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.

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).

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 Into the Mashup Mix

It’s become a new art form to combine various existing elements to create something totally new. However, it can also be dangerous creative and legal territory to navigate when particular items are protected by copyright laws.

Some online marketers, eager to leverage new technologies for promotional purposes, are uploading and sharing video creations with copyrighted materials despite concern about potential copyright infringement, because they want to beat others to the punch.

Founder of the site HowToDoVideo.com Jim Kukral explains there is a belief in the first-move advantage – those who get their videos up on YouTube first are the people who will win. Kukral adds, “online video is the wild, wild West ” it is how search engines were in 2000.”

The first mashup to garner significant attention was not a video, but “A Stroke of Genius,” by Freelance Hellraiser in 2001. It combined the vocals of Christina Aguilera’s “Genie in a Bottle” with The Strokes’ “Hard to Explain.” In the next few years, a deluge of similar attempts followed. Freelance Hellraiser went on to record a single for Sony, while artist and producer Danger Mouse famously teamed up with musician Cee-Lo to form the group Gnarls Barkley, whose song “Crazy” was one of 2006’s biggest hits.

Mashup is a loose term that means to remix more than one source of data to form a new combination of information. But music is not the only type of mashup – there are also video and Web mashups. John Musser, founder of the website ProgrammableWeb, which catalogs mashups, says that the goal is “to create something new that is unique and greater than the sum of its parts.”

The mashup movement has exploded over the past three years, taking many by surprise. Many industry watchers consider the emergence of mashups as a proof point of Web 2.0 – because it involves widespread sharing and mixing of online content, many of the basic Web 2.0 tenants.

Video mashups also are becoming increasingly popular – users are mixing their amateur video with copyrighted video or audio and adding these new creations to their own sites, uploading them to video-sharing sites, or sharing them through social networks.

Affiliate Summit co-founder Shawn Collins says that when he creates a mashup, he makes sure the sources of data are not copyrighted. He uses royalty-free music from sites such as Stock20.com and royalty-free video from sites like iStockPhoto. com and FreeStockFootage.com. For a recent mashup Collins made, he grabbed a laugh sound effect that comes with the Sony Vegas video-editing software program. He got the audio from a podcast that he understood to be open for use, as he didn’t see any claims to the contrary.

Beth Kanter, a trainer, coach and consultant to nonprofits regarding technology, uses Web tools such as video blogging, screencasting and virtual worlds. When Kanter creates a mashup, if she finds something she thinks is absolutely perfect and it is all rights reserved, she asks for permission. She also looks for materials that have been resourced under Creative Commons – its tagline is “some rights reserved.” Creative Commons’ licenses enable copyright holders to grant some or all of their rights to the public while retaining others through various licensing and contract schemes, including dedication to the public domain. Creative Commons is a nonprofit founded in 2001 by a group of U.S. copyright experts who became concerned that the default copyright laws were restricting creativity in the digital environment by preventing people from accessing, remixing and distributing copyright material online.

The ease by which any song or film can be pirated onto the Internet caused an intellectual property rights debate that picked up momentum with music-sharing site Napster eight years ago. As sampling and sharing online becomes more widespread, intellectual property and technology lawyer Denise Howell wonders if copyright rules are out of sync with the values of the day – she calls current copyright law “quite Draconian concerning infringing and sampling.”

The DMCA

In 1998, Congress passed The Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), which made major changes to copyright law and attempts to address copyright in the digitally networked environment. The DMCA Act shields Internet companies from liability for copyright infringements if they act promptly to remove the clips.

YouTube.com constantly receives DMCA Takedown Notices from copyright owners – asking it to take down videos that claim to infringe copyrights. In March, Viacom sued YouTube for $1 billion, accusing the video-sharing site of “massive intentional copyright infringement” based on 160,000 unauthorized Viacom clips that were uploaded onto YouTube.

In August, eight more parties, including the Rugby Football League, charged that YouTube encourages copyright infringement to generate public attention and boost traffic to its site.

This fall, YouTube plans to deploy a system to filter out copyrighted content by using digital fingerprinting technology to compare user-submitted videos to copyrighted materials, but critics say that this technology has not come fast enough.

The DMCA has been criticized for making it too easy for copyright owners to demand that website owners take down infringing content when it may not in fact be infringing. Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) senior intellectual property attorney Fred von Lohmann claims the DMCA is unfair because some copyright users are misusing it for censorship purposes.

Copyright holders have to consider the provisions of Fair Use, which is a doctrine in the U.S. copyright law that allows limited use of copyrighted material without requiring permission from the rights holders. It can be invoked when the value to the public outweighs the cost to the owner of the copyright. Under Fair Use, copyrighted material can be sampled – it is what allows short clips of copyrighted material to be included in documentaries under the name of scholarship and parody.

So the big question many are asking is, can mashup creators sample from copyrighted material and be protected under the provisions of Fair Use? Howell says that if a sample is used noncommercially and has a strong parody or commentary component, “the Fair Use odds improve but there are no guarantees.”

Von Lohmann says the consequences of sampling copyrighted materials for mashups is unpredictable. He calls it a “gray area” because there has never been a court case about mashups. Von Lohmann explains that sampling under the protection of Fair Use depends on the creation’s purpose, how much copyrighted material the user took, the nature of the work (factual or creative) and the effect it has on the original. “Most mashups are creative and noncommercial, so those things favor Fair Use,” von Lohmann says.

But if a marketer were sampling copyrighted material to promote her own product, it could be argued that it is not covered under Fair Use. “If the work is commercial and promotional, then it will be harder to defend,” von Lohmann says, adding the warning that if marketers are going to be using other people’s copyrighted materials, they need to understand the pitfalls and they should consult an attorney.

Legal Changes Afoot

There is evidence that the way copyright law is enforced on the Internet could change eventually. At a session on copyright and social media at June’s SuperNova conference in San Francisco, one of the panelists, Viacom lawyer Mark Morrill, said that Viacom is only interested in pursuing infringement of Viacom material on YouTube for nontransformative, verbatim use. Viacom is not pursuing transformative uses – which is the description that mashups and remixing fall under. That means if you are using copyrighted material without altering it, you may be in legal trouble. However, if you are transforming that copyrighted material (adding other elements, etc.), Viacom is not coming after you.

Regarding all of the amateur videos using various clips of The Rolling Stones songs that have been uploaded to YouTube, attorney Howell explains that YouTube has had great success convincing the major record labels to adopt strategies for approving works for this kind of use, “thus hopefully making the takedown issue for mashups and sampling irrelevant,” she says. YouTube has deals with Warner, Sony BMG, EMI and Universal Music Group that enable people to legitimately incorporate works from these record labels’ artists into their user-generated content on YouTube.

And in August, online video-sharing site, Veoh Networks, preemptively sued Universal Music Group, asking a judge to prevent the music company from filing its own copyright infringement action – even if users upload videos to the Veoh site that contain unauthorized music from Universal artists. Veoh argues that it is protected under the safe harbors provisions of copyright law because it does not encourage its users to infringe copyrights and actively investigates and takes down infringing material.

Creating these mashups is getting easier with the tools that let users overlay images and text on top of copyrighted video. This can be useful to marketers and affiliates who want to add their own promotional content (see sidebar above).

Yoni Silberberg, CEO of PLYmedia, claims his company is not worried about infringing copyrights because its services are overlays – the original content is always kept intact. Experts agree that because services from Cuts, PLYmedia and others like AffiliateVideoBrander don’t host or store the video, they are not liable for copyright infringement.

Howell says PLYmedia’s BubblePLY gets around copyright infringement issues because they rely on the commentary component of fair use, and the fact that it does not copy or host the commented-upon works. Howell says it’s the same for Cuts – it’s a commentary addon, with no copying or redistribution of the original work.

Mapping Out a Course for Mashups

The most common type of mashup is a Web one. ProgrammableWeb’s Musser says that in the past, mashups were only accessible to programmers because they involved writing some code, but that has changed due to the advent of new tools. To date, ProgrammableWeb. com lists 2,100 Web mashups, “but that’s only a fraction of the mashups out there,” says Programmable Web’s Musser.

Types of Web mashups include mixing data from different sites like one that shows data about the musician Beck and combines that with audio snippets from a music site, videos from YouTube and Beck’s album covers from Amazon.com. But the most common type of Web mashup is mixing data with a map. As of July 2007, 42 percent of Web mashups were maps.

There are thousands of personal map mashups that plot text, links and data over the digital globe. In the past two years, map providers like Google, Yahoo and Microsoft have created tools that let users layer their own geographic interests on top of maps and satellite images. With certain restrictions, map providers offer mapping software to users through feeds, called APIs (application programming interface), which can be combined with data from other sources.

In April, Google launched its own mashup software, My Maps, which allows users to personalize their Google maps by attaching images, text and video without writing any code. Greg Sterling, founder of Sterling Market Intelligence, says that currently Google is giving the maps away – users just have to have the Google logo on the map in the lower-left corner.

Musser says Google is investing in maps because half of all ad dollars are local – it leads to contextually based local advertising and it can run AdSense as well. It is also a way for Google to build its brand.

U.S. general manager for Clicks2Customers Sam Harrelson says that mapping is one of the areas of tremendous opportunity for affiliate marketing because it is relationship- based and reliant on the element of trust. When deciding on an entertainment venue, people rely on recommendations. With reviews of particular places introduced into Google Maps, Harrelson sees further growth potential for affiliates looking to monetize their communities in a relationship- based paradigm.

Visualization tools developer IDELIX Software offers Lat49, a map-based advertising model targeted at online, Ajax-based map applications. In addition to using the map APIs from Google, Yahoo and others, publishers can use a JavaScript API from Lat49 to drive contextually relevant ads – as users drag maps around, the ads can dynamically change based upon their zoom level.

Experts say that today’s media companies seem to understand that the times are a changin’ when it comes to enforcing copyrights on the Internet.

Mary Hodder, founder of Dabble, a video search site, predicts that media companies are going to be more flexible about their copyrights than the record companies were in the 20th century. “These music companies are keen to believe that they own everything forever ” but I don’t think the rest of the entertainment business will do that,” she says.

Demonstrated by the popularity of Creative Common licenses, the current zeitgeist is that users don’t agree with restrictive copyright laws, and believe in the benefits of sharing, repurposing and remixing. Like the repealing of prohibition in the ’30s, laws change when they no longer are in step with the ideals of the people.

Attorney Howell says that for media companies, enforcing copyrights is a question of business reality. In terms of sampling for commercial use, media companies will continue to take a hard line because the courts have said they can and there’s a sufficient financial payoff. When it comes to pursing a similar strategy for noncommercial mashups and sampling, Howell says the math doesn’t add up. “What makes sense instead is adopting fine-grained ways to both authorize and benefit from creative reuses of copyrighted works.”

Home Office Advantage

Many online marketers started out working from home as a way to escape the Dilbert-like cubicle farms of corporate life in favor of a flexible schedule. And while these home-based workers may have managed to avoid rush-hour traffic, endless meetings and the watchful eye of superiors, their work life is hardly about hanging out in pajamas.

According to 2000 U.S. Census data, more than 4.2 million people choose to work at home on a daily basis. And while the solitary work life can pose unique challenges for the self-employed, there are even more distinct technical, organizational and social skills needed to be successful (and remain sane) while working from home when you are part of a larger entity.

Online commerce has multiplied the opportunities for working as part of a virtual organization. Since technology (in the form of fast Internet access, file sharing and Web-based applications) has made it relatively easy to earn a living online, virtual office managers should focus on implementing strategies that often differ from what occurs in corporate America. You need to concentrate on sharing documents online, streamlining communications and organizing your time.

Put Your Work Online

In the corporate world of days gone by, workers kept their files on their PCs or on password-only accessible servers, protecting their documents as if they were the launch sequence for nuclear weapons. Now personal lives – through blogs, photo sharing and MySpace – are rapidly moving online, and work life should not be any different.

Making your relevant business documents and files available to peers will increase creativity and enhance productivity. From business strategy papers to spreadsheets to brainstorming notes, sharing documents online is essential to getting input from co-workers who aren’t in the same ZIP code.

Sharing your documents also eliminates the clutter of emailing documents back and forth and the frustration of sorting through folders to find out where you previously saved attachments. Maintaining a shared calendar through Google Calendar or Apple’s iCal can eliminate email strings that attempt to nail down an open time for a conference call.

Virtual office workers don’t usually have an IT department or top-heavy applications such as Lotus Notes to store and share their files, which many workers will consider a blessing. By organizing a common set of online folders, co-workers can quickly survey all aspects of a project and stay on top of progress.

Several secure online services simplify making files accessible to co-workers. Free services Google Docs and Spreadsheets and Microsoft’s Live Folders allow you to store up to 500 megabytes of content, while Apple’s iDrive permits 1 gigabyte of storage. The services enable you to specify the people (via their email addresses and passwords) with access. Subscription services such as Box.net offer additional security, storage capacity (up to 15 gigabytes) and workgroup features for around $20 per month.

“I feel like I know what my team is doing much more than I did when I was in an office,” says Sam Harrelson, general manager for the U.S. for search marketing firm Clicks2Customers. “I can access [what I need] at any time instead of having to go down the hall to ask someone for a document.” Getting into the habit of storing files online and using a Web-based email service also provides access to files when you are away from your virtual office.

Harrelson, who works from his home in Asheville, North Carolina, manages staff in other states and reports to management in South Africa. He recommends putting documents online through social network sites to save time. He and his peers use a private Facebook group to share files and store contact information, thus creating a public Rolodex. Clicks2Customers uses a private wiki to trade ideas, and it also enables individual contributions to be identified. Harrelson also recommends setting up an RSS feed to track a project’s evolution.

Basecamp, an online service developed by 37 Signals, provides extensive workgroup functionality including project management, file sharing and messaging, but at a much lower price than the corporate applications that often require IT interventions.

Bambi Francisco, the founder of Web startup Vator.tv, says her company uses filesharing service Basecamp to manage its software development effort, which is primarily done in Pakistan. The site includes to-do lists, milestone tracking and messaging/ comment threads that can automatically generate emails or RSS feeds. Centralizing all of the files and messages related to a project in a single location will keep everyone on task and makes the necessary information always available.

Controlling Communications

Francisco says written documents and messaging can simplify communications between people with accents and for whom English is not their primary language. Her peers were all born outside of the U.S., and reading an email or online status report can be easier than phone conversations. “Email has never been more important [for her business communications],” she says.

The isolation of the virtual office requires the most dramatic change in work routine and psychological adjustment. For a “people person,” having only the office furniture (and perhaps a pet) for company can create a yearning for the digital approximation of human contact. Virtual office workers need to become comfortable with cyber relationships and appropriately using instant messaging and telephone/videoconferencing.

In many cases, instant messaging is the most efficient method of getting questions answered or discussing a pressing matter. Making a phone call is a commitment – social convention dictates the exchange of salutations, and ending a conversation after just a few minutes can feel awkward. IM doesn’t have these limitations, and keeping an IM window to a peer open enables both parties to continue working in between messages.

Because of the usually immediate feedback, IM is replacing email as the most effective communications tool for virtual office dwellers. Email has become “more of a social application,” according to Harrelson, who uses it as a last resort if a peer isn’t online.

Shawn Collins, co-founder of the Affiliate Summit, who runs his company with partner Missy Ward, from New Jersey while she’s in Florida, also has another employee in Virginia, and some event staff in Colorado. He agrees that his biggest challenge is not having face-to-face interaction with his team. However, he estimates that he only speaks with Ward a few times a week, but emails her at least a dozen times per day. He also says they IM constantly and if one of them is on the road, the text messages are flying fast and furiously.

IM applications such as Skype, AOL’s AIM, and Yahoo or Windows Live Messenger can also be used for internal voice and videoconferencing, but the free services don’t take the place of an in-person client meeting. Vator.tv’s Francisco relies on Skype as her primary instant messaging and voice connection in her home office in San Francisco. Since her co-workers in Denver and Austria also use Skype, there is no need to pay for conference-calling features and the $35 annual fee for a business line enables her to call anyone.

A landline may not be necessary for virtual offices looking to keep costs down. Between Skype and a cell phone, Francisco is able to sufficiently stay in touch with peers and clients. However, virtual office workers cannot fully rely on instant messaging and voice communications. Meeting people in person or at least seeing their faces provides important but unspoken information about co-workers and business associates.

Videoconferencing, which can be done through inexpensive webcams, can provide a greater comfort level with peers whom you rarely or never meet in person. “It’s a visual world, and you want to see images of people,” says Francisco, whose company introduces entrepreneurs to venture capitalists through videos. She uses her webcam in conjunction with instant messaging chats and voice calls during many of her online discussions.

While videoconferencing suffices for many co-worker conversations, meeting in person is preferred when starting new business relationships, although she has signed one business deal without ever meeting someone from the company in person. “For partnerships I like to meet with people,” she says.

A New Approach

Communicating with affiliates who are accustomed to an independent work life can require a different approach. “Affiliates are not required to be good communicators; they just need to build a legitimate site or service that makes money, and they’re in,” says Mike Kansa, an affiliate from Arcata, Calif. Kansa is part of the FlamingoWorld.com team, which started as a one-woman affiliate venture. Connie Berg, the founder, has become a super-affiliate and her business has grown to such successful proportions that she now employs seven workers scattered all over the U.S.

Kansa, who has also worked as an outsourced program manager, says being effective can be more important than personal communication skills. “Today someone could probably grow to super-affiliate status and not talk with a single person along the way.”

Some affiliates who have never experienced cubicle life “may lack the organizational skills of working in a fast-paced, deadline-oriented office,” so the importance of deadlines must be reinforced, Kansa says. But he believes “individuals working from different environments help to add diversity to our industry.”

Organize the Day

Keeping focused on work despite the temptation of a sunny day or laundry that needs to be washed can be too great a challenge. “Some people have been a disaster; they can’t do what needs to be done because of distractions,” says Anne Fognano, the “Momma in Charge” at CleverMoms.com, who left the corporate world in 1999 to spend more time around her children. She finds it is easier to get work done outside of the corporate environment. “I used to have a lot of distractions … people would hang out in the cubicle to chat,” she says.

One of the biggest advantages of maintaining a virtual office from home is the convenience of being able to work at any time. That can also be a downside. The convenience of working at any hour can also be ruinous, and your co-workers may not share the same schedule.

Virtual office workers tend to work more of their hours outside of nine to five than the corporate set. This can be an advantage if you use technical people who live in different time zones, especially the growing number of qualified programmers and designers in Asia. Late night (U.S. time) can be prime time overseas, and planning ahead to work late and give yourself a break during the day will reduce the likelihood of burnout.

Recruiting technical help when you don’t have an office near an urban center can be a time drain, and since so much work is done remotely, there is no need to limit the geography of contract workers. Vator.tv’s Francisco posts available positions on her websites and asks candidates to submit video applications.

oDesk, a website for finding global technical talent, has an extensive database of local and international contractors. The site assigns “virtual team rooms” to coordinate project activities and takes care of international currency exchanges, according to CEO Gary Swart. The company manages the hourly billing, and oDesk customers provide ratings of the contractors. oDesk charges a 10 percent premium on top of the fees earned by the tech workers.

Scheduling regular videoconference or phone calls with team members will encourage people to meet their deadlines since no one likes to be caught unprepared at a meeting. Scheduling phone calls can reduce the number of spontaneous conversations that were meant to answer a single issue, but often turn into productivity-chewing marathons.

The biggest challenge for virtual workers is fighting the urge to check email or do “just a few things” during what is supposed to be leisure or family time. “I try not to be in my office unless I’m working,” says affiliate Kansa. “If I want to do personal stuff on my computer, I take it outside of my office.”

Collins says he’s very flexible about his schedule, but attempts to adhere to 9:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. “office hours.” He will only take calls during those hours and stops working at 6 o’clock to spend time with his family, which includes four young children. However, by 10:00 p.m., when the rest of the family is in bed, he starts his “second shift,” which typically lasts until 1:00 or 2:00 a.m. It’s at that time that he answers emails and gets a lot of his busy work accomplished.

Collins says that time zones aren’t an issue for him, since he’s flexible and works with like-minded people. “Both Missy and I keep somewhat unconventional hours,” he says. “So if we need to have a call with someone in Australia at midnight our time, that’s fine.”

He also notes that for the Affiliate Summit in the U.K., he and Ward are partnering with Jess Luthi, who lives in the U.K., but that the five-hour time difference has yet to be a problem. “She’s in London, but she keeps odd hours. We see her online at all hours of the day and night, so there hasn’t been an issue with communicating.”

Clicks2Customers’ Harrelson says relying on a cell phone as your business line lets you answer questions as they arise, but makes getting away from work a challenge. “It’s all about balance,” he says. “Overdoing it doesn’t help. But then I find myself working some days until 2:00 a.m., and starting again at 6:00 a.m.”

The Trust Issue

Working in a virtual office involves a greater level of trust since you rarely, if ever, get together with co-workers. Home workers don’t have the hearty handshake or leisurely lunch to bond with peers or clients, so they must have faith that their digital communications provide an adequate representation of the people with whom they interact. Being skeptical when a person is out of touch is natural, and virtual workers have to fight the urge to assume the worst if an assignment is missed or someone goes missing for a few hours.

“When I first started my business, I was more trusting about whom I hired. Now I get non-compete and confidentiality agreements,” says CleverMom’s Fognano. Fognano has never met a woman she manages who lives hundreds of miles away but, “As long as she does her job, it works out well.” Fognano makes a point of attending several industry events each year to get the necessary face time with partners and peers.

Those who have successfully worked from home are attractive candidates for employers, should they choose to reenter the corporate life, according to Harrelson. Virtual office workers who perform can be trusted to work independently, a desirable trait, he says, “… If you are producing results in a remote environment, [that means] you are a flexible person who can get something done.”

John Gartner is a Portland, Ore.-based freelance writer who contributes to Wired News, Inc., MarketingShift and is the editor of Matter-mag.com

Video Goes Viral

Thanks to social networking sites such as YouTube, online video has quickly become an everyday part of the online experience. While marketers have been slow to capitalize on video so far, the low cost of producing content and potential for increasing reach will make it essential to performance marketing.

The audience that watches Web video skews younger, but nearly everyone online is doing it. According to market research firm comScore, nearly 75 percent of U.S. Internet users watched video during the month of May, viewing more than 8.3 billion video streams. Consumers are interacting with video more frequently in a wide variety of destinations, from “newspaper” websites to social networking to blogs. The most popular viral videos can garner millions of views, and video ads have proven to be more effective than their static counterparts in prompting user actions.

In 2008, more than half of the total U.S. population will be watching video online, according to eMarketer, and advertisers will spend more than $775 million in 2007 on video ads, up 89 percent over the previous year.

Since interactive video will catch and hold viewers’ attention longer, marketers are beginning to use the technology in four ways: on their primary websites; on microsites designed for specific campaigns; syndicating them through advertising networks; and releasing them to video search engines in the hopes that they go viral. The first step is to create professional and compelling content.

The Medium and the Message

Video starts with a camera, and MiniDV (digital video) is the industry-standard format for recording video on tape. MiniDV or hard-drive-based cameras are the best match for transferring video to a PC. To make it easy to transfer the video to a computer for editing, the camera should be able to record in MPEG 2 or 4 format and pass it through a FireWire (also known as IEEE 1394) or USB 2.0 (universal serial bus) connection.

These cameras range in cost from a few hundred to several thousand dollars depending on the features, including optical zoom; size of the LCD panel to preview the video; and the technology used to steady the image. Sony, Panasonic and Canon offer high-quality digital video cameras at a variety of price points and options.

For companies that want to tell a personal story in a vlog style, Jim Kukral, who blogs about using video at HowToDoVideo.com, recommends purchasing a set of lights that cost between $150 and $400 and a photo background (or green screen) that sells for approximately $50. Kukral, who produces videos and distributes them via YouTube, also recommends buying a tripod to provide a steadier image than with handheld shooting.

Kukral says videos about a company provide a more personal experience than blogs, and posting them on YouTube can drive traffic to your website. Publishers can “engage customers and illustrate things with video as opposed to [relying on] bullet points,” he says. Kukral posted videos on YouTube with tips on creating videos that generated new clients, several of whom commented that from his videos they “got the feeling that I knew you.”

Editing software ranges from free to more than $1,000, depending on the sophistication of the special effects. Macs include the intuitive iMovie, which provides basic functions for cutting and splicing together clips, adding titles and controlling sound. Similarly, Windows Vista PCs include a drag-and-drop video-editing application, Windows Movie Maker 6.

QuickTime 7 Pro ($29.99) is available for Mac OS X and for Windows, and includes more sound- and video- editing features, including the ability to export videos to iPhones. SimpleMovieX ($30) from Aero Quartet is a QuickTime competitor for Macs that works with more formats and larger files.

Marketers willing to learn more sophisticated programs so that they can add effects such as modifying the lighting, integrating multiple audio tracks and working with more file formats have several not-so-inexpensive options (see sidebar on page 048). Adobe Flash is becoming ubiquitous as a browser-friendly application that enables publishers to integrate interactive elements into their videos.

Kukral says the biggest mistake companies make in creating videos is insufficient branding. Videos should introduce the company at the beginning and reinforce the brand within the content.

For videos that are distributed outside of a corporate website, adding the URL in a title card at the end of the video is recommended. The videos should also be tagged with the URL and contact information, and keywords should be added to optimize the videos for search engines.

Marketing videos can range from a few seconds to several minutes in length depending on the type of content and target audience. Keeping the message short is essential to retaining the viewer, according to Michael Hines, the U.S. manager for network Zanox. Videos that are to be distributed as ads “can’t be 30 seconds long,” Hines says. He recommends that video ads be no longer than 10-15 seconds in length, while videos that introduce a company or illustrate a technology can be longer.

Publishers looking to create video marketing content without investing in editing software or expertise can refine their videos with a drag-and-drop online tool. Launched in August, Digital Canvas is a Flash-based service from Flimp Media that integrates interactive elements into a marketing microsite, according to company CEO Wayne Wall. These customized pages, also called flimps, can be shared as viral content, and built-in tracking mechanisms enable measuring their effectiveness, Wall says. The videos can tell the story of a company, or be used as an interactive component of marketing collateral, he adds.

Companies that lack video expertise or desire the highest-quality production values should consider using a video production service familiar with the optimizing content for the Web. Many of the companies that produce corporate training videos or video news releases are adding online services, with costs ranging from a few hundred to a few thousand dollars depending on the complexity of the shoot.

Putting Videos Online

Putting videos online that have been created on a website is not difficult, but finding an audience for them often requires manually uploading them to other sites or hiring someone to do so for you. Videos in the most common formats (MPEG, QuickTime and Windows Media) can be embedded on Web pages with a minimum of coding. As a more sophisticated alternative, embedding a Flash player on a site provides access to multiple videos and enables publishers to link to other interactive components or Web content.

For publishers with substantial traffic, adding videos provides an opportunity to retain visitors and to satisfy those who would rather watch than read content. If the videos become a runaway success, however, you may need to purchase additional bandwidth from your Internet service provider. Although the video quality can be compromised, uploading videos to YouTube and embedding their video on your site can reduce Web-hosting costs, according to video guru Kukral.

If you want videos to drive traffic to your website, they need to be optimized for search engines and syndicated through a growing number of video-hosting and search sites. As part of the upload process for submitting videos to search sites such as You- Tube, Revver, DailyMotion and Blip.tv, and syndication sites including Veoh, Brightcove and Maven, publishers fi ll out forms on each site and enter tags, descriptions and keywords. This painstaking process can take hours to reach just the most highly trafficked sites.

Companies such as TurnHere and Medialink work with networks of local video production companies to create the content and will also take care of the upload and submission process to sites including Google, AOL, MSN and Yahoo.

Through a partnership with RSS distribution company Pheedo, Turn- Here distributes content to sites looking to add video, including blogs such as BlogCritics and AlarmClock, and publishers including Slashdot, Red Herring, InformationWeek and ABCNews, according to CEO Brad Inman. Inman says travel, automotive companies and book publishers are among the early adopters marketing through online videos. TurnHere client Simon & Schuster has created hundreds of videos with authors talking about their latest books, and Inman says the top authors’ videos are viewed 50,000 times per month.

Local publishers are beginning to experiment with using video to tell their stories directly to customers. Superpages and CitySearch have recently introduced videos into their local listings. Marketing videos are “… really about long tail – not about a million streams, but [marketers] want 100 relevant streams,” Inman says. He recommends local business owners get in front of the camera because “no one can tell their story better.”

Getting the media and bloggers to write about or incorporate your videos can create signifi cant brand awareness and drive traffic to your website. Medialink, which has more than 20 years of experience in connecting companies with print and broadcast media, has video distribution services that start at $2,500. Medialink will host and present a video online and distribute it to local and national media including bloggers, and will also distribute the videos to aggregation and syndication sites, according to COO Larry Thomas.

In the fall of 2007, Medialink is launching Mediaseed, a Web platform that hosts and optimizes corporate marketing and communications materials for distribution. The platform contains tracking features for measuring a video marketing initiative’s reach online as well as on broadcast TV.

While accurately labeling videos will increase exposure on YouTube and the other top video sites, how to optimize content for video or general search engines remains largely a mystery. Google’s incorporation of video results into its universal search will increase the exposure of videos, but search engine marketers are still catching up.

Browsing videos and referrals from other users remain the most common methods by which people discover new videos. Being found on video search engines is not that easy, according to TurnHere’s Inman. People had a “false sense several months ago that ‘I can create a video and have it go viral on YouTube and it will go big,'” according to Inman. The reality is that most videos submitted to video sites will languish in obscurity. “The key is to start creating and experimenting,” he says. Search engines will take 18 months to catch on to the importance of video and properly index the content, according to Zanox’s Hines.

This fall Zanox will launch Zanox.tv, where publishers can post videos that will be used to attract partners. “The intent is to allow publishers to do an alternative to a text ad to encourage people to join as an affiliate,” says Hines. The video ads will likely pay on a cost-per-action basis, with Zanox and publishers sharing the revenue, according to Hines.

Ad Networks Monetize Video

Advertising networks are matching content companies with publishers large and small who are looking to use video to increase their audience. Startup video ad network Affliated.net is betting on a new video advertisement form opening a door into affiliate marketing. The borderless videos hover next to content and feature an actor or actress pitching a product or service. Since the video ads reside in the pixels along the edges of a Web page, publishers don’t have to give up their existing ads, according to Affiliated.net president Chris Skretvedt.

The videos, which range in length from 30 seconds to 5 minutes and will be paid for by Affiliated.net, are created to prompt user action such as generating leads or making a purchase, Skretvedt says. The ads launched in August and are to be sold on a CPA basis. The company is pursuing relationships with the major affiliate networks.

Tremor Media has combined forces with video distribution company ClipSyndicate to match content with relevant advertising. Tremor Media inserts in-stream ads with videos from sites such as DrPhil.com and making the content available to publishers, according to vice president of publisher relations Daniel Scherer.

Scherer says online video is hampered by a lack of technical standards in how to publish content. De facto standards for formats exist, but there is “no standard that supports integration of in-stream dynamic advertising,” he says. Content owners today are stuck in the struggle between controlling the advertising and monetizing their videos, according to Scherer. “The big puzzle is the upside-down reliance on You- Tube,” he says. If you want a video to be popular, put it on YouTube, but then you can’t monetize it; and if you want to control the ads, then you can’t put it on YouTube, says Scherer. Within the next year, You- Tube parent Google is expected to roll out a new video advertising service to address this problem.

Another opportunity for monetizing videos is to make them interactive so that the products featured within can be highlighted and sold via performance marketing. VideoClix provides technology that makes areas of a video clickable, according to Brent Stafford, the vice president of business development. “If you don’t make [your ads] interactive, you are underutilizing the medium,” he says. VideoClix has created ads for Levi’s and Honda, and shares revenue through CPA, CPC or CPM campaigns.

Once the science of increasing the search rankings of video has been significantly refined, publishers will rapidly increase their efforts to acquire or produce videos to place on their website. This strategy will be similar to how images of celebrities or top search terms are currently used to attract an audience, and will assure video’s place in the spotlight.

John Gartner is a Portland, Ore.-based freelance writer who contributes to Wired News, Inc., MarketingShift and is the editor of Matter-mag.com.

CJ’s Missing Link

When Commission Junction announced its Link Management Initiative (LMI) on May 23, the reaction from the affiliate community was swift and decisive. It was interpreted as a mandatory change for affiliates from HTML to JavaScript links and it was not embraced. In fact, it sparked petitions, anti- LMI buttons, forums and message boards decrying LMI and hundreds of blog entries questioning Commission Junction’s, actions and motives.

Every online marketing constituency – affiliates, affiliate managers, merchants, other rival networks, agencies and industry watchers – weighed in on LMI. Observers and insiders speculated the change was motivated by CJ’s parent company ValueClick’s desire to use affiliates to gather traffic information on customers as well as perform some behavioral targeting.

Following the community outcry, Commission Junction has backed off its position that LMI will be mandatory. The company sent this update to publishers in mid-August.

“On August 30, 2006, publishers will notice changes in getting links in the CJ Account Manager. This change will make it easier for publishers to choose either HTML or JavaScript links. To reiterate, there are no plans to remove support for HTML links.

However, advertisers will have the option to designate a link as JavaScript-only (with the exception of keyword links), if they deem it necessary. Commission Junction encourages its advertisers to support both HTML and JavaScript link formats, to meet the varied needs of publishers.”

CJ executives were unavailable at press time to comment.

The change of positioning was hinted at on the most recent ValueClick earnings call on August 6, 2006. CEO Jim Zarley said, “We are not mandating it [LMI] however, and it could take a considerable amount of time to do such a migration [from HTML links]. “We got a response loud and clear from our publishers that they are not willing to do this on a wholesale basis, but we believe that over time, maybe it takes a year or two, that this will be the way that the market will go. So we are going to be patient with it. Right now, we are just working with our publisher on a one-to-one basis, and eventually I would anticipate that we will get there over time.”

One source close to CJ says that the overall Link Management Initiative encompasses more than just JavaScript versus legacy links and that LMI is intended to provide additional options related to links. Several sources, who asked not to be named, say, “There is more than meets to the eye to LMI,” but no one offered any specific details. However, all hinted that the scope of the overall initiative had not been completely revealed.

“Long term, whatever is driving this hasn’t gone away, but CJ has realized that they cannot do it quickly or force it on affiliates, so they have at least slowed down,” says Scott Jangro, owner of affiliate MechMedia, who is also a former BeFree and CJ executive. “JavaScript might be the way to go someday in the future, but certainly not in the current technological climate.”

Jangro, a very vocal opponent of LMI (see sidebar on page 101) says, “As long as you’re defining LMI as the mandatory elimination of plain HTML links in favor of JavaScript, I don’t see any upside for affiliates. Affiliate marketing is so much more than renting out space on a website in which a third party can serve ads.”

He offers an example: A website includes a blog entry how-to on repairing your projection television set. There are text affiliate links in the content pointing to a merchant that sells the parts required. He says it would make “no sense to serve some of the text in my page as JavaScript. To someone who doesn’t have JavaScript enabled (as well as search engine spiders), the text would be invisible.”

The bottom line, according to Jangro, is that JavaScript can only make a page less reliable, perform more slowly and be more difficult to maintain.

Jeremy Palmer, a super-affiliate who runs QuitYourDayJob.com, explains that most of the benefits of LMI are to merchants that get more control over the “who, what and when.” He also says that, “LMI also benefits CJ’s Network Quality team because they have more insight into the traffic sources and behaviors of their affiliates. Right now, they rely on an image pixel to gather this information, but if an affiliate omits the pixel, they are unable to get this data.”

On the flip side, Palmer has many concerns including creative control. “I seldom use the creative offered by merchants in the CJ account manager,” Palmer says. “Being able to customize images and ad copy is what helps separate me from the competition.”

Anne Fognano of CleverMoms.com agrees. “The links are cookie cutter with designated creative that may or may not present the message affiliates want to get out to their customers. Affiliates who run Java creative will have links that are too similar, and the unique site feel that many affiliates work to employ for these merchants will be very difficult, if not impossible, to maintain,” she says.

“There is no upside,” says Scott Hazard, president of Brightside Media and a superaffiliate. “The downside ranges from inability to use databases, to the fact that JavaScript takes away basic design elements. Limiting an affiliate with JavaScript links is keeping that affiliate from using their creativity in presenting the merchant or the merchant’s product to the customer.”

“I am not sure of the upside of LMI, but a downside that I see is that some affiliates can’t use the codes in their article management systems and possibly other systems. Personally, my article system strips the code out,” Wendy Shepherd, a super-affiliate who runs TipzTime.com, says. “In this case, I have to use the old CJ links for as long as they are available. When those links are phased out, I won’t be able to use the links within articles or reviews in the article system anymore.”

For many, the problem is that in order to use JavaScript they will have to change nearly 90 percent of their links, which can be a laborious process. That effort is likely to take a vast amount of time, resources and money if they need to hire someone to handle the process. All that can translate into decreased revenue.

“I think LMI will be a hindrance. Some of the bigger affiliates have created internal systems that rely on using their own redirect to an affiliate link, and I am not sure how they can adapt when LMI becomes compulsory, unless they rebuild their infrastructure,” says Shawn Collins, president of Shawn Collins Consulting. “Also, I am among a great many affiliates that redirect affiliate links through META redirects, .htaccess files, etc. This makes things more efficient in the event that a merchant changes networks or closes their affiliate program. I am able to simply change the affiliate link in one place to control dozens or hundreds of instances of that affiliate link.”

QuitYourDayJob’s Palmer also raises issues about the load time of the JavaScript code and users that might disable JavaScript, which is not supported by all browsers, while traditional hypertext links are 100 percent supported.

Spyware expert Ben Edelman says that it’s uncertain what effectiveness LMI will have at blocking improper activities like forced clicks, “because it seems wrongdoers can easily circumvent the additional security provided by LMI.”

Still, some affiliates are searching for something positive.

Adam Viener, president of search affiliate IMWave, says, “The upside of having JavaScript links is that in certain situations you can have dynamic code that can be updated with the latest special deal or promotion. For example, if you wanted to have a ‘deal of the day’ link, that would be a perfect use for a JavaScript link.”

However, he notes, “The problem is JavaScript links don’t work in every situation, and offering them as an option is a great idea. Moving to a 100 percent JavaScript solution just won’t work for many affiliates and for many websites.”

FREEDOM OF CHOICE

Because JavaScript won’t work for everyone, affiliates didn’t like the idea that CJ appeared to be making this mandatory. Affiliates interpreted this stance as Commission Junction not listening to their concerns, and that caused much concern.

“I personally think that CJ should take into account what affiliates want instead of pushing them to use what they think is better for affiliates. If they don’t listen to their affiliates, this will have an effect on their business,” TipzTime’s Shepherd says.

Others say that CJ “will have to chalk LMI off to a poor PR effort and settle for ways to provide JavaScript links as options,” according to Viener.

“I don’t think they will be able to switch everyone over to these links, and may risk alienating some of their top affiliates if they attempt to force this on everyone. I would like to see them offer these as options, and remove them from being the default option. It has been quite a pain to keep hitting the legacy code button every time I want to get a link from them. Personally, I haven’t implemented one JavaScript link from them at this time,” Viener says.

“I’m sure they invested a lot of time and resources in LMI. It is a shame to lose that, but they will lose market share if they force it on affiliates,” says Hazard. “Affiliates have money and time invested in their online properties and operations. For a network to demand such an extensive change and restructuring is an over-the-top move in my opinion. The reaction it got seems to support that.”

Many say that if CJ doesn’t listen to its affiliates, they may shy away from using the network’s merchants and opt to work with those merchants on other platforms. In some cases, affiliates have already reduced the amount of time they are spending on CJ merchants rather than swap out the links.

MERCHANT DILEMMA

“I am aware from my interactions with many other affiliates, that many have reduced, and in some cases even stopped generating legacy links because it is so time-consuming to do so since the introduction of the JavaScript links,” CleverMoms’ Fognano says. “I am not aware of anyone I interact with on a daily basis using the Java links yet.”

Affiliate and best-selling author (The AdSense Code: What Google Never Told You About Making Money with AdSense) Joel Comm didn’t pull any punches. “For our site, DealofDay.com, CJ’s LMI requires that we totally revamp our back-end administrative tool. As of now, I’m still not sure how well the new links will work. If it comes down to it, we will just write off CJ merchants from promotion on our site. I don’t understand the logic behind making it more difficult for affiliates to link to merchants. If I were a CJ merchant, I would be extremely upset.”

Many are, but they are extremely cautious about commenting publicly.

“This was not good for affiliates or merchants. It’s only good for ValueClick,” says one CJ merchant who requested anonymity. “But there isn’t much that affiliates could do except vote with their feet and leave. That really sends a message.”

eBay, CJ’s largest advertiser, has already informed its affiliates that it will not require JavaScript links and instead it’s working on its own HTML tracking methodology. Here’s what eBay told publishers in an email:

“Many of you have asked us what eBay’s recommendation is regarding LMI and the promotions you are currently running for eBay. We have been working on a new HTML tracking methodology specifically for eBay that will work seamlessly with the Commission Junction interface so that all of the current reporting capabilities will remain supported. While we do not have a deployment date, we are confident that it will be deployed prior to the holiday season, and we recommend waiting to change any tags related to eBay US and eBay International auction-related accounts until the new eBay tag schema is available. Given that Commission Junction is taking a phased approach for publishers to change out their tags, we think this approach will cause you the least amount of disruption.”

UNITED FRONT

Many are taking a wait-and-see approach to assess the overall industry impact.

Others claim this is one of the few issues that have united nearly the entire affiliate community.

“It has caused the affiliate community to come together to sign Scott Jangro’s online petition. I think it is one of the first times we have seen the affiliate marketing community agree on something,” IMWave’s Viener says. “Clearly everyone, except maybe some people at CJ, agree that the forced LMI initiative is a bad idea. We can only hope it goes away as fast as it has arrived.”

“I think the other networks have learned something from it. If you are going to insist that your affiliates change out millions of links, there needs to be something of value in it for them. The word ‘mandatory’ should probably not be used,” Hazard says.

This strife could work in the favor of other networks.

“I think it’s got both affiliates and merchants at least concerned enough to start looking elsewhere for their affiliate solutions. LinkShare, Performics, ShareASale and the other networks, on the other hand, are loving it,” says Jangro.

“Recently there has been an increasing shift on the part of both merchants and affiliates away from the ‘big three’ networks and onto more focused and specialized tracking platforms,” says Stephanie Schwab, vice president of Converseon, which offers an alternative platform. “I think this trend will continue to grow, and if CJ pushes LMI it will accelerate even faster.”

ThePartnerMaker.com’s president, Jeff Molander, says, “CJ has already seen the defection of retail-focused advertisers and this will likely continue. First they forced BeFree customers into a public network (something they actively voted against when they chose BeFree years ago). Now the LMI sends the message that scale and automation is more important than what affiliate marketing has traditionally been built on: labor-intensive relationships.”

He continues, “ValueClick is happy to keep the many lead-generation and offer-based advertisers within CJ as these advertisers are seeking a performance-based solution that scales. ” LMI supports this.”

Choots Humphries, co-president of ad network LinkConnector, says that his company also uses JavaScript links (LinkConnector Hot Link) but makes it a voluntary decision for affiliates, since there are individual challenges and advantages to implementing the technology. “Having it be an option is the key,” he says.

Deborah Carney, the affiliate manager at Rextopia.com, likens the situation to when Coca-Cola pulled Coke off its shelves in favor of New Coke in 1985. It was an infamous public relations debacle, and the beverage giant was forced by public pressure to bring back the much-beloved soda as Classic Coke.

“Anytime you take away something and force people into a new business model, it doesn’t work,” Carney says.

Many pointed out that although other advertising systems such as Google’s AdSense use JavaScript and have never provided affiliate flexibility and control, the uproar regarding LMI is because CJ and competing affiliate systems have always granted such control and “taking it away feels like a loss,” according to Edelman.

Power Tools

Sometimes even the simplest tasks can only be performed using the right tools. There’s no point in using a chain saw when a paring knife will do the job.

These are not reviews, ratings or recommendations. It’s just a collection of software, services and tools that we’ve come across and wanted to share with you. Here they are in no specific order.

T3Report.com

CyData Services Inc., based in Austin, Texas, has taken its competitive analysis reports that detail the linking relationships of websites, previously sold exclusively to the online adult industry, and adapted them for the affiliate and performance marketing space.

Called T3Report.com, the subscription service performs its own spidering of the Web to gather data from more than 100,000 Web pages. The service can offer its subscribers competitive market analysis about who rivals are linking to and who is linking to them. It would allow affiliate managers with merchants to see the affiliates of their competitors. And the idea is to then target those affiliates to also join their programs or possibly emulate the strategy of competitors, according to officials at CyData.

The company claims all of the data gathered is publicly available, but previously it was hard to obtain – mostly because other services such as Google and Alexa go through only the first 1,000 pages of relevant data, leaving much data untouched.

There is a full-featured version as well as a light one of the offering, which can be subscribed to on a quarterly basis. Users pay to access the T3Report.com online system, which the company claims can be easily navigated by even novices after a brief tutorial.

The pricing is based on the number of domains in the report. For detailed analysis of less than 500 domains, the price is $2,700 per quarter. Pricing goes up for more than 500 domains.

The full version gives subscribers three levels of domain-linking information. For example, users would be able to find out who Walmart.com links to, who is linking to Walmart.com and then who links to those linking to Walmart.com. The light version does not delve as deep and offers only the first two levels of linking information for the user.

The company claims that, given an affiliate network link, the product can map that to the merchant, basically revealing what is in the “black box” with the affiliate network. This works because networks use LinkSynergy.com as the linking domain by affiliates, and then they redirect to the merchant. T3Report.com has more than 650,000 LinkSynergy links in its database, with more than 5 million added each day.

For each domain, the product can show how many unique domains link to it as well as the number of links. These statistics can reveal how many websites are promoting a specific merchant.

Company officials claim that they can spot all the websites that belong to a specific affiliate and track which products they are promoting. And given the same product on two networks, they can show which is doing better as far as promotions by affiliates.

ReturnOnAffiliate.com

These days communication is a big issue for online marketers. Return on Affiliate, an online affiliate marketing meeting space, is attempting to bridge the gaps of this industry and bring affiliate marketers, managers and associates together in a single place to communicate.

ReturnOnAffiliate.com is a community that includes message boards, instant messaging, private messaging, the ability to link to other members, invite friends and colleagues (like LinkedIn) into your circle, as well as the ability to create blogs. It’s free to set up an account, and members have access to searchable profiles of Return on Affiliate members.

Just one month after launching at the start of 2006, the site had more than 700 members. The groups include all types of affiliates, merchants and industry types. Everyone from working moms to Overstock.com executives are members. The site is attempting to use the popular social-networking concept to make managers, community leaders and even CEOs accessible to affiliates.

SimpleFeed Version 2.6

SimpleFeed (www.SimpleFeed.com), based in Palo Alto, Calif., unveiled an updated version of its SimpleFeed RSS service.

The new release (Version 2.6) rolled out in February builds off the company’s most recent major upgrade (Version 2.0), which came out in November. That edition was aimed at giving marketing departments more options for personalized content and increased control over the management, measurement and branding of RSS feeds by using templates as the basis for creating collateral to communicate with customers. By using templates, users are able to publish RSS feed that look like their websites, including the same images, colors, fonts and the like that customers use.

SimpleFeed Version 2.6 includes a handful of new features and functionality such as secure feeds and the ability to automatically import content as well as a light version of the product.

Like the previous release, SimpleFeed continues to publish RSS feeds through a URL that is unique to each subscriber. Version 2.6 now offers content creators the option to require a security code or authentication. Those feeds are also sent out over a secure SSL link. If a specific Web portal doesn’t support such authentication, such as Yahoo, then only a summary of the feed, not the actual feed content, will be sent. The next version of Windows – called Vista – along with Microsoft’s forthcoming upgrade to Explorer, will both support passwords and authentication.

The product’s new Web Import feature also allows content creators to put together RSS feeds another way. Users can choose a specific page number or a page range and the SimpleFeed software will automatically spider the user’s website to pull out the correct content. That content will then be queued up to be published on the site and then subsequently pushed out in an RSS feed. This functionality enables content creators to skip the step of putting together RSS feeds manually or with templates.

SimpleFeed is also offering a light version of the product, which gives users less reporting functionality. (Users get eight reports rather than the 48 that are included in the full-featured Enterprise version.) Users of the light version do not get a fully templated RSS feed. The feed is in a template, but it cannot be changed or fully customized. Company logos can be added to feeds, however. Company officials say the light version is a good way for smaller businesses to evaluate the technology at a reasonable price ($100 per month per feed).

The product also builds on capabilities from the previous version, including SimpleTag, a personalization technology that enables customers and prospects to subscribe to content categories using checkboxes on an uncluttered subscription page. The product’s Measurement and Analytics Suite sports 48 customizable reports providing insight on key RSS statistics such as subscribers, content views and clickthroughs. Feed Publishing and Management is a Web-based tool that allows feeds to be created and managed without any prior technical knowledge. New privileges provide companies with granular control of users and workflow and can readily comply with corporate communication policies.

The Affiliate AIM List

Here’s another way to facilitate communication via a very simple concept. Affiliate AIM List (AffAimList.com) is a list of the AOL Instant Messenger handles of people in the industry. Members opt to sign up and are then added to the buddy lists of all other members. That allows everyone on the list to see who is offline or logged into IM and then contact them directly.

The Affiliate AIM List was created by affiliate Adam Viener to facilitate communication among the many different parties comprising the affiliate community. Viener, president of search marketing affiliate IMWave, is a fan of AOL Instant Messenger from way back and thought the communication tool would be a great way to foster better and more frequent communication between people. The list is not a money-making vehicle but more of a community service, Viener says.

To date, it’s been well-received, and the ever-growing list boasts some high-profile industry leaders from top companies including Circuit City, Commission Junction, eBay, Fat Wallet, HomeGain, KowaBunga, LinkShare, Performics and PrimeQ. Viener says that while he’s getting lots of requests to be added to the list, only two users have asked to be removed.

SmallPalace.com

VentureDirect Worldwide recently launched its newest online lead-generation portal, SmallPalace.com, which is aimed at the home finance and home services markets.

Mortgage refinancing has exploded into one of the fastest-growing sectors of the financial services industry. In 2005, one-third of all homeowners used cash- out mortgages to refinance their homes, and more consumers are planning to divert discretionary spending to home improvements.

SmallPalace.com focuses on delivering Web-based, category-specific leads that are generated from applicants actively seeking information on new home purchases, mortgages, refinancing or a variety of home services categories such as home security and contractors.

The SmallPalace portal joins other online lead-generation sites developed by VentureDirect Worldwide, including Direct Degree (www.DirectDegree.com) for online education, Let’s Franchise (www.LetsFranchise.com) for franchise opportunities, and The Free Forum Network (www.FreeForum.com), a co-registration site.

Pic2Vid for Marketers

Sister Technologies, which provides applications and hosted services for the automated creation and management of multimedia marketing content for online retail and mobile environments, recently released its Pic2Vid for Marketers solution suite.

Pic2Vid is a Web-based solution that automatically generates streaming video content with voiceovers from digital photos and text, enabling online marketers to enhance each product and listing with attention-grabbing video clips.

The Pic2Vid for Marketers solution suite consists of two parts: Pic2Vid Hosted and Pic2Vid Enterprise.

Pic2Vid Hosted is a fully hosted, Web- based solution aimed at auction-site power sellers, small and mid-size retailers and service providers, and online marketers and affiliates. The company’s Pic2Vid Enterprise is a turnkey, scalable hardware/software solution for large brick-and-mortar retailers with significant online businesses, including auction sites, shopping sites and industry portals, as well as resellers such as aggregators, service providers, Web publishers and creative agencies. A demo of the Pic2Vid Consumer version can be found at Pic2Vid.com.

Sister Technologies is also working on a new tool, based on the Pic2Vid and “M- Plat” online editing platforms that will enable advertisers to create short video clips that would appear alongside organic search engine listings.

There are only a handful of steps involved in creating a video, and within approximately two minutes a user can create a 15-second clip that could appear beside their organic search listing or as part of a paid listing. Pricing is about 1 cent per minute of broadcast. A one- minute clip that receives a thousand views would cost the advertiser $10.

Mining for Keywords

Now that you’ve set up your search engine marketing campaign and it’s chugging along nicely, how do you take things to the next level? You’ve picked out some good keywords, written some good copy and you’re getting a reasonable ROI, but every time you look at your pay-per-click campaigns, you just know there’s more that you could be doing to maximize your investment. And you know what? You’re right.

The next step is to start prospecting for keywords that are lower in price but still bring good results. Anyone can set up a keyword campaign with all the obvious keywords and spend a bunch of money. Smart marketers know, however, that one of the best ways to beat their competition is to go after those keywords that the competition hasn’t discovered yet. More than 500 million keywords are searched every month on the major search engines, yet only 15 to 20 percent of those keywords have bids. A veritable gold rush of keywords is just waiting to happen.

Admittedly those keywords will have lower volumes of search than all of the one-word and two-word options you are currently bidding on, but the conversion rates will be higher, and by spreading your budget over a larger number of words, you minimize your monetary risk.

The Mining Process

You’ll want to utilize two methods in the mining process. One involves brainstorming, the other research, but good keyword development strategies take advantage of both.

For the first, find yourself a big blank wall and a stack of sticky notes. You’re going to use this wall to start the brainstorming process, but don’t do this alone or, even worse, with your marketing team. You are too close to your website to be objective. You’ve watched its growth and development since it was nothing more than a twinkle in the designer’s eye, and although you may try to think like your customer, nine times out of 10 you will fail to consider all the different ways someone might search for your product or service.

People search in very random ways. Most of them don’t know all the buzzwords, jargon and abbreviations associated with your business, so they don’t use them. Your marketing team may be in the habit of trying to influence your customers to behave in certain ways on your site. Many marketing teams are great at this, but their influence doesn’t extend to the way people are accustomed to searching. They are going to search their way no matter what you think, so your job is to figure out their thought process and put your website in front of them.

The best thing you can do is conduct your own informal focus group. Gather a bunch of your friends, associates, relatives and others, and sit them down in front of that blank wall. Feed them (if that’s the only way you can get them), but try to get folks who know little or nothing about your business. Tell them, “I sell widgets. If you were looking for widgets online, what would you enter into a search engine?” Then get ready to write each keyword on a sticky note as fast as you can. The reason you will want to use sticky notes is that once you have all the keywords written down, it is easy to move them around to create “buckets.” These buckets usually correspond to specific products, price and volume. Once you have those buckets, you can easily set up your categories in Yahoo and your Adgroups in Google. Having these buckets established will also allow you to write relevant titles and descriptions for each, thus minimizing the amount of time spent copywriting.

The second step in the keyword mining process involves using tools to dig for more variations on your keyword bucket themes. You can take all the words your focus group has suggested and use them to expand your lists by plugging them into such keyword research tools as:

  • Yahoo Keyword Selector Tool (searchmarketing.yahoo.com/rc/srch)
  • Google AdWords Keyword Tool (ad words.google.com/select/)
  • KeywordSandbox (https://adwords.google.com/select/ KeywordSandbox)
  • Wordtracker (www.wordtracker.com)
  • KeywordMax (www.keywordmax.com)
  • Keyword Intelligence (www.keyword intelligence.com)

Taking It to the Next Level

While brainstorming and research are crucial to the keyword prospecting process, they are much more effective when combined with other techniques. Take advantage of all the tools and advice available to make your site a veritable gold mine. Here are some time-tested ideas that have worked for me.

Add an internal search engine to your site. This will give you tons of information on how users are finding you. It will also let you know whether users are finding what they want when they get to your site. A good search engine tool can be found at www.freefind.com, or you can find many others by typing “open source search engine” into any search engine. You will want one that just searches your site rather than searching the whole Web, as you obviously don’t want to encourage users to leave your site as soon as they get there.

Check out the source code on your competitors’ sites. You may be able to get ideas for your brainstorming process from some of the keywords they are focusing on. Remember, it’s not a good idea to use the same keywords unless you offer the same product or service, but it’s a good place to start looking for ideas.

Consider your entire website. Many folks stop their keyword research on their home page. They don’t know that their internal pages can provide a wealth of new keywords to attack.

Look for all related words. Make sure you include all variations of a term. Choose words that are singular, plural, misspellings, abbreviations, etc.

As you mine, remember that a “keyword” is not just one or two words. Many keywords are now three, four, five or more words in length – these are the keywords that are producing higher ROI with less investment.

Internet users are becoming more sophisticated in how they search and are utilizing longer keyword phrases to find what they need. Marketers, fortunately for you, aren’t keeping pace with this trend, and that’s what’s driving the prices so high on the one-word and two-word search terms. By thinking a little more creatively, and pursuing more of those niche terms, you can compete very effectively against the big keyword mining companies. After all, a little bit of gold from a lot of rocks is worth just as much as one big nugget. You may have to work harder to get it, but in the end, a gold baron is a gold baron, regardless of how he made his wealth.

MARY O’BRIEN is a partner at Telic Media. She was formerly senior director of sales at Yahoo Search Marketing and is currently presenting their advertiser workshops around the country.