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Data vs. Information, Same Thing Right?

In the ever changing world we live in, I notice that the distinction between data and information is often blurred. One of my recent projects was to focus on helping a scientific research institute create greater results by moving its data from a collection of facts to actionable steps. As we started to determine some processes internally, here are some aha points we came across:

  • Data is ‘raw’ and needs interpretation. Individual ‘bits’ of data provide no insight without context. What are the conditions of the situation that the data was collected, is it reproducible, when conditions change how will other data change and more.
  • Information is interpreted. Data with some quantity and context allows for information to be interpreted.
  • Information needs to be something that can be acted upon. Collecting enough data and adding enough interpretation allows data to mature into information. Information is the beginning of something that can be acted on.

We developed a process for converting Data to Information

  • Collection of individual points. These need a process to understand what the conditions where when the collection occurred.

 

  • Data is a grouping and aligning the collection TaosGS2013in a meaningful way (think rows and columns) to allow for looking at it. This is when notebooks become charts. When it is important to list your units (especially if you are working in a team) and specifics. When you list a time is that UTC or headquarters time or agency time? When you count sales is that in USD or local currency? Are you listing every transaction or just completed sales or completed sales and returns within 7 days

 

  • Analysis – once individual points are Social_Network_Analysis_Visualizationorganized enough to call it data, it is time to start to review and determine some core issues. What is the correct scale to measure, What data should be tossed out (150degree room temperature may be an error when it was 50degrees yesterday and the day before), What data is missing (what is the outside temperature relative to inside temperature?

 

  • Interpretation – What are the trends, Lle_hlle_swissrollWhat should we measure next, what data is missing, what conclusions can be drawn, what suspected ideas can be seen. Typically it is the ideas, theories and hypothesis that are real at this point, but in the business world, they are often listed as conclusions. Business will label them conclusions because they ‘were true’ at the time with the given data. Science would still label them ideas.

 

  • Sharing – Taking these ideas and converting them into a presentable format. Tables, sparkline_twittercharts and slides. Here you are purposefully slanting the data to show your conclusions but with enough footnotes that others can question your conclusions. The tools and best practices here continual to evolve at a rapid rate. But it becomes a fine balance between over geeking and stripping any real information out at this point and just showing the conclusions without the data behind it. Edward Tufte has moved this aspect of data communication vastly forward.

 

  • Discussion – Now the collection of individual points have been aligned, reviewed and presented. But your may not be perfect, so time to start reviewing with others. What was missed, what was ignored, what is the ‘truth’ behind  the data points.

 

  • Process – Great data, nice interpretationrefineryflow but So What? This step is where we take the conclusions that were discussed and use that in future work. Whether it is ‘when it is going to be hot outside, turn the AC on earlier’ to ‘when there is a festival, start selling T-Shirts with the band names 2 weeks before the concert’ or 94 days before Christmas hire 5 new shipping clerks so they are full up to speed before the mad rush happens.

 

  • Implementation – Once we define the process, there are many steps on how to implement that process. That is where data has become Actionable Information (and hopefully increased profits).

 

So no, Data is not information. Data leads to information. Data is only the 2nd step towards being able to have real information. And that is just part of the journey to the implementation of that information.

Hopefully, you found this information informative…

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November 5, 2015 Posted by | How To, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Is Your SEO to Grow Your Start-up? Learn About Angel Investors

Are you trying to develop your site’s SEO because your new business is growing? Are you getting ready to move to the next level with your start-up?

I am constantly trying to see what tools are available to ease my work, and my clients efforts (especially after I set them up for success). I run across a variety of sites that are successful in short-cutting the learning curve. Instead of having to read 2 books, or sit through 5 months of classes or pay $10,000 in consulting fees, there are a plethora of solutions to help you get at least a cursory education on a variety of challenges for start-ups.

Here is another website that I found it has a great deal of wisdom in short nuggets. It is GUST.com, a website that matches investors and start-ups in one place, creating a clearinghouse for entrepreneurs to look for angel investors in a single location. But the nugget that I found that was really valuable was the hundreds of videos that they have as short 1 to 3 minute nuggets of wisdom from those that have been through the trenches before.

Gust matching angel investors with business start-up entreprenuers

A matchmaker for startups and inverstors

These are investors that most often have sat on the entrepreneur side of the table. They have learned the lessons of start-ups. Most often they learned the hard way. They are often boiled down in the way investors talking to many perspective start-ups can grasp most quickly from practice and repetition. The repitition of dealing with many pitches throughout the day, giving the same advice over and over. Their wisdom tends to be in short little nuggets that you can walk away from with your mind clearer and more focused then the cup of coffee you sipped while watching. These might even be good nuggets to put around your management tables to start out at different meetings. It might also be an interesting way to kind of go through and bring in an outside person to lend some advice to some of your conversations/arguments that you and your management team are having as to how to solve a problem. Certainly, they’re not the absolute perfect answer to everything, but I do find some thought-provoking ideas in there that can be helpful in trying to map out your course, and stay on path to growing your start-up.

I know what you think about gust.com, and the idea of looking at short videos for gaining wisdom and keeping your energy level up as you go through the challenging days of marketing your business to the world through search engine optimization.

http://videos.gust.com/video/Knowledge-than-credentials;Staff-Picks

April 23, 2012 Posted by | E-Myth, How To, Uncategorized | , , , , , | 1 Comment

Are You Looking at Your Website from Your Cusomers Perspective?

Do you understand specifically what your website visitors are looking for or do you only have a generic idea? If you understand what they are specifically looking for to meet their needs, you have a much greater chance of true engagement. When you have true engagement, your odds of a sale increase dramatically, if not today, then on the next visit.

But if you don’t understand how to look at the trends and numbers, you will have a challenging time understanding what your visitors are really looking for.

That’s why retailers count how many people are coming in and how many people are coming out there also counting how many of them are actually purchasing. I have worked with over 100 different retail chains from single store retailer to office supply big box stores. They are counting by the month, day of the week, hour of the day (I know, I installed the counters that go back to the corporate databases with these body counts). They are counting how many of purchasing customers are actually signing up for the e-mail list. They’re counting how many of purchasers are return customers from previous orders. There also counting what is the average amount of each visitor’s spending. Retail stores count the numbers in so many ways you would be amazed. Just like you need to on your website. Your website is not a black box. You need to be paying attention to what’s happening.

If these types of customer engagement don’t make absolute clear sense to you, then I would suggest you go and spend some time and with brick and mortar retailers. Consider even working as a retailer. Learn how retailers convert the looky loo’s into true engagements. Yes we have all been shopping, but look at how retailers work with other customers not just yourself. Learn how retailers try to customize to the needs of each person, not a one size fits all. It is important that you learn how to look through a store or website through the eyes of a customer. It is important that you understand that the customer is always right in their perspective, and how they are looking at the world. And if you don’t understand their perspective, it will be very hard to understand why they’re not buying from you. If that same attitude of understanding is what a potential customer or visitor is looking at when they see a store and their perspective also becomes very useful.

This attitude of looking at your website comes into play in how you design your SEO and SEM. Did you need to present the right kind of signage from the street to get the customer to pull into the parking lot? Once they get inside the store, they need to see what the sign promised is fulfilled. SEO and SEM is about creating it signage from the street. You can fake a man once or twice, but once you do, they will ignore your sign for the rest of their life, because you made them cut across left-hand lane and pull into your parking lot. And they will tell their friends to ignore you or worse. You need to create a good ‘sign’ in your SEO/SEM to attract your visitors into your store. But you also need the sign to be a good indicator of what is in the store.

Just as stores don’t (at least those that survive long term) have the same layout year after year, websites also must evolve and continue to improve based on what works and what does not. This should be done as measured experiments. You can follow the models used in Lean Start-up (Eric Ries) and E-Myth Revisited (Micheal Gerber).  Those experiments need tools like Google Analytics and other tools like ChartBeat. Topics of other blog posts.

Oh, not selling products on your site?  I would place heavy odds that you are selling your ideas – be they the idea that your service is better then someone elses, or your idea is more important then the next bloggers. Remember to look at the website through your visitor’s eyes in the path they took to get to your website, and your pages.

April 16, 2012 Posted by | E-Myth, How To, local marketing, SEO tools, 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

Types of Traffic – It is all the same, right?

A customer is a customer is a customer, right?  No, there is the customer that asks 200 questions and buys your loss leader, returning it used and unresellable. There is the customer who comes in, asks can you ship 200 of your most profitable item? Oh, and can you autoship if they pay in advance for the next 5 years?  Who would you prefer more of?

Visitor traffic is similar, not all traffic is the same value to your organization today or tomorrow. There are different types of traffic to look at when trying to create a successful site.  There are different dimmensions of traffic – what type of traffic, what quality of traffic, what the cost it was to get the traffic and others. But lets just look at one dimension, where is the traffic coming from:

Referral Traffic

This is the traffic created by other sites referring / linking to your site, or your emails driving traffic to your site.  This is great ‘free’ traffic.  Referrals from other websites also supports your SEO traffic and rankings, because the search engines (SE) respect other sites sending traffic to your site. The more you are listed on other sites, the better your SE (search engine) ranking.  The more related the sites, the better your SE ranking. For example a site about guns referring to your site on trees is not as helpful as a referral from a site about arboretums referring to your tree site.

A way to quantify your ranking is to look at your Page Rank (named after Google Founder Larry Page). There are a number of tools including add-ons to your browser that will automatically let you know your PR (Page Rank) on a 0-8 (higher is better) score. Here is one – http://www.prchecker.info/check_page_rank.php

SEO – Seach Engine Optimization or Natural Traffic

This is the traffic that comes from your site ranking well in the search engines, and the traffic coming from others looking for answers to their searches.  The 1st key to creating this traffic is to create content that answers your visitors questions. The key here is to look at your site from the perspective of your visitors. What are they looking for? Not what do you want to tell them. You may shift the answers to be what you want to share, but 1st look at what would be the perfect answer to a visitor coming the site.

Of course, if you collect the most common questions you can create a FAQ or Frequently Asked Questions page or better yet section of pages (depending on your answers, it may be appropriate to have a single page for each question).  The challenge is to come up with the best answer to meet everyone’s needs. But like all good communications, allow the reader to choose how much they want to read by putting the most important/simplest information first. DO NOT follow the mystery novel format and keep the best for the last.

SEM – Search Engine Marketing

Search engine marketing is when you pay to get traffic to your site.  This can include a variety of different strategies such as:

  • Banner Ads on other sites – here you can pay per image shown (maybe or maybe not registered in the viewers mind), or per click thru to your site.
  • Email marketing like Constant Contact or iContact (a whole other post) to someone else’s email list (make sure you are not spamming) or to your own list.
  • Google AdWords (buying ads on the search engine)
  • Google AdSense (buying text ads on different websites) – this is an overlap of banner ads, but through the 600 pound gorilla Google that acts as the ad-man for you.
  • Ads on other search engines
This traffic can be very profitable or a total waste of money. The great part of this type of traffic is it is easier to test. Testing is a big part of what you need to do to be successful. Consider it the equivalent of practice in sports, music or dating.  You don’t expect to get it perfect the 1st time, and you need to keep improving as your competition keeps getting better.

LMT – Local market traffic

Local market traffic is when visitors are looking for the types of businesses and solutions that used to be  typically found in a yellow pages directory.  They are usually the local businesses like restaurants, and cleaners.  These are businesses that are not trying to market across the country, but only the local community. This traffic is in some ways easier to get, because there is less competition (only a few real estate agents in Downers Grove, compared to million in the whole country). You don’t have to rank higher than the real estate broker in Texas, if you are Wisconsin. But you need to have people looking for Wisconsin real estate.  That is where focus is important.  This also requires looking outside the ‘normal’ spots.  Don’t try to rank high in ‘real estate’ on the search engine.  Instead try to rank in ‘Bloomington real estate’ or even better ‘Bloomington vacation real estate’. But also look at other sites than the big 3 search engines.  Look at local sites like the different yellow pages or Yelp.com.

What kind of traffic you want will determine what kind of strategies you should follow.

SEO is more on content.

SEM is more on converting the visitorOf course you have to define what conversion is. It may be a sale. It may be a signup for a newsletter. It may be a request for a consultation and setting an appointment. Or it may be requesting a free report. You need to define what your conversion funnel is (most businesses have multiple conversions in the process of a lifetime of a customer.

LMT is about converting and getting them to call or use traditional business channels. That may be getting them to drive to your store. That may be getting them to call and set an appointment. It may still be just calling or emailing for a report or other trust building step.

Understand that just like traditional sales takes on average 7 touches to convert to a sale (after having built up enough trust), online channels can take multiple steps to build the trust required for your final conversion.  Make sure you design your website presence to convey that.

What about you? Take our long poll – 1 question –

March 15, 2012 Posted by | Definitions, How To, local marketing, SEO tools | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Trying to Build a Business with Your Website?

There are a whole variety of purposes for a website. Some are for vanity, others to build community, some just for venting. But more then a few are about trying to build a business. Especially those website builders that are interested in search engine optimization, building a business is a very common site objective. With that in mind, I am often asked where to go to for resources on getting started.

I often start a discussion about ‘How do I start a website?’ with an exploration of what the objectives and priorities are of a website, before going into the how to.

But assuming supporting your business is your primary objective, here are a few key resources I would recommend:

  • High level business plan suggestion –
    Headshot of Guy Kawasaki author of Reality Check

    Guy Kawasaki author of Reality Check

    MS Word Business Plan Template from Guy Kawasaki.

    If you don’t know who Guy is, you should. He is a thought leader in how business should be done in this millennium. Guy started his success at Apple Computer, but along the way has become a successful venture capitalist, and therefore has sat through many many business presentations good and bad.

    I am listening to Guy’s Reality Check (not Reality Bites the movie by Ben Stiller), and the book is a collection of Guy’s blog posts over the years. These blog posts and his book echo so much the experiences of many who have been successful in growing a business and getting capital investment. He has learned what works from the perspective of what it will  get someone to write a check and do a deal.

    This blog post is actually a collection of resources for a Pitch (to ask for investment funding)  framework, business model spreadsheet and business plan tempate. They are templates and suggestions on how to structure your communication with brevity and clarity. The key takeaway I keep sharing is: most people want to know you know your stuff, and then prove that you know by being able to communicate it with succinctness and in format that tells a story to your audience. Fail to speak to your audience and you will fail to get your objectives met.

    His ALLTOP.com is also an interesting tool for trying to keep up on the information firehose in a manageable fashion. I have set it as my homepage.

  • I have mentioned Seth Godin a few times. His writing is light and breezy. His insights are disturbing if you have spent too much time in school. His attitude is sacastic or worse. His effectiveness is stunning. Having proven his ability to practice what he preaches (just read or listen to the stories of his writing and how it has paid his bills very well over the years), he has great authority among many in the know.  His YouTubes are fun to watch as well. But the library or AddAll.com is worth a stop for reading some of his books as well.  I particularly recommend Linchpin
    Linchpin by Seth Godin

    A mindset for new business creation or anyone trying to earn a living

    In spite of his light and fun writing style, I think his ideas are pretty fundamental to the way the new world is. You need to be the best or plan for painful mediocrity needing to adjust to everyone else’s desires not yours. Linchpin tells the story that trying to be 2nd best or worse is hardly worth getting out of bed in the morning. Be the best – 2 ways:

    • Be ‘fortunate’ enough to be the best in a ‘standard’ area of pursuit.
    • Be creative enough to define your niche of being best. The key is you should be able to introduce your self as ‘the best ………’ in a way that everyone you meet knows it is the truth. That may be by geography, or creating a new market segment or reframing an existing segment. It may seem like cheating but it is not it is focusing and niching yourself. If you need to keep slicing your area of pursuit then keep slicing, but be the best.
  • Here is the story of the marketing and passionate niche I was telling a few clients about. http://www.forbes.com/sites/michaelellsberg/2012/01/11/the-tim-ferriss-effect/ It demonstrates how the world of broadcast over narrow-casting has passed from an idea to theory finally as absolute law. Our markets are large enough (over 303million in US alone) and flat enough (ship most anywhere in the US 2 day for under 2 pounds, but so much is the speed of Internet) and segmented enough (how many Yahoo groups are there today, how many Meetup groups are there today in your area) that you need to look at business differently. So many business owners keep trying to get the ‘big’ publicity hit and fail to understand that most success comes from targeting the key people you want to connect with. That success from connection individually rather then exposure of many. There are other lessons, and some ideas that will not apply to you (he gets specific so they don’t match everyone everytime) but concepts are important to understand the direction the world is taking.
  • Explore your business using the Business Model Canvas. I have worked with many different start-ups.
    Business Model Generation Book Cover

    A new way to get to the Truth of a business plan

    Along the way, I have built a variety of questionnaires that I found very helpful for all to understand and clarify what the real objective and strategy. I would create long documents as outlines for information gathering and initial interviews. In trying to find the secret sauce of each organization was an effort. What made them unique over the ‘next guy’. Business Model Generation changed my approach after decades.  Having recently found this 1 page tool, I find it naturally replaces my flat mini-book of questions with a single sheet that is far more action oriented, less overwhelming to all involved and more action oriented.

    An online tool for creating similar business model canvas is at Lean Canvas

  • E-Myth Revisited book with author Michael Gerber standing against it

    E-Myth Revisited – The bible on Entrepreneurial success by creating a system to work on your business rather then in your business.

    And of course, there is the E-Myth Revisited by Michael Gerber. This is what I (as well as many other authors and thought leaders) consider the bible to entrepreneurial strategy. This book has literally fundamentally changed many business owners lives. But also positively changed the many employees and team members working for the those businesses for the better. It has helped many employees from continually beating their heads against the wall, making everyone’s life better. Understanding why so many businesses fail can be very helpful in creating a strategy to avoid the issue yourself.

    Michael has created a few empires, and a whole series of books based on his E Myth model. I have read most of them (more coming out almost monthly now targeted into specific industries), but I still recommend reading this easy and targeted parable first before an industry specific volume to anchor the story, concepts and framework the deepest. I usually recommend audio format if you are short on time for most business books, but I still have not found an audio version that is as good as his written version.

    What are your favorite business resources? Do you find books the correct format for learning new business models?  Join the conversation below with a your comments and help a fellow business grow.

January 12, 2012 Posted by | E-Myth, How To, Reference books | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Why Is It So Complicated? It’s Just a Wedding Cake

One of my projects is helping out a small non-profit. Their advocacy website is in WordPress. So when WordPress.org let them know that a new version was out, WordPress recommended upgrading 3 days after the release. The non-profit  had a natural question: Should we upgrade our site to the new version? Seems logical. Newer is better, right?

Well not so fast.

The issue is one of managing risk by understanding the risks and the benefits. Here is where some analysis can be helpful.

Story of Wedding Cakes

photograph of 4 layered wedding cake with his and hers iPods on top

In one of my former lives, I was an event photographer. I always vowed (pun intended) to not do weddings. The primary reason – the expectations of the customer (bride) are unreal. On that magical day, expectations are unreal and beyond control. If the baker makes a mistake, I as the photographer am already doomed. The expectation is perfection. For the entire wedding day. Everything. Including the weather. If anyone on the ‘team’ makes a mistake and all fail.  Especially since everyone can make a cake, press a button on a camera (or cell phone, or a computer).  So the question becomes why is making a cake (especially for a wedding day) so complicated? Well after listening to a few bakers and artists, I learned there are a thousand critical points where a simple cake turns complicated. Mostly because for each layer you add, all the little mistakes on the layer below it show up. Those little mistakes get amplified until you end up with the tower of Pisa or worse. While it may all work in the shop, taking it to the wedding or putting it out in public can expose those issues in ways not desired.

It becomes about risk. And managing risk. You cannot get rid of all the risks, but you can mitigate and prevent risk in many ways. Did I mention that risk plays into it.

Simple WordPress Upgrade – that’s all

A similar situation exists with a ‘simple’ WordPress website.

Now don’t get me wrong, I feel WordPress is a great tool for most websites (since most websites are simple in objective and construction). For those websites that is is not the case (more complicated) the conversation becomes far more nuanced.  And I recommend WordPress as the 1st consideration for a site. Even if it does not belong on WordPress, it becomes a great prototyping tool, and scrum development platform for at least a place to converse with key stakeholders.

Recently, I was asked ‘should we upgrade to the latest version of WordPress?’  WordPress 3.3 had been released 4 days ago, and logging in to update the site created a prompt to upgrade. The short answer was ‘not now’. But I was not in a short answer mood. A big part of the issue was risk management, and the software layers involved like the layers on a wedding cake. I took this opportunity to have a teach able moment in understanding more about what is happening on a website.

Layers Upon Layers Upon Layers

In the world of web services, that layer cake that creates a website is sometimes referred to as LAMP (Linux, Apache, MS Sql, PHP). A whole other topic worthy of its own site, let alone a single entry. But back to the layers on our website ‘cake’ for this non-profit site.

LAMP stack demonstrating logos of different tools of LAMP. Open Source is a powerful force on the web today

The different logos of the layers of the LAMP stack. All are open source.

  • Why, let me start with listing the layers we are using, and where there could be issues:
    • The hosting company hardware – usually shielded by the operating system. In fact most people working with a hosting company do not even know what the hardware is, or when it was last updated or changed. Not knowing is fine, but that hardware may not play well with this new version. But maybe this new release creates a lot more disk input/output and an old model hard drive cannot handle it. It it is a new ‘fancy’ SSD drive not optimized for this change and will wear out in only a couple of week. Perhaps the hardware is very slow in its RAM, and this new version is optimized for fast RAM and actually slows down because of this hardware configuration. Probably only a .1% chance of causing grief in this scenario.
    • The hosting company OS (operating system), typically a Linux variation for most hosting companies not using heavy database tools. Again typically hidden, and takes some effort to determine the micro-release. But this is key in making sure all the hardware plays with the software. Whose version (or distribution) of Linux probably adds .1% risk. The micro-release adds about a .2% chance of challenge. (.4% running total)
    • The web serving software (typically Apache or Microsoft IIS) and it’s micro-release. Again another layer to work in partnership with all other layers. This adds a .8% chance of challenge, mostly because it is more directly accessed and more configurable by the hosting company to meet the needs of the type of hosting (shared, virtual hosting, VPS-virtual private server, full server, reselling…). (1.2% running total)
    • The control panel software (cPanel being the largest in the Apache web hosting management arena). This is the tool that lets you manage your hosting account. It lets you:
      •  create users,
      • email accounts,
      • empty log files,
      • add more space for x subdomain,
      • lock out Suzy’s account until she pays, or forward until she returns from long term absence.
      • This adds about .3% risk to the stack. (1.5% running total)
    • The install software. This is typically a button on the control panel software. Sometimes it needs to be updated to handle the customizations in the lower layers. This adds about.5% risk to the stack (2% running total)
    • Add-ins – these can be at almost any of these levels but 2 main areas would be at the Apache/web serving software like a spam tool on the server, or log tracking tool (for collecting traffic statistics). Depending on how many are running, for a stable hosting company they add .1% risk to upgrading a WordPress level. (2.1% running total)
    • WordPress release itself. This it what is creating the website on top of all the other layers to be shared with the world through the WWW. This adds risk based on where WordPress is in its lifecycle (the risk changes from when the product is new and ‘raw’, to stable, to needing to change and catch up to other tools that are ‘beating’ it in the industry, to being at its end of life cycle).  At this point in WordPress’ cycle I would estimate that a .x (vs x. or .xx release) adds 1.5% risk to a stable ‘simple’ website. Part of this risk is just updating any software that is installed and running over installing from scratch.  It is much easier to build from scratch in most software then to overlay running software and not do any harm (3.6% running total)
    • Plugins or Add-ons to WordPress. These are the SEO optimization tools, traffic analysis tools, and the other 17,409 plugins currently registered at WordPress.ORG (http://wordpress.org/extend/plugins/). These can add lots of challenge and conflicts. This is where a patient attitude can pay off in saved aspirin and Tylenol.  This adds 2% to the risk (5.6% running total)

      wordpress CMS logo - logo over the stylized name wordpress

      Free Website in minutes for prototyping or full deployment

    • The theme in WordPress. There are 1,458 as of today registered at WordPress (http://wordpress.org/extend/themes/).  This is just what is registered at the site. This layer is the template gives the look and feel of the site, integrates all the previous layers (especially the plugins) to the site. Since this is on top of WordPress, it is more susceptible to issues. The risk level here is a function of how mature the software it is sitting on, and how major the release is. In this case a 3.x release, and a simple theme with few plugins (sorry for adding so many weasel words here, but it gets specific quickly) I estimate the risk at .2% (5.8% running total)
    • Customization of the WordPress theme – this can be very minimal from changing the color theme from blue to green, or as major as adding a blog to a theme that was not designed for it. In this example, we had minimal customization on a simple theme. I estimate it adds .1% risk. (5.9% running total risk)
    • Some tweaks to the stack that the hosting company added that is not clear, documented and well maintained. This is a black box of unknown. Since I did not choose or research this hosting company, I will guess the risk factor by the size and reputation of the hosting company. A better way to determine a more accurate risk estimate would be to look at the questions and comments posted by customers of the hosting company based on real issues they have had. Part of the detective work is to look at the responses and timeline of the hosting company. My estimate is .2% in this instance. (6.1% running total)
    • Security patches applied to all the layers listed above based on when they came out, how thoroughly they were tested and how long they have been applied.  Add .1% risk this month.  (6.2% running total)

Add all the risk estimates up (sorry, the risk is cumulative), and the potential risk to upgrade is around 1 in 18 upgrades will have some challenge. This is where a testing and roll-back plan comes into play. And that is a whole other entry.

Of course if you only get 2 visitors a day, the true risk is low. If you get 2000 visitors a second, your strategy will be slightly different.

Conclusion on New WordPress Release

As complicated as this all sounds, new releases do usually work quite well. They typically run far more reliably then my car. The world we live in is complicated, but our ability to understand its systems is also incredible. Embrace the fun of change. Even a field of sugar cane and acres of wheat that make the wedding cake changes and evolves. Ask any farmer and they will certainly tell you about risk and risk management.  Just like our web serving stack.

But remember there is risk, and consider the trade off of benefit to risk in your upgrade decisions. Oh, that is a whole other side to this analysis – what are the benefits of a change, or in this case an upgrade?

What kind of risk management do you typically perform in your decisions to upgrade software? Comment and contribute to the conversation below.

December 17, 2011 Posted by | Definitions, hosting, How To, HTML Issue, SEM Industry, tools | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Should I Upgrade to the New Version of WordPress? Testing Plans for Success

As I wrote about yesterday, One of my projects is helping out a small non-profit with online presence and social marketing. Their simple site is in WordPress, so when WordPress.org let them know that a new version was out. Of course, they recommended upgrading just days after the release. So the executive director asked the natural question: Should we upgrade our site to the new version? Seems logical, newer is better, right?

Well not so fast.

WordPress 3.3 was release 4 days ago. My short answer was not now. It is probably best to add this to the list of todo’s for next year. But I was not in a short answer mood. A big part of the issue was risk management, and the software layers involved like the layers on a wedding cake.

In one of my former lives, I was an event photographer. I always vowed (pun intended) to not do weddings. The reason – the expectations are unreal.

A similar situation exists with a ‘simple’ WordPress website and its’ many layers of software that are used to let someone see our site. Tomorrow I will run down the different layers, but for now, here are the reasons that most jump out to not upgrade.

Now don’t get me wrong, I feel WordPress is a great tool for most websites (since most websites are simple in objective and construction). Those that is is not (more complicated) the conversation becomes far more nuanced.  And I recommend WordPress as the 1st consideration for a site. Even if it does not belong on WordPress, it becomes a great prototyping tool and scrum development platform for at least a place to converse with key stakeholders about how to meet the site’s goals.

Recently I was asked ‘should we upgrade to the latest version of WordPress?’ So my reactions were:

  • New releases are best tested by others. Unless they are fixing a core issue that is not working today. I am so appreciative of the thousands in the Internet and in the WordPress community that will find all the other ways a new release does not work on all configurations all the time. They will share with all the different layers and get those problems fixed. Hopefully before we upgrade.
  • This release does not really improve our world today. This new release does not really change the limitations of the template, it may make new templates easier to build or old templates easier to improve, but it will not ‘fix’ the limitation of the existing template. So this is another reason not to upgrade right away. Tomorrow I will go over all the different layers and what risk I estimate they add to such an upgrade, but here are a couple of highlights:
    • Whenever changing software and its many layers, it is important to have a testing plan and program. We have not had the time to develop that, and it should be done before we upgrade releases.
    • Add all the risk up (sorry the risk is cumulative), and the potential risk to upgrade is around 1 in 18 upgrades will have some challenge. This is where a testing and roll-back plan (the ability to undo the changes in case they make it worse then the ‘upgrade’) come into play.
  • There is no testing plan in place yet. A testing plan minimizes these risks by being able to duplicate the above issues as close as possible, and determine if in our specific circumstances, if there is a problem. For usually very few dollars, a test bed can be set up (usually less then $50 per year). Costs usually include:
    • ‘testing domain’  – $10 per year
    • setting up a 2nd domain/website – $10
    • Reinstalling WordPress, plugins and all the other layers listed above. The key is they need to be all the same version and configuration except the one change/upgrade (in this case new version of WordPress).
    • Possibly some testing software (although there are many low volume free versions) to thoroughly test a site, and some monitoring software to see how the ‘new’ version works.
    • This does not include the extra time on various peoples part to:
      • Define a testing plan.
      • Set up the testing platform.
    • But, once a process is defined, it will be much easier for all future upgrades, and far less stress before, during, and after (if there is a problem, there is a test bed to go see what is happening, and how to troubleshoot it, especially if the site is not fully down, but only ‘damaged’.)
    • This of course assumes a low volume, simple site. Issues, and solutions scale up as the sites objectives and complexity scale up. However, these fundamentals still apply, we have to add other considerations.
  • Other questions to consider:
    • Has the hosting company added the new release to its auto install packs?
    • Have they tested the new release on their servers (at least on one of them, they should all be the same, but as you can see from above there are a lot of areas where variations can be introduced)?
    • Has the theme tested itself on the new release?  Their site or page should list comparability with the current release.
    • Have all the plug-ins (or add-ons) been tested as compatible with the new release? According to the page http://www.projectrace.com/wp-admin/update-core.php it has not yet be tested.
    • These three ‘pre-tests’ will be very helpful in determine when to start considering when we should install the new release. Relatively speaking this is not a major release and does not seem to add much.

Sorry for giving a long answer to a short question, I got on a roll and wanted to map it out to share with others. Even if you don’t set up the testing platform, just thinking through the issues and steps to test them will improve your ability to resolve issues once they do occur. Not if, but when. So this exercise in risk management has value in many different ways. And yes it is a pain in the productivity to getting it all out.

What are your thoughts on WordPress 3.3 and upgrading software?

December 16, 2011 Posted by | Definitions, hosting, How To, HTML Issue, Uncategorized | , , , , | Leave a comment

Which Headset Should I Use with Dragon Naturally Speaking?

Search Engine Optimization uses a variety of tools. Obviously a computer, and different software. Today I wanted to look at one of the tools I use to make life more efficient not just for SEO, but also for all my computer work.  I have been typing since high school, but just like I have been bicycling forever, does not mean I don’t use a car when appropriate, does not mean I don’t use other tools to speed my data input. Nuance has a voice recognition tool called Dragon Naturally Speaking to speed up my data input. I have been using Dragon on and off for over a decade, and first looked at voice recognition in 1983 from Texas Instruments, when they best known for making calculators.

Nuance seems to always be discounting Dragon Naturally Speaking (DNS) in November each year, probably in advance of the next version coming out in December or right after the 1st of the year (probably based on how well they meet their deadlines). Therefore many clients consider improving their ability to create documents and all the other promises of voice recognition. The holy grail of perfect voice recognition will probably never be here, but it does keep getting better. A 1% improvement in accuracy is about 20 less errors on a page of text, a .5% improvement is still 10 less errors on a page to have to manually correct. That adds up quickly when you time is worth anything.

The headset that comes with Dragon Naturally Speaking is known to be crap by Nuance and others. Technically there are 2 different voice processing chips used in most wired USB headsets (using the builtin connectors is a strain on the PC, although the newer computers may be able to handle it). The cost to manufacture is about 3-5 cents difference between the two chips, so you can not tell by price which model is using which, and even a single brand line (such as Logitech) will use both. But at $20-50 you can almost by 2 or 3, and return the ones that don’t work well.

I could not tell you why Nuance, the latest owner of DNS (they have been sold a few times over the years) chooses to set so many potential customers with bad equipment that will hate voice recognition for years to come, and especially DNS, but they do. Perhaps they really do want to work only with resellers that know the dirty secret, or they want to keep expectations low for another 5-10 years. But the strategy sure seems counter intuitive.

Regardless, now that DNS is so relatively inexpensive (often as low as $35 for home edition on sale), and decent headsets are as well ($25-50), consider finishing the tool kit of voice recognition and purchase a decent USB or bluetooth headset before installing Dragon Naturally Speaking.

There are some inherent limitations to bluetooth, but they still work well. I researched which was best. I spent a lot of time reading the reviews and where possible reviews that did more testing then just ‘it feels’. Eventually I was led to talking to the engineer who actually worked on the Drgaon Naturally Speaking (DNS). He is now a reseller of the product, but mostly does consulting on effective implementation into your business. He recommended (even though he does not sell it) the Parrot VXi Xpressway last year when I bought mine.

DNS will create a different profile for each headset (since they are sound ‘different’ to the software), so switching does have the challenge of making A headset vs. B headset vs. C built-in comparison a little more challenging (but better then training with mic x and then testing with mic y).

Long story short, spend an extra $25 dollars (and a willingness to try a few, and return if nescessary) to get a good USB headset. Better yet, keep some cords off your desk and get a bluetooth headset for around $100 and get some mobility and voice recognition improvement.

Hope this technical interlude helps.

What hardware tools do you use to improve your efficiency?  Comment below and join the conversation.

November 11, 2011 Posted by | How To, Purchasing, tools, Uncategorized | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Site Redo / Refresh – Illinois Main Street Alliance – Part 2

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

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 concrete and prioritized recommendations a challenge. But, to start the ball rolling, here are some recommendations:

  • A Twitter re-tweet button, and all social media sharing buttons. This allows members to easily share group ideas into different circles with accuracy and ease.
  • Google analytics to allow us to track to see who and what  people are looking and as well as how much traffic we are getting.
  • Update the Graphical masthead that shows a variety of different businesses rather than a Macomb, Illinois sense of Main Street alliance. We need to show that various types of main streets across Illinois that IMSA represents. We have many members from across the state and need to let others understand not just in words but also visually:
    • City – Chicago is the obvious business here.
    • Suburbs.
    • Small town.
    • Farm
    • Soloprenuer/home business
    • manufacturer
    • Service business
  • Use more illustrations and images through out the site. The term a picture is worth a thousand words is just as applicable here as elsewhere on the web.
  • Easy call to action.
    • How to reach out to Senators Durban and Kirk
    • how to reach out to Congressman.
    • How to reach out to Illinois state capital Springfield.
    • How to reach out to us – IMSA.
  • Upcoming events
    • This should be where we are linking people to our site from our Facebook postings, as well as tweets, as well as our LinkedIn and e-mails.
    • Ideally past and present meeting agendas would be posted here as well.
  • RSS feeds. these would list and include key articles from the news about the different campaigns that we are most interested in, such as:
    • HCAN
    • PPACA
    • ACA
    • Citizen action
    • insurance exchange
    • dream act.
    • Smart enforcement.
    • rate authority bill.
    • Budget fight in DC.
    • SB 1729.
    • 1577.
    • These could be either separate pages, each of themselves for each feed or one ongoing stream. The more pages the better the website (typically) from an ease of use and ability to be ranked well by the search engines. Generally speaking from the standpoint of making it easier for people to find what they’re looking for, as well. As for the search engines to make it easy for us to rank higher and therefore getting more traffic. It also helps in allowing other websites to link directly to us in more appropriate lead directly to the specific area that they want reference.
  • Links to other blogs related to our main street business’ costs such as:
  • Photos
    • This area could have two different purposes. One would be just to build community.
    • The second would be to create a resource tool for the press to see images that we have available that they may desire to utilize with stories and articles and letters to the editor that we may be submitting or writing about. This section would need to have probably watermarked or properly controlled images that the press could utilize for reproduction in their newspapers. Once they get approval from us. We can send them full resolution versions of them.
  • Standalone domain name. Having a standalone domain and therefore standalone site is important in creating the credibility appropriate for an organization with the clout of IMSA. Multiple domain names may be appropriate, especially for segmenting into different parts of the website. This is a good way to help improve search engine results/Google ranking.

Many of these suggestions should be relatively easy to implement continuing to use WordPress as a underlying CMS or content management system. Some of these start to walk to the edge of WordPress’s abilities and a more sophisticated CMS such as Joomla! or Drupal may be appropriate. Again this goes back to the original goals and objectives and the amount of resources that would be available to help maintain and develop a website.

Again, without context, it’s really hard to focus on the right parts of your very broad question. there are a variety of tools in evaluating effectiveness of a website that are free that I could go through and highlight but it feels like those aren’t even the appropriate sense of direction to be looking at at this point. However, I may be wrong in understanding what we’re trying to accomplish your at this time. May I suggest that a conference call may be more appropriate and getting with key decision-makers of who’s working on this process. Let me know who and when and how will try and plug into that. Also understanding where we are in the lifecycle of this is also key. In other words if the website is 80% done, then most of  this is too late. Then I can move my focus elsewhere, on the other hand, if this is all too early, I can put this in a more exploratory framework.

In our next post I will explore some suggested pages to add to the site.

October 25, 2011 Posted by | Chicago, How To, Internal Organization, Social Media | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment