, you must put into it to get something out of it).
  9. Subscribe to Help a Reporter (HARO). Post to it when you work on a story.
  10. Set up social network pages (Facebook, LinkedIn, etc.).
  11. Connect with people you *know* on social networks rather than accepting every invitation. It’s not about the number of connections, but the quality.
  12. Read high quality marketing blogs. Good places to start: Seth Godin and Guy Kawasaki. They provide valuable tips that writers can use.
  13. Give a fiction story a non-fiction spin. This helps your marketing efforts.
  14. Ask your publisher about the marketing they provide, so you don’t overlap activities.
  15. Read books on marketing and publicity. Good ones include Plug Your Book!, Free Publicity, and Putting It on Paper.
  16. Contact bloggers to request a review of your book. It’s better to contact them before sending the book. I always review books when I request a copy of a book, but if a book comes to me — it has lowered chances of my reviewing it because (1) I have too many on my list already, and (2) it may have nothing to do with a topic I cover or have interest in. Try Blogcritics.
  17. Create a signature. Use it in your email and in forums. Mine mentions www.meryl.net, that I’m a writer and editor, links to my newsletter and book.
  18. Offer to speak at relevant meetings, programs, schools, and conferences. If you write a book about cats and dogs, speaking at a computer conference won’t do you much good. Remember PTAs, non-profit organizations, and professional organizations look for speakers, too. My kids’ schools invite authors to read or speak to the kids. If you have a children’s book, contact your local elementary school PTAs about visiting the school. Often, the school will sell your books for signing and parents eat them up. A great time to get schools — Book Fairs and Reading Ambassadors Week.
  19. Post old articles into article libraries. EzineArticles is my fave.
  20. Search “marketing writers” for more tips.
  21. Create a bookplate. Offer signing and sending a book plate whenever readers send you a self-addressed stamped envelope. Print the bookplate on printed labels so readers can stick ’em right on. Cheaper than mailing the book to you and back. It provides a personal connection between reader and author.
  22. Hold an event. A friend of mine created a neat book where kids get to be the author. The Stapler Caper has colorful pages with characters explained in the beginning of the book and kids write their own words on the bottom of each page. The paper the book uses makes it easy to erase and re-use. Anyway, she had a back-to-school breakfast at a popular breakfast restaurant. Every person that bought a book got a free breakfast plus she signed books.
  23. Ask clients for testimonials. I always ask for a quote at the end of a project or after working with a client for several months on a non-ending project. I publish testimonials here. Sometimes you might have to help the client by asking specific questions to get a valuable testimonial. “You’re great” says nothing. It could be short for “You’re great at being late,” a way for an unhappy client to not tell the complete truth.
  24. Ask clients for referrals. Your clients are your best marketing tool. They know your services and may know of others who can benefit from your services.
  25. Buy ads. I bought an ad from the sports booster club at my daughter’s high school. It’ll be posted in the three programs that will go out at games. The ad serves two purposes: supports my daughter’s school’s sports (she plays on the volleyball team) and advertise my business. I’ve also posted ads in directories for non-profit organizations of which I’m a member. These don’t cost much compared to standard ads.
  26. Hand out promo goodies. Swags, bribes, whatever you call ’em. Buy mugs, calendars, pens, whathaveyou to hand out to folks with your URL, phone number, or whatever contact information. I don’t do this with client gifts. However, if you’re willing — you could send a gift that doesn’t have your company logo on it AND add a little side goodie that has your company logo on it.
  27. Do an exchange. You could submit an article in exchange for an ad on a Web site. Offer to edit a non-profit’s newsletter in exchange for an ad in the newsletter.
  28. Hold a contest. Contests with cool prizes bring in folks!
  29. Sponsor a prize. Donate a prize for contests. I donated an Amazon gift certificate to Lifehack and they did an unexpected write up about all of their sponsors including me.
  30. Carry business cards at all times. Make sure the back of them remain blank or else you or the recipient can’t write notes as I learned the hard way one year when I had the dumb idea of printing the calendar on the back. I rarely hand out all my business cards within a year, so imagine how useless they were when the year ended. I use business cards in my personal life when I meet people at meetings or tennis. It’s a way to give them my contact information and it just happens to promote my business, too. I carry them in my tennis bag and in my purse, so I always have them with me.
  31. Leave business cards with complementary businesses. Let’s say you sell organic shampoo. You might leave business cards or a little postcard with beauticians and barbers.
  32. Take advantage of upselling and cross-selling opportunities. Offer a free ebook or ereport for when people sign up for your newsletter. Use the ebook download page to upsell or the email with the link to the report for downloading. Take care to start small. Would you buy $500 worth of stuff from someone you just met? For example, the ebook could be a chapter from a larger book that costs $20. Give them the opportunity to buy the book for $15 if they purchase it within X number of days (gives them time to read the free chapter).
  33. Focus on keeping your current clients happy. Much cheaper than doing low quality work in a hurry so you can find new customers. Take the time to do a great job so they keep coming back. No taking clients for granted.
  34. Always part with clients on a good note. Sometimes things don’t work out. Face it… not everyone will like you no matter how wonderful you are. Your personality will clash with someone. These clients might talk, so extend goodwill by leaving on a good note.
  35. Join an organization or association. It doesn’t have to be a writer’s related one. PTA counts. I try to find out what other parents do so I can refer business their way. After all, happy parents means a happy PTA.
  36. Advertise on your car. I ordered cheap, but good quality magnets with my business on them. But I felt silly and took them down. Not everyone feels that way as I see MANY cars carrying ads these days.
  37. Volunteer. You’d be surprise how your business can come up when you’re doing good. Heck, wear a t-shirt advertising your business. Get one made through Cafe Press or Vistaprint.
  38. Write thank you notes. Yes, write with your hand. Write thank you notes for all occasions. Someone treat you to a meal? Someone make a referral that has yet to pan out or didn’t work out? Every little bit helps. You can easily keep stamped postcards with you so that you can drop down and give ten… I mean stop and write a thank you note any time.
  39. Write reviews. I’ve gotten paid writing jobs because I wrote honest reviews of the clients’ products before we connected.
  40. Do something! Marketing won’t work unless you take action. Sorry… no other way to do it without lifting a finger. Even if you have an assistant do it, you still need to let the assistant know to do it!
  41. Be consistent. Spend five to ten minutes a day doing any of these. The important thing is to do something on a regular basis. Sure, you might have days when you can barely find your head much less have time to do these activities. So spend more time the next day.

What other marketing activities do you do?

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Move Visitors Past the Home Page without Leaving

Tuesday, December 11th, 2007 at 9:57 AM | Category: Blogging, Business, Meryl's Notes Blog, Tech No comments

How often does this scenario happen to you? When you land on a Web site, it doesn’t instantly answer the most important question:

What is the Web site about?

The second question depends on the site.

  • For business sites: “What does the business do?”
  • For blogs: “What is the topic of the blog?”

My blog is guilty for not making its topic clear. First of all, “meryl’s notes” tells you nothing — not even the fact it’s a blog. However, after seven-plus years of blogging, I’m glad I chose that name as my blog evolved.

So I added a tagline to help clarify the blog’s topic, “Things wordy, geeky, and webby.” It’s still broad, but so is the blog. Successful blogs focus on a specific topic, but I haven’t been able to commit to that.

This site is also my business site. So the home page at www.meryl.net tries to tell visitors what I do and how I do it. Although the how could use more support.

Sites that quickly describe their purpose have one or more of the following:

  • Brief statement explaining purpose. It’s easy to find and above the fold – no scrolling required to find it).
  • Slogan / tagline that says it all (i.e. Digital Web Magazine is The web designer’s online magazine of choice. getAbstract is Compressed knowledge.
  • About that’s easy to find such as in top menu, left menu, or bottom menu (but better to have it above the fold).

Including the slogan or description in the <TITLE> tag helps if it’s brief. Long ones turn into a long and bothersome bookmark. Not everyone edits their bookmarks/favorites.

If you have a popular or well-ranked site and everyone knows who you are, there are still plenty who don’t know who you are. It’s amazing how often a popular or well-ranked sites doesn’t make it obvious why they’re successful, what they’re about, or where to do within the site.

Be careful on how many choices or calls to action appears in the main content. Too many choices or links can scare a visitor away instead of keeping the visitor. The content on the right side of this page is too much. Haven’t found a happy medium.

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Links: 2007-11-02

Friday, November 2nd, 2007 at 7:39 AM | Category: Blogging, Business, Life Tips, Links, Meryl's Notes Blog, Tech, Writing 2 comments

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Six Features of a Good Business Site

Monday, October 1st, 2007 at 9:00 AM | Category: Business, Marketing, Meryl's Notes Blog, Tech No comments

Businesses neglect simple strategies when building their Web sites. They often make the site about the company instead of about the customer. Customers can see through the marketing-speak. The following six easy-to-do features help businesses ensure they make the most of out of visitor’s time:

  • Focus on the customer: A site tends to pump up the product or service instead of show how the product or service takes care of a customer’s needs.

  • Keep it simple: This sounds obvious, but too many business sites do things the hard way. Navigation and the shopping cart process should be simple, and content scannable. According to statistics from MarketingSherpa, almost 60% abandon shopping carts.

  • Make it instantly obvious what the business does: I’ve landed on pages where I had no idea what the business did. The name, slogan and landing page content told me nothing. Jump to different pages as if it’s the first time you meet the company — can you tell what the company does? Thanks to search engines, visitors can land ANYWHERE.

  • Give the customer something to do: Limit the action customers can take or else it overwhelms them. One or two actions per page works. A good way to handle this is to give those who are ready — an instant action to sign up, buy the product, etc. Those who need more information — give them the option of reading more that way the home page isn’t too crowded. This method helps address two kinds of visitors: Those who just want the high level details and those who need in-depth information before deciding. LiveMocha does this on its home page.

  • Links: Watch for link overkill — too many links turns a customer into an indecisive and frustrated one. When you click a link, do you get what you expect? Surprises are not a good thing here.

  • Establish trust: Show customers there are faces behind the business. Talk about your people in the About / Company page, include bios, use photos, and give your company a personality / character. There is nothing wrong with building rapport with informal writing — this is how character comes through. Formal writing oozes stiffness, coldness, and unfriendliness.

Some businesses can’t make a sale on the first visit. So how do you remind visitors to come back? Stay connected? A good way is to have an e-mail newsletter and encourage them to sign up (this would be a call to action). This is a small investment compared to making the buy.

E-mail newsletters also help build trust and provide the company with a human voice. Ensure you gain a new reader by putting a simple note of “We value your privacy” in the newsletter sign up box. This message quickly answers the question that you won’t share information with anyone else.

Also include an RSS feed for the newsletter and the Web site’s regularly updated content for those who prefer this to e-mail. You might consider exploring other options to broaden your company’s reach.

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Basic Product Information

Thursday, August 23rd, 2007 at 10:10 AM | Category: Business, Customer Service, Links, Marketing, Meryl's Notes Blog, Writing No comments

Marcia Yudkin’s Marketing Minute newsletter references Jakob Nielsen’s research that says shoppers leave 10 percent of the time because the site didn’t provide enough information. She discusses how some sites don’t make it clear whether the product is a CD, book or download.

Funny thing is that I experienced this recently. I was looking up Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter on several ecommerce sites — and it took way too much digging to find out whether I was looking at the books, DVDs or something else. This should be instantly obvious without any clicking.

This advice applies to product type, colors, sizes, and so on. This mistake can make a difference of a sale. Like Yudkin says — make a list of what people would want to know about a product and compare that to your description. Let’s say you’re selling watches… think about your own experience in looking for a watch. What did you want to know? Ask family and friends what they look for when shopping for a watch. This can be your list of things to include for every watch.

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