My iPhone showed me the value of a social media & support

I am, at least in my personal life, reluctant to ask for support. In certain things, like improving my diet and exercise, you might as well pin a badge on me and call me Lone Ranger.

I have an iPhone and use the Nike gps tracker to track mileage and pace. I love it – I really respond to measurement and it gives me all sorts of great information.

The Nike gps app has what I thought was a ridiculous facebook feature, but have come to love. I actually had it turned off for months, but since I’m a bit of a geek when it comes to technology, I decided to give it a whirl. The application posts to my facebook wall that I’ve started to run. It also encourages my friends to “Cheer me on” – and if someone posts during my run, I hear a cheer in my headphones. The first time I heard a cheer, I didn’t even know what it was… but now have come to really like them. I respond positively to this feedback regardless of whether I’m having a good, or bad run. I’ve been surprised who has cheered me on, and feel closer to them.

I recommend anyone who generally “goes it alone” to consider opening up to support from your network, in a way that works for you. I even downloaded the facebook app for my iphone so if others in my network use the app, or something like it, I can cheer them on too! I think everyone likes a cheer.

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New cyclist in Vancouver – taking to the streets

I have been considering becoming a bike commuter for about 2 years. I almost bought a bike in the fall/winter of 2007 but decided to wait until the summer. I then became pregnant with my son Devan and biking was put on hold. But now, Devan is now 10 months, it’s beautiful and sunny in Vancouver (some say too hot, but come on, we get rain 8 months of the year, so no complaining from me!) so I made the commitment today and bought a bike.

I thought I’d write a bit about my experience as a newby on the roads and “personalize” my blog with occassionally writing about my biking experiences.

The Bike purchasing experience
I have the fortune of living only a few blocks from Vancouver’s wonderful and eclectic Commercial Drive. So, last Sunday on one of the “no cars on The Drive” days I went to our local bike shop, Bikes on the Drive at about 3:20. I was met with a wonderfully knowlegdeable sales person who took my information, and recommended some options, 3 different bikes. She then told me that given the lateness of the day, the shop closing in, now, 20 minutes, there really wasn’t enough time for me to test drive and purchase the bike today, but please come back on another day and they’d be happy to help.

A quick bit of personal background… I’m the kind of person that when I’ve decided to do something, I just go to a single location and expect I can walk out on the same trip with all my decisions made and if all goes well, the actual purchase fully kitted and ready to go. So, please understand when I tell you that I was quite confused and more than a bit ticked I couldn’t just buy my bike. I mean, it’s probably worth almost 2k to the shop… why not keep helping me a bit after closing??

With my two small children and my husband wanting to go home rather than find another bike shop that was willing to take my money, and with the consideration I believe in supporting my local community and want to develop a bit of a relationship with my “bike shop”, I decided I would go first thing on Tuesday morning (when I had a bit of time between things) to go down and buy my bike.

Now in the meantime, I did look on Craigs List (and found some 250 used bikes) and I could have bought used, but I really felt like I didn’t know enough to buy used. I am in all ways a newbie and want to make my new commute pleasant enough that I won’t ditch the idea in three weeks. So, after being overwhelmed with the number of used bikes and having no idea how to choose and not wanting to spend the hours and hours and hours of research to figure it out… I went back to my original plan which was buy new this time and when I need to replace this bike, then I’ll consider used. Now, on with the story…

First thing in the morning at the bike shop is not 9 am, or 10am (as I found out after I showed up with wallet in hand at 10am) but 11am. Sigh, no luck fitting it in on Tuesday morning. But I planned to leave on vacation on Thursday morning and I want to take my bike with me, so instead of working on Tuesday afternoon, I showed up to the bike shop at about 1:30pm.

Again, the service was phenomenal, a wonderful person named Rene helped me, and he was great. Lots of information, some sound advice and very little “salesy behaviour” which with my buying style just meant that I bought more instead of less.

At about 2:30 after test driving 2 bikes (I cut one of the bikes out of the equation) and going through a fair amount of accessorie discussions, I am almost fully kitted with a new Bike. I don’t have rain gear, panniers, or special clothing, but other than that, I’m good. Certainly enough for my first month of summer commuting. Just shy of $2k (which was my budget) spent. Now some may think “holy cow, that’s a lot” and some will think “could have been worse”. I know you can spend almost nothing and commute in Vancouver, but I wanted a bike that would keep me happy and keep me commuting. I am replacing my commute vehicle (a van) and am not such a ”hard core” environmentalist that I wouldn’t go back to our 1 car, if my bike commute wasn’t reasonable. So getting a bike that was light, sturdy and commute friendly was important to me and I think the features and price were appropriate.

I have a great bike (now understood much better by some reading reviews) with appropriate accessories and it will be all ready on Thursday before I leave on vacation:

  • Devinci Copenhagen Bike
  • Helmet
  • Fenders
  • Tail light
  • Odometer
  • Bike Rack
  • Water bottle holder
  • Cool pack for on top of my rack
  • Bike Lock
  • Tire and seat post lock thingies

Even though the hours and first experience was a disappointing for me, I would really recommend Bikes on the Drive. The staff are friendly, supportive, not the least bit “cliche” and incredibly knowledgeable and forthright. Just don’t expect to see open doors before 11am or doors to stay open after closing. Which, on the Drive, in Vancouver, at a bike shop, may not be all that surprising.

I’m on vacation for a few days around the long weekend, my first official commute day won’t be until August 4th, and as long as I survive Vancouver traffic, I’ll post again ;)

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Google Analytics – a few “advanced” features

Important advanced features from Google Analytics

Once you have the basics down, you’ll want to dig a little deeper into some of the advanced features that Google Analytics has to offer.

Goals
Your Web site should allow your visitors to accomplish something. Think about what you want your users to do when they visit your site. It could be making an online donation, purchasing a product, filling out a quote request form or viewing a document library. Whatever your goals are, they should be measurable and Google Analytics will help you track them.

To set up a goal, click on Analytics Settings at the top of the page, then click on Edit next to the profile you want to set up goals for. The second section on the next page will be called Conversion Goals and Funnel. Set up your goals here by clicking on Edit next to an empty goal slot and following the instructions.

After your goals have been established, you can track them by clicking on the Goals option from the dashboard. The number that you’ll be most interested in is conversion rate. This is simply the percentage of visitors that came to your site and then completed one of your goals. Knowing this number will allow you to tweak your site in order to make your conversion rate go up.

Site Search
If your Web site doesn’t have a built-in search function, you may want to give the Google site search a try. It easy to set up and install (though you may have to ask your webmaster to deal with the HTML part) and it integrates with Google Analytics.

Why is the site search important? Visitors will use a site search when they don’t immediately find what they are looking for. Knowing what visitors are searching for is important. If you notice that hundreds of visitors are searching for “jobs” on your Web site, it means that information about jobs is important and not readily available. This will allow you to make information about jobs easier to find, therefore giving your visitors a better experience.

AdWords
Google AdWords is a program that allows you to pay for your placement on Google’s search results page. If you want more information on this program, check out this article on SEO. If you have a Google AdWords account established, you can integrate it with your Google Analytics account. This will allow you to view reports on how much traffic is coming from your Google AdWords advertisements and how much is coming from other sources. Knowing this will allow you to make informed decisions about how much money to put toward search engine advertising.

Site Overlay
Site Overlay is a useful feature found under the Content section. Clicking this report will launch an image of your Web site home page, with statistics on where users are clicking on the page. This is useful information if you care about how your home page is laid out. Perhaps something that you thought really stood out is being ignored by most visitors. Knowing this will allow you to make small changes to the layout of your home page in order to do a better job of directing visitors’ actions.

These are just a few of the advanced features that Google Analytics offers.

Using this powerful tool to its fullest extent will allow you to make informed decisions about your Web site. So if you can afford free, jump in and give Google Analytics a try.

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SEO, Google and Flash

Most folks have heard the good news, but just in case you haven’t – Google has ade some improvements in how they index Adobe Flash files.

Here’s a quick summary, and a link below to the Google Webmaster Central Blog where there is more details.

Google uses a searchbot called Googlebot to crawls sites and rank content.

Quoted from the Google webmaster blog:

To date, when Google encounters SWF files on the web, we can:

  • Index textual content displayed as a user interacts with the file. We click buttons and enter input, just like a user would.
  • Discover links within Flash files.
  • Load external resources and associate the content with the parent file.
  • Support common JavaScript techniques for embedding Flash, such as SWFObject and SWFObject2.
  • Index sites scripted with AS1 and AS2, even if the ActionScript is obfuscated. Update on June 19, 2009: We index sites with AS3 as well. The ActionScript version isn’t particularly relevant in our Indexing process, so we support older versions of AS in addition to the latest.

If you’d like to read more go to:

http://googlewebmastercentral.blogspot.com/2008/06/improved-flash-indexing.html

http://googlewebmastercentral.blogspot.com/search?q=flash

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Quoting Services Projects — how it turned out

An update to this February post…

The project was completed successfully, I think versioning the estimates is a good option if you aren’t already in the ground floor.

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I was recently working with a client, putting together a quote for some web development work. This work had two major components:

  1. Website Design
  2. Website Development / Deployment on a CMS

The customer required, as so many customers do, a quote for the project before starting. Not unreasonable, because it’s possible they could go into the project with a 100k budget and without a firm quote, the same project could turn out to be a $250k budget disaster.

The services team I was working with wanted to really iron out the scope of the project before committing to any pricing. Many services teams have faced the problem of quoting too early and having “client assumed” scope creep into their project. Bringing more scope into the project without an effective way to say “that wasn’t in the scope” is often responsible for driving down the gross margin and eroding all the profit out of many services projects. It’s hard to tell a cleint “we didn’t agree that was in scope” if the scope is a few vague lines made up by the sales exec.

This scenario often ends up putting a lot of stress between the sales arm of an organization and the delivery arm of an organization. Sales will twist any nearby arm to get a quote from services and services will spend gobs of “unallocated” money in the sales cycle trying to nail down the client so they know what they are going to deliver. This struggle can often be seen by reviewing Statements of Work (SOW) or Project quote documents. The version put together by sales will be high level and vague, the version put together by the services department will be detailed and outline all the specific deliverables.

I’ve lived on both sides of the equation, and both are correct, but they have different goals. Sales wants to close the deal (and get their commission), Services knows they need to deliver a profitable project (and get their performance bonus). The incentives set up for the organization to succeed really do pit these two teams somewhat against one another in this particular scenario.

So, how does a services company give a quote to a customer that doesn’t leave either the customer, or the company assuming too much risk? It’s tricky, particularly if it’s a competitive situation and companies are squaring off on talent and price.

Here are my thoughts and some options:

  • Get in early and get a strategy project without coupling it to the rest of the delivery. These deals often close faster, and puts your organization into the ‘trusted advisor’ role with your customer. You can get paid for all that information gathering and then provide a really good estimate for the rest of the project.

 

  • Break up the project into phases and only quote on the next phase – give wide estimates (+/-) for the rest of the phases

 

  • Time & Materials – does anyone truly get a time & materials project anymore? Beware of the “time & materials” project that has a cap – also known as a fixed bid project without the 20% contingency!

 

  • Version the estimates. Detail out as much as you can, give an estimate and version that estimate. Have the customer sign off on that estimate and it’s related scope. Place a clause in the quote that you will notify the customer if anything comes up that increases scope and therfore the cost, essentially putting in a change control mechanism.

 

  • Find out the clients overall budget and work a top-down quote using “budget buckets” like this:

 

  • Strategy – 20%
  • Design – 30%
  • Development & Deployment – 50%

 

The nice thing about the last two methods is that you can work closely with the client to manage scope… if they want to stay in budget, they’ll work with you to cut features and functionality, or quite often, they find extra money to get that widget they all want on the site.

How did I solve my last quoting troubles? Well, I chose to version the project quote, we closed the deal and kicked off the project. I’ll know in a few months how it will turn out.

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Google Analytics – A very basic overview

I was recently working with a client and recommended (as I do to pretty much everyone) that they sign up for Google Analytics. If you are a small to medium (and even large) business with a website and don’t have Google Analytics setup – well, get it setup!

If you don’t know what it does, Google Analytics provides a free service that gives you lots of information about the traffic on your website. Google Analytics is free, easy to setup, and easy to use. If you don’t have it setup and would like it setup, put a comment on this blog that you would like to be contacted about getting Google Analytics setup on your site (many software packages have integration with Google so it will take 10 mins, and some don’t and it might take an hour or two).

How do I start?

It’s very simple to sign up for an account, go to: http://www.google.com/analytics/

With everything Google does, they do everything they can to help make it very easy. One “technical” step that Google just can’t do for you, is to insert a bit of code into each of your pages (done via templates if you have a CMS). So, if you had someone develop your website and you’re not comfortable messing with the site, just have your webmaster, developer a call. It really shouldn’t take them long, and really, should have been part of your site build.

Once you log in you’re presented with the Dashboard, it contains all the basic information about the traffic to your website.

Visits: The total amount of people that came to your Web site during the reporting period.

Pageviews: The total number of Web pages on your site that were viewed during the reporting period. If a person comes to your Web site and visits 10 pages, it will count as 10 pageviews.

Pages/Visit: The average number of pages each visitor went to during their visit. It’s simply the Pageviews divided by the Visits.

Bounce Rate: This is the percentage of people that visited your Web site and then left right away, without viewing any other pages.

Avg. Time on Site: The average time each visitor spent on your Web site.

% New Visits: The percentage of visitors that came to your Web site for the first time.

Map Overlay: This map shows you where your visitors are coming from geographically.

Traffic Sources: This area tells you where your website traffic is coming from, if you consistently get traffic from referring websites, search engines, or direct traffic. For example, this website refers to my company website, so when I view the Traffic report for Kindred, this site comes up as a referrer website.

Just viewing the Dashboard and the few reports (click thru – check them out) gives you lots of information that is useful. Most people are surprised where their traffic is coming from and where it heads on their site. Drilling in further provides a wealth of information about how you can better optimize your site to convert visitors into customers, which will be part of a future blog.

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Start with the end in mind

I often run up against clients that have implemented a new (insert technology product) and end up disappointed 6 months, or a year down the line because the product didn’t solve the issues they thought it would, and typically, the product is blamed.This happens to all sizes and shapes of organizations. From small businesses to large, from very low tech, to very high tech.

For example… take a typical new website and WCM (web content management) implementation, this is how the story typically goes…

“Our website looks dated and doesn’t come up when I search for our product line on Google. We need an easy way for marketing and product management to update the website with information, the IT guys are a nightmare to work with and take too long, why do we need developers for updating text??”

At this point, typically, someone is assigned the task of comparing WCM products, feature lists, pricing, hosted, non-hosted etc and given the task of “implementing” a new system. Now, some companies (and people) do a better job at the task when compared to others but the *vast* majority end up in 6 – 12 months saying “it isn’t working, we should re-evaluate”. And *typically* it’s not the system but how it’s configured that’s the issue.

That’s why I recommend starting with the end in mind.

What will be different when you have this system in place?

Generally if folks start talking about what will be different or what they want out of a system, it is fairly easy to draw out the high level business requirements that are really wanted, versus, a new WCM system.

Just like buying anything, websites come in all shapes and sizes, people can spend nothing to $1M + dollars on a website.

It’s important on any project to carefully consider what you need your website to do for your business or organization.

What are you planning on achieving with your website?

Drive new sales?
Service existing members?
Provide information for niche customers?
Co-ordinate existing offline marketing activities with the website?

The website business, although ancient in terms of technology, is still full of people who want to charge businesses too much for things that can be done simply and elegantly. Now, some businesses really do benefit from a 500k website and give their visitors a unique experience that drives their brand to the next level, but that is the minority.

If you feel like your designer, WCM provider, or VP of Marketing is talking a foreign language and failing to translate. You can do something very simple… start with the end in mind.

What should your website be doing for your business? How will it be different?

Make sure you make those goals the goals of the project and don’t allow anyone to tell you the project is complete until those goals have been achieved. It isn’t the implementation of a new technology that “completes” the project. The completion of the project comes when the business goals have been met.

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5 qualities of a good charitable organization website

I’ve had the pleasure of working with a number of non-profit organizations and many have made great strides in effectively using the internet and email to raise awareness for their organization, communicate to their constituents and drive donations.

The web offers fantastic communication tools for hardly any cost. Non-profit organizations should invest in their website, online marketing and email strategy in order to get maximum return on investment.

This will be the first, in a series of topics related to non-profits, so be sure to check back over the coming weeks.

#1 – Clean, professional design with quality imagery!! Many charitable organizations lack a simple, clean, design and many don’t use imagery, that’s a huge mistake. A picture is worth 10,000 words when it comes to a website. Often organizations use college interns, or someone volunteers to build a website, which is very kind, but not always the best choice. There are designers that are both good and cost effective, and some organizations that specialize and give discounts to non-profits. Find them! Here are two charitable sites that I think have good designs, both very different, but nice and clean.

  • Big Sisters of BC Lower Mainland — http://www.bigsisters.bc.ca
  • Union Gospel Mission in Vancouver  — http://www.ugm.ca

#2 – Updated, clean and relevant content – whether it’s news items, a blog, changes in imagery or tweaks to the design, information articles, or perhaps an active forum (must be active) – give people something new when they go to the website – keep it fresh. Even your most ardent supporters will stop going to your website if it stays static.

#3 – Donate Now – this is a *must* have on any non-profit website. It should only cost about 2-3 hours of web development time (sometimes less) and it can be up and running.

#4 – How contributions make a difference and thank you to our recent (or largest) donors – this is key, when someone makes a donation, big or small, where is the money going to and why not (if permission is given) put their name on your website, for the week, for the month, or for the day (depending on the size of the list). With a good content management system adding the names is simple and a nice gesture to your donors.

#5 – Upcoming events – Even if your particular organization doesn’t have an event coming up, find a few events that are related to your topic, or that our constituents might be interested in and make sure you get the word out.

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PMP

I have been talking about doing my PMP for over a decade, and finally, during my maternity leave this spring I decided to actually do the necessary studying and write the exam. Thankfully, there wasn’t much studying, or I would have never finished it.

I am fortunate to have many years of experience working with knowledgeable people. It started many years ago at Discovery Software where a wonderful PM, Randall Venhola, who built a PMO at the company. As part of the management team I helped participate in a successful push to implement CMM practices and we ran several projects for clients at Level 3. Randall, who had his PMP was wonderful to work with, encouraged everyone to learn “the PMP way” and we had an “company class” that started working towards our PMP designation. Although I got distracted and didn’t complete the class, or sit the exam, I and several others at Discovery owe him a lot.

I then enrolled and completed my MBA part time while at Discovery so that was a bit of two year distraction. Then came marriage and two beautiful boys, and of course my continued pursuit of my career.

I am grateful to have worked with other folks, Project Managers, Account Executives, Sales Managers, Development Managers, Architects, Lead Developers who continued to give me insights on how to manage clients, manage people, and manage projects. Both the smooth and the very rocky projects taught me a lot.

PMIs set of best practices are just that, a good group of ideas, and I think it’s worth it for Project Managers to get their certifications. I also think it’s worthwhile for companies to look for PMP certified Project Managers. I do not however, think that a PMP means that someone is a good Project Manager. No more so than my ScumMaster certification gives me magical powers.

I’m glad 3 weekends studying got it done because my two little boys were just not willing to give me more time. This had been one of those “I really should do….” in the back of my head for a very long time, and now it’s out of my brain.

Now, hopefully the actual certification will prove more valuable than just that additional brain space.

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Terms you may hear used… #1

I met with a client a few days ago who was new to the world of online marketing and I started to use terms that were “standard” for me, but very new to him, so I thought I’d add some often used terms and definitions.

SEM – Search Engine Marketing is the art of getting your site ranked well on search engines, purchasing paid listings, or both. SEM includes SEO, copywriting, traffic reports, pay per click (PPC), Website architecture, search engine registration, pay for Inclusion.

SEO – Search Engine Optimization – good SEO helps your site rank higher in the organic search results

Organic Search – Organic search listings are results based on factors such as keyword relevancy within a Web page. These are the listings generally found on the left hand side in search engines, and are not influenced by direct financial payments, only by effective search engine optimization.

Landing page – When you click on a banner ad you are driven to a landing page. Landing page design and optimization is taken very seriously in the online marketing world. Landing pages are sometimes called lead capture pages.  There are two types of landing pages. Transactional which typically have a header, footer (attractive) some minimal and engaging text and a lead capture form. Lead capture forms are typically designed to capture the minimal amount of information about a prospective buyer because most people don’t like to give companies a lot of information. Referential landing pages are the second type, typically containing links to other pages, or information that drive (reference) you to other sites. People spend a lot of time optimizing their transactional landing pages to get more and better conversions.

Conversion – When a person fills in a form on a landing page (giving you their data) they are considered to be converted (converted into a lead). Now it doesn’t mean they are a particularly qualified lead, but it does mean they are interested enough in your product or service to provide you with their information.

A/B Testing – something that is done in the traditional world of marketing, but also done in online marketing. A/B testing used to test the effectiveness of a landing page (or other webpage). Here is a typical scenario: Two landing pages (it could be more) are created, option a and option b. Generally, one of the options is considered a control sample “where we started from”. The difference between A and B may be colour, copy, or images (really, any number of tweaks). A certain set of users (50%) are presented with landing option a and the rest with landing page option b. A campaign is run, in this example, let’s say it’s a banner ad. The results of how many users visit each page, and fill in the landing page form are tracked. Once enough people have gone through the experiment, results are compared and typically, one landing page has faired better, bringing in more conversions than the other.

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