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Thursday, June 19, 2014

Why the Cloud has a Dark Lining

Pretty much everything is on the Cloud nowadays and especially if you own a smartphone or tablet.
Within the past few years there has been a lot of talk about the Cloud and the Internet Cloud. Store all your stuff on the Cloud, free-up your devices, access your stuff from anywhere, anytime. You’ve heard the hype.

Well, the hype doesn’t mention that you need power and an internet connection to get to all your stuff, and when you have neither, all your devices aren’t even good paperweights anymore. But most people know that’s a given or do they?

We recently experienced one of those memorable summer thunderstorms that you only see in horror movies…you know, rain falling sideways defying the laws of physics, downed trees, wind damage and no power, no Internet.

Fortunately, there were no zombies or vampires lurking around. At least I didn’t see any.

We had to suffer through a few days with no Internet. OK, not the end of the world, but close enough. I would open a browser window and then sigh and oh yeah, it doesn’t work. Ok, I’ll figure out something else to do, like clearing out all those unused files on my computer or typing all my passwords in an Excel sheet…boring.

As the internet-less days progressed other thorns stuck me in the side and some right in my eye.


Our dog trying to hide from the thunder
  • Getting online email – nope
  • Viewing photos from Google+, Pinterest or Instagram - I might as well be blindfolded.
  • Music from Pandora or Spotify - I’m going tone deaf now.
  • Dropbox, ShareFile and all those nifty apps where I squirreled away my life’s work – a thief might as well break into my house and steal all my stuff.
  • Seeing what my friends were doing on Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn - they probably think I fell off the earth or became a snob.
  • The weather report - I’ll probably get struck by lightning when I leave the office or soaked in a downpour.
  • Webinars - I’ll forever be ignorant of the knowledge in the world.
Lucky for me, everything I have on the Cloud is backed up on my computer, flash drives and my iPhone.

I have books and magazines in print form to read.

The telephone still works so I can call any of my friends.

I did buy a TV, so I can get the news and weather and whatever else I don’t want to hear about.

So the Cloud is useful to an extent, but don’t totally rely on the Internet. Make sure all your stuff is backed up somewhere so you can get to it without the Internet. Otherwise, you’ll wish you had.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Mothballs...Who uses them anyway?

I was walking home from work the other day and I smelled the distinct odor of mothballs. I knew the odor because I would randomly find them when I played in the closets as a kid.

There was an older couple walking in front of me so I wondered was it their clothing?

Who uses mothballs anymore, anyway?

So I decided to look into it.

Checking online, I found there were a slew of mothball suppliers and manufacturers mostly in Mainland China Taiwan, Hong Kong, India, Singapore and only one in the United States.

My mother told me the mothballs were used to prevent moths from eating your wool clothing and that I should leave them where I found them. “Anthony, they are poisonous. Don’t touch them!” my mother would say as I held one and gazed at its snowball-like appearance in wonder.

Then I wondered if there were enough wool sweaters, coats and whatnot around to justify stinky mothballs. I also wondered what kinds of moths eat wool – was it all species? Are they around only in warm months? Are they in Richmond or did the state pest control authority wipe them out? What’s the real story here?

So why am I thinking so much about mothballs, wool and bugs?

This process of observing, what ifs, and discovery is what I live and breathe everyday as a digital market analyst – it’s my analytical mindset. This relentless curiosity is as addictive as wool is to moths.

I go about observing a client’s brand and customers with research into digital, social, and traditional media, sales data and Internet presence using a variety of data mining and optimization tools.

Then I ask questions about what the data is telling me and create what ifs based on what I find in the data. (Does anyone use mothballs anymore? Do people still buy wool clothing?)

Then I confirm or throw out the what ifs based on more in-depth research.

This new approach enables me to look at the various data sources, connect the dots and determine how each affects each other for deeper insights and better decision-making – a holistic analysis.

With all that said, I still had to know more about mothballs. I went to one of my most favorite sites, How Stuff Works where you can learn just that – how stuff works.

I found that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency requires mothball manufacturers to include a warning on packaging to "avoid breathing in the vapors." Who would want to?

And there’s more from How Stuff Works,
“Studies on one active ingredient in some repellents, paradichlorobenzene, found that it can cause cancer in animals [source: EPA]. Although scientists do not know if it is also a human carcinogen, the animal trials provided sufficient evidence to urge people to handle them with caution. Other types of mothballs use naphthalene, which after prolonged exposure can damage or destroy red blood cells [source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention]. The chemical can also stimulate nausea, vomiting and diarrhea.”

That’s one reason why there is only one mothball manufacturer/supplier in the US.
And guess what? Harmless cedar wood chips work just as well, according to How Stuff Works. I know that’s true because my mother had a cedar chest where she would store her wedding dress and other clothing items that were precious to her.

So I wondered if there is a strong demand for pure 100% wool clothing that makes you itch. With all the advances in better materials to keep you warm and dry like lighter Gortex, Polyester, Spandex, synthetic fleece and wool blends why would someone risk good money for a wool sweater that can be eaten by bugs?

Looking at Google Trends and based on the number of times wool clothing is searched, I found there was a downward trend starting in December 2010 through December 2012, meaning wool was losing its appeal. My hypothesis was right on so I thought.

Then I found in The Huffington Post that wool is now the hot fashion fabric for this Spring’s outdoor clothing, according to exhibitors at the world's largest expo for outdoor equipment and apparel, The Outdoor Retailer Winter Market held in Salt Lake City this January.

“Wool was rubbed out by fleece decades ago, but many exhibitors said it's back without the itch, still warm and quick to dry and it doesn't hold body odors, a big drawback of fleece,” the article said.

The Guardian/The Observer, UK’s leading newspaper, reported last fall that, “After years of decline, the British wool industry is making a comeback thanks, in part, to luxury fashion's newfound love of suits, formalwear and knitwear.” Other publications reported the same news.

So what is the takeaway here? You may want to watch the wool markets for upcoming sales and investment opportunities.  You may also want to replace any mothballs in your closets or drawers with cedar chips.

All that from just the smell of mothballs one afternoon after work.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Re-posted from O'Reilly Radar News and Comment
Why big data is big: the digital nervous system (via O'Reilly Radar)

Where does all the data in “big data” come from? And why isn’t big data just a concern for companies such as Facebook and Google? The answer is that the web companies are the forerunners. Driven by social, mobile, and cloud technology, there is an important transition taking place, leading us…

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Still Sitting on the Fence about Going Mobile?

In my last post, "Hey the 1990s called and they want their website back!" I mentioned that one of the key elements you should consider for a successful web site is mobile capability.

Courtesy of Campus in Community
Well, if you are still sitting on the fence about mobile, check out what specialty basket retailer BasketLady.com did and found an extra $3,000 in sales in her story from Internet Retailer magazine.

Mobile capability wasn't a top priority for BasketLady, but "when Katch’s e-commerce platform provider, CoreCommerce, part of Sum Effect Software Inc., offered to help her create an m-commerce site for free and with little to no work on her end, she figured, why not?"

If you are still not convinced, did you know that global e-commerce sales are growing more than 19% per year and that 20% of email sent by retailers is now opened on a mobile device?*

Mobile is not something to ignore anymore as an up and coming marketing channel.

*Sources - Goldman Sachs and Knotice, respectively from Internet Retailer magazine.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

"The 1990s Called - They Want Their Website Back"

So you have a website. How's that working for you? Getting a lot of traffic, sales and interest from visitors making comments? No?

Well, it's no longer enough to just have a website. I've found that a lot of websites fall into this category: "Hey the 1990s called and they want their website back."

The era of the static website is long gone. You need an interactive site if you want visitors to come to your site and stay awhile.

Why do you think big book stores have a major coffee cafe inside like Starbucks or Seattle so a potential book buyer will stay awhile, have a cup of coffee, read a book and get so immersed in the book that they end up buying it.

Websites are the same except you can't smell the coffee, but you should have something just as enticing. Flashing, moving graphics? Floating or popup windows? Narrow page design so long that your hand goes numb from scrolling? NOT!

Here are some top level items you should consider for your site:
  • A website that uses blog software like Wordpress, Typepad or a custom design
  • A short video that doesn't insult one's intelligence
  • A slide show with good photographs and/or good content
  • Mobile viewing capability, i.e. Android and iPhone apps
  • Good content that actually helps people solve a problem or is of value
  • Fresh content as often as possible - hourly, daily, weekly
  • Social media and networking to help promote your product or service

Here's why you should consider these top level items.

The blog software allows anyone in your company to easily post content. You don't have to contact the IT department or hire a web designer.
The blog software also allows visitors to interact with any content you post. Now your customers, supporters, fans, stalkers, whoever feel they have a stake in your product or service and the power to mold it into the best thing since sliced bread.

The video sells your product or service instantly not only to PC visitors, but to visitors with mobile devices as well. This is also another reason why you should consider mobile capability. The slide presentation does the same in a different format but not as effectively as a video.

The mobile capability opens your site up to a marketing channel that is accessible everywhere, anytime. Visitors do not have to wait to be in front of a PC to view your site. It is the next big Internet wave and it's coming whether you are there or not.

Good content - this is the Holy Grail of the 21st century.

The search engine algorithms are intelligent enough to detect sentence structure as opposed to the earlier gibberish used to increase your rankings.

The content should not be how great your product or service is, but how it can help customers solve a problem or answer questions without the sales pitch. It should impart knowledge about your industry and give readers a good feeling about your product or service.

Information is your lost-leader of the 21st century.

Your content must be truthful and presented in a personal, one-on-one way. The Internet today is the age of highly-customized marketing down to the individual level.

Lastly, you really need to jump on the social networking bandwagon. It is a new and revolutionary, hard to fathom the numbers marketing channel. Social media is where you will learn the most about what your customers think of your product or service. Here, they will shape your brand into what they want it to be.

Imagine launching a product or service and getting a flurry of constructive and non-so-constructive advice not from only a few people, but from hundreds or thousands? Take what the majority says to heart and improve your offering.

When it works, it works like a firestorm and if your product/service goes viral, you'll need extra capacity to handle all the traffic to your site. Your site may even crash from too many visitors - what a terrible problem to have.

_____

In case you don't want to do all of these things yourself (don't do it all yourself), here are some recommended experts I've worked with who can help tremendously, myself included.

For the Wordpress site:
Michelle Gower's Gower Power - expert and creative WordPress Training, Consulting, Strategy, and Website design.

For a really unique customized website:
Outer Banks Internet - call Chris Hess or Tricia Joseph at 252 441-6698 or contact them through their website at http://obinet.com

For Social Networking:
Martin Brossman - sign up to many of his daily courses on social networking for businesses. You'll be surprised at what you didn't know. Check out Martin's Facebook page for more up to the minute information.

For Good Content:
Hire me. I created search engine optimized copy for one site that increased their visitors by 16,000% the first month it was launched. Check out my main site: Outer Banks Publishing Group.

For Mobile Apps and Video:
There are a lot of good firms out there and prices vary. Do a Google or Bing search.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Web Analytics - another excuse to procrastinate

Unless it's your job or you are making money doing it, I find a lot of people with blogs and web sites don't often check their web analytics to see how their site(s) are doing.

It's like balancing your checkbook - something you should do regularly, but always put off until the last possible moment. Even the word is foreboding - Analytics.

Well, I'm here to ease your pain. Call your analytics a guest book and you always want to check the guess book to see who has visited or left a message (converted to a sale or download).

Web Analytics is like a computer program - it has all the bells and whistles, but you only need to use the bells or just the whistles. Take a standard word processing program. There are several ways to make a word bold or change a typeface, but you only use one the ways.

It's the same with analytics. You don't need all the information it tracks, only the most important pieces of data related to your site and your promotions.

Let's look at a typical scenario. You send out a monthly newsletter about new products you have just introduced. You know that most of your email list, say 80%, consists of people who live in your city. You have also placed links in your email to only the new products featured.

A few days later a few sales come in and then there is a large spike in sales. Your email marketing firm tells you that 12% of your emails converted meaning that 12% of your email recipients at least opened your email. The marketing firm also tells you a majority of your emails were forwarded to others. But, you don't know where your customers are coming from for future promotions.

You see from your sales records that the spike in sales is coming from Florida and most sales are for a new wooly scarf from a new designer you just took on in your clothing line.

Now you are scratching your head and wondering, "Who would buy a wooly scarf in Florida?"

A quick look at your web analytics and you see that many of your visitors and your conversions are concentrated in pockets in the larger metropolitan areas. And the majority of conversions (sales) were made late at night.

You are ready to call that psychic you always passed on the highway each morning to work to find out who this new customer segment is and their demographics.

But you don't have to call her, just look at your analytics again. Another piece of interesting data shown is that the majority of visitors to your site who purchased a wooly scarf did it from a mobile device. Now you know your new customer segment.

Playing a web analytics detective, you put the clues together:
  • A good number of your emails were forwarded to others
  • The majority of transactions occurred late at night
  • Sales were concentrated around larger metropolitan areas
  • Online sales were made mostly with mobile devices
Your new customer segment is mainly composed of female teenagers and young people.
How do you know? Elementary my dear Watson.

When a few teens saw your new scarf, they were excited and wanted to share with all their friends - the email forwarding then ensued.

The majority of sales occurred late at night - teens and young people are busy texting each other at night and probably texted your website address to each other. Ordering was done at night.

Sales were concentrated around metro areas - most teens live close to each other by the location of their high school so you see the higher sales in the more populated areas.

Most of the sales were made using mobile devices - younger people are more comfortable with using a mobile device and especially using it to make purchases. You can assume the majority of sales came from teens and young people.

To test your conclusions, you send another email marketing newsletter with a new scarf and other items from your new designer and track the online sales with your web analytics. Your sales take off.

So you can see it pays to check your web analytics...at least once in awhile. Don't put it off.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Search Engine Optimization is like shouting on the Internet


Only you don't make a sound.

When you optimize a site for search engines, you are ranking your site high up in the list when potential visitors search on Google, Bing, Yahoo and other search engines for your site.

Optimally, excuse the pun, you want your listing to be on the first page and high enough on the list above the fold - the fold being the next section of the page when you scroll down.

Why? Because most people when searching for something rarely scroll down and even fewer go to the second and subsequent pages for the topic they are searching. You want to be as high up on the page as possible, even first, which is the best position.

So how do you optimize your site to increase your ranking on the search engines? Here are some things you can do.

Keywords and Keyword Phrases - think of as many keywords that accurately describes the subject, theme, purpose and topic of your site. Place most of those words preferably in the first three paragraphs of your blog posts or home page making sure your content is still meaningful and readable.

Take the same keywords and phrases and place them in the title and meta data tags in the HTML, CSS or PHP script of your web site or blog. Most blog sites have directions on how to do this or you can ask your webmaster to do it for you.

If you are not a literary type and stumped for keywords and keyword phrase combinations, here are free keyword tools from seobook.com:
I like Google's Adwords Keyword Tool because it shows you which keywords are used the most by users of the Google Search Engine. You can put in one or several words and the tool will tell you what words get the highest hits on their search engine.

For example, if you put in literary books the following keywords come up with the highest hits:

books
literary books
literary criticism books
literature books

Give it try. You will be surprised the keywords people use to find things on the Internet.

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