Review App

Internet Entrepreneurs Blog

Archive for September, 2008

Where do you get your copies made?

Wednesday, September 17th, 2008

I prefer Office Max and to get to the nearest one I drive past a Kinko’s and an Office Depot. The prices are about the same but my Office Max has:

  • Free coffee (though I don’t drink coffee myself, it’s nice to know it’s there)
  • Free wi-fi and seating area with tables and chairs
  • Free office supply usage (stapler, hole punch, scotch tape, scissors, etc.)
  • Quick service – most times they make the copies while I wait

Another tip: sign up for the mailing list. It seems like I get 20% off print service coupons about once a month which is about how often I come in for $50+ print jobs.

Office Max has been a great asset to me as an entrepreneur running an online business and I can’t imagine what I’d do without it. I suppose I’d sooner buy a color laser printer and laminating machine myself than go to Kinko’s ;)

Industry trade shows provide great web content

Tuesday, September 16th, 2008

Next week we’re heading to the annual cycling industry trade show to report for our mountain biking website and I thought I’d share this tip with you: trade shows are worthwhile, even for webmasters. Sure, the whole idea of a trade show where retailers place orders with manufacturers seems a bit antiquated what with telephones, email, the Internet, etc. but it’s still a great opportunity to build your online business while creating connections within your industry.

First things first: cost of attendance. Most industry trade show give out free ‘media passes’ to webmasters and even bloggers – in many cases all you need is a website and a business card. Part of the promise to trade show exhibitors is that they will get free media coverage so organizers are motivated to allow as many media representatives as possible into the show. Of course travel expenses can become cost prohibitive but often attending just a single day of a trade show is more than enough. If a trade show isn’t being held in your city, consider sending one of your local readers to report on the show.

Industry trade shows are also great sources of new content for your website or blog. The first time we attended an industry show we were overwhelmed with the number of stories we needed to report – literally a dozen or more for each day of the show. As a webmaster you’ll also be bombarded with press releases leading up to the show along with invitations to speak with company reps. Just be choosy about what you report, keeping in mind what your audience cares about the most.

Finally, trade shows offer an enormous opportunity to connect with industry players who may one day choose to become advertisers on your website. In meeting with company reps remember your conversation is as much about learning about new products and services as it is about introducing your online brand to industry insiders. Be sure to have plenty of business cards on hand and consider wearing a shirt with your web site logo as you walk the floor.

Industry trade shows aren’t just for pushy salesmen and hapless retailers any more – today bloggers and webmasters can gain a great deal by engaging in industry conversations. No matter what niche or industry your website represents, you’re sure to find a trade show worth attending to grow your online brand!

Importance of feedback to Google rankings

Monday, September 15th, 2008

An important part of ranking webpages comes not just from keywords and incoming links but from actual user feedback. Google collects user feedback on search quality in a two basic ways: counting clicks and observing on-site user behavior.

Search engines have long used click counts to improve search rankings and Google certainly wasn’t the first to employ click counts in its algorithm. The basic premise is this: using keywords and other factors, Google puts together a list of results for a particular keyword query. As users view these results, some links get clicked more often than others and over time those lower-ranking results that receive more clicks than higher-ranked results should move up. It’s simple for search engines like Google to track click counts since the action is taking place on their own website and click counts are a pretty good indicator of keyword result quality.

The second way Google gathers feedback to improve search rankings is through user behavior tracking. Now before you get nervous about Big Brother watching your every online move, it’s not as scary as it sounds. You see Google gives webmasters free tools to analyze aggregate visitor data (average # of page views, time on site, etc.) through Google Analytics and you can be sure that Google is looking at that data as well. Not only can Google see what is happening with visitors on its own site but in many cases Google can see what users are doing on other sites. So, for example, if a particular site sees a high bounce rate (visitors viewing a single page and leaving immediately) this could indicate a poor keyword query match. These days average bounce rates generally hover around 50% for most websites meaning there’s still a ton of improvement to be made in search results (put another way, one in two web queries sends users to the wrong page).

Consider the feedback you and your site visitors are giving to Google and how you can use the feedback loop to move your page listings to the top of keyword queries!

Netflix

Friday, September 12th, 2008

Since for many families Friday is movie night I thought I’d talk about one of my favorite internet-enabled companies: Netflix. Netflix delivers movies to customers through the mail under ongoing subscription plans starting at just $10 a month for one movie at a time. There are no late fees meaning customers can keep movies as long as they like and return shipping is included with each movie delivery.

Like most folks I used to rent movies from the local video store but I found the process frustrating – but not for the reasons you might think. In terms of convenience the video store can’t be beat: my last two homes were less than a mile from at least 3 or 4 Blockbuster franchise locations. I don’t watch a lot of movies (maybe two or three a month) so the cost of renting videos wasn’t an issue – I’m paying about the same amount with my subscription plan. Availability at the big video rental chains was generally good, especially following the innovative video lease agreements pioneered by Rentrak in the 1990s. But I digress..

Nope, for me the issue has always been FINDING good movies at the video store. Like most folks I would cruise the outer wall for looking for new releases and often leave with nothing when I didn’t see any familiar titles. Finding specific movies was even more difficult – is Indiana Jones in the adventure or comedy section? And when would the newest Indiana Jones movie make the switch from the new releases wall to its proper category section? (it seemed some movies were new releases for more than a year).

The point of all this is to say that Netflix has revolutionized the way I find and rent movies (though the finding is the real killer app for me). Finding a particular film is as easy as using the search box on the site and sorting movies by highest rated (rather than alphabetical) is a great way to find new releases you may have overlooked. The recommendation functions at Netflix are even more revolutionary since each movie recommendation is based on what Netflix thinks I might like rather than on a pimple-faced teenage worker’s recommendation at Blockbuster.

Of course online video rentals will be (are) the next big thing but it doesn’t really matter. Netflix used the power of the internet to transform an industry using existing technology (mail, plastic DVDs) rather than wasting money on pioneering the next technology. Sure, streaming video technology is coming along and broadband penetration is finally at a point where this starts to makes sense – but today it’s a lot cheaper and easier to do that it would have been just a couple years ago. In the meantime Netflix has built a huge user base and honed its recommendation engine to work well no matter the delivery medium.

Sometimes entrepreneurs need to take short-cuts to get to the ultimate goal; other times existing technologies still haven’t been fully utilized and optimized. Either way, we’re talking opportunity – the fuel of entrepreneurial dreams!

Review App plug-in: Best Listing

Thursday, September 11th, 2008

Review App logo

We’re putting the final touches on the latest Review App plug-in called Best Listing. With Best Listing you can create a custom algorithm to find the best of what your site has to offer: whether it’s restaurants, mountain bike trails, or even books and products. With Best Listing, you set the factors you’d like to include in your ranking plus the weights of the factors themselves and Review App will dynamically build your ‘best’ list instantly. As members add more reviews and place products or items on their lists your best listings page will be updated every 24 hours with the latest rankings.

Adding a Best Listing page to your site is a proven way to increase search traffic. On our camping website we’ve included a ‘best campgrounds’ lists for the entire US and state-by-state and it’s our number one source of natural search traffic! The best part is that once the list is created you can change the weights used to calculate the rankings and your list will remain dynamic as users add more content to your site.

Stay tuned to ReviewApp.com over the next few weeks as we’ll be posting a new section for all the available Review App plug-ins, including Best Listing.

Why I hate Kinko’s (and other businesses that don’t get technology)

Wednesday, September 10th, 2008

Sometimes businesses get confused by the latest technologies. Take movie theaters for example: Sure, theater owners have realized that selling tickets over the internet is a great idea because it means shorter lines at the box office, fewer ticket rolls to purchase, and convenience for the customer. But why charge customers for the privilige of saving the theater owners money? Most consumer would agree the price of a movie ticket is already pretty high (over $10 in most cities) and adding a $2 “convenience” charge per ticket is simply highway robbery. Theater owners can put a dollar amount on their savings due to internet sales but customers can’t (time is tough to value, especially when we’re talking minutes in line rather than hours at our jobs).

I can’t help but imagine how much MORE revenue theater owners would realize if they simply made online tickets the same price as box office purchases. I know I’d become a user and I’d certainly give preference to those theaters that offered free online ticketing over those that don’t. Lines at box offices would be shorter meaning theater owners would need fewer cashiers. Theater owners could also capitalize on increasing website traffic by promoting coming attractions while building brand exposure in the minds of some of their most affluent customers. That’s the internet for ya – cheaper, faster, more effective – but movie theater owners seem to think it’s just a novelty for the rich.

Which gets me to Kinko’s. Sure, Kinko’s allows you to upload your documents from your home computer to be printed in store but good luck setting a pick-up time for anything sooner than 4 hours from when you send your files (eons in internet time). The website is also missing important options like lamination, binding, and other services that go along with printing but that’s another story. No, my real frustration at Kinko’s is with the walk-in service.

Last weekend I needed to print and laminate some maps I had saved as PDFs on my flash drive. I only needed a couple copies so I stepped up to the print services counter. The gentleman informed me the turnaround time would be the ‘standard’ 4 hours but that I could use the ‘self-service’ area to make the prints myself. And here’s my problem: The computers in the ‘self-service’ area charge you $0.20 per minute to use them. So to print out two copies of a PDF I had to insert my credit card into the reader beside the computer, open my file, hit ‘print’ in Adobe Acrobat, and logout. The process took 2 minutes – $0.40 on a $4 order (or a 10% surcharge for doing it myself).

If I had given the files to the print services team it would have cost me $0.40 less and would have wasted 5 minutes of a worker’s time (which, at $8 an hour costs Kinko’s $0.67). So Kinko’s clearly has an incentive to steer customers to the self-service area but they’re providing a DISINCENTIVE to customers to actually make that choice. Of course a 4 hour turnaround time is usually enough of a deterrent for most folks but this isn’t how savvy business owners treat customers.

It’s as if the grocery store with self checkout lanes started charging a ‘convenience fee’ for scanning and bagging your own groceries. In a sense customers are already paying for self-checkout by doing the work store owners used to pay their employees to perform.

Technology and in particular the internet have the power to improve efficiency in all types of businesses – but customers shouldn’t be double charged for such improvements. Business owners: Improve your bottom line AND improve the customer experience at once by making convience free!

Yes, the tech blogosphere is crowded

Tuesday, September 9th, 2008

Maybe I need to start following my own advice. A couple weeks ago I wrote about finding opportunities in the blogosphere where I referenced a study posted on SEOMoz showing the topical coverage of the top blogs. It turns out that 57% of the top blog are, like this blog, technology related – a crowded marketplace to be sure. I recommended that aspiring internet entrepreneurs focus on building blogs covering subjects that are underrepresented in the blogosphere – things like sports, religion, hobbies, etc.

Yet I myself continue to write daily posts on this tech-related blog. Fortunately I rarely spend more than 30 minutes or so each day writing for the Review App blog and building a base of useful online content is a long term endeavor. But look at it this way: would a venture capitalist be interested in financing yet another tech-related blog? Probably not.

Of course we’ll continue to post here regularly on entrepreneurial and internet related subjects because we think there are plenty of areas still not being covered in the marketplace. At the same time we’ll be investing in our other blogs covering subjects outside of tech and we’ll keep you posted on how those other blogs fare. Stay tuned!

Digg: Social news aggregator opportunities

Monday, September 8th, 2008

One website I look at virtually every day is Digg, a social news aggregator that allows members to recommend (or “dig”) content from all around the internet. Each day the Digg algorithm selects the top stories based on member recommendations and displays links to the articles on the homepage. Members can also comment on the recommended articles and oftentimes the comments are just as interesting as the content itself.

Digg started out as a site used mostly by internet ‘geeks’ and as such the top stories tend to reflect the tastes of the members (which is perhaps why I like it so much). It’s not uncommon to see articles on Apple, web design, and the latest XBox games make it to the front page, though as the user based becomes more diverse these types of articles are becoming less popular on the site. Still, Digg is dominated by a specific demographic that tends to recommend articles that are not necessarily ‘mainstream’ and those users continue to fight for their voices to be heard on the site.

The whole idea of a user-generated ‘news’ site is a great one but it still hasn’t really hit the mainstream like Facebook or even YouTube. Unlike Facebook or YouTube, where I argued niche version of the sites are counterproductive, a niche version of Digg could make sense for certain user groups. Take politics for instance: It’s safe to say the majority of Digg users are left-leaning and as such the top news on the site is chock full of articles sympathetic to the Democratic cause. But what if you’re a Republican? Where do you go to find the best articles on John McCain (other than Fox News ;) )? You need like-minded members to help you find the articles that fit your interests and unfortunately, Digg is not the place. Digg is working on integrating social features to help solve this problem but it’s still a long way from working the way it should.

I suspect that some news sites like CNN.com are already employing ideas gleaned from Digg like using news item popularity to populate the home page. For instance, an article on Brittany Spears may start near the bottom of the page but after CNN editors see the story is receiving more views than ‘hard hitting’ news stories they may decide to ‘promote’ the article.

Is there a large demographic that’s being ignored by Digg that should have its own social news aggregator?

New iTunes social features?

Friday, September 5th, 2008

According to the latest rumors Apple is set to unveil the newest version of iTunes next week with some interesting features, most notably, something called ‘Genius.’ One description we read had this to say:

iTunes 8 includes Genius, which makes playlists from songs in your library that go great together. Genius also includes Genius sidebar, which recommends music from the iTunes Store that you don’t already have.

Of course to make a feature like this possible iTunes would have to start aggregating user playlist and purchase information much like Last.fm already does to provide recommendations (though I’m not sure if this fits within the current iTunes EULA). Assuming the legal hurdles can be cleared it’s only a matter of time before large companies like Apple (or perhaps Amazon) crash the Last.fm party.

As an entrepreneur it’s always important to consider how you business might be affected if a large industry player simply added your “product” as a “feature” to one of their own mega-products. In a marketplace where business eco-systems and feeder products are becoming more common, having a solid contingency plan and exit strategy are key. We’ll be watching to see how Last.fm responds to the iTunes social integration threat…

Digital magazines / catalogs are a bad idea

Thursday, September 4th, 2008

A friend recently asked my opinion on building an online version of her company’s print magazine – a virtual “flip book” or “e-magazine” that would look just like the print version. Of course I told her it was a bad idea for all these reasons:

  • People read magazines because they sometimes prefer a more portable, tactile experience than what is available online. At other times people prefer the online experience because it’s fast, interactive, and ultra current. Trying to bring one experience to the other medium is a losing battle – and don’t think folks haven’t tried to go the other way as well. Anyone remember Business 2.0 magazine? Shortly after they redesigned the print edition to look more like a web 2.0 site the magazine folded.
  • Most online magazine / catalog implementations are simply scans of printed pages meaning rich text content is locked away from search engines in big image files. Without search engines reading your content it’s unlikely anyone else will ever find it.
  • Some digital magazine / catalog implementations require a browser plug-in just to view them meaning you’ll be limiting your audience right away. A PDF version is probably the most innocuous (though still annoying) but we’ve even seen some e-magazines that require a special browser plug-in that no one has ever heard of. Internet browsers weren’t meant to act as magazine readers – though perhaps the Kindle will one day fulfill that need. Until then, build the online version of your magazine using web standards.
  • The most successful print publications that have added digital distribution (NY Times, Wired) are good examples of what an online magazine should look like. For digital catalogs just consider this – what is an e-commerce site other than an interactive, digital catalog? Check out Amazon.com just to get an idea of the possiblities!

In 2008 the whole idea of a digitized version of a print magazine or catalog is pretty laughable. The internet is here to stay and the existing base of web standards is amazingly flexible for doing pretty much anything you can imagine. Don’t waste time making a literal translation of your offline publication for the web – embrace the medium and watch your business grow!