The Internet Marketing Driver: Glenn Gabe's goal is to help marketers build powerful and measurable web marketing strategies.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

What the Fudge?? Survival Tips for Entering The Original Fudge Kitchen at the Jersey Shore


Surviving the Original Fudge Kitchen in Cape May, NJEvery year, my family goes to the Jersey Shore for a week. We typically go to Cape May, Avalon or Stone Harbor and we always have a blast. My kids love the beach and it’s something of a tradition for us, since we’ve been going for over 10 years now. One of the things we always look forward to is hitting the Original Fudge Kitchen in the heart of Cape May for some of the best homemade fudge you can find in the Northeast. If you know the Jersey Shore, then you’ve probably heard of the Fudge Kitchen. They’ve been featured on the Food Network, have stores in several locations at the beach, and produce an outstanding product that’s hard to rival. That said, there is a slight problem… Although they produce some of the best fudge, I dread having to walk into their shops. Why you ask? Well, they tend to frustrate their customers beyond belief. If you’re a frequent visitor to my blog, then you know I believe in trending. Well, there are several tactics that the Fudge Kitchen has employed over a long period of time that can only be categorized as fostering negative word of mouth. It’s quite ironic, since their product is so darn good!

Survival Tips for Entering The Fudge Kitchen
Consider me your Jersey Shore Survival Guide. I’m here to help you, or any other person for that matter, that decides to visit the Jersey Shore and buy fudge at the Fudge Kitchen. I’m going to give you some tips that can help make your visit to the Fudge Kitchen a more pleasant experience, while helping you keep you sanity on your vacation! :)

Let’s start with the 5 things you need to say as soon as you walk through the door of a Fudge Kitchen. You’ll learn more about why after reading the rest of my post.

1. No, I don’t want a sample.
2. Yes, it’s ok if it’s a little over.
3. No, I don’t want 2 pounds of fudge to get a free box of salt water taffy.
4. No, I don’t need it gift wrapped.
5. Yes, it’s ok if you force me to take coupons that I will never, ever use.

Practice this on the ride down to the shore. The reason I want you to practice this is because you’ll need to work fast, as a team of employees will swarm you as soon as you approach and enter the shop. :)

Without further ado, here’s what annoys customers and why:

Over Sampling:
Yes, there is such as thing as over sampling. From a marketing standpoint, I always believe that giving free samples is a good idea. Let’s face it, offering samples breaks down a major barrier in the sales process and can help convert people sitting on the fence. That said, force feeding samples is never a good idea. The Fudge Kitchen is definitely guilty of force feeding fudge samples and I think everyone can use a break from it! They have 1 person standing outside with samples and engaging people that are walking by. I think this is a good idea, but most people at the shore (especially Cape May and Stone Harbor), walk the main strip of shops over and over again. I don’t need to be asked 73 times in a week if I want fudge samples. And, it’s not just me. I hear it from many other people at the shore. It has almost turned into a joke. Then once you enter the shop, do you really need more samples? I guess so. The staff behind the counter begins asking if you want more free samples… This is where the experience starts to get annoying and you begin to think, “How fast can I get some fudge and bolt out the door?”

It’s a little over…
This one irks me on several levels. In case you’ve never been to the Fudge Kitchen, you order fudge by the pound, which is broken down by pieces of fudge. A quarter pound consists of 2 pieces, a half pound of 4 pieces, and a pound is 8 pieces of fudge. I like that…since it’s easy to pick out what you want. However, and this has been tested by everyone I know that goes to the shore and buys fudge at the Fudge Kitchen, THEY ALWAYS COME BACK OVER. In the 10 years I have been going to the shore, I cannot remember one time (that’s right, not one time) that it was either a little under or right at the amount I wanted. This too has become a joke at the shore. Everyone, including strangers outside the store, joke about it being a little over. “So, was it a little over tonight?” says the old couple sitting outside the shop on the Cape May mall. “Let me guess, it was a little over and you were ok with it?” says the young couple strolling their kids by the shop. Word of mouth marketing (WOM) is a powerful thing, but negative word of mouth can be even more powerful. I even know one woman who owns a beach house in Cape May that now demands that it not be a little over! She does this just to make a point.

Why does this annoy me so much? First, it’s a little patronizing to hear this every time you order. Second, they are obviously making more money with each transaction, so what seems like a harmless extra few ounces actually costs customers more money and makes the business additional revenue. This wouldn’t bother me if it occurred occasionally…but it’s every time you order!

2 Pounds of Fudge for 1 Free Box of Salt Water Taffy
No matter how many times I go to the Fudge Kitchen, I have to hear the sales pitch for salt water taffy. “If you buy 2 pounds of fudge, you’ll get a free box of salt water taffy!” The first 100 times was fine, but the next 473 started to annoy me. I’ve heard it so much, that it’s burned into my memory! OK, I get it…2 lbs of fudge = 1 free box of taffy…now create a sign, post it up on the counter, and let me get out of here! Upselling is one thing, but you can do it without annoying your customers.

Gift Wrapping
At this point, you’ve dealt with the over sampling, the “it’s a little over syndrome”, and the salt water taffy “deal”. Believe me, you have two things on your mind at this point, to get your fudge and get the heck out of Dodge. But, you aren’t done yet my friend. Now you’re asked if you want the fudge gift wrapped for free. Again, a nice gesture, but every single time you buy something, you have to hear this… “No, I just want to eat my fudge! You know, what I came for in the first place!” My kids are salivating, I’ve now wasted precious minutes of my life in your establishment, and I just want some freaking fudge. Ahhhhhh! Here’s a tip for the Fudge Kitchen. It’s a great idea to offer free gift wrapping, but again, invest in some signage and let people ask for it. Then you won’t frustrate your customers.

Coupon Stuffing
Now you probably think you’re in the clear, but unfortunately you’re not. Yes, you will have already started that slight walk towards the door as your order is being rung up, but the person helping you will turn around with a new time waster! Yes, now you have to hear about the coupons that you will be leaving with. Are you kidding me, Fudge Kitchen? I can’t even tell you what the coupons are for, since I typically zone out at this point, feeling woozy from the over selling, the over stuffing, the over sampling, and the over everything at The Fudge Kitchen. The last thing I remember was my wife grabbing the coupons, throwing my son over my shoulder, dragging my daughter out of the shop by her arm, and then all of us almost running over a few elderly people as we made a run for it. The Fudge Kitchen had literally driven us over the edge!

Lessons Learned:
So, if you are headed to the Jersey Shore and want some unbelievable fudge and think you’re brave enough to withstand the frustrating forces of the Original Fudge Kitchen, then follow my life saving tips below. You won’t regret it.

1. Don’t make eye contact with the sampler outside the shop. Look at your watch for an extended period of time, have your wife point to something in the sky, and then walk briskly into the shop.

2. Be prepared to accept the overage of fudge. Yes, over time this will add up and drive you crazy, but it’s probably best to enjoy the additional fudge and keep the process moving at the Fudge Kitchen so you can get the beach before the year 2046.

3. 1 free box of salt water taffy is not worth ordering 2 pounds of fudge! That’s 16 pieces of fudge! You don’t want to eat that much fudge and then have to do anything for the next week. :)

4. Bring a bunch of singles and lots of change with you. This way, you can give them the exact amount for your order and avoid two of the annoying pitfalls of the Fudge Kitchen (the gift wrapping questions and the coupon stuffing). You can grab your fudge and bolt from the store like a bat out of hell.

Quick Summary:
Again, the Original Fudge Kitchen has some of the best fudge you will find in the Northeast. Nobody questions that and it’s why I keep going back. However, as a marketer, I do question their sales and customer service tactics. Their product is so good that they really don’t need all the bells and whistles, especially when those bells and whistles actually do the opposite of what they are intended to do. They simply annoy and frustrate their customers and make them question whether or not they should return to the Fudge Kitchen. The good news is that this can change. The owners of the Fudge Kitchen can stop making their customers jump through hoops and start listening to them instead. If they do, then the sky is the limit. And more importantly, countless innocent vacationers won’t have to leave Cape May saying “What the Fudge?” ever again. :)

GG

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Thursday, July 17, 2008

Google Indexes Flash Content (SWF), Some Initial Questions, Concerns, and Findings


Google Indexing Flash Content (SWF)On June 30th, Google announced that it was working with Adobe in order to index flash content and thousands of flash developers around the globe rejoiced! Having developed countless flash applications, I fully know the impact of making sure flash content is crawlable for SEO. Until now, many developers were faced with a big question from marketers (and that question typically came at the end of the project), “How do I make sure our flash content can be indexed by Google?” This was never a comfortable situation for flash developers… Needless to say, the news that Google will index flash content is a big step forward for content providers, marketers, and for the engines. That said, I did have some serious questions and concerns after I heard the news. I understand flash development extremely well and I’m neck deep in SEO, so it was natural for me to start thinking about this from both perspectives.

Over the past few days, I’ve been testing several flash movies and applications across my sites to see how Google has indexed them. Below, I have listed some concerns and questions, based on my experience with flash, SEO, and my research and testing over the past few days. Keep in mind, this is by no means final…I plan to write more about how the search engines index flash content over the next few months. I know this is a dynamic area for search engine optimization.

Questions, Concerns, and Findings About Google Indexing Flash Content:

1. Indexing the Core SWF File (the parent swf)
Based on what Google explained in their communication, it will index the core swf file on the page, but not associate dynamically loaded files (other swfs, xml, etc.) with the original flash file. Now, there are many reasons to load content dynamically and most professional flash developers are using these techniques to keep their content fresh and to maintain a small file size. In addition, Google said that it won’t index FLV files (which are typically loaded on demand into a parent swf), because they don’t contain any text content.

My concern is that best practices may not be used so marketers can get all of their text content into one swf. In addition, loading xml data to keep your content up to date (such as pulling the latest product information from a database) won’t be associated with the parent swf (from an SEO standpoint). So, if developers start to add more and more content into the parent SWF file, then file size can become a real issue. I know bandwidth isn’t as big of a problem as in the past, but the proper way to code multi-section flash applications is to load additional SWF files into the parent SWF. So, get ready for more, “Loading Site” animations. :) I can only hope that Google and the other engines decide to associate externally loaded content with the parent SWF file.

2. Black Hat SEO’s Must Be Chomping at the Bit!
OK, this one hit me right away and concerns me greatly. As a flash developer, you typically display text content on the fly, based on how the user is interacting with your flash movie. For example, you might have movieclips in Flash that only display when someone triggers that feature in your application (i.e. to view the latest products you have). These movieclips aren’t visible until needed. I think you can see where I am going with this… In my tests, Google indexed all of the text content in the parent SWF, including text in movieclips that may never be triggered.

Now, the fact that Google indexed all of the text content is great for white hat SEO’s, but could be extremely dangerous in the hands of a black hat SEO. I fear that some may include dozens of movieclips stuffed with keywords in order to get those terms indexed by Google. In flash, you can basically add code to any object at your disposal. So how will Google decipher what’s real text content versus text content that’s there to game their algorithm? In HTML, you pretty much know if something is hidden. In flash, how do you know if something is really hidden? For example, let’s say you had a product image and some text show up when someone rolled over a small button in the corner of the screen. Let’s say 2% of users realize it’s a button and trigger it. Is that wrong? Is that against the rules? Take that example to the nth degree and you can see why I’m concerned. I’m eager to see how Google combats black hat tactics now that flash is being indexed. And more importantly, will you (as a white hat SEO) become collateral damage if they tweak the algorithm to handle this??

3. Obfuscation and SWFEncrypt
Many flash developers use tools like SWFEncrypt to obfuscate their code. I know, horrible word, right? Try saying that 5 times really fast. :) Obfuscation encrypts your code so other programmers can’t steal it. It bumps up your file size somewhat, but helps you protect what you’ve spent hours writing! My initial concern was that if Google decompiles your flash movies to find text content, what will it do with the your obfuscated code? But I’ll stop there, as Google explained that it won’t be decompiling flash movies. I was happy to hear this… So, programmers of the world, keep obfuscating! ;-)

4. Flash Publishing, Choose your method wisely…
There are several ways to output your flash movie (SWF) in your HTML code. In a nutshell, you can use standard object and embed tags, you can use JavaScript to write out your flash movie, or you can use SWFObject to elegantly provide flash content while providing alternative HTML content. SWFObject has a few different versions that you can use, and one relies on JavaScript and the other is a standards-compliant version that doesn’t rely on JavaScript. So, how will all of these publishing methods impact your flash indexation? I definitely recommend testing each of these methods out on your own sites to gauge their effectiveness. However, Google has already said that it won’t execute some types of JavaScript. So, as you can guess, using JavaScript to publish your flash content probably isn’t the best way to go at this stage. :) That would include SWFObject 1.0 and 1.5 (for now). Google said that it is working on an update for SWFObject, but does that include 1.0 and 1.5? That said, SWFObject 2.0 using static publishing (standards-compliant) doesn’t rely on JavaScript and I’ve noticed some strong results indexation-wise.

This is such a fluid situation, that you should test out your own flash content on your own sites to see how they get indexed. In addition, keep up to date on the latest changes Google is making regarding indexing flash content. My guess is that the changes will be relatively frequent as Google learns more.

My Flash SEO Advice
So there you have it, 4 concerns and observations that I’ve had since the news hit that Google will be indexing flash content. I have listed some quick advice below:

* Don’t assume Google will automatically index all of your flash content. That would be a big mistake, as there are numerous factors involved with how you code and publish your flash movies.
* Don’t run and create an all-flash site! Please don’t do this for numerous reasons… ;-)
* Test your flash content on several sites that you control, using various publishing methods. This is the best way to gauge how your flash content is being indexed.
* Keep up to speed on how Google changes its algorithm with regard to flash content. The techniques that you use today may need to be tweaked tomorrow. That’s the just the nature of SEO.

Quick Summary
As I wrap up this post, I wanted to reemphasize that this is a big step forward for Google and the other engines, Adobe, and countless content producers across the world. I’ve been waiting for this day for a long time and I’m excited to track the progress of flash indexation. If you have discovered any interesting results, please feel free to include them here as a comment. I know I’ll be writing new posts about this topic as time goes on, based on my own testing. Now off to code and test some more flash movies! :)

GG

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Thursday, July 10, 2008

SEO, The Multi-Channel Channel, How Search Engine Optimization Crosses Online Marketing Channels


How SEO Crosses Internet Marketing Channels.So you are probably asking yourself, “What’s a multi-channel channel?” Good question! When you take a look at the various online marketing channels, SEO has some special characteristics. It’s part of the reason that I love working on Natural Search projects. As many of you probably know already, on-site SEO is extremely important. Optimizing your website for Natural Search is a prerequisite for gaining top rankings. Making sure you have a clear path for the bots to index your site is extremely important, minimizing errors on your site, optimizing your navigation, linking structure, ensuring you are throwing the correct header response codes, and optimizing the core html elements on each page are all important. But let’s face it, inbound links are still incredibly important. I’m referring to links from other websites, preferably from powerful and relevant sites in your industry. This is where SEO and Natural Search start to cross channels. Read on.

So How is SEO a Multi-Channel Channel?
Whenever I have a whiteboard in front of me and the conversation shifts to SEO, I get to sketch my multi-channel chart. For argument’s sake, let’s say that you’ve already done an incredible job at optimizing your website structure and want to start increasing your SEO power. Chances are you will sit down with your team and start brainstorming link-building ideas. As you start to map out ideas, it will become extremely clear that you’re now talking about more than just SEO…you will be including other online marketing channels as part of the conversation. I can guarantee it.

The Multi-Channel Ramble:
Here we go… As part of your link-building conversation, you will inevitably start brainstorming ways to utilize social media and social networking sites to get the word out about your content. For example, sites like StumbleUpon, Digg, Mixx, YouTube, Flickr, Twitter, FriendFeed, Propeller, del.icio.us, and many others depending on your niche. You will also want to start a blog, which will be your platform for providing additional content on your site that can provide value to your visitors. You might also start brainstorming viral marketing campaigns using video, user generated content, web applications, and mobile applications. In addition, you might launch contests and sweepstakes too. You might brainstorm widgets and social applications, which can also impact your inbound links. Then, as you build new campaigns, you will probably leverage your PR department to help get the word out. And while you’re at it, you might tap into your loyal base of customers to help spread the word about your new content and tools (maybe starting with your in-house email list). Then, as part of your keyword research process for SEO, you might run some Paid Search campaigns to test the impact of various groups of keywords. And by the way, you will be working with your web analytics team to track all of these efforts at a granular level…

So, based on my multi-channel ramble above, you would have touched upon:
1. SEO
2. Blogging
3. Social Media
4. Viral Marketing
5. Word of Mouth Marketing
6. PR
7. SEM
8. Mobile Marketing
9. Email Marketing
10. Video Marketing

Now, can you see why I call SEO the multi-channel channel? ;-) Based on our example above, you would be hitting 10 marketing channels during your link-building campaign. Not bad for a little word like SEO, huh?

SEO and the future
Will what I explained above always be the case? I believe that as emerging technologies expand (like Mobile and IPTV), you’ll probably be able to add more channels to the list and not less! Will inbound links be the lifeblood of Natural Search in the future? I don’t know. Right now, it’s still the best way to determine how third parties feel about your content by casting votes (or links) to your site. And as long as that’s the case, then developing ways to increase your inbound links will be critical (which will keep SEO as a multi-channel channel.)

But let’s face it…technology moves at light speed. 10 years from now, we might be talking about CommuniRank™, ParsecRank™ or GabeRank™ versus Pagerank™. OK, I had to throw my name in there! :) The point is that whatever the measure is for increasing your natural search power, you will probably be leveraging a wide range of marketing channels to help increase your rankings. I don’t see that changing any time soon.

So, if you focus on SEO and someone asks what you do, get them a cup of coffee, a doughnut, and grab a conference room with a whiteboard. Then take them through the incredible, multi-channel channel that is SEO.

GG

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Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Twitter For Business, 4 Things You Should Be Using Twitter For Today to Help Your Business


Using Twitter to connect with your customers.I’m a big fan of Twitter, the microblogging service that has become ridiculously popular over the past year or two. Whenever I tell someone about Twitter, I typically get a strange look. That’s especially true if I started explaining how I just “tweeted” something. A few chuckles usually follow and then I typically receive my first question, “So, what is Twitter?” After explaining what the service is (and what it isn’t), I usually get the next question, “Well, how can I use Twitter for my business?” Seriously, this happens all the time…it’s definitely a trend. Enough of a trend that I was thinking about recording my response on my Blackberry and then just hitting play when needed. ;-)

I believe Twitter is a powerful tool for connecting with customers (and prospective customers) on several levels. So, after hearing the questions I listed above too many times, I thought it would be smart (and helpful) to write this post. Now, if you don’t think that Twitter can help your business (whether you are a large or small business), then please read on. I’ll provide 4 ways you should be using Twitter today (yes, today) to help your business.

Defining Microblogging, Twitter and Your Followers
Let’s start with a few definitions. Twitter is a microblogging service that enables you to send short messages (140 characters or less) via SMS, IM, Email, and even via applications that were developed for Twitter (by third parties). Most of you who have heard of Twitter probably think of SMS (or Text Messaging), since that’s the communication mechanism that’s commonly connected with Twitter, so to speak. When you sign up for the service, you can start “following” others, and they in turn, can start “following” you. When you follow someone, you receive their “tweets”, which are their short messages, which will show up in your timeline. You can also choose to have those messages sent to your mobile phone via SMS. When people follow you, they are choosing to receive your “tweets”, or messages. Sounds simple, right? It definitely is simple from that standpoint, but the power of Twitter is in how you use it.

4 Things You Can Use Twitter For Today to Enhance Your Business
And when I say “today”, I mean today. You should sign up and get moving. If you follow the four bullets listed below, I’m confident you’ll see the power of Twitter. You just need to give it a try.

1. Connect with your followers and customers, and provide VALUE to them.
Twitter provides a powerful way to keep in touch with your customers. Think about it. You can start to promote your Twitter account in all your communications, in your email signature, on your cards, on your blog, your website, etc. to start to build up your followers. Some of your customers are going to dig Twitter because they want direct and fast contact with someone at your company. Twitter provides an unbelievable way for your customers to get in touch with you, and for you to get back in touch with them. For example, let’s say you have a new product launch. You can send a series of tweets out to your group of followers. You might even have some of your followers retweet your original message, which can really help get the word out. Are you expecting a service outage as part of an upgrade? Send a tweet to your customers letting them know that the service will be down for a few hours. Think about how many calls you will save your customer service center. Again, many of your followers will have SMS turned on, which means they will get your message on their mobile phone (wherever they are), versus just email…

I’m also a big fan of educating your customers on a regular basis. Keep in mind that this shouldn’t be about self promotion (completely). It could be more about your industry. For example, send tweets to your followers about industry news, cool websites you find, helpful blog posts, new tools that launch, etc. You can stay in front of your customers by providing valuable content that actually helps them. It’s a win win. So after you sign up for Twitter, launch a quick campaign for getting your customers to follow you. Explain the benefits to them and then point them to Twitter. Gain your following quickly.

2. Twitter for Customer Service (TFCS)
This is similar to the first bullet point, but more from a customer service angle. Using Twitter, you have the ability to handle customer service issues in near real time. I’ve seen quite a few tweets from people who are upset about a product or service WHILE THEY ARE USING IT. Imagine that this was your product or service. You might have the ability to resolve an issue before it gets worse…and before they tweet more…or blog about it…and maybe, yes maybe, they become loyal customers since you handled their situation so promptly. How about questions about your service? I have seen (and been part of), questions about products or services. For example, “Which smartphone do you like best?” “Which HDTV do you guys recommend?” or “Which vacation spot do you like better, Cabo or Hawaii and why?” These are great opportunities to learn what people are saying and you can easily join the conversation (just don’t hop in and start pitching your product). If you can provide valuable information, then feel free to get in touch with the person or group in question. This could be a great way for you to connect with many influential people in an industry.

3. Twitter and PR, Monitor Tweets and Respond Accordingly
Most PR professionals are using a number of tools to monitor chatter on the web, such as Google Alerts. Twitter should be another tool in your arsenal. I can tell you first hand how representatives of companies have gotten in touch with me based on my tweets. Some of my original messages were positive and others were not, but regardless, you can benefit as a company from monitoring these messages (and any replies). For example, looking for people buzzing about your products or services? You might find a number of people on Twitter that keep tweeting about your products. Well, get in touch with them! On the flip side, if you find a person that just hammered your product or brand, get in touch with them too. Twitter can be a great way to curb negative word of mouth. Putting a human element in the mix when someone is frustrated can be a great way to nip the problem in the bud. Maybe it was a miscommunication or that customer didn’t know about the latest upgrade or product offering. A simple Direct Message within Twitter might resolve the entire situation…and they might even tweet about the positive experience after it has been resolved. You cannot be afraid of doing this… If you are, then you won’t reap the benefits of the community. It’s similar to situations where I am talking to companies about blogging and I hear the question, “But what if we get a negative comment?” If that person is you, overcome this fear…you won’t regret it.

There are some good examples of companies using Twitter to connect with customers. For example, Omniture, Comcast, and Carnival Cruise Lines. I hope to see many more companies follow their lead.

4. Connect with others in your industry.
I have met some incredible people from all over the world using Twitter, and I can honestly say that I never would have met them without using the service. Actually, it’s really funny when you connect with someone close to your location and you never knew they were there! That has also happened to me a few times. It’s pretty easy in Twitter to find like minded people. You can use third party tools to search through tweets to find people talking about specific industries, products, services, brands, etc. Once you find their profile, you can easily start following them, and then you can check out their followers. Chances are you’ll find a number of additional people to follow in a relatively short period of time. Then, those people might start following you.

Now don’t stop there… You should join the conversation and communicate with others (yes, that means 2 way communication). If you do join the conversation (and I recommend you do versus sitting there reading tweets), then you can brainstorm, get answers, share ideas, and collaborate all via Twitter. Heck, you might find new partners, business opportunities, and ways to market…all via microblogging! I bet you never thought that would happen. :)

So there you have it. 4 ways to use Twitter today to enhance your business. Is it time consuming? You bet. Will it take a little time to get used to? Absolutely. Will it also take time to build a following? Definitely. But, in the end my hope is that you will come back to this post and comment about how happy you are that you took my advice! ;-) It’s all about execution, and now you need to take action. If you are still unsure, feel free to provide your questions below (or just get in touch with me). And, don’t forget to follow me on twitter. Hey, I can be your first “follow”. :)

Tweet Tweet

GG

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