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You may have already read it...

January 31, 2009

But it's worth reading again. Carefully.

Seth Godin asks, What are you good at?

Figure out which sort of process you're world-class at and get even better at it. Then, learn the domain... that's what the internet is for.

One of the reasons that super-talented people become entrepreneurs is that they can put their process expertise to work in a world that often undervalues it.

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Small changes can bring big profits

January 30, 2009 in Happy Links


  • The $300 Million Button tells how a widely used ecommerce site stopped forcing people to register before they bought something and increased conversions 45%, which brought in an extra $300 million the first year (uhh).
  • How we reduced chargebacks by 30% tells how 37signals made a small change to the way they show up on customer credit card statements (they show a URL for people can go to figure out where the charge came from), and decreased chargebacks by 30%.
  • How to Sell More Software by Adding 12 Characters to Your Homepage suggests that adding your phone number to your website (he’s talking to ISVs, but it’s a good idea for many of us) should not only increase sales, but also bring larger sales. Pretty good argument, with a humorous refuting of common excuses.

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Tip: Track the ROI of any campaign with Google Analytics

January 29, 2009 in Analytics, SEO/SEM, Tips

Did you know that you can track any advertising or marketing campaign with Google Analytics, not just AdWords? Of course failure to track is the first (well, fifth actually) mistake entrepreneurs make. You shouldn’t just want to track things precisely, you must.

Here are some examples of what you might like to track with the same precision as an AdWords campaign:

  • Pay per click campaigns with Yahoo or MSN
  • A banner ad buy on another site
  • An email marketing campaign
  • An affiliate program
  • Any link you give out for which you want to track the effectiveness

For todays’ tip, let’s say you’re running a banner ad and you want to track how many clicks you get from that banner, where those visitors go on your site, how long they stay, how many of them convert to your goals, etc. (Incidentally, this works very nicely with your Google Analytics conversion goals.)

Campaign Report Example It’s actually easier than you think. The bonus is that you get a nice report inside of Google Analytics under Traffic Source > Campaigns.

This report provides you information on visitors, including:

  • pages per visit
  • average time on site
  • bounce rate
  • goal conversion
  • sales revenues
  • number of transactions
  • ecommerce conversion rate
  • value per visitor
  • and more

And actually, it so simple (bear with me), it would be ridiculous not to do it.

So here’s how:

Simply add the following to the end of the link back to your site from the campaign source:

utm_source=campaignname where campaignname is whatever you want to call the campaign.

For example, let’s say your site is www.mysite.com, and you are running a banner campaign on www.somesite.com.

The link you would provide to somesite.com would be www.mysite.com?utm_source=somesite

And you can do it to any URL, not just your homepage.

That’s the bare minimum, but you can just as easily pass in more information to make your reporting even richer. There are 5 name/value combinations you can use in all (called “tags”), and you really want to use at least the first three.

The five tags are:

  • Name  (utm_campaign) The name of your campaign. Example: Free Shipping Promotion. utm_campaign=Free+Shipping+Promotion
  • Source (utm_source) The source of your traffic. Example: SomeBigSite.com utm_source=SomeBigSite.com
  • Medium (utm_medium) This is the medium sending you traffic. Example: banner. utm_medium=banner
  • Term (utm_term) Mostly used by AdWords campaigns, Google will load it with the search term used when they saw (and clicked on) your ad. If you’re running a PPC campaign with Yahoo or MSN, you can add this one yourself but to do so, you’ll need to create a specific URL for each keyword. utm_term=my+keyword
  • Content (utm_content) Here you put any additional clues to help you determine the effectiveness of two otherwise similar things. Example – let’s say you’re running two banner ads, one in the header, one in the footer. You might put footer in one, and header in the other. utm_content=header.

So for our banner ad example, the full link might look like this now: http://www.mysite.com?utm_campaign=Free+Shipping+Promotion&utm_source=SomeBigSite.com&utm_medium=banner&utm_content=header

I know what you’re saying now – how the heck do you know how to get the link just right? Looks complicated right? Well it’s not, and to make it even easier to figure out how to properly format Google has given us an URL Builder to do the heavy lifting for you.

Google’s URL Builder

Hope this helps.

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Happy Links

January 28, 2009 in Happy Links

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January 27, 2009 in 4 out of 5 stars, e-Commerce Solutions

What is it?

Shopify: A hosted store/shopping cart solution which allows you to heavily (and easily) customize the design. You can have a professional-looking store, with a fairly modest investment. It’s aimed at helping folks who want more than a PayPal link off their site, but who can’t afford (or don’t need) a custom solution.


Who makes it?

jadedPixel Inc.

Why is it the killerest?

First - you have to understand that the options for robust hosted shopping cart solutions out there, which allow you to heavily customize the look of your store, are pretty dismal. Most force you into using their proprietary templates or severely limit your flexibility, and usually top it off with terrible customer support.

Shopify does a good job of addressing all of those issues.

I interviewed Scott Lake of Shopify back in 2006 as they were launching. I didn’t have an opportunity to really put Shopify through the paces until late last year, however, when a client of mine was a perfect fit for Shopify. So I finally took the plunge and helped them get everything set up, and I found the experience with Shopify to be just as good as I’d hoped. My client is now successfully processing sales, and I can comment on the whole process.

The first thing I needed was the flexibility to customize the look of the store to match my site.

On this front, Shopify gets an A+. I should note that fully customizing the look is not for the non-technical. If you’re not technical, you need to hire someone who is. To customize it, you need to know XHML, you need to know CSS, and you need to learn a little bit of their proprietary code for pulling in the store elements on a page. That said, the interface and system for working with all of that is just superb, and the support documents (via a wiki) are solid. I started with a little trepidation, and the usual fierce resistance to reading anything, and was quickly making very favorable progress.

So here’s a screenshot from a page on the site in question (www.madsencycles.com):

Madsen Cycles Website

And I wanted to bring a similar look into the store, creating a seamless experience for users from site to store, and back.

Here’s a screenshot from the store, hosted by Shopify (shop.madsencycles.com):

Madsen Cycles Store

By the time I was done, I didn’t feel like I had to make compromises on design. Shopify gave me the flexibility I needed to make the store look like I really wanted it to, and at a tiny fraction of what it would have cost to build a custom solution.

I should mention here that if you don’t need the look of your store customized, Shopify has a range of “themes” you can choose from – no deep technical expertise is required to set up a store using one of the themes.

Here’s what else I like:

  • Order management has all the features you would want for viewing, filtering, organizing and printing. You can get an RSS feed of your orders and email alerts. You can send out shipping notifications to customers include sending shipping tracking info. Plus you can download csv files of your orders for processing and reporting in your own system.
  • Product management has inventory management, variations on a single SKU (think: red/blue/pink shirts), multiple photos, flexible descriptions and pricing. You can also organize items into collections for easier display and cross-linking/up-selling.
  • You can add any additional pages you need that aren’t part of the product/checkout flow, for example your privacy or return policies.
  • While I haven’t used it, they have the ability to add a blog to your store.
  • They have an opt-in (or out) email list they’ll build as people buy, and you can download a list of those people to use in email marketing.
  • You can set up discount codes to provide either a percent, or a dollar amount off of orders that meet a certain criteria, and you can limit them by date, and number of uses. Very nice.
  • You can use virtually any payment processor if you already have one set up with your merchant account (I used this, and it works great), and/or you can use PayPal and Google Checkout, or even good old fashion Checks, Money Orders or COD.
  • You can have customized shipping prices provided by carriers, or come up with your own.
  • They’ve even got relationships with some of the large fulfillment service companies (like Amazon Services).
  • They also make it very easy to hook Shopify up to your Google Analytics.
  • If you’d like you can password protect access to your store (handy when you’re under construction).
  • Finally, they’ve made the checkout clean and simple. This increases conversions, and is a welcome difference from virtually every other hosted shopping cart solution.

What could be improved?

My list of complaints is short, but it’s strong. None of these are deal-breakers for me, but I hope they’ll be addressed soon.

Must haves:

The final payment and checkout pages do not retain the look and feel of your site. This is the #1 issue they should address. The jarring transition when customers may already be nervous about pulling out their credit cards is surely causing cart abandonment. The crown jewel of Shopify is the ability to customize your site look, and this shouldn’t stop on the most important page of the process. Fortunately, while they work on that feature, there is a little-publicized way you can at least update the look somewhat using CSS. See here for details.

Support responses are a bit lagged. I found it look a couple days for them to respond by email. I fortunately didn’t need support much, but I’d prefer a snappier response. I talked to them about this, and they said they’ve just started using a new system to help them improve on this.

Would be extra super nice to haves:

I would really like the ability to swap the main (large) product photo, as I swap the selected product variation. I could have hacked this together using javascript, but I’d prefer that functionality be available in the system.

A built-in custom affiliate program. In other words – an affiliate program I can offer to my customers, managed within Shopify. Clearly this is a beast of a job, but it would make Shopify a tremendous force in the marketplace.

More flexibility with promo codes. They’re pretty good as is, but I’d like to offer free shipping, or buy X get X free.

Gift certificates. I’d like the ability to sell gift certificates which generate a code my customers can enter at checkout. Again – a beast, I know, but a guy can want.

Better reporting on discount codes. Right now, I have to open an individual order to see which code was used. I’d like a report of all the codes used, how many times, and by date. This is partly to address the lack of an affiliate program, but would be a nice feature to have.

The ability to allow regular users to login so they don’t have to re-type their information. This should be unobtrusive, to be sure, and ideally it would be an option a store owner can enable or not – but it would be nice.

How much does it cost?

From $24/mo + 2.0% of transactions, to $299/mo + 0.5%



Reviewed by Carson McComas

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January 26, 2009 in 2 out of 5 stars, Business Intel, Twitter

What is it?

twtpoll: A simple poll service, primarily aimed at letting you use Twitter to ask a question and get responses from your followers. You can also embed the poll in your website, send it to Facebook, email it, etc.


Who makes it?

Felipe Coimbra

Why is it the killerest?

If you're using Twitter (as directed) then you'll be part of that powerful conversation we discussed. This little service is a way to harness that conversation and gain helpful information.

It's simple, it's free, no login, no fuss.

It allows you to block or allow multiple votes from a single IP (to control vote-stuffing).

Like with Twitter (and because you'll presumably be tweeting it, although that's not necessary) your questions are limited to 140 characters.

The results come back in a nifty little pie-chart. It's new and it's mostly just for fun, so I wouldn't throw anything too hefty at it, but it does fill a need, simply.

Give it a try here to let me know if you'd be interested in a WorkHappy.net podcast. 

What could be improved

A little info on customizing the look for design conscious webmasters might be nice. So would viewing the votes inline on the same page (i.e. not jumping to the twtpoll site). Hard to complain too loudly given the price, however. And the twtpoll page is clean, and ad-free.

How much does it cost?



Reviewed by Carson McComas

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Tip: an undocumented secret in Google AdWords

January 23, 2009 in SEO/SEM, Tips

Note: old hands with AdWords already know this, but for those of you who are new to AdWords, or haven’t gotten that deep with it yet, I hope this tip helps you out.

First – when writing ads in AdWords, you should all know that the very first and most important rule is to use the keywords in your ad, preferably in your ad headline. This gives you the highest chance of getting clicks – in part because it bolds those words in the ad itself, but also because it’s a clear match for what the searcher is looking for.

Adwords-example Now, have you ever noticed how you can type some obscure term into Google, and ebay/Amazon/Target/Shopzilla have ads showing, with that term in the ad? Well here’s how they do that, and why you might care.

This tip is most useful for people who have many, many product offerings. The most effective thing to do is write specific ads for each of your keywords. If you want maximum success and click though rate – that’s the way to get it. But if the constraints of time, or budget, or practicality make that impossible, then this can be a good option.

Google has a syntax feature when writing ads where you can create a placeholder in your ad copy, then Google will dynamically flow a search term that matches one of your keywords into your ad, under certain conditions.

Here’s the syntax that you’d put in your ad. Note: the “default text” text is what shows if the term won’t fit or the quality score of the term is too low:

{Keyword: default text}

Example ad text using the technique:

{Keyword: Stuffed Bear}!
Get your {Keyword: Stuffed Bear} Here!
Free Shipping on all orders.

Here’s what happens – Google will use one of the keywords in your ad group that matches what the searcher typed in and put it where the placeholder is.

So if you have a keyword Pink Bear, and someone searched with the term Pink Bear, the ad would show thusly:

Pink Bear!
Get your Pink Bear Here!
Free Shipping on all orders.

All the same ad writing rules apply, of course. But when used properly, this can be a great help. Enjoy!

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Sorry about the website downtime…

January 22, 2009

So chalk this up to an additional benefit of Twitter. If you’re with me there, you may have followed the (boring) saga. Summary: My hosting company failed me, GoDaddy saved the day. (Now if only GoDaddy weren’t so cringe-inducingly lame with their marketing, logo, and website.)

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January 21, 2009 in 5 out of 5 stars, Hiring

What is it?

crowdSPRING: A marketplace where someone in need of creative services (say, a logo or website design – most requests appear to be for logos) can post what they need, when they need it and how much they want to pay. Once posted, designers (called “creatives”) from around the world (about half in the US, half outside the US) will submit actual work – not bids or proposals – for the buyer to review. As the submissions come in, buyers are able to review, sort, rate, provide feedback and collaborate with creatives until they find the "the one." The buyer then picks the winner, and the winner gets the project payment. 


Who makes it?


Why is it the killerest?

When I first heard about this service, my hackles went up. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that crowdSPRING fills a real need. There is a market of folks who think $500 is a lot to spend on a website. In my experience, these folks are not typically well-served. I can't afford to work with them, and they can't afford to work with me. So usually they end up hiring an amateur/hobbyist and the results they get are extremely hit and miss.

crowdSPRING seeks to fill that niche. As of this posting, there are 12,181 creatives registered on crowdSPRING. In looking through the next 20 project about to close, it looks like the average number of creative submissions per project is 55. That’s 55 different options to choose from. Compare that to the handful you get if you try one of the outfits buying ads on this page.

While this can be an attractive option for budget-conscious startups, crowdSPRING are careful to protect their providers/creatives as well. Each project is started with the project fee put in escrow and awarded without exception to one of the providers if the project gets at least 25 submissions. Both parties enter into a written legal contract (provided free and customized by crowdSPRING) with the intellectual property of the provider protected, and ownership transferring only from the winning provider when the project ends. Logo projects can be no less than $150 (most end up around $300), and website designs (uncoded), no less than $400.

They also have a “Pro” service for higher end work (projects starting at $1,000) which have constructs for privacy and include NDAs.

They’ve really done a great job of laying out all the necessary elements for this to be successful for both parties. The website is easy to use, and very well done. The whole process is carefully thought out and constructed.

As startups try to take advantage of the current economic conditions to get ahead, looking seriously at crowdSPRING for early creative work is an attractive option.

What could be improved?

Hard to find anything. These guys are hitting on some incendiary topics to be sure, but they appear to be forging these waters with careful thought and respect for all parties involved. I don’t personally think they’re hurting the mid or high-end design market – most of these buyers couldn’t afford it anyway, and most designers wouldn’t want them as clients. For a vigorous back-and-forth with the community on these issues, see this discussion on the 37signals blog with one of the co-founders.

How much does it cost?

They take another 15% of the project price from the buyer. So a $300 logo job costs you $345.


Reviewed by Carson McComas

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January 20, 2009 in 3 out of 5 stars, A service, Business Intel

What is it?

Poll Daddy: A service which allows you to put a poll or survey on your site. It then offers rich graphical reporting of the responses.


Who makes it?

Automattic, Inc.

Why is it the killerest?

Because it makes it simple to ascertain the opinions of your website/blog visitors.

As the website publisher, you fill out a simple form on the PollDaddy site indicating your question and the possible responses (including "other" where they can enter their own responses) and they provide you a snippet of code which you place on your website to display the poll/survey.

It has a user-friendly admin interface which makes it easy to quickly create a poll and view the results.

All plans (free included) offer the ability to customize the look of the poll to match your site, if you don’t like one of their preset looks (they’re not too bad). They’ve got a nifty editor to make customizing easy-ish, but if you want to edit your design once it’s changed, you need to know CSS. The upside is that if you do know CSS, you can make a very customized poll.

You can add youtube video, or images as your question, or answers.

There’s pretty good logic and constructs in place to help you prevent and manage multiple votes by the same person.

And you can close the poll after a certain date.

They’ve done a nice job of making a fairly easy-to-use site and service. The reports are pretty neat as well, and the poll and survey setup (when they work) are pretty straightforward and easy.

What could be improved?

I ran into numerous bugs using the service. Nothing I wasn’t able to work around, but it was a mess. I had pages error out, and when I generated my first poll, the code (to paste) was wrong and didn't work. I had to go back through the site and load the code page again to get the right code. It had several problem that I assume are probably related to the a heavy load today? Things did eventually work after I re-tried them so I assume they'll get these cleared up, and when they do – this is a great offering.

How much does it cost?

Free for a basic version, then $200/yr or $900/yr to allow more than 1,000 responses per poll.


Here’s an example of the poll (and I’d love to have your responses).

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