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Monetate – A Multivariate Platform for Ecommerce

IRCE 2012 log 8th annual Internet Retailer Conference and Exhibition, by far the world’s largest e-commerce event,

held at Chicago’s McCormick Place West on June 5-8, 2012

One of the great parts of a trade show is being able to quickly see trends. You can see what companies are going after similar markets. You can see what companies are just getting starting in meeting a customer’s need and who is well along the development cycle. Internet Retailer-2012 gave me another chance to see an industry developing. Monetate is a single company represents new trends multivariate

Monetate is a single company represents new trends multivariate ecommerce platform optimization.

At IRCE 2012 (Internet Retailer Conference and Exhibition) at Chicago’s McCormick Place this week, I was able to how the cost of computing continually dropping is affecting how we merchandise (1st on line, but you know the wisdom will be carried to bricks and mortar stores as well).

One of the booths I got to see was Monetate. What stood out for me was how much computing is being done in real time  and in an anticipatory fashion. In essence,

monetate's logo of a human puzzle piece and the name monetate registered trademark

Monetate from Pennsylvania

they are taking your shopping cart system (which may in all likelihood is probably a very large collection of SKU’s, Descriptions, media assets) and creating variations of it for all sorts of testing. They can test –  by what city you come from, or if it is raining today. They can test or present –  based on your past history with you, or how close you are to a Walmart. They can even handle compound testing: if you are a repeat customer on a rainy day, in a media market that is inexpensive, and there is a festival this weekend in town.

Watching the monetate’s demo and remembering their presentations, I am reminded of when I used to run scenario’s and forget to limit the sample size to ‘reasonable

Mainframe days when computing cycles were expensive and measured for chargeback to departments

When computing cycles were expensive

number’.  I would get my manager bringing my report the next day, He would show me the chargeback cost (in the mainframe days) that exceeded both my and my manager’s cost for a year. Monetate’s system lets me create these scenario’s on an ongoing basis either as test, or production – in real time.

What I see here is the magic of being able to move as much computing power before the web customer shows up. It also is able to quickly identify what the identity of each visitor is.  This allows responding much more like a human store clerk would – making many decisions with ease because once you know the ‘rules’ they are easy and ‘obvious’. A store clerk seeing a visitor show up on a long skateboard is probably more interested in snowboarding then ski’s or toboggans. A customer wearing a $4,000 watch is probably not looking at the costume jewelry in the corner of the store. These snap judgements are what allow us to determine which of the thousands of cars we pass on our way to work will be a problem, and which are just going along in our lane that can be ignored safely.

We have been trying to get computers to have this same ‘artificial intelligence’ for decades. And we are still a long way from AI. But increasingly, we are able to in small domains, define experiments that let us test and tweak. Testing what is the best way to present information or experiences for website visitors that meet their needs on their terms. Monetate is helping that become incredibly easier for online shopping.

One of the other keys I see in Monetate (and similar tools), is the ability embrace Lean Startup methodology. The concept of iteration. The key is understanding that now that your cost of experimentation is lower than analysis, the best approach is lowest cost in revenue optimizing is different. When each computer batch ran on a mainframe cost thousands of dollars and days of time, it was far more effective to spend more time ‘bench testing’ ideas. We would sit around and using human power to determine the best approach. But, when a computer can now not only check your theory, but create a method to retest against different data (be it a Texas visitor over an Oregon visitor, or this month’s customers over last quarter’s customers), it is poor use of resources (especially human) to think about what the results are, and ‘just do it’. Let the system or computer or software do the testing and provide the results.

The challenge will be not in saving the last CPU cycles to run one more test, but how to let our creative juices loose again to see how to continually improve the solutions we are trying to build. One of the big challenges for many in ‘corporate’ is to understand that website visitors are individuals. The market of potential customers need to (as much as possible) be treated as individuals. As we learn to look at our visitors as having different mindsets, often determined by factors we can identify, we will be able to create better experiences for our customers.

There is a whole other dimension of visitor privacy that enters into this, but I am not going to tackle that one today.

Logo for Internet Retailer Convention and Exhibit 2012 in Chicago IL


As usual, monetate’s solutions are an incredible toolset that lifts one burden from the ecommerce manager allowing a much larger responsibility to rise to the top –  looking at the world from the customer’s perspective. It was never – not the top priority, but now, there are a many fewer excuses as to why we cannot focus on the customer’s view point.
What would you test on your website, if there were no limitations?
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September 21, 2012 Posted by | Chicago, Large SKU site, tools, Uncategorized | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Are You Getting Paid Fairly? UBM’s IT Salary Survey for 2012

Those of you working for others, or considering hiring others, probably are interested in what the going ‘rate’ is. How much will it cost to create your eCommerce channel? How much will it cost to maintain my help desk and answer all those questions? How much should I pay my CIO (chief information officer) to herd all the parts of my technology infrastructure to manage my website and more?

Well the short answer is either ‘it depends’ or ‘as much as you want to pay’. But neither is real helpful without context. So I find it helpful to see what other companies are doing with their IT staff and management. In the information management industry UBM has created a long term name for themselves as understanding what is happening in the IT world with their variety of publications including Information Week, and analysis services. Granted their bias is heavily towards enterprise work, but they try to segment their data whenever possible. They have been doing annual surveys for quite a while, and recently their 2012 salary survey came out.

To get your own copy of the survey in PDF go to: here or here  UBM’s form is a quick lead collector with the chance to register for some useful webinars.

The survey is based on over 1,300 responses in large and small organizations, with much slicing and dicing to allow you to see how your staff matches. But it also helps to understand the mindset of employees, and to see how other businesses structure their IT teams. That is part of what I find useful in reviewing the survey and looking at it across the pages. Looking at regional differences and major city compared to a region has some insights as well.

I was most focused on some friends who have vast experiences, but are currently working in the help desk area. Here are some of the insights I collected from the data (all numbers are in thousands of US dollars per year):

  • Typically, salaries are 1% or 2% more then last year in information technology after a flat 2011.
  • To double your salary – jump from help desk work to management. Help desk is always viewed as the lowest common demoninator, and is paid accordingly low. If you want to increase your pay, look for something ‘simpler’. Or at least something that is labeled differently.
  • page 41 – Seattle average staff base $99k vs. Chicago $88k. Seattle is probably offset by higher total package with more benefits and bonus.
  • page 43 – Midwest average staff base is $79k vs. Pacific region $92k (after ‘subtracting’ average for Chicago, means that outside of Chicago (all the way north to Kenosha) is way lower.
  • page 45 – Manager pay though the swing in higher pay switches in the Chicago dual with Seattle. With Chicago, manager average is $118k for base salary vs. Seattle $110k. This may also incorporate that Seattle may tend to have more ‘working’ programming managers rather then ‘stand alone’ management, creating almost a hybrid rate (lower pay for split duties).
  • page 49 – 73% expect 401k match next year.
  • page 51 – 48% attended paid company training last year.
  • page 59 – shows how many companies that IT people have been at. 29% have worked at 3 or more companies in last 10 years. It is not clear how many have been with multiple companies while sitting at the same desk, but corporate takeovers changed the sign at the parking lot. I once worked for 3 companies in the space of 4 months at the same desk.
  • page 82 – less then half have a bachelors degree (or higher). The percentage is even lower if you are in management.
  • page 85 – Many people are working in  jobs with companies with annual revenue under $50million – 38% of jobs are with these smaller companies. Not all jobs are enterprise jobs.
  • page 87 – 20% of jobs are in companies with less then 100 total employees (total, not just IT).
  • page 88 – shows which industries tend to pay the most – in terms of total packages non-profit is lowest. In spite of what Governor Walker says, government is 3rd lowest after education (which is still typically a government job). For those that feel that government employees with defined benefits packages should look at these numbers. This goes against your pension frustration. It infers that government employees are taking a $15-30k cut in pay per year for the better pension. The time value of money is an interesting analysis.  Is it fair or not?  The defined benefits of government positions is in contrast to 75%  of all IT employees expect a 401k program with an employer match on page 49.
Here is some older salary suveys:
Of course Salary.com is another great resource for looking at ‘how much it costs’ but this direction is also helpful, with a background in the industry older then Salary.com has been around.

How does this survey compare to your experiences? Do you find any surprises, please share in the comments section?

June 19, 2012 Posted by | Chicago, Uncategorized | , , , , , | 1 Comment

IRCE 2012 – MONETATE – an multivariate platform for ecommerce site

IRCE 2012 log 8th annual Internet Retailer Conference and Exhibition, by far the world’s largest e-commerce event,

IRCE2012 held at Chicago’s McCormick Place West on June 5-8, 2012

One of the great parts of a trade show is being able to quickly see trends. Monetate is a single company represents new trends multivariate ecommerce platform optimization.

At IRCE 2012 (Internet Retailer Conference and Exhibition) at Chicago’s McCormick Place this week, I was able to how the cost of computing continually dropping is affecting how we merchandise (1st on line, but you know the wisdom will be carried to bricks and mortar stores as well).

One of the booths I got to see was monetate. What stood out for me was how much computing is being done in real time and in an anticipatory fashion. In essence they are taking your shopping cart system (which may, well is probably, very large) and creating variations of it for all sorts of testing. They can test by what city you come from, or if it is raining today. They can test or present based on your past history with you or how close you are to a Walmart. They can compound testing if you are a repeat customer on a rainy day in a media market that is inexpensive.

monetate's logo of a human puzzle piece and the name monetate registered trademark

Monetate from Pennsylvania

Watching the monetate’s demo, and remembering their presentation, I am reminded of when I used to run scenarios on large multimillion dollar data centers, and forget to limit the sample size to ‘reasonable number’. I would get my manager bringing my report the next day (reports only printed a few times a day, but when you busy the machine all night it takes a while) showing me the chargeback of the mainframe’s cost that exceeded both my and my manager’s cost for a year.  Monetate’s system lets me create those scenario experimentation on an ongoing basis either as test or production – in real time.

What I see here is the magic of being able to move as much computing power to SaaS before the web customer shows up. It also is able to quickly identify what the identity of each visitor is.  This allows responding much more like a human store clerk would. Making many decisions with ease because once you know the ‘rules’ they are easy and ‘obvious’. A store clerk seeing a visitor show up on a long skateboard is probably more interested in snowboarding then ski’s or toboggans. A customer wearing a $2,000 watch is probably not looking at the costume jewelry in the corner of the store. These snap judgements are what allow us to determine which of the thousands of cars we pass on our way to work will be a problem, and which are just going along. It is a wondrous marvel of evolution to survive in the complex world we live in. And computers can just do a fraction of it.

We have been trying to get computers to have this same ‘artificial intelligence’ for decades. And we are still a long way from it. But increasingly, we are able to in small domains define experiments that let us test and tweak what is the best way to present information or experiences for website visitors that meet their needs on their terms. Monetate is helping that become incredibly easier for online shopping.

One of the other keys I see in monetate (and similar tools), is the ability embrace Lean Startup methodology. The concept of iteration. The key is understanding that now  that it your cost of experimentation is lower then analysis, the approach that is lowest cost in optimizing is different. When each computer batch run cost thousands of dollars and days of time, it was far more effective to spend more time ‘bench testing’ ideas. Sitting around and using human power to determine the best approach. But when a computer can now not only check your theory, but create a method to retest against different data (be it Texas visitor over Oregon visitor, or this months customers over last quarters customers), it is poor use of resources (especially human) to think about what the results are and ‘just do it’. Let the system or computer or software do the testing and provide the results.

The challenge will be not in saving the last CPU cycles to run one more test, but how to let our creative juices loose again to see how to continually improve the solutions we are trying to build. One of the big challenges for many in ‘corporate’ is to understand that website visitors are individuals. They need to as much as possible be treated as individuals. As we learn to look at our visitors has having different mindsets, often determined by factors we can identify, we will be able to create better experiences for our customers.

There is a whole other dimension of visitor privacy that enters into this, but I am not going to tackle that one today.

Logo for Internet Retailer Convention and Exhibit 2012 in Chicago IL


As usual, monetate’s solutions are an incredible toolset that lifts one burden from the ecommerce manager allowing a much larger responsibility to rise to the top –  Looking at the world from the customer’s perspective. It was never not the top, but now there are a whole fewer number of excuses as to why we cannot focus on the customer’s view point.
What would you test on your website, if there were no limitations?

June 13, 2012 Posted by | Chicago, Large SKU site, Uncategorized | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

IRCE 2012 – Logistical Tools like Refund Retriever

One of the great parts of a trade show is being able to quickly do the ‘who are you and why should I share my secrets’ dance. On the phone, it seems to take forever. In email it feels like you never get real trust and open communication. And websites always feel distorted from the reality of what really happens at a company.

At IRCE 2012 (Internet Retailer Conference and Exhibition) at Chicago’s McCormick Place this week, I met Brian Gibbs of Refund Retriever. One of the many logistics services company looking to assist businesses in the ecommerce channel. As you may guess Refund Retriever audits your shipping bills with FedEx and UPS.

One of the takeaways for me at trade shows is learning what you should be concerned about in your business. If there is a business performing a function, there is a good chance it is an issue that should be looked at. If you are shipping and don’t know your costs, it seems logical that you are not paying attention to a major cost center. While UPS and FedEx have incredible world class IT systems, there are still incredible number of hands in the system that can make mistakes. The amount of speed means that mistakes can and do happen. That is OK is there a need to audit?

What does become clear is that all businesses need to spend at least a few minutes looking to see what if they could improve their shipping costs, or reduce their error rate, or improve on time delivery. All of these can be improved by improving correct addressing. So while not the core of Refund Retriever, it is an idea to consider.  So here are the different ways Refund Retriever will look at your invoices:

  • LATE DELIVERIES (GSR)
  • BOGUS ADDRESS CORRECTIONS
  • RESIDENTIAL vs. COMMERCIAL SURCHARGE MISTAKES
  • INCORRECTLY WEIGHED PACKAGES
  • UN-SHIPPED/UNINVOICED PACKAGES
  • DUPLICATE INVOICES or CHARGES.

But there is also the question of auditing your bills in the 1st place. Most services do it on a split of the refund, so the cost to your business to keep UPS and FedEx ‘honest’ is not a cost to you but a savings. Typically the auditors will use your account information to review your information online to perform the audit. Refund Retrievers is different from other auditors in that they are more focused on the low hanging fruit of just these two vendors. As a result they are better able to work with smaller ecommerce concerns. There is no minimum, since their model uses a simple account set up. Other auditors have a lot more effort in getting set up for each company that affects overall price. I have not had a chance to use them yet, but will be curious to see how they actually perform. Additionally, they have helped me in understanding what I should be doing on my shipping auditing by who ever I use internally or externally to manage my customers satisfaction.

 

Another perspective to look at for every business, is how would a service affect the customer. In this case, I would suggest that for every error caught, to pass on the savings directly to the customer. Lets face it, you really did not loose anything, your customer did. I would send a gift and or a refund to every customer that did not end up with the excellent service you intended when you shipped your product. Even if the customer did not complain. It is a way to show your customer that you care about them, not their money and orders.  When you care about your customers, they will be far more likely to care about you.

So what do you think, is there value in auditing your vendors to keep them on the straight and narrow?

June 12, 2012 Posted by | Chicago, Large SKU site, Uncategorized | , , , , , | 2 Comments

IRCE 2012 – Global Response

One of the great parts of a trade show is being able to quickly do the ‘who are you and why should I share my secrets’ dance. On the phone, it seems to take forever. In email it feels like you never have full partnership.

At IRCE 2012 (Internet Retailer Conference and Exhibition) at Chicago’s McCormick Place this week, I was able to get past the dancing and have much more open conversations with vendors. Sure, we still have secrets. Sure we did not show all our cards. Sure there is still room for negotiations when we get to that point. But, we can start from an understanding of who we are, what we are looking for and how to work in partnership with each other.

Or not. I find a trade show is a great way to see if the message of the booth and the message of the literature and the message of those working the booth match – at least someone gets it. But more likely they are 20 times more likely to be who they say they are.Logo for Contact firm Global Response

Global Response passed the test. They are a call center (and contact center) handling inbound and outbound. What I enjoyed in our conversation, was a willingness to share their stories, how they excelled, and where they were not a match. It is always a challenge to ask someone ‘what do you do well’ and the reply is ‘everything’.  1st they probably don’t even understand what excelling in an area is, and 2nd they probably don’t know how broad the industry is. Global did not take this route. They have a three of U.S. based call centers. Points for setting up their 2nd and 3rd one’s in an economically depressed area. But that has turned into a win-win – greater loyalty, happy staff with lower turnover (one of the greatest challenges of any call center) then normal.

Their clientele are a mix of non-profits and larger corporate clients. Their rates are not the lowest for domestic, but seem reasonable. They seem to have a good understanding of one of the keys to a call center relationship being successful – training of the trainer, and ongoing communications. Certainly working in the different modalities of a call/contact center is a challenge.

Different vendors will split on the philosophy of whether to have all modalities in one team or separate teams (phone, email, chat, social media). The challenge is do you train 3 or 4 teams on a product/service line with members that specialize in best practices of each modality? Or is the best way to have one team of superstars (hopefully) that need to learn all four modalities, and juggle appropriately?  This becomes a nuanced discussion with a larger project/volume. But becomes very key for smaller contact center volume, where having multiple teams for low volume can really throw the numbers off.  Global has chosen to go with modality teams (one for phone, one for email/chat) for each project.

Call center of Global Response in Marquette MichiganOf course how you handle shared resources as an adjunct to this can help with the compromises in either choice (single team per client or single team per client and modality).  Global Response seems like a good candidate for a RFP request for contact center where domestic service is appropriate.

I could go more into how to best choose a contact center, but I will let Global Response’s list be a fair starting point in this changing and flattening world where technology is changing the game economics quarter by quarter.

What to look for in a call center/contact center

June 11, 2012 Posted by | Chicago, Large SKU site, Uncategorized | , , , , | 2 Comments

IRCE 2012- X Verify

So many booths, so little time at the IRCE2012. One of the booths that caught my eye, but I did not get to spend much time as is a local (Chicago area) vendor called XVerify.

Logo of Xverify - real-time data verfication

Real-time data verfication from IRCE2012 show at McCormick Place, Chicago IL

As a SaaS, they will verify your data as it comes in from forms (API call, XML return) or files:

  • Email
  • Phone
  • Address
  • Name
  • IP Address
  • Score your leads

Like other solutions I talked to, pricing starts at a penny ($.01USD) per verification and goes down with quantity.  The need for solving the age old problem of GIGO (garbage in, garbage out) becomes more significant now that we can base entire campaigns and strategies based on data that may or may not be valid. Everything we can do to remove bad data from our warehouses is as important as removing the bad apples from our barrels. Our data warehouses can be corrupted by untrustworthy data just like our inventory warehouses can be corrupted by mice.

A cost effective solution that helps keep the bad data out of the warehouse in the 1st place can save us money for years to come. Imagine not mailing to a just 100 bad addresses for 5 years at 1.15 per catalog quarterly. Now imagine how your reputation will improve by not frustrating that bad address for 5 years and the other 3 people that tend to see each mailing and think your organization is inept. Imagine not calling that wrong number for years and bothering the wrong person.

But that is only looking at it from our perspective. From the users perspective, what if you can be helpful and let them know they made a mistake. Before the order is shipped to the wrong house. Before they never get the email you promised them. Before you are unable to call them back and they are waiting for your call. Before you disappoint them one more time and destroy the relationship before it ever gets started. Customers know you are tracking them. Most assume you have great skills to look into their credit card, because sites are tracking them around the Internet. If you don’t verify the simple stuff, how will they trust you with the important stuff (credit card number). Verification is coming (just as AMEX who bought Accertify), so start looking at the solutions now and planning or even start implementing.

These tools have great potential. Of course nothing is perfect, but the accuracy of your checker is key. I have not had a chance to test XVerify out yet, but I look forward to it and plan to report back when I can.

June 10, 2012 Posted by | Chicago, resources, tools | , , | Leave a comment

IRCE 2012 – BoldChat from LogMeIn (review from Internet Retailer Conference and Exhibition tradeshow)

Another review from what I discovered at IRCE (Internet Retailer Conference and Exhibition) tradeshow in Chicago, IL.

One of the more interesting solutions I found for eCommerce sites was from one of my favorite SaaS providers – LogMeIn. Logo of Remote access SaaS LogMeInThey have been providing great remote access for my remote support needs, as well as for many clients. LogMeIn is an easy solution to implement – a quick client based program, and you have the ability to access your (or your clients) computer from any current browser. It handles multiple monitors and has multiple layers of security. They have different levels of product from Free (really free) to enterprise.

LogMeIn has introduced BoldChat (they may well rename or at least redo the logo which looks like 3 different words) as a low cost chat solution, a midrange solution and an enterprise solution to go up against LivePerson.

The low cost option is Free – http://boldchat.com/free-live-chat-software.asp. Can’t beat that cost, the limitations seem to be reasonable. The biggest limitations are how many chats per month, and how many concurrent sessions are running. This is enough to get most small ecommerce sites up and going, allow them to build those FAQ answers, and design how to organize your resources for prompt response. By the time the number of chats (750 per month) is becomes limiting, the next level should be a no brainer for your organization to fund at less then a fast food lunch is these days.

The basic level is $99 per seat per year or $9 per month. So for less then a Vonnage account, or RingCentral or any other telephony solutions (well maybe Skype can be less) you have a great way to be able to have chat. Complete with a  self documenting solution for building your business into a repeatable solution.

The enterprise level has more features, and does cost less then your typical rent for the desk space and share of a break room for your agent. This level will integrate into SalesForce.com, have predictive messaging, better integration across team members and more reporting. At the enterprise level the mindset is to work more collaboratively as a team across your chat team.

logo and screen of BoldChat by LogMeIn with model of contact center worker

Is it BoldChat or BuildChat or …?

Chat is quickly becoming the expected norm in ecommerce to assist in providing excellent quality service to visitors who want to learn about your product. If you don’t provide enough service on the site, they will take there business elsewhere with the click of a mouse or often with a quick jump in the car. Chat is also an opportunity to see into the customers real needs and questions, rather then having to guess what they are looking for.  This tools allows you to collect real questions (in the way real visitors ask them, not how you think they ask them), and allow you to sculpt your most appropriate answers for re-use.

If you are planning on having relationships with your clients and will be using the Internet, plan on experimenting and testing with chat as soon as possible. It’s useful not just in answering a few questions while juggling another voice call, but also in having a self documenting way to collect answers for your next agents, and sales team members. These can be collected and put into a FAQ – Frequently Asked Questions (a whole other post). That is one of the easier ways to implement the systems approach of Michael Gerber’s E-Myth Revisited of working ON your business, rather then IN your business.

June 9, 2012 Posted by | Chicago, copywriting, E-Myth, tools, Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

IRCE 2012 – Internet Retailer Conference and Exhibition tradeshow at Chicago’s McCormick Place

IRCE (Internet Retailer Conference and Exhibition) is over for 2012.

http://irce.internetretailer.com/2012/exhibits/

Learning more in person then online

To all who came to IRCE2012, THANKS for visiting Chicago, the local economy appreciated your visit. I appreciated your ideas and the opportunity for networking in my backyard.

Even after all these years in technology, it still amazes me to see how technology continues to move quickly in a few different directions. So while I will be highlighting some different companies I met or got reaquanted with in the near future here at SEODamian in future posts,  let me share what I see were some major trends here from the show.

One of the big values I find in going to trade shows is the ability to compare and contrast different vendors in the same hour. The challenge with other solutions for comparing (trade journals, industry reviews, analyst reports) is that they often span data that makes comparisons irrelevant. They are X’s last quarter’s version compared to Y’s next quarter’s beta version. You still get the same issue at a tradeshow, but you can typically sniff out the game and get the real scoop on what the 2 companies are at today, and compare to 3 other similar solutions.  Some of the key trends I saw in Internet retailing are:

  • Prices are dropping. No big change there, except the rate they continue to drop. Typically not the same product at the same company, but by a new competitor creating most of the functionality of an existing solution and more for a lower price. Be it Chat and chat management (LivePerson look out, LogMeIn and others are looking to eat your lunch), survey tools, Addon’s to Magento (shopping cart platform), shipping auditing (no minimums needed here), affiiliate management, flash sales tools (keep it all in house or partner) and more.
  • SaaS is the trend. The cost to distribute code to customers, and deal with your internal data center/stack complexities is too expensive for most tool creators. It is far easier for them to increase staff to keep 1 (or 2) data center up and going, then trying to guess how you (the customer) tried to make your data center secure and how you dealt with your specific legacy issues.  The test bed is far easier to set up (if they are using AWS-Amazon Web Services, it is about 3 command lines to generate ‘another’ test bed). If you as a retailer can’t deal with SaaS or it’s API, look for adding at least one 0 (zero) to your cost in purchase price, and far more in TCO.
  • Big data is here. Small startups need a credit card with a few dollars open on it to get a billion dollar data center (Amazon Web Services) to build ‘rock hard’ services. The cost of AWS is low enough that the ability to deal with incredible amounts of data in real-time changes what is being deployed as solutions. This shows up at the consumer level as presorted and pretargeted for their needs, not brood strokes. No longer is confirmation that a card number may be valid a real number good enough. It has to be validated that it belongs as a charge, not reported stolen and has the proper credit limit. 
  •  The is no one stop shopping. The amount of tools to run a successful ecommerce site continues to grow. From the need to change pricing rapidly on one or all your SKU’s, to deploying across multiple channels (store, Amazon, eBay, Affiliate, traditional site, Facebook, ShopEngines) you need a collection of tools that is reminiscent of the stacks of apps in the 70’s and 80’s. The big difference, they are best not home developed, and often hosted in and out of house.
  • Change is now often measured in weeks and months rather then years for software deployment. If you don’t like what you see today, what a quarter and redo your RFP (Request for Proposal). But monitor the products and community reaction in the meantime.

There was a lot more I saw, but 500 booths is hard to summarize in a few lines, so more to follow in the next posts.

June 8, 2012 Posted by | Chicago, hosting, Large SKU site, resources, SEM Industry, Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

New World order – customer perspective 1st, Company perspective 2nd

Next Door Chicago

Who do you think the business is behind this site?

Check out this website and their whole approach to marketing. Let me know how long it is before you figure out who’s actually the big company behind the totally different approach to marketing.

Here is what stands out in looking at this as an effective marketing tool:

  • it is fun and colorful
  • it has movement – both in the rotating graphics as well as in the variable typefaces being used.
  • It is inviting,  both from its graphics and it’s ability to share with others, and the ability to easily find information
  • it states what it can do for me in a non-sales format way before I ever can get to the point of finding out what I can buy from them.
  • It focuses on community and how we can interact locally, rather than with a big mega Corporation.
  • It’s quick, concise, clear, and the messaging text is easy to figure out what it’s about, then get on,  get off, and move on to my next task at hand.
  • the navigation is easy to follow. While I usually don’t like the drop downs and chase the cursor type websites, this one is easy, because the targeted areas are large,  and easy to click on, with a single layer drop-down.

I think the key here is that they are starting from a customer perspective, rather than from a corporate perspective, which is very key for any business these days, especially in working with the younger generation.

https://www.nextdoorchi.com/The owner of Next Door Chicago website.

This site may or may not be the best for search engine optimization. Although it really is not clear exactly what terms they would be trying to optimize for anyways. They do rank at the top for “next door Chicago”. Which if that is their brand focus here, it is a good approach. But I imagine in the list of site objectives, SEO was lower on the list, and they are more successful in other site objectives.

I would love to have your perspectives on this.

April 1, 2012 Posted by | Chicago, Community, How To, local marketing, Uncategorized | , , | Leave a comment

Site Redo / Refresh – New Sections to Add to Illinois Main Street Alliance – Part 4

This the fourth part of  my suggestions for a site redo/site refresh. Part one is at https://seodamian.wordpress.com/2011/10/23/site-redo/

Part two is  Here

Part three is Here

The Illinois Main Street Alliance (IMSA), is one of the organizations I am working with. This is a small business association with chapters across the country representing actual main street or real small businesses. The US Chamber of Commerce being more focused on large corporations (based on who is on the board, and amount of donations and how it lobbies). So as a small organization, it has a limited budget and resources. Most are volunteered with limited technical expertise.

Recently, I was asked for some input as to what would I do to improve its website. 

Not knowing the answers to the core questions asked in part 1 makes recommendations a challenge. But here are some suggestions for new sections to add to the site:

  • Create an section of an archive of newsletters.
  • Accountability section:
    • This could list a variety of different elected officials, and map out their voting history on those bills that are for or against our standpoint. There are a variety of tools that can be used to assist with this (most are free) from Google Maps (for listing legislative officials districts) to MegaVote by Congess.org
    • This section could also link to the different campaign donation sites and draw analysis on where our elected officials are getting their money from and how it’s working or not working in our best interest.
  • Jobs section
    • This could be an area to list jobs. This section has the opportunity to be a traffic generator because jobs always ranks well within Google and there are number of search engines that go through an aggregate job postings from across the Internet. It may be a way to bring in more individual participants that are looking for work as a way to plug into our system, as well as increasing our credibility and economic power within the state.
    • This may be a free or paid system it may be a outside managed service or internally easy to create page listing. It probably should be edited or at least monitor to make sure that there aren’t a lot of ‘junk’ postings and it
  • Editorial section. This could be a place where different leaders within IMSA can go share ideas and values to the community.
  • Facebook reposting section – Have a section that allows us to repost everything that is being posted at the Facebook site. Currently Google is not indexing much of Facebook (Facebook’s decision), so the good content, discussion and ideas shared there can not be found elsewhere.
  • Create a white paper section. This allows us to post the various content we have had and shared with the press and legislatures in the past. It provides both context and background. It also makes it easier for others including Google to understand our expertise and depth of understanding on the topic.
  • Create a press release section. This section needs to include both the PDF of the press release as well as the text of the press release. Ideally, this could be historical, going back to the beginning of IMSA.
  • Discussion board section
    • This section would be a good area for us to be able to have a’members only’ or ‘leadership only’ discussions and share the conversation back and forth rather than going in continuing to use just the e-mail post back and forth. This could also be a section to go through and post if we wanted to recordings of her conference calls today again we can allow others that were unable to attend a conference call to hear the actual conversation from those conference calls.
    • This area could also have conference call minutes that John typically collects and sends out after each conference call. They could be posted here as an easy resource for those to find all those discussion threads in one place.
These sections have multiple purposes. Again the priority and appropriateness of these suggestions is dependent on what the intended objectives are and who the primary audience is. But all of these expanded sections will create more content. That will improve Google ranking and improve viability in the search engines.
Greater sections tends to improve user friendliness and makes is easier for visitors to quickly and effectively find what they are looking for. Studies show that most searchers are not in the mood to be finding information until they find what they are looking for 1st. Just as it is much easier to be exploring and taking in the scenery then it is to be lost and enjoying where you are. Greater number of sections also makes it easier to have multiple people working in partnership on the same website without conflict. It is easier to define boundaries and not ‘stomp’ on each others work. Loosing an afternoon’s efforts can be so demoralizing.

What other ideas do you typically start with when doing an informational/community site redo/refresh?  Join in the conversation below with your comments.

November 2, 2011 Posted by | Chicago, Community, Uncategorized | , , , | Leave a comment