Eastern Promises

Japan’s had it hard. After nearly a decade of stock market doldrums and an economy on the brink of disaster – just as the rest of Asia struggled too – Japan bounced back. Growth happened. Its economy is still a tad slow, but there are many industries looking way up. Online marketing is one of them.

Of Japan’s 130 million people, about 88 million are online. That’s about 68 percent of the population, according to Internet World Stats (Asia), compared with 210 million of the U.S.’s 300 million and 137 million of China’s 1.4 billion residents. Japan’s may seem like small numbers, but the momentum of online marketing and the ever-growing popularity of affiliate marketing in Japan make it a region everyone’s talking about.

Blogging, for example, in Japan is a popular way of getting products in front of the masses. Technorati Japan says that more than 85 percent of Japan’s bloggers write about companies and their products – and that over half of these bloggers have been contacted by companies to extol their wares. Japan’s Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications says that bloggers totaled about 8 million in that country, making for an in-blog ad market of about $60 million last year.

Expansion on the Way

In the 1990s, the Japanese did not use credit cards much for online purchases, as bank transfers and postal transfers made e-commerce slow and a waiting game. But by 1999, a tech-hungry culture emerged and online spending came with it. Pay-per-performance business models were not far behind.

A leader in this space is online retailer Rakuten and its affiliates – managed through LinkShare Japan, a U.S.-led affiliate company acquired by Rakuten in 2005. Rakuten is the leader in online shopping destinations in Japan, so their penetration made them a default major player. In fact, Rakuten plans to be in about 27 more markets by 2012, according to Atsushi Kunishige, a vice president at Rakuten. He says they will use LinkShare, for example, as a way to "expand our business into the international market. We want to open a full-fledged Internet mall [abroad]."

Rakuten’s 20,000-plus online stores and merchants did about $66 million in operating profit in the second quarter of 2007. With the company traded publicly on the Japanese stock market, that’s a market capitalization of more than $5 billion.

LinkShare Japan has about 68 percent of the top-selling merchants in Japan and is the leader in customer satisfaction, according to a survey by Japan’s Affiliate Marketing Association. Atsuko Umemura, director, corporate planning, of LinkShare Japan, says that their focus on per-sales kinds of merchants has helped make them a leader. "Affiliate marketing has proven to have the best ROI for us," she says.

Late Bloomers

While the U.S. affiliate industry can trace its beginnings to the mid-1990s, the first affiliate providers in Japan didn’t start up until 1999. The U.S. market has had a few years to evolve and grow, whereas the Japanese affiliate space is still considered a "juvenile." There are more than 80 affiliate networks in Japan that cover both Web and mobile platforms. Some of the more high-profile affiliate networks include Adways, Access Trade, LinkShare Japan, Fan Communications (A8), TrafficGate, ValueCommerce and Zanox Japan.

Anthony Torres, president of affiliate marketing program management company MetaFlo Marketing, which is based in Japan, points out that the key difference between the U.S. market and the Japanese market is that the "Japanese affiliate networks can service only Japanese sites. U.S. networks such as Commission Junction operate worldwide due to English being the most popular language for Web content. So, no matter how large the Japanese affiliate industry gets, it will never be as big as the English-speaking networks," Torres says.

He also notes that Japan is still behind the curve in tracking technology and commission sophistication. For example, U.S. advertisers have more choices in how they reward affiliates. Generally, U.S. affiliate networks allow merchants to pay affiliates based on subscription status of digital content and, of course, future sales even if buyer clicks go directly to a merchant store. The U.S. networks also have more payout choices. A small CPA, plus a larger percentage of future sales generated by the lead is a method that hasn’t made it to Japanese network platforms.

Torres notes that the cost of acquisition of a typical online customer is high in Japan. "When you add in customer service and all of the accumulated costs in the sale cycle, you are left with a lower margin per sale," he says. Merchants in Japan are just not used to paying high commissions or lifetime commissions on a customer, he adds. "As the industry matures here and the ability to attract online buyers becomes more challenging, we may see online merchants less reluctant to try more aggressive commission terms." Unique to the Japanese market seems to be the cross-investment of media sites and affiliate networks. In order to increase media coverage, many networks invest in or make their own in-house media sites.

Considered the real pioneer in Japanese affiliate marketing is ValueCommerce (Yahoo Japan took a sizable stake in the company in 2005), started by a New Zealander named Tim Williams. ValueCommerce has more than 50,000 websites and blogs in its network, with about 2,000 advertisers. The company has about $43 million in annual revenue and trades on the Tokyo Stock Exchange. Goldman Sachs veteran Brian Nelson is now CEO, having come on in 2000 as COO. Nelson says that "we focused on our strengths, continued to hire great people, and launched new products and services that kept new customers, especially large brand name customers, coming in to work with us."

Consolidation is Coming

Nelson says that a large product database for shopping and their Web 2.0 applications have kept them in the No. 1 spot. It also doesn’t hurt that there is some consolidation going on in the Japan online marketing space now. "I have been telling people in the market for a long time that consolidation is coming " and it is in full swing now," Nelson says. LinkShare’s Umemura says, "It is a very saturated market right now. There is not enough room for everyone to survive."

Online marketing observers in Japan note that there are just too many networks trying to service the same advertisers. With about 1.3 million affiliates registered with the major networks and the majority of transactions driven by a group of search affiliates and "incentive media sites," there are not enough "quality" affiliates to take on all the offers out there. This means the networks are starting to look at new channels for ads.

One of those new channels is mobile, a platform that has performed very well for Japan. Because the Japanese adopted 3G standards fairly early, more than three-quarters of all cell phones in Japan have smooth Internet access. This means delivery of interactive content and ads to about 86 million cell phones (compared with 31 million in the U.S.). There are more than 48 mobile affiliate networks in Japan, with names such as Moba8, Pocket Affiliate and Smart-C. In 2005, the Japanese spent more than $3.8 billion on purchases over cell phones – 57 percent over the previous year. In addition, the CPA-based mobile affiliate provider model does much better in Japan than in the U.S., where CPC or CPM models prevail. It’s been said the culture in Japan plays a role in this since there are so many more commuters in Japan – leaving more travel time for the Japanese to experiment with their cell phones.

And with greater mobile traffic comes the opportunity to serve more Internet phone search advertising. Local search engines like Goo, Nifty and BigGlobe get a share of those eyeballs, but the leaders are Yahoo Japan (with about 63 percent of searches), Google Japan at 23 percent and about 14 percent left to split between MSN and the regional engines. Yahoo Japan is also the biggest local player in Internet auctions, Web email, mobile content and broadband.

Search Challenges

Japanese online marketing agency and search specialist Sozon sees challenges in the search marketing arena. One area in SEO that is unique to Japan culturally speaking, says Andy Radovic, VP of strategy and planning at Sozon, "is its variety in language used. Essentially, there are four methods of writing – kanji, the character system borrowed from China; hiragana, a more simplified form of kanji; katakana, the Japanese expression for foreign words; and romaji, which is the alphabet," he says. "Depending on what you intend to communicate, you may use just one or a combination of these. This greatly impacts the keyword planning stage of your SEO program. Another major difference is Japan’s reliance on Yahoo as the search engine of choice."

Radovic notes that Japanese-run companies are the leaders in services and customized solutions. "There are very few successful, market-leading international companies in the online space," he says. The international companies that operate in Japan tend to do so with a local partner. The exceptions, he says, are technology- dependent products, where some U.S. companies are in the lead, such as in search (Google) and bid management and Web analytics tools (like Omniture). "Some of the Japanese homegrown companies in the mobile, travel and insurance space are getting more sophisticated in their online marketing programs and are tracking to off-line sales," he says.

Scott Neville, COO of Sozon, says that, creatively speaking, ad messages need to really know their audience. "International ad concepts simply will not work most of the time," he says. "Text is definitely king here. More information is better and creative is often very busy with multiple propositions." He says you will need to provide as much detail as possible in your campaigns – that Japanese users will definitely read your privacy policy. He says that text email is the standard and somewhat limiting in terms of email marketing campaigns that may rely on HTML. Flash and graphic-centric sites tend not to work that well at either an advertising or a site-campaign level. He says that Flash campaigns "are not really supported by major portals for media buying and tend to be not that well received." Also, comparison campaigns are not generally used in Japan and "culturally not respectable to run."

While online ad agencies in the U.S. are slowly starting to synergize their off-line traditional ways and the brave new web of interactive display advertising, the Japanese banner ad companies are not doing too well. Two online ad agency leaders, Cyber Communications and D.A. Consortium, actually had negative growth in recent years.

The Network View

Aside from the few U.S. companies acquired or now run by Japanese companies, there are few pure U.S. players in this market and there are not likely to be more anytime soon. Observers note that U.S. networks just don’t have the Japanese-language support. While LinkShare and ValueCommerce have a bilingual platform interface, they are the only two out of dozens. One of the U.S. networks to gain a measurable foothold in Japan is DTI. They host affiliate programs for Japanese adult sites, but since most networks in Japan won’t handle porn ads, DTI has found its niche in this area. Some experts point out that one opportunity for U.S. companies would be to acquire small- to medium-sized networks and re-brand. LinkShare’s Umemura says that in Japan, U.S. companies could have come in at an earlier stage, but that "starting now from scratch would be pretty difficult whether you are a U.S. or European company. There are some smaller U.S. networks that do quite well here."

In terms of what hasn’t been popular in Japan’s affiliate programs are third-party management vendors. Currently, only a handful of the affiliate networks have management services, mainly because they are pushing their own media. However, experts say, tool and service vendors could eventually find a market in Japan. Keywords tools such as Wordtracker, recruiting tools such as Syntryx Executive Solutions and competitive keyword research tools such as the makers of KeyCompete could enter the market fairly easily.

Perhaps the best indicator that the online marketing landscape in Japan is maturing is the formation in May of 2006 of the Japan Affiliate Service Kyokai, an association that started to draw up guidelines, educate the public and monitor ethical behavior in online marketing. The six major networks in Japan founded the association when they felt that "shady affiliates" were starting to encroach on the growth of the business.

A learning curve, however, still applies. Sozon’s Radovic says that "everyone is struggling with how to market in a Web 2.0 environment. The Japanese blog and peer consumer trust are major drivers of consumer purchase. So this is an ongoing challenge." And solutions to the challenge will certainly add up to a better marketing landscape.

The Sticky Question of the Results Page

In the mid-to-late ’90s, none of the search engines wanted to be mere search engines, because searchers quickly left their sites. Instead, they largely ignored search to create portals – those sticky sites they hoped would show more advertising to each visitor by catering to all of their information needs.

Then Google came along. Google gained prominence as an unvarnished search engine that got searchers off the search page to where they really wanted to go, and did it faster than the rest. Over time, Google’s search emphasis has made it a far more profitable company than those sticky portals, and Microsoft, Yahoo and the other portals have been forced to refocus on search in recent years.

Well, everything old is new again. Led by Google, everyone is trying to be sticky again. As with the original portal mania, it’s all about advertising. It’s different this time, however, because instead of ignoring search, they are making search itself sticky. Let’s look at what’s happening and what search marketers can do about it.

The New Search Results Page

As you might expect, with multiple search engines out there, we can never talk about the new results page – these changes are being seen in various degrees with each search engine’s results pages. So what’s happening?

From time immemorial (around 1998), the main results page for each search engine has contained a list of 10 organic links to Web pages – period. Each showed paid search ads around those organic links, but those organic results pointed to pages on vanilla websites. If searchers wanted images, or videos, or news, they needed to use more specific searches devoted to those kinds of content.

A few years ago, Google began offering its OneBox capability (such as showing movie times and weather forecasts at the top of its results pages). But that was a small step compared with what the search engines are doing now. The new search results pages break the content type barrier.

Google now offers Universal Search, where all of these content types are blended together on the page. The top search result might be a video or an image, or even a news story, rather than a standard Web page. Yahoo and Microsoft have followed suit. Similarly, Ask.com has unveiled Ask3D, which stacks the search results so that different content types are shown in separate areas on the same results page. Try typing “darth vader” into each of the engines to see what you get.

These newfangled search results pages have been much ballyhooed, but so far, relatively few keywords get the Darth Vader treatment. Search marketers should expect that these blended and stacked results will affect more and more keywords over time, however, for two reasons:

The search results are better. Google and friends believe that their new approaches serve more searchers than their plain Web results predecessors. It does make sense that searchers are looking for more than just Web pages.

Search engines sell more advertising. Some search engines don’t like to talk about their monetary motives for new search results pages, but Yahoo’s Tim Mayer has been refreshingly open about their goal: to keep searchers on their results pages for as long as possible.

Similarly, these new search result pages often highlight Web properties owned by their parent company. Google shows its YouTube videos, Yahoo shows its Flickr photos, Ask.com shows its CitySearch results, each of which shows more of their advertising.

What Search Marketers Can Do

As a search marketer, you can’t control which results the search engines decide to display, but you can provide the kinds of content that the engines are looking for. As these new search results pages begin to be seen for more and more searches, search marketers should:

Use what you have. You might feel as though you don’t have any of these new content types. But you have press releases that could show up in news searches. You might have TV commercials and other videos that you can post on YouTube and on your own website. Don’t overlook the existing content assets you can start with.

Create new content. If Google wants new kinds of content, then feed the beast. Start a blog. Take photos of your products, your customers, your employees – whatever you think people want to see – and post them on Flickr and on your website. Put some interviews on video, or tape live product demonstrations. Provide opportunities for customers to create content for you, such as message boards, product reviews and wikis. All of this content is the new fodder for search engines.

Optimize your content. For the content that you create, continue using your target keywords in titles and elsewhere, just as you always have for old-fashioned Web pages. For non-text content – such as photos and videos – titles and descriptions are especially important. Submit your content to as many aggregators as you have time for, not just YouTube and Flickr, for example. Claim your blog in Technorati (and in other blog search engines and directories). And place social bookmarking buttons on your pages for Digg, del.icio.us and other sites, so your readers can bookmark your content for other social bookmarking users to see.

Although designing your content with interesting titles and descriptions is timeworn advice, it still works. Applying this technique to new content types, such as blog posts and videos, is a great way to start.

Make compelling content. Your Web pages have always needed to be interesting to attract the links critical for high search rankings. These new content types are no different. Moreover, some experts believe that search engines are looking beyond links to other indicators of intriguing content.

No one knows exactly what search engines consider in their ranking algorithms, but speculation abounds that relevance ranking for blogs is based partially on subscriber counts. Videos may get a boost based on how many times they’ve been viewed on YouTube, or on the number of viewer comments posted. Expect search engines to continue to use whatever data is available to determine the popularity of each new kind of content – it’s not just inbound links anymore.

What’s most striking is that marketers who’ve created the most interesting content are beginning to be rewarded for it by the search engines. For those search marketers that were optimizing only Web pages because that’s all the search engines rewarded, they’re getting left in the dust by those marketers that have provided the new content types their customers are looking for.

Get Inspired

Has this ever happened to you?

It’s late evening and your weekly newsletter, which would normally be queued for delivery on your autoresponder and blog by this time, is still nothing more than the vast white expanse of a blank Word document. Not only haven’t you written a word, you also don’t have the first clue what to write about, or which product you should try to sell.

Although you are usually passionate about your topic – organic vegetable gardening – you begin to wonder what the heck you were thinking when you chose to build a site around a seasonal niche.

Throughout the spring and summer, your income spiked nicely every time you sent out your weekly newsletter. As temperatures started to drop however, so did your subscribers’ interest, sales revenue and the better part of your motivation.

A vision of the repo man coming to get your new truck convinces you to persevere into the wee hours if necessary – but before long, the thought occurs that you simply have nothing to say on the subject and now you’re paralyzed with fear.

Well, fear not. Inability to select a topic, last-minute crisis writing and paralysis are all symptoms of writer’s block; something most writers experience at some time or another. With some strategic planning, you can prevent writer’s block, spark your imagination and earn commissions in any niche – at any time of year.

The first step is to build a “swipe” file that is chock-full of ideas for future articles and which you can access whenever you are in need of inspiration – and contrary to what the name may imply, a swipe file is not for copying other authors’ content to publish later, a.k.a “plagiarizing.” We just want to collect ideas from their work, such as headlines that grab your attention or unique topic ideas, and then create our own work based on the concept.

You can build a swipe file using an Excel spreadsheet with columns named for primary topic categories, suggested article titles, notes, relevant products and proposed publishing dates. If you have a number of sites on different subjects, create a new worksheet within the file for each topic.

Another method is to draft a post on your blog whenever you get an idea for an article. The post may consist of as little as a title and a few bullet points, but each time you log in to your blog’s interface, the draft titles will jog your memory about topics you can develop.

One of my swipe files currently holds 672 entries of both “swiped” titles and a number of fill-in-the-blank title suggestions such as “5 Quick Ways to ________,” “5 Brilliant Strategies for ________” and “How to Conquer _________.” There’s also a long list of emotional trigger words within the workbook. I find both the trigger words and the fill-in-the-blank titles are especially helpful when I already have a topic idea, but need some help crafting a catchy headline.

To start building your own swipe file, consider the following suggestions.

Although organic gardening is used as an example, the suggestions apply to any mainstream niche.

Search article directories

Article directories such as EzineArticles. com, GoArticles.com and ArticleCity. com are idea gold mines. My search for “organic gardening” at EzineArticles.com resulted in 1,540 articles targeted to people of different regions, skill levels and interests. From the results, you could quickly build a list of generic titles such as “Organic Gardening Supplies to Help You Get Started,” “Organic Weed Control” and “How to Grow Organic Tomatoes.”

Visit Amazon

At Earth’s Biggest Bookstore, I dug deeper into the topic and found Mike McGrath’s book, “You Bet Your Tomatoes! Fun Facts, Tall Tales, and a Handful of Useful Gardening Tips” at the top of the search results. Key phrases under the main title included “compost tea,” “sunny windowsill,” “Georgia Streak” and “Tomato Head.” If “Sunny windowsill” sparks an idea for an article about indoor tomato gardening, put it directly into your swipe file along with a link to the book.

Use the “Search Inside” feature to scan tables of contents. Sometimes an interesting chapter title will present a unique perspective on a topic. In this case, the first chapter is titled “Picking Your Tomatoes: Do all of these things have funny, rude, mysterious names?” which prompts an idea for an article about the best types of tomatoes to grow indoors.

While you’re at it, swipe the “Listmania!” title “The Dirt Diva’s Picks: A List of ‘Green’ Books to Save the Earth!” as a reminder to put your own Top 5 or 10 list of recommended books together.

Items such as the AeroGarden Indoor Gardening Kit and Felknor’s Topsy Turvy Upside-Down Tomato Planter can be added to the file as potential products to sell.

Visit relevant forums

Dig up what gardeners are saying right now at forums such as GardenWeb. com and HelpfulGardener. com. The latest posts with the most replies are a good indicator of hot topics.

Set up Google Alerts

To get the latest scoop on tomato hybrids, Google will send you email updates of its latest relevant search results. You can elect to receive Alerts once a day, as it happens or once a week from news sources, the Web, blogs, video or groups; or receive a comprehensive Alert with news from all five sources. Sign up at Google.com/alerts.

Read trade publications

Now you can finally put those stacks of old magazines to really good use! Subscribe to publications to stay current, and don’t forget to check whether your favorite magazine publishes an online version.

Poll your readers

Create a weekly survey and ask your readers what topics they would like you to cover. Regularly invite your readers to leave a comment on your blog by asking a question at the end of your post. Answers to such questions as “What’s your biggest gardening challenge?” will provide you with plenty of grist for the mill. The free Democracy polling plug-in can be downloaded at http://blog.jalenack.com/archives/ democracy/ or use the service at SurveyMonkey.com.

Use merchant resources

Review your merchants’ sites and recent newsletters to find out on which topics and products they are currently focusing. And although I usually advise against using merchant copy – because it is so overused by affiliates that your subscribers will question your credibility as an expert when they see it for the 10th time in your newsletter – in a real pinch, you could check a merchant’s affiliate interface for a well-written advertorial to publish on your blog. Better yet, use it as a basis to write your own product review.

Repurpose your content

If you wrote “Organic Garden To- Do List: March” in 2007, republish the piece in 2008 and incorporate any new tips you’ve picked up during the year.

Share your experience

What’s happening in your garden right now? Get out there, take some pictures, share your news and don’t forget to throw in some emotion! People are far more likely to respond to “Yikes! Giant green-horned caterpillars are eating my tomato plants!” than to yet another “Tomato Pest Management” article.

Those are but a few suggestions to get your swipe file started. Try to add to it frequently so that you always have fresh article ideas at hand.

Ideally, it’s best to create a publishing plan and work at least two to three months in advance. For example, you should be planning for Christmas in September and writing your spring articles in the dead of winter.

Not only does having a swipe file with a plan completely remove the stress of “crisis writing,” but it frees you up to react swiftly when there is breaking news within your industry. Best of all, advance planning and preparation give you the freedom to get out in the garden without looming deadlines to spoil your fun.

Think Content First

When customers start telling you that it’s time to update your website, you’ve waited too long. That’s the position that Chris George, CEO of Think First, was in when he emailed us asking to be considered for this edition of By Design Makeover.

“We established our website (http://www.thinkfirst.us) in 2005. We have grown tremendously since that time and have not updated the design or content of our website. We receive comments all the time from prospective clients that tell us that our website does not have a lot of information about our company. We are in desperate need of a makeover,” George wrote.

Well, you came to the right place. It just so happens that makeovers are what we do here. As many of you know from past issues, the first step to a successful makeover is to review what your current page has to offer.

In reviewing ThinkFirst.us, my first thought is that the logo is nice and professional looking, but a bit generic. This leads me to look around for a tagline or some other element that will tell me what this company does. Before I get to that, the animating center section catches my attention. It starts off with, “Copernicus didn’t start the earth revolving around the sun.” Next frame, “Isaac Newton didn’t make the apple fall.” That’s clever. I see where they’re going, but I’m still not sure what they do. I see some buttons (or what appear to be buttons) under that section: Technology, Process, People, Innovation. I try to click on those, but they aren’t clickable.

Finally, I get to a tagline of sorts: “Unlike consultants, we’re experts who create and implement IT strategies that allow physician practice groups to meet their business objectives.” That’s quite a mouthful, and still doesn’t tell me much about their services.

Unfortunately, besides a clever marketing animation, this home page doesn’t have anything that leads me to believe that these guys have the expertise to take my company (or healthcare organization, since that is their primary market) to the next level. How come there’s no real content about the company or what they offer? In order to create a site that is useful for visitors and potential clients, this home page should include a company overview, their services, consultants’ bios, testimonials and company news.

This is where website makeovers can be tricky. In most cases, many of the content pieces are already there – they just need to be rearranged and given the right visual priority. But when the content on an existing site is so far off from what it should be – it’s better to start the process with a wireframe.

According to Webopedia, a wireframe is “a visualization tool for presenting proposed functions, structure and content of a Web page or Web site. A wireframe separates the graphic elements of a Web site from the functional elements in such a way that Web teams can easily explain how users will interact with the Web site.” As we discovered, the graphics are not the problem for Think First. Instead, they need a wireframe that illustrates the what, where and how much for each new content component they want to add.

The great thing about wireframes is that anyone can create one using simple tools like Microsoft Word. And presenting a well-thought-out wireframe to your Web team will most certainly result in a better end product.

First, let’s go back and create a wireframe for the existing site – so we can compare apples to apples. The first thing I notice is that the site is designed for an 800×600 browser resolution. In 2005, when the site was designed, this was considered a best practice. But now that monitors and resolutions have gotten larger, it just means we’re not making the best use of our available space. Next, I see that the marketing message takes almost 45 percent of the page. While it is a nice marketing message, it’s just taking up way too much page real estate. Finally, and the real reason this page is not successful, is there is just no real content.

Our new wireframe seems to iron out all the issues. First, it’s designed for a 1024×768 browser resolution, which is the standard size on the Web today. Next, we have made the marketing message much smaller – now it’s a little over 10 percent of total real estate. And last, but certainly not least, we added lots and lots of vital content.

Wireframes are a great way to eliminate the graphical element so you can focus on which content components are most important and how best to arrange them. With news, case studies, a featured consultant and a list of services, users are sure to understand exactly what Think First offers, and they are much better equipped to make the decision to hire them.

When designing any site, it’s best to put the content first. I’m not going to go into a rant about the evils of template websites, but I do want to mention that this is exactly why most template sites are ineffective. They offer you a pretty-looking, pre-designed website, and then ask you to squish all your content into it. That is not the ideal situation when you’re looking to create a website that performs for your business.

Now, I know that you hardcore By Design readers are wondering where we ended up with the makeover for my design firm, Sostre & Associates. Not to worry; we’ve got a final follow- up column coming soon – complete with analytics data and some post-launch thoughts – but you’ll have to wait until the next issue of Revenue (Issue 23).

Until then – would you like your website to be the topic of a future edition of By Design Makeover? Send your name, company, contact information (phone, email, etc.), a brief description of your business and its goals, and, of course, your URL to bydesign@sostreassoc.com. Please put “Revenue’s By Design Makeover” in the subject line.

Shine a Light

It’s been seven years since interactive agency Razorfish embarrassed itself on national television. When reporter Mike Wallace of CBS’ "60 Minutes" asked the agency’s co-founders what the company does, the answer was none too clear.

Jeff Dachis, co-founder of Razorfish, said to Wallace, "We’ve asked our clients to recontextualize their business." Asked for clarification, he added, "We’ve recontextualized what it is to be a services business." Wallace didn’t understand the answer. "We radically transform businesses to invent and reinvent them," Dachis explained.

Even though Dachis couldn’t seem to come up with an answer to satisfy Wallace, earlier in the program Dachis said of interactive agencies: "This is absolutely real; this is a revolution; we’re packing rifles; and this is going to be something that’s going to change the course of the way the world is functioning."

On that point he seemed to be right.

Razorfish, now known as Avenue A/Razorfish, owned by aQuantive, survived the ensuing dot-com crash and is currently ranked among the top 10 interactive agencies. Avenue A/Razorfish has even flourished, counting a roster of clients that includes Best Buy, Coors, Starwood, Wal-Mart and Weight Watchers. The company has reinvented itself from a Web design firm into a metrics- and response-focused house.

The majority of the top 10 interactive agencies in the U.S. have taken that mantra to heart, spinning out digital firms from their more traditional agency parents and combining Web design with a myriad of client services and metrics-based programs.

While this focus on the end-to-end as well as the most creative solution has indeed changed the way the digital agency functions, there are still lingering questions about who all this change is good for. The two tiers of interactive agencies – the digital arms spun out of traditional Madison Avenue powerhouses and the independent firms that got purely into digital about 10 years ago – are doing fairly well. Still, one faction points to the other a slacking in the forward-thinking bright ideas that will increase innovation and profits in the next phase of Internet advertising, mainly the social Web and search.

"Marketing on the whole still favors the traditional agencies," said Mark Kingdon, CEO of independent agency Organic. "But interactive is coming into its own. How do we work together, is the question." Organic emerged in 1993 as one of the first digital agencies and weathered the dot-com crash to thrive as an agency that specializes in deep customer profiling.

Big vs. Boutique

Organic may call itself an independent, but it is actually owned by giant Omnicom Group, which also owns Agency.com, Tribal DDB and Tequila in the interactive field. WPP owns Grey’s digital marketing arm and Ogilvy Interactive. Interpublic owns MRM Worldwide, R/GA and DraftFCB. The top 10 digital firms earn between $92 million and $235 million annually, according to AdAge. Avenue A/Razorfish leads the interactive pack with revenue of about $235 million in 2006. Omnicom is currently the holding company with the most revenue from its advertising units- about $11.4 billion worldwide in 2006. That’s about $6.2 billion in the U.S. It has also done well on Wall Street. In February of this year, its stock hit $106.90 per share, about 50 cents short of its all-time high in December of 1999.

While Organic is considered a smaller player, with revenue of about $102 million in 2006, Kingdon says that "marketing is under enormous pressure right now." He says that "people want to create a war between traditional and interactive agencies. "War may be a strong word, but the perception is that while independent digital agencies get all the "fun" work, bigger houses spun out of the traditional agency environments are still coming to terms with how to handle search marketing and the impact of social media. Spun-out digital agencies say they are best equipped to scale and meet all the client’s needs, be they digital or older media.

"Traditional agencies started to niche themselves," says Rohit Bhargava, vice president, interactive marketing at Ogilvy Public Relations Worldwide. "They broke themselves into search and email marketing, etc. Now you have social media agencies. But the traditional agency is in real trouble now. With word of mouth, search and social media all coming from interactive agencies, traditional agencies don’t do that well, yet. "

Interactive agencies that came from the ranks of traditional agencies haven’t been hurting. DraftFCB, for example, earns about $95 million a year, and is the fairly recent marriage of FCBi and Draft Digital. FCBi was an outgrowth of traditional agency Foote, Cone & Belding. DraftFCB’s mantra is to stay response-driven but with the added value of more and better data. "In the past decade, the terrain went from silly money to accountability," says Brad Kay, executive vice president, executive director, digital, at DraftFCB. He says that the team has become younger and younger to help stay on top of innovation in thought and technology. The shop also has an elaborate intranet where employees can post "cool" stuff they encounter on the Web. This helps the "stay fresh or die" attitude, Kay says.

The small boutique shops may get a lot of adventurous creative work, but that’s how it was in the purely traditional agency universe in the days before digital. The two-man firms always got the regional business where your ad could feature grandmas in tattoos or precocious babies driving Harleys. "Sure," Kay adds, "some business goes to the boutiques and we’ll just have to get used to it." He says to help win new business they need to take on more people – something they do to stay abreast of innovation and the "hip factor."

The benefit to bigger traditional agencies is their deep pockets. To build a digital house from scratch seems to be a thing of the past. Buying a digital firm is easier. WPP Group has put Schematic, 24/7 RealMedia and Blast Radius in its corral. Publicis back in January doled out $1.3 billion for Digitas and also bought Web agency Business Interactif to bolster its presence in France, Japan and China. Omnicom, as mentioned, owns Agency.com, Tribal DDB and Organic, and continues to grow existing digital assets by taking a 50 percent stake in EVB, based in San Francisco.

Even among some of the independent shops, there is consolidation of the players. The big advertising parent companies now own a mix of big and small digital firms. Omnicom, Interpublic and Publicis, to name a few, own big earners who began as offshoots of traditional agencies and smaller companies that started as two guys with a little Web coding experience. "You don’t need to streamline everything across an agency anymore," says Ogilvy’s Bhargava. "We’re going to use JWT for billing and Ogilvy for PR because it is the same parent company."

Trevor Kaufman, CEO of Schematic, has said that in a case where Schematic is bought by WPP, the intent is to "help change the DNA of the operating company and make them inherently more digital." He says in the case of his company, "it’s a way of leveraging specialized skills over the entire network. It has been successful because, in the end, it is providing better, more integrated solutions for clients."

The CMO Factor

Chief marketing officers may need some convincing. A recent study done by Sapient said that more than 50 percent of chief marketing officers believe that the traditional, large advertising agency is not prepared to meet their online marketing needs. It said that one in 10 CMOs expected to align with traditional agencies for their online marketing, stating that traditional advertising firms have a hard time thinking beyond traditional print and TV media models.

A report by Forrester done in February 2007 said that "agencies struggle to help clients capitalize on emerging channels and technologies. In the meantime, marketers are diffusing agency power by turning to a portfolio of players in search of specialized expertise. As marketers select new agency partners, they must revise their evaluation criteria to build an integrated marketing team."

And a March 2007 study by the Chief Marketing Officer Council said that 54 percent of marketers surveyed stated they plan to quit one of their agencies this year. The study summed up by saying that "marketing is undergoing substantial changes due to a mandate for CMOs to improve the relevance, accountability and performance of their organizations."

A brand may know what they want but have a hard time finding it. "Most interactive agencies have a hard time getting human resources together," offers Robert Tochterman, interactive brand manager for Ralston Purina. "Some agencies don’t know who’s going to be on an account until the work begins. You’re really buying into the confidence of the people at a director level." Tochterman looks for a team that "has rigorous methods for measuring the impact of a campaign, keeping an eye on return on investment. That’s the kind of discipline we’re looking for. Most agencies don’t talk about that. It’s comforting when they do."

Getting in the Network Game

Some big agencies are attempting to streamline their synergy by creating their own networks. The Omnicom Group, for example, announced it is erecting a "digital creative network" to be called Redurban. The aim is to globalize marketing and creative in an Amsterdam-headquartered endeavor out of recently acquired Redurban agency of the Netherlands. Euro RSCG, owned by Havas, also recently announced that its 4D digital arm would be moving into its New York office, with "integration" as its intent. Publicis, headquartered in France, has taken three of its agencies to create what it calls a "central services operation" named The InsightFactory. Leo Burnett, Starcom MediaVest Group and Digitas will contribute labor and technology to The Insight Factory, making a full-service mix of their media, digital and creative services.

This news comes after Omnicom’s push to integrate TBWA/Worldwide agency and Agency.com failed. TBWA was put in charge of Agency.com in 2005 and they just never made it work, according to news reports. In addition, Agency.com’s Dallas office announced it would close down completely, putting half of its small staff on the streets. Agency.com founder Chan Suh returned to the company in April as chief executive after CEO David Eastman held the top spot for less than a year.

Organic CEO Kingdon still maintains that there are some things the bigger digital companies can’t do that they do – what he calls a "client contact strategy." He says the client wants to know not the "what" of defining the traditional brand but the "how" of the digital approach. "Interactive agencies can handle the pace of innovation," he says, "but digital is always changing, so pure digital agencies know no differently. They were there when HTML first came along and when there was no money and they learned to thrive through Flash and Ajax and all that."

A case in point is the vanishing campaign microsite – websites built around a specific product. When Coca-Cola recently launched a new character for its Sprite drink, it did not launch a microsite, but set up the character on Facebook, complete with videos, music and discussion pages on the profile. Microsites are now seen as the "old model," shifting instead to where younger audiences gather – Facebook, MySpace, widgets and mobile applications. Adam Lavelle, chief strategy officer at iCrossing, points out that campaign sites tied to short-term promotions or products consistently rank low on search engines. "I don’t understand how, long term, a site builds brand equity," he says, "and with search, I don’t see that having long-term visibility."

The quandary for some brands, then, is do they sign up with a hot new interactive agency or do they stick with their shop of record? Ogilvy’s Bhargava believes the "top 10 are taking low-hanging fruit," with the bigger clients getting "a lot of follow-on business from other unit business. It is not cold calling. It is qualified leads." Lavelle says there is no monopoly on the best ideas, a sentiment that seems clear from the success of some independent interactive agencies. He says the "most important thing for marketers to think about is, ‘as I move more money from traditional into digital, does this agency have the capabilities that I want? Are there types of activities online, in mobile devices or other things I could be doing?’"

"You’re in trouble if you’re just building websites," says Bhargava. "We don’t want any one type of thinker," adds DraftFCB’s Kay. "The channel changes on a minute-by-minute basis. "We want to compete with the pure-play and the behemoth."

And Razorfish’s Dachis? Has he recovered from his embarrassment on national TV? After the dot-com crash nearly killed Razorfish, he left the company and formed Bond Art and Science, a consultancy that he says is not in the ad business even though reports seem to indicate it covers at least some of the same ground as Razorfish. Evan Orensten, a partner at Bond, says the company does "experience design," which sounds like an interactive agency.

Skinflint Search Marketing

I admit it – I’m a skinflint. Call me a tightwad, a miser – I don’t care. Basically, I’m cheap. And even if you’re not cheap by personality, you might need to conserve cash by necessity. If that’s your situation, don’t despair. The Internet is tailor-made for you. Internet marketing, and search marketing in particular, is the land of the free. So step up, you skinflints, and let’s see what you can do for nothing.

Organic search is always free, in the same sense that public relations efforts are free – you don’t pay anyone to run advertising to get your message out there. Instead, you come up with a good story and run it by the gatekeepers – the ones between you and your target markets.

For public relations, the gatekeepers are reporters, editors and other folks with their grip on the media that your audience consumes. It doesn’t cost you any money to get coverage in these media outlets, but it definitely costs time and ingenuity to come up with an idea and persuade the gatekeepers to pass it through.

Organic search marketing has the same elements as public relations, except the gatekeepers are Google and the other search engines. You must “persuade” the search engines to show your story – by giving it a high ranking for a search keyword – before it reaches your audience. That’s a big part of what organic search marketing is all about.

The problem is that organic search requires so much work that you’re tempted to automate a lot of it. That’s where the costs can come in.

Can Free Search Optimization Tools Be Enough?

As with many questions, the answer to whether free tools will be enough for your search campaigns is, “it depends.” What’s clear to me, however, is that free tools are the place to start. It’s best to see how far you can go with the free thing before you lay out a bundle of cash for a high-end tool.

We don’t have room in this article to list all the leading freebies, but let’s look at some of what’s out there. You can find a more comprehensive treatment on my website (at www.mikemoran.com/skinflint) with links to these tools and more.

Forecast your campaign. Good direct marketing principles start by identifying the criteria for success. My website has a free spreadsheet that helps you identify the value of search marketing, even before you begin your campaign. You can project your extra traffic and see how much more revenue it brings – just the thing to justify your plans to the boss.

Get your pages indexed. If your pages aren’t indexed, they’ll never be found. You can use MarketLeap’s free Saturation Tool to check how many pages you’ve got indexed on the leading search engines and then use the free Sitemaps protocol to get more of your pages indexed. You can also use free tools to check your robots settings and validate your HTML, helping you eliminate some common causes of pages being ignored by spiders.

Plan your keywords. If you don’t know what your audience is looking for, you can’t tune your pages to be found for the right words. For years Yahoo’s Keyword Selector Tool was the best free offering, but it spent most of 2007 showing January’s numbers when you’d expect updates each month. Trellian jumped into the void with a free version of its Keyword Discovery tool that helps you find keyword variations along with the search volume you can expect for each one.

Optimize your page content. Analyze your keyword density (the percentage of keywords in your content) and keyword prominence (the importance of the places where they appear) with free tools from Ranks and WebCEO. The results can help you decide how to change your pages to improve your rankings.

Attract links from other sites. Use Backlinkwatch or PRWeaver to analyze the links to your site and to identify where you might prospect for more. The results can form the start of a link-building campaign if you carefully approach the right people with valuable content on your site that their readers care about.

Measure your results. Use free rank checkers from Digital Point and Mike’s Marketing Tools to see where you stand. Then use Google Analytics or the Deep Log Analyzer to count the traffic from search engines keyword by keyword. Google Analytics can also measure your conversions – the number of folks who bought from you or responded positively in some other way.

Will these free tools work in every situation? No. Some tools are limited in scope or in the volume they can handle, and many are limited in features. Perhaps the biggest drawback of free tools is lack of integration – you’ll need to manage all of these free tools and often move data back and forth between them to manage your campaign. It ain’t seamless. But what do you want for nothing?

If you do need to move up in class, some of these free tools are actually the starter versions of more comprehensive fee-based offerings. Regardless, you’ll have gained valuable experience in using the free tools that will help you target the exact features that you need to pay for when you decide to take the plunge to spend money for a tool.

Free Paid Search

I know that “free paid search” sounds like an oxymoron (or perhaps an oxyMoran when I say it), but there are a few free ways to get paid search traffic.

One way is to submit your product to Google Base (you’ll show up on Google Product Search also). Neither of these properties produce a huge number of sales – other product search sites (the ones you pay for) are the leaders in this space – but there’s a lot to be said for free revenue. You might try out your shopping search feeds on these sites and open your wallet to the big guys when you have worked out the kinks in your content.

Another free way to do paid search is to use other people’s money. Can you steal some money for paid search from the sales budget or from other marketing budgets inside your company? Can you work on cooperative advertising with a complementary product? Perhaps if you agree to run the paid search campaign, you can get others to foot the bill.

Regardless of how you do it, search marketing is ideal for marketers with empty pockets. See my website (www.mikemoran.com/skinflint) where you’ll find more free ideas for doing search marketing, plus links to the tools described here. You’ll also see how to apply the skinflint approach to other kinds of Internet marketing campaigns. And every idea is your favorite price: free.

Mike Moran is an IBM Distinguished Engineer and product manager for IBM’s OmniFind search product. Mike’s books include Search Engine Marketing, Inc. and Do It Wrong Quickly. He can be reached through his website (mikemoran.com).

Avoid the Blog Drivel

I degraded myself as a content publisher twice last week. In both cases, after reviewing my Google Alerts and picking the day’s hot news item, I wrote a blog entry that included a quote, a few inane comments about the topic and a link back to the original post.

It’s a technique commonly used by bloggers to drive traffic to their sites through backlinks. Indeed, some bloggers use this pseudo-journalistic technique to play follow-the-leader every day, while others re-post scraped blog content exclusively – without added commentary.

Goodness knows that it would take a partial lobotomy to make me descend to that level, but how much further could I go? Would my compulsion to beat the competition to the punch with a you-heard-it-here second post turn me into yet another crap contributor? Could I sell my soul for a few blessed backlinks? Would I go so far as to risk my reputation in exchange for traffic?

Bar the notion! However, a quick check of my traffic and subscriber stats revealed that I was already sliding down that slippery slope. Although the backlink had produced some modest traffic, a few readers had taken exception to my “Blah, blah, BLAAAAAAH!” and unsubscribed from my feed.

Who could blame them? Just as I do my best to avoid those whose constant chatter gives me nothing but a headache, my now ex-readers clearly expressed what they thought of my drivel. I was grateful to them, actually. The experience reminded me that my success as a publisher depends not on getting eyeballs to the page, but on my ability to reach the hearts and minds of my visitors.

If I kept this up, those “Your conversion rates were through the roof on that latest promo, and you always convert five to 10 times better than our second-best-producing affiliate” notes from affiliate managers would disappear as surely as my commissions.

No longer would I be able to respond “Yes, the site does have a nice following,” and “Nice following” is an understatement. It doesn’t tell of long-term readers who eagerly await each blog post or check in personally when the newsletter doesn’t arrive on schedule. It also avoids speaking to the commitment professed by loyal readers who have “cancelled all but your newsletter” in a particular niche or those who wait to buy a new-to-market product until they’ve read your review.

As a shy person, I sweat great drops of blood while agonizing over every word to connect with those readers – until I realized that all they wanted was help from a real person who understood their problems. Now I was letting them down and ruining my business in the process. Aaargh!

So to help you to turn your visitors into faithful fans (and as a reminder to myself to avoid drivel), keep the following suggestions in mind when you write your blog posts and articles.

Give generously. Create good will by sharing your expertise freely. Give solutions to specific problems or offer a free e-book for download without expecting anything in return. That means posting information that doesn’t contain an affiliate link, a link to a product endorsement elsewhere on your site or requiring an email address in exchange. The only incentive you should have in mind is building loyalty that follows generous advice.

Affiliates who monetize their blogs only with AdSense or other navbar advertising thrive on this model. However, those that promote a variety of products will need to strike a balance between posting information versus promotional messages that keep their readers happy and away from the Unsubscribe button.

Be empathetic. People generally arrive at our sites with questions. When we immediately bowl them over with a laundry list of answers, they may find a solution to their problem, but it’s doubtful that the reader will feel connected to us.

Because we tend to bristle at those who “know it all” and tell us what we should do, it’s important to approach readers in a way that shows you understand and identify with their situation, feelings and motives. To show you clearly understand what it feels like to be in your readers’ shoes and foster a deeper connection, use words that evoke vivid mental images and strong emotions.

For example, “It was me, the cat and Dick Clark AGAIN”” is a better preface to an article about being single at New Year’s than “Here are 10 things you can do to feel less lonely.”

Be yourself. Don’t fake your persona or try to portray yourself as Mr. or Ms. Perfect, because readers won’t be fooled. If you’re Condoleezza Rice and you try to come across like Ellen DeGeneres, you’ll sound phony. Readers follow certain blogs not only because they enjoy the topic, but the blogger’s personality.

Let your readers know that you’re a real person with a family, friends, interests and hobbies off-line. Weave your life experience into your articles where relevant and don’t be afraid to share your joys and frustrations.

For example, after a tractor trailer rammed into a rental car that I was driving last summer, I used the experience to post to my business and travel blogs about bad customer service, a surprisingly great credit card company and an ergonomic chair that helped me cope with my injuries and speed my recovery. What hastened my recovery more however was the care and concern expressed by my wonderful readers.

Post your real photo. Sure, it might be tempting to paste your head shot on a Victoria’s Secret or GQ model’s body, or create a completely different (more favorable) public image of yourself. But do resist the urge, because when you become a famous blogger and get invited to speak at BlogWorld, it might be just a tad embarrassing to explain that the 24-year-old blond bombshell they expected is in fact a pleasantly plump 46-year old matronly mama.

Give hope. To get past the intimidation most people feel around highly successful people, share stories about your failures as well as your success. Exposing your shortcomings makes you “real” and therefore much more approachable. Moreover, talking about how you overcame certain obstacles gives people hope that they too can attain success, and makes them more likely to seek your advice.

Respect your readers’ time. Just because you can write a 3,000-word essay on a topic, doesn’t mean you should. Get to the point and then quit while you’re ahead. Some readers don’t have time or the patience to read lengthy entries, and splitting up a post gives you more fodder for the engines.

Invite reader participation. Allowing users to provide comments at the end of blog entries encourages discussion and helps build site content. If you are worried about inappropriate comments, be sure to moderate for relevancy and spam. But don’t cut out some comments just because they are critical. When you rise respectfully to a debate, or show that you’ve gained a broader perspective on an issue, your readers will respect you even more.

Return the love. Your regular readers will support you through thick and thin, so acknowledge and show your appreciation for their patronage. Where relevant, quote their comments in your posts and link back to articles on their sites. Your gesture might give someone a confidence boost and make their day, or tip the scales just enough to make their business fly ” and what could be more gratifying?

Here’s the bottom line: Treat your readers as you would your friends – with kindness, caring and respect, and they’ll show their appreciation in kind. And, the most important point to remember – no drivel, ever.

Rosalind Gardner is a super-affiliate who’s been in the business since 1998. She’s also the author of The Super Affiliate Handbook: How I Made $436,797 in One Year Selling Other People’s Stuff Online. Her best-selling book is available on Amazon and www.SuperAffiliate-Handbook.com.

Late for a Date

This column was supposed to be the last in our series on redesigning SostreAssoc.com, the website for my design firm Sostre & Associates. I even said in my last article that, “By the time you read this article, the new design will be live on our site and we’ll have started crunching the analytics data.” Unfortunately, things didn’t quite work out that way.

Due to various setbacks, the new site still hasn’t gone live (at least not at the time of this writing). What’s even more unfortunate is that this situation isn’t uncommon in the online world. Because we’re a Web design firm, we have control over the process and made a conscious decision to delay the site launch. But I’ve seen many scenarios where site launches are delayed for months on end, leaving website owners feeling helpless.

The truth is, sometimes delays are unavoidable. Maybe the CEO decided to change plans at the last minute – or perhaps there are some technical barriers that weren’t anticipated in the planning stages. Whatever the cause, there are some ways to get back on track, and avoid additional delays.

Here are some tips for an ontime launch:

Don’t be a perfectionist. Your website should be a living, ever-changing environment. Unlike printed collateral which you’re stuck with until your printed copies run out, you can continually tweak and improve your website. This means it doesn’t have to be absolutely perfect on launch day. Make it a point to get the site online, even if there are some loose ends.

Do a phased launch. You do more harm than good when you delay an entire site launch to wait for every single new feature to be ready. Decide which elements are most important for your business and prioritize those as a phase 1 site launch. Lessimportant sections or features should then be scheduled for future phase 2 or even phase 3 projects.

Review progress regularly. If you wait until the day before launch to take your first look at the site, you may be setting yourself up for disaster. Try to review progress at regular intervals – weekly or sooner – to make sure things are looking good and provide any feedback as needed. If you’re working with an outside vendor to create your site, they should be able to provide a development URL where you can see how things are coming along.

Set a clear drop-dead launch date. A drop-dead launch date sets a lastdelay date. In other words, you may plan to launch by October 15, but you absolutely must launch by November 30, i.e., your drop-dead date.

Some situations demand a dropdead launch date. For example, a retailer who needs to get online in time for the holidays; a tax site that needs to be live before tax season; or a website that is going to be featured in a scheduled press release or news story.

Because the new Sostre & Associates website is an internal project, we never bothered to set a drop-dead launch date. Then again, that lackadaisical attitude is why we’re writing about website delays and not reviewing the statistics from our great new website, right? In short, if you want your site launched by a certain date, set a drop dead-date that your employees and vendors understand and agree with.

So with all this talk about how to launch on time, you may be wondering if there are ever good reasons to delay a site launch. Well, there most certainly are. If you’re not sure whether your site is ready for prime time, review this checklist.

Broken Images. Never launch a site with broken images. Many users will immediately leave upon seeing a broken image, and they call into question the integrity of the site. Also, they are generally very simple to fix.

Broken Links. Run your site through a link checker application like Xenu’s popular and free Link Sleuth (http://home.snafu.de/tilman/xenulink.html), and make sure there are no broken links. If there are links that are broken, get them fixed before you go live.

Too many ‘Coming Soon’ sections. Sometimes you can’t get a section completed – that’s fine. It’s OK to have one or two areas that aren’t quite finished. But I’ve seen sites that have more ‘Coming Soon’ sections than actual content. That’s bad. If you do have lots of areas that aren’t complete – try to hide any links to those areas entirely so users just don’t see them.

Browser Incompatibilities. If I hear about another Web browser hitting the market, I’m going to start plucking the keys out of my keyboard. I can barely keep up with all the options available. Luckily, there are only a few browsers that your site absolutely must be functional in. Those are: Internet Explorer 6, Internet Explorer 7, Firefox and Safari. Any serious incompatibilities such as navigation or ordering process not working for any of these browsers is good enough reason to push back the launch until they do.

Getting a new website or a significant redesign off the ground can be an exciting process, but it can also get out of control very quickly. Hopefully, these tips will help avoid some headaches. Now, let me take some of my own advice and get this new site launched!

Remember, it’s never too late to put in your two cents. I personally read every email I get from Revenue magazine readers, and I love to hear feedback on the new design we’ve chosen. Send me (pedro@sostreassoc.com) your thoughts.

Would you like your website to be the topic of a future edition of By Design Makeover? Send your name, company, contact information (phone, email, etc.), a brief description of your business and its goals, and, of course, your URL to bydesign@sostreassoc.com. Please put “Revenue’s By Design Makeover” in the subject line.

Pedro Sostre is pioneering Conversion Design and its ability to turn online shoppers into online buyers. He is the co-author of Web Analytics for Dummies and serves as CEO of Sostre & Associates, an Internet consulting, design and development firm, which also promotes affiliate programs on its network of websites. Visit www.sostreassoc.com to learn more.

Video + Twitter = Seesmic

I recently had to stop Twittering. It was awful. The doctors said I would go blind.

Seriously folks, even for as big of an Internet geek as I am, I was completely overwhelmed by the massive flood of 140-character messages from friends and colleagues that bombarded me 24 hours a day. So at the time of this writing, I’m off the Twitter-pipe, for now.

But just when I thought I was out, my friendly editor/publisher of this very magazine suggests that I do my next Innovations piece on another new, hot social tool, called Seesmic. So much for cutting down on my information load.

Talk about brand new – Seesmic only recently opened its doors around the end of November 2007 and proceeded to only invite about 300 users. Luckily, I know people (plus I know how to beg), so I was able to get my hands on an exclusive “pre-alpha” invitation code.

You’re probably wondering what Seesmic even is at this point, and why you should care.

Allen Stern of CenterNetworks. com sums it up nicely: “Seesmic is a video -sharing service just like YouTube, Vimeo, Viddler, etc. The difference is that Seesmic has stripped away much of the ‘extras’ that come with the other services.”

That’s a good start, but I think the best way to describe it is “Twitter plus video.” So instead of writing short text posts about anything you want and sharing it with your friends and followers, you instantly and easily record short videos, which are then shared with the community.

Imagine picking up the phone (you remember those days?) and calling one of your friends with a short thought about something on your mind. Seesmic lets you do that (sans phone), using your webcam, and gives you the option to share that short video message around the globe with your friends and colleagues, in an instant, all at once.

Getting started is easy. If you have an invitation code, you can register and immediately begin recording and sharing videos. You will have to have a webcam attached to your computer, of course. Once your video is recorded, you add a title and description and publish it to the community.

Now your video post is shown to the public, or you can choose to have it just sent to friends. Once published, other users can watch your video and they can reply to your video with their own, and so on “

Browsing the Seesmic site as it stands during pre-alpha is not so great. The Ajax-style community scroller area which shows each user’s video entries is slow and cumbersome at best. However, as mentioned earlier, they are in pre-alpha, so by the time this piece is published it will hopefully be more usable.

Your first video post is up; now what? That’s where the social aspect comes into place. Just like Facebook or MySpace or Twitter, you can choose to “follow” or “friend” other users. By doing so, you’ll be able to “watch” their Seesmic streams specifically.

To explain to you why this is innovative, I asked the exclusive base of testers for Seesmic what they thought. In my first- ever video on Seesmic, I asked the question, “What do you like about Seesmic?”

I recorded the short video (no script) asking for video responses and sat back and waited. A few minutes later, the answers started to pour in. Here are some of them. (Note: These are transcribed from videos in Seesmic.)

“I like Seesmic because it’s an unedited stream of consciousness for people. You get to know the real person.”

“Seesmic is the first application I’ve found that makes video blogging easy. I never really got into video blogging until Seesmic came around; I’m a podcaster.”

“Seesmic is like getting a book from a library with notes from other readers in it. It’s collaborative learning.”

“The reason I like Seesmic is because I don’t have to send you an email. I can send a video reply.”

“I am finding that I am getting to know people better and more quickly. It’s not just me jabbering into the camera. It’s me interacting and listening to others in video form.”

“I’m not sure I love Seesmic. I definitely fancy it. I would definitely sleep with it.”

Although I love to try out new social media technologies and I’m not married to any one, I certainly do enjoy the dating phase. And right now I’m anxious to see where my relationship with Seesmic goes.

Jim Kukral is an online marketing veteran whose most recent project, Scratchback.com, brings the fun back into making money online. Read Jim’s blog at www.jimkukral.com.

Getting it Bass-ackwards

I used to tell people that if they were shopping online and using Google to search for specific products, that they should visit sites returned under the Sponsored Listings before they checked the natural search results; the rationale being that merchants who pay to advertise their products on Google AdWords will deliver more accurate results faster.

Well, after a frustrating – no, grueling – attempt to source a Christmas gift online this year, I won’t be sharing that particular tidbit of advice anymore.

The experience led me to conclude that most Internet merchants and affiliate marketers who use PPC to drive traffic are more interested in getting visitors to their sites than in actually selling to those visitors, a focus which in my opinion is completely bass-ackwards.

Case in point: I wanted to buy a specific 42-inch round teak coffee table online and have it shipped to a family member in Ontario, Canada. All summer, the table had been widely distributed through patio furniture stores in major North American cities, under a variety of brand and model names, including Kingsley- Bate and Candice. I bought the same table locally in the spring for $1,399, and was hoping to do some serious dollar-cost-averaging in September by taking advantage of end-of-season sales. Too, with the Canadian and U.S. dollars at par, inexpensive shipping rates and negligible customs duties, I was fully prepared to shop cross-border.

Googling the phrase "kingsleybate 42" round teak coffee table" produced exact product search results for merchants using Google Checkout, as well as page after page of highly relevant natural search listings. My curiosity as an Internet and affiliate marketer, however, led me to check out the Sponsored Listings first. What I found – and didn’t find – was disappointing to say the least.

Had I wanted to change the bait board to a food tray on my nonexistent boat, the product returned under eBay’s top spot "Bait Table" Sponsored Listing may have been a good find. Authenteak.com had a table similar to the one I wanted, shown without a price or full description, but the site didn’t facilitate online sales, and a 2,637-mile trip to Atlanta wasn’t an option. Authenteak did however have a link to Kingsley-Bate’s official site which listed U.S. dealers only, so I continued my search.

Frontera’s "Kingsley-Bate Furniture" Sponsored Listing title looked promising. After meandering through the Classic and Normandy collections, I found the table I wanted for a reasonable $531.00. A note under their "Policies" link, which read, "For international shipments, please contact our Customer Service department for information regarding shipping options and rates to your destination" led me to think that my search might nearly be over, but the "Customer Service" link within the statement was broken. The Customer Service tab at the top of the page provided an email address but no phone number. Suspecting that my assumption of success was premature, I visited the order page, where sure enough, "Frontera Furniture Company does not ship to Canada" was highlighted in yellow near the top of the order page.

Back to scanning the Sponsored Listings, BizRate’s somewhat generic "Round Teak Table" title with a BizRate.com/TeakOutdoor display URL got the click. Links near the top of the landing page labeled "Outdoor Furniture" and "Living Room Furniture" both led to product pictures of tables all clearly intended for outdoor use. I had to wonder whether the Biz- Rate folks care that they disappoint those looking for living room furniture or that visitors shopping for outdoor furniture might miss an array of relevant products shown under the mislabeled link. Indeed, as I scrolled down the page again past a Google AdSense display that took up most of the area above the fold, it appeared that BizRate’s primary objective was to make quick revenue from folks leaving the site, rather than sell their affiliated merchants’ wares.

Casting a Wide Net

Broadening my search to "42" round teak table," eBay.ca returned a "Teak Table" listing title. Products on the resulting page included teak patio furniture sets with tables, teak table lamps, fancy veneer radial tabletop skins (quarter teak) and an oil painting easel. The tabletop that I was looking for showed up on the second page, but I decided to forego the frustration of hunting for a matching set of table legs which the seller did not have listed.

Shopzilla merchants CSNLighting and Teak Wicker & More both showed the 36" model, so I clicked on CSNLighting and located the 42" model by doing a brand and highly specific keyword search. CSNLighting does not ship to Canada, so I visited Teak Wicker & More and discovered that it too is a division of CSN Stores, Inc., which sells everything from cuckoo clocks to Crock-Pots and trash cans to TV stands across a network of 212 websites, all with the same "we don’t want your Canadian business" policy. OK, those are my words, not theirs.

Results didn’t improve by adding "Canada" to the phrase. HomeDepot. ca and a furniture broker in Coquitlam, B.C., showed up, neither of which carried a stick of teak furniture. An onsite search for "teak" under Home & Garden at Sears.ca also produced "0 results" along with the suggestion that I might look at men’s shirts and ladies’ pull-on pants for "more shopping ideas."

Still Searching

A search for the phrase "teak furniture" had the no-content Ad- Sense and YPN (Yahoo Publisher Network) arbitragers showing up in droves. The "Teak Furniture Directory" promised "The Teak Furniture Deal Guide" where visitors will "Find Teak Furniture Quickly," yet sends them to a TeakFurniture subdirectory of SwimmingPools101. com where the only teak mentioned was in a YPN ad.

Most bizarre of all was a Sponsored Listing titled "The Teak Outlet Shop" that included "Find Teak Quickly" in its description. The landing page presented a "How to Install Moulding" article, and a quick browse around the site revealed it as repository of do-it-yourself articles monetized with AdSense.

Although neither carried the product I wanted, two sites deserve kudos for their sales conversion efforts. GoldenTeak’s "Summer Sale Teak 25% OFF" listing title was a big draw (to a sadly designed site), and the first thing I spotted on Decor Americana’s site was BETTER THAN TEAK – Brazilian Cherry is the hardest and most durable weatherproof wood available." They almost had me convinced, but didn’t carry anything remotely close to the table that I wanted.

Despite Wordtracker’s predicted 466 searches for the day and an ample supply of teak product merchants with affiliate programs, not one teak-selling content-publishing affiliate showed up in the Sponsored Listings. Commission Junction alone returned more than 1,000 "teak" products with merchants such as Yardiac paying up to 15 percent commissions. Although teak-related AdWords are pretty pricey at the moment, when Google finally gets serious about producing relevant search results and dumps the no-content AdSense and YPN arbitragers outright, advertising costs for real affiliates (and merchants) should decrease substantially.

So 10 years after the introduction of PPC search engines, most advertisers apparently still know very little about basic campaign management techniques; particularly broad, phrase, negative and exact keyword matching options as well as geo-targeting – all of which lowers advertising costs and increases sales. To rectify the problem, companies may elect to outsource their campaign management; however, having a PPC specialist on board who understands your business is the best option. An in-depth PPC training course is available at PPCClassroom.org.

As for my table, I toughed out another 6-hour round trip to buy the second one from my "local" supplier at 50 percent off the original price. I’m now looking for a large shipping box – something I won’t attempt to source online – as I suspect a Google search for "shipping container" would produce a "container ship" just full of 42" round teak tables en route from Vietnam or Indonesia.