Never Befriend A Man Named Hussein

Please note: this is not a post about Obama.  I’ve already addressed how my brother saved his life once and I’m not going down that rabbit hole again.  Ever.  Too many full-tilt crazy people and LRAs on my list.

You ever get introduced to someone and the minute you hear their name, your brain kicks in and says “I knew it!  This guy? Definitely a jackass!”

There’s a scientific reason for that feeling – and you know you’ve had it — but this is an ecommerce post so I won’t go into the details here.  (Jump to the end if you want to know how you can find out the brain explanation.)

One of my closest friends has this hate-them-in-your-tummy feeling about girls named Amy.  He despises them all.  Well, except me and that’s because I frequently remind him that my touchy-feely-hippy-crunchy-love-light-and-joy mother wanted to name me Star so Amy is really just a placeholder for the poledancer/stripper name I should have had.  Star Africa?  Please.

But I digress…

According to my personal email address book, I know 17 Husseins (of various spellings.)  Sadly, I don’t have contact information for the one I’d have married (you know, the guy who’d 100% be on my soulmate list) but I have a dozen and a half others – first and last name Husseins.

In my experience, Husseins are some of the sweetest people on the planet.

Till they’re not.

They’re all warm and cuddly and then you say something innocuous that sets them off, and they become a donkey on the edge with a dragon to prove it.  (Hello, SEO traffic from random quotes.)

Bottom line: Husseins (which incidentally means blessed) are the scorpion to my frog.  (#Measure people please note: sample size is too small and I know you have 111 ways to tell me my conclusion is not statistically significant.  Feel free to move on and spare me the Excel spreadsheets that come whenever I post.)

So, the question becomes are all Husseins like this or am I making statements that purposely alter their action(s) so that my theory becomes true?

In other words, how Oedipal am I?

With or without the Oracle of Delphi’s help, we create self-fulfilling prophecies all the time ESPECIALLY on the web.

Navigation is likely the best example.  You get what I give you.  If I don’t give it to you, you don’t get it.

Navigation accounts for 40-60% of your success online.  Over 80% on a mobile device.

People are going to do what you give them to do.  If they want to buy a rake and you force them to figure out whether they should click on gardening tools OR gardening supplies OR outdoor gear OR outdoor living, it’s your own damn fault when they bounce or attempt to use your crackerjacked internal text search and fail.

Users are going to click on the things you tell them to click.  If you don’t tell them to click, they aren’t going to click.

Your navigation controls their fate.  It’s that simple.

What other predicted-behavior things are there web-wise?  Here are six of the ones I see the most.

Low Adoption To Cart (ATC) Rate – These days, marketers are so caught up in the social proof, big data and omnichannel BS that they often miss the big picture.  You know, like the fact that the majority of websites have plenty of traffic but they just don’t know how to effectively convert it.  If you don’t have action directives on every view, you aren’t going to get the ATC rate that you should.  This isn’t about having orange buttons or using Hevetica instead of Arial, it’s about having BIG, BOLD, IN-YOUR-FACE buttons that tell the user to add-to-cart or buy now all over the place.  It’s about having more than one perpetual cart per page so that the user is constantly reminded they’re supposed to place an order.  It’s about not having dead ends, creating urgency and causing people to act.  It’s about asking for an order.  Over and over and over.  Till you get it.  Period. (This works the same if you’re in lead generation.)

High Abandoned Cart Rate – Distracting links/navigation in your cart?  A survey pop-up that asks the user to rate your order process before they’ve completed checkout (my personal pet peeve)?  No ordering alternatives (meaning no phone number or other contact information?)  Lots of rude error warnings?  Address correction things that take you to sites that aren’t secure?  Irrelevant questions?  Too many steps?  Exorbitant – and unexpected – shipping/delivery fees?  All of those things – and dozens more – make your users jump ship.  “Experts” tell you that people leave because they are searching for a discount/coupon – yes, that’s definitely a SMALL percentage of your folks – but it’s not the biggest reason people abandon.  (Giving them large discounts is often the easiest way to convert them but it’s not why they leave you at the altar.)

High Bounce Rate – Let’s face it.  If you’re like most, you deserve the traffic you get.  Take it from someone who is recklessly using Shrek quotes (as seen above) just for the traffic/comic amusement.  Link farming? SEO black-gray-ish tactics? Posting on random blogs and/or unmanaged comparison shopping/affiliate sites?  Remarketing programs run amok?  They’re all going to get you garbage traffic which is then going to get you a high bounce rate.  It doesn’t matter how kinky I am, if I’m coming from an adult “finder” message board and you’re selling property management supplies, I have to be really creative to figure out how to make your leasing rental forms suit my needs (unless I have some sort of paper cut fetish, I suppose.)

Truncated Strategy – I see this more and more as of late, especially when it comes to mobile.  Folks will tell me that they don’t need – or can’t afford – a mobile strategy in the same breath that they say they are increasing their email frequency but aren’t seeing the results they used to.  Um, yeah.  So over a third of your users are reading your emails on their smartphones.  When they’re interested in a product/service they see, they click on the link – you know, the one YOU put in the email.  If you don’t have a mobile site – or at the bare minimum a page that gives your phone number and a click-to-call button – you shouldn’t be shocked when you see a decrease in email orders as you’ve effectively terminated their path and given them nowhere to order.

Weak/Non-Existent Transfer – This is in the same vein as truncated strategy.  We know that over 90% of carts and lead forms are abandoned on mobile devices.  In time, that will get better but it’s not going to improve this season that’s for sure.  If someone adds something to their mobile cart (or they start the inquiry process), and they subsequently abandon, you should transfer them to a CSR (best choice for phones, doesn’t work well for tablets) AND you should mimic their cart on your traditional (desktop) site.  The whole “mobile department is different from our web department” schtick is as exasperating as the “web department is different from our catalog department” baloney.  In the end, nobody should care where you get the order as long as you get it.  Not sharing your riches with your other departments/colleagues just ends you all up in the poorhouse.

Email Deliverability Issues – I don’t know who the idiot consultant(s) is/are that are telling companies that they should email all of their old hard bounces and opt-outs (“as long as they are over 18 months old”) but I’d like to use them for target practice.  Apparently there are more meth addicts in web consulting than I previously imagined as this is a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad idea.  First, hard bounces are labeled as such because they are PERMANENTLY UNDELIVERABLE.  Second, even though you may get some of your users back in the fold, mixing a bunch of crappy names into your file of good names  is NOT good for deliverability.  We spend boatloads of time on email creative when the majority of success happens outside the envelope – a big part of that success comes from getting your email delivered.

Have other things you think I missed?  Give me a shout.  I’m @amyafrica on Twitter.   Why Twitter? I need to improve my Klout score to get more business SAID ME NEVER.

Oh, about that brain thing.  In the next few months, I am starting a newsletter specifically about brain stuff.  I am doing an email – not a blog – so I can write whatever I want without impunity – you know, like how I may or may not have found myself spread-eagled on a highway beside my car with a cop pointing a gun at me a couple weeks ago.  If you want “in” on the list, send me an email to info@amyafrica.com.  If I like you, you will be added.  If not, sorry about your luck.  It’s probably your name.  As you’ve probably heard, I’m fussy.

 

P.S. My friend, JoAnna Brandi, says I use hostile language to get people to react.  Clearly she hasn’t seen my in-box because I don’t need any more hate mail than I already get.  She is right in one regard though – I do like to bat the beehive.  Why?  Because I genuinely like to remind people that you can change any/all of the self-fulfilling prophecies you have about your business…. your life…. your relationship(s)…  your fate…  The points above?  You can fix all of them.

 

8 Things That Drive Your Users Bat-Sh*t Crazy

“I saw you in the gym. You’re very strong.”  He said.  “Especially for a girl.”

It was 6:11 am and the silver-haired gentleman standing outside my door was wearing a burgundy-colored, Hugh Hefner-style robe and bright white tube socks.

I made a mental note to myself that I should start staying at Hampton Inns instead of luxury hotels.  Not only is the wireless FREE — not $29.95 per flipping day — but Hampton Inns have far fewer crazy-ass people.  (They probably don’t lock their fire doors either.)

Before I could reply, he continued.  “That’s why I need you to open my ketchup.”

For the love of all things holy.

Before I could conclude if that was the worst pick-up line EVER, he thrust a teensy bottle of Heinz from his right pocket.

“I can’t get it open.”  He stammered.  “I knew you were up because I saw you walk by when they were delivering my eggs.  You really should wear shoes in public places. The world is very dirty.”

The world is very dirty said the man propositioning me to take the clear security stuff off his ketchup.  (Incidentally, what exactly do the room service guys do with those little bottles of ketchup for it to require such protective plastic?  I mean really.)

I thought about explaining (sarcastically) to him that his socks weren’t going to protect him from all the communicable carpet diseases you could get from the Mandarin Oriental but I didn’t want to give ole’ Hugh a heart attack so I just smiled and replied: “I hate those little bottles of ketchup too.  Those safety seals are impossible to open, even with a knife.  Let me show you my trick…”

Then I went to get a pen.

I took off the protective seal for him and handed him back the bottle.  “Enjoy your breakfast!”

“Thank you,” he said.  “Thank you very much.  You can always count on women to know such things.”

Great.  It’s amazing to be a girl.  If things don’t work in internet marketing for me, I can always stalk the room service staff at ritzy hotels offering to open old geezers’ ketchup.  Just call me the Condiment Prostitute.

He left and I went back to work.

Six minutes later, he was back.

“I can’t get it out.  The ketchup.  I can’t get it out of the bottle.  Can you help me?” He asked as he handed the bottle back to me.  He continued: “The knife.  It doesn’t fit in the bottle.  I tried the fork and the spoon too.  I thought about using my pen but…”

“Of course” I replied not wanting to know what kind of killer viruses pens have (they must be far worse than carpets).  I grabbed my key and headed out the door and across the hall to his room without even thinking.  (Hey, Dexter this guy was not.  Plus, didn’t you know?  I’m strong… ESPECIALLY for a girl.)

I showed him precisely how to tilt the bottle and then smack it hard on the bottom to get the ketchup out.  (Yes, I am aware that this whole story sounds like a giant euphemism – let me assure you it was not.  If I was interested in magazine publisher look-alikes, Rupert Murdoch is far more my type.)

And then I left. (Well, after we had a lengthy discussion about the Presidential Debate but that’s all together a different topic.)

That morning I told the story to the crowd at my speech.  There were about 800 people in the room and there were a lot of nods.  Perhaps the nods were the nice nods we give to people who are clearly one French Fry short of a Happy Meal but if I had to bet it’s because most of us have our very own ketchup story.  (Not a story about where we knock on random doors in our tighty-whiteys but where we can’t do something simple – like open a bottle of Heinz for our hashbrowns.)

Our websites are chock-full of things that appear super simple yet are annoying, impossible or annoyingly impossible.  Here are the top 8 that I see most often as well as ideas on how you can fix them.

Poor navigation.  This is BY FAR the biggest for users.  I’ve written about it ad nauseam.  The rule of thumb is to remember that navigation is a self-fulfilling prophecy.  You get what I give you.  If I don’t give it to you, you don’t get it and you are forced to use the text search which brings me to…

Bad text search.  Look, even Google and Bing don’t get text search right.  If they did, they wouldn’t need to show you over 70,000,000 results for women’s shirts. The key with text search is to remember that the presentation of the results is more important than the results themselves.  Make sure that you’d bet your house on the first result the user sees.  You should be able to bet your car on the second.  Your phone on your third.  (Okay, for most of you reading this blog the order is likely phone, house, car.  Or maybe just first phone, second phone, tablet.)

Impossible Capchas.  The person who invented these little suckers should be known as the Modern Day Stalin and executed like Mussolini.  My feeling is that if you use these, you are lazy and need to be subjected to 24 hours of Oogielove.  (I saw it once – ironically for love of the terrorists-in-training — and I will never be the same.)  If you employ capchas it means that your IT department wants the user to solve your technical issues.  (Clue: there’s a reason why IT guys aren’t in charge of marketing.)

Useless double opt-ins.  See capchas above and multiply the number of bullets and hours used before the kill shot by six.  You know who uses the most double opt-ins?  Spammers, mailers who get high SPAM complaints and the services who attract spammers and those who get high SPAM complaints.  If you’re a legit mailer, send out a series of introductory welcome emails (with a clear way to unsubscribe) instead.  While you’re at it, develop a solid preferences center.  They are worth their weight in gold.

Slow sites.  I know.  I know. People are tired of hearing me talk about speed even more so now that your SEO says that speed doesn’t matter to Google.  Speed matters to users most in the cart, the checkout, and the search function.  It also matters a lot in chat (live and instigated), video, and mobile.  Especially mobile.

Having to search for the Buy Now/Add To Cart/Sign-Up Now buttons.  Rule of thumb: at least one BIG, BOLD, in-your-face action directive on every view.  At least two perpetual carts – preferably three – on every website page.

Hiding the D&A information.  Delivery and Availability (D&A) information should be near the pricing.  Headline, subhead, reviews, in-stock information and the pricing?  They should all be together in one neat little package.

Improper use of cookies.  Look folks, when someone puts something in their shopping cart on your site (or starts to fill out a lead form if you’re not an ecommerce site) and they come back in two hours, two days, two weeks, two months – it should still be there.  If the product is out-of-stock, use the opportunity to sell something else but whatever you do, don’t clear the carts.  The information is valuable for profiling and for sales.

Have other things you’d like to add?  Send me an email to info@amyafrica.com and I’ll add it to the follow-up list of things that stress folks out in my next newsletter.  Right now, I clearly need to find someone to open my Xanax.

 

UPDATE: My buddy, Debra Ellis, added this one which is too appropriate to wait for the newsletter.  She says ”I would add ‘having to search for contact information’. People make it hard to find the contact information because they mistakenly think that customers want to talk to them and will make random calls or spam them with email. You and I know that customers want to place their orders and solve their problems as quickly as possible. If the site is set up to do this, few will call. If not, the calls help identify the problems.”  True that.

 

 

My Brother Saved Obama’s Life…

So, the other day Obama did something that completely sent me over the edge.

And frankly, it made me want to kill the guy.

This isn’t a political blog and before you start yapping about whatever devil candidate you believe in, let me be clear that the party or the person isn’t the issue here – at one time or another I’ve wanted to murder people from both parties. Hell, I’ve even wanted to off people without a party. I guess you could say I’m an equal opportunity assassin. Well, potential assassin anyway. I’m still hoping to find a Slovenian to do my wet work for me.

As I went over the strategy in my head to rid the world of Evil, I thought of how I’d do it and what my defense would be. If you’ve spent more than 30 minutes with me, you probably know I have a foolproof strategy AND that unlike I’m-A-Dinner-Jacket (aka President of Iran) and his idle threats against America, my plan would work.

Then, I thought of the tiny terrorists.

The fact that the little monsters share my last name, which in cases like these is unfortunately not Smith or Brown, means their lives would be terribly impacted by a crazy auntie* who {somehow murdered} the President of the United States. So as much as, in that moment, I wanted to kill the guy, I knew I couldn’t do it because of them, which effectively means by having children who share the same last name as I do…

My brother saved Obama’s life.

Do you agree with that statement?

Yes or no?

Or do you think who/what really saved Obama’s life was…

The Secret Service? (Newsflash: they’re too busy with Colombian hookers.)

The thought of imprisonment. (I promise you flying 500,000+ miles a year, private or not, is worse than a SuperMax prison .)

Conscience? (Robert Hare’s bestseller is based on my personality type. Hint: The word “without” is in front of conscience in the title.)

Something else?

As you are contemplate your navel about the above, you’ll probably ask yourself: “What exactly is the point of all this yammering?”

Best Buy.

More irritating than Obama’s latest constitutional breach is all this talk about how Amazon is putting Best Buy out of business. Allegedly (cough, choke, cough) folks are getting in their cars and driving to Best Buy in record numbers (cough, choke, cough) only to find what they want and then come home and buy it on the internet.

We can go through all the reasons why this logic is about as likely as Biden taking a bullet for Obama (unless it’s to put it into his own gun) but suffice it to say:

The only thing putting Best Buy out of business is Best Buy.

I don’t profess to be a retail expert nor do I play one on TV so, I’m not going to wax eloquently as to why a better, more aggressive salesforce (or maybe just one that doesn’t bolt in the other direction when you walk up) would change the shape of Best Buy’s business. (Incidentally, Amazon has grown sales by 41%, 40% and 28% the past years. Best Buy’s fiscal sales growth rates have been 2%, 0% and 10%.)

What I will say is that the Best Buy website is circa 2005. (Yes, I’m being generous.)

And there are a lot (a lot a lot) of ways that it could be improved. (As an aside, this year, Best Buy hopes to grow online revenue by 15% whereas Wall Street expects Amazon to grow 30%.)

For example:

More robust entry pages. My mother, whom I’m convinced is having a torrid affair with her Geek Squad guy, gets the same entry page as I do. (To put this into perspective, my mother thinks you need scissors to cut and paste something on the computer.) Even though neither of us are gamers we both got an entry page with Max Payne today. If Best Buy was using their data (including our respective Rewards programs) they’d know exactly what to show us. Hint: it would not be Max Payne.

Better use of email, especially triggers. It’s no secret that Amazon has a VERY successful email program. Granted, they have one of the lamest abandoned cart emails I’ve ever seen but at least they mail something consistently. Instead of depending on random thrust (aka batch and blast) emails Best Buy could have an arsenal of serial triggers: EBOPP’s (emails based on past purchases), EBOSI’s (emails based on selected interest), and so on. Best Buy has all sorts of interesting information, they should do a better job of using it. It’d also be nice if they actually collected email sign-ups but that’s likely far too “aggressive” for a company that’s shutting down stores and impacting thousands.

More aggressive use of mobile. When I use the store locator on my mobile device, send (SMS/email) me coupons I can use on my next visit. The coupons should have deadlines as deadlines create urgency and cause people to focus.

Emphasize urgency. One of the BIGGEST and best advantages that a retail store has is that you can walk away with the product that very minute. You can touch it, feel it, sniff it, steal it. You don’t have to wait a day, two, or even ten. You leave with it that VERY SAME DAY. Best Buy handles the whole delivery issue in a somewhat dicey way. They are very clear – in red text (oy!) of all things – when SHIPPING IS NOT AVAILABLE. They also show you what stores have the product (great) but they’re not clickable so if you don’t actually know where the store is or it doesn’t make sense (i.e. Southcenter in Tukwila, WA doesn’t have the product I want but Tukwila, WA does – WTF?), you can’t look it up.

Be clear that users are easily confused. You know what Best Buy does when all the appropriate information hasn’t been filled in? They fade out the button. Yeah. Brilliant idea that is, she said sarcastically. Look at their mobile phone pages and figure out how you’d buy. Chances are if you’re reading this blog, you’re a marketer, which means you have a way bigger advantage over this stuff than the average bear. Can you imagine how someone who doesn’t shop online maneuvers this minefield? Me neither.

If you offer live chat, be speedy, direct and above all, collect email addresses. The only thing urgent about Best Buy’s chat now button, is the word “now” in the button itself. Plus, don’t ask me why when you click on the button (on a traditional computer) you get MOBILE CHAT but it’s sort of interesting that they only collect first name, last name and phone number. They also offer the chat button when their chat is closed. (Frustrating at best from a user perspective.)

Work your search. Search for “handheld” on the Best Buy site. Is that what you expected? A wireless internet ratio with an alarm clock? It says there are (2) handheld things on the left but there are 335 things listed at the top. Hmmmm…. How exactly does that work? In any case, I’m clear that’s probably not one of their more popular searches but go on, look up stuff on the Best Buy site. I’ll wait. You’ll find that the search results are inconsistent and often seem to lack any sort of logical prioritization. Their navigation forces you to use the text search (it’s not complete enough to find much, if anything) so the things it returns had better be good. Sadly, they’re not.

I could go on and on about things they should change but the point is that I realize that it’s sexier for folks to blame Amazon for stealing Best Buy’s business. Just like “my brother saved Obama’s life” is way more of an interesting headline than “7 things Best Buy can do to improve their business.”

The bottom line is that Best Buy really is the only thing that can save Best Buy’s business.

Blaming Amazon won’t save Best Buy’s business.

With the amount The First Lady likes to shop, it could very well be the death of Obama however.

And therein, you know part of my plan.

*I mean, according to She Who Must Not Be Named (aka my sister-in-law) their lives ARE constantly being endangered by her husband’s wackass sister, but I’ll save those stories for my personal blog.

Note: I realize that there are real people with real feelings behind Best Buy’s site. I’ve met several of them and there are a couple I’d help find jobs for tomorrow if they asked. From my perspective, the downfalls of this site are a management issue. You go to eMetrics and you see them yapping away about how good their analytics system is. Data means jack if you don’t use it to better your business.

 

De Da De Da De Da Do Do.

When I was first starting out in usability (walking uphill both ways to work in raging blizzards with only cardboard scraps taped to my bare feet), there weren’t any best practices or proven methods for ecommerce or lead generation sites.  Sure, there were a couple folks who professed that designing the perfect toaster was exactly the same as building the ideal website but there wasn’t anyone that I’d go all Koresh over, that’s for sure.

So, we had to figure things out for ourselves.

We got a lot of things wrong but the things we got right, we got REALLY right.  So right, in fact, that they made up for all our mistakes, errors, and just plain idiotic pontifications.  (Yes, I’ve had many.  Many being a gross understatement.)

In the early days, we’d give folks $500 to watch them shop online.  Now you have to give away free cars, luxury trips and 11 days of being married to Kim Kardashian but at the beginning — back in the Dinosaur Days – $500 was a lot of money.

Each person would have their own area — which simulated their home or office environment, depending on where we thought they did most of their browsing/shopping.

We’d give them the credit cards and let them go wild.  They could look at porn (which people seem to have no qualms of doing in public – and on videotape — I might add); buy stuff; bid on an auction; or do whatever they wanted to do with the $500.  If they didn’t spend it, they didn’t leave with it.  So if you spent $100 out of the $500, you didn’t leave with $400 in cash.  There was an incentive — and a hard deadline — to spend the money.

A high percentage of people sent free ecards.

Yes, you read that right.

Folks sent free ecards.

People would come in and instead of doing what I’d do (which is spend all the money IMMEDIATELY so I could be assured I’d get every last cent of it!), they’d go online and start sending their friends ecards about the experience.  “I’m doing this great thing!  We get $500 FREE MONEY to spend!  I wish you were here.”

After they wrote everyone, their brother, and their pug that they knew, they’d move on to something of greater importance.

They’d do things like watch HamsterDance.

De Da De Da De Da Do Do.

Over and over and over.  Like a lovesick teenager listening to a break-up song.

Fifteen minutes before the end, we’d give a signal that the time was almost up and then, and only then, would people make a mad dash to spend whatever they could of their $500.

Over sixty percent of the people had money on their credit cards when they left.  (Note to self: It was in those final moments — in the deepest, darkest hours of my career — that I lost all faith in humanity.)

Folks tell me all the time how much better the internet has gotten – and how much more evolved we are – but the truth is, things are pretty much the same.

People still abandon their carts in much-too-large percentages.

Our traffic still bounces way more than it should.

Open and clickthrough rates are still at embarrassingly low numbers.

Folks still bail immediately or a couple pages after they’ve used search, even if the search has been deemed “successful”.

Sure, we’ve gotten a little bit better about keeping people or getting them to come back but in the end, our numbers haven’t varied all that much.

Why?

Perhaps it’s because we still aren’t asking ourselves the right questions.

Are we asking for a first kiss or a f*&k?  If I don’t want to sleep with you the first time I meet you, are you asking for my number (read: email address or mobile number)?  Or are you an all-or-nothing proposition?  (Hint: if the only place you are asking a user for their email address is along the bottom of your site, your odds are as good as picking up a California Dime for a one night stand.)

Or maybe it’s because we’re still not doing the right things.

Yes, I know, Pinterest is sexy and putting up your last 10 years of catalog covers is way easier than setting up the rules to dynamically merchandise your home page but in the end what’s going to bring you the most money?  Amazon’s been dynamically changing their home page for years, what are YOU doing on yours?

Are you connecting with your customers and prospects on your terms or theirs?  Most marketers think this means “are you emailing enough?”  That’s only part of it.  (And I’m willing to bet you’re not emailing even close to the amount you should be.)  It also means… do you personalize your site to MY specific needs?  Do you show MY recently viewed items?  Do you leave MY items in the cart indefinitely?  Do you offer me suggestions on what I should buy based on things that I’ve bought before or have looked at?   Is your site designed to appease the CEO of your company or is it customized for me?   Do you use deadlines to create urgency and cause me to focus?  Do you clearly delineate your bestsellers and customer favorites or do the merchandisers use your most valuable selling space to get rid of clearance and overstock items or to push new items that they don’t even know will sell?

You get the drill.

Years later, the questions really haven’t changed.  Sadly, nor have we.

De Da De Da De Da Do Do.

 

 

 

Malcolm X Lied To Me….

When I was nine, I read The Autobiography of Malcolm X.

In the book, Malcolm X gets high by taking nutmeg.

Innovative, right?

Yeah. Not. So.Much.

Malcolm X is a liar.

Nutmeg, especially ingested in very large quantities, does JACK except to make you want to vomit.Violently.

If, after adding several heaping teaspoons of nutmeg to your daily coffee, or you know, mixing it with water in a stolen shaker from your parents liquor cabinet, you feel like you are having hallucinations, it’s either the placebo effect or extreme nausea.It’s no great high.  Period.

What does this mean?

It means you can’t believe everything you read.  (And yes, Geezer, I realize I’m giving you an easy out to stop reading this and/or mock me.  So be it.)

Besides Malcolm X, who else is lying to you?  Sadly, I can’t speak about your wife, mistress or teenager but I can tell you about the top eightPinocchiosI’ve seen hanging out in the ecommerce world lately.

Deluders who tell you that conversion is the be-all and end-all of internet marketing. Conversion is a great metric when used sparingly.  I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, I can double your conversion overnight by blocking/eliminating all your garbage traffic.  Your conversion rate will skyrocket.  Your revenues?  Not likely.  Hell, they often drop.  Conversion rates are not the primary indicator of a successful site or campaign.  

Deceivers who say that the 200% lift in conversion you’ll get from their button test will “rock your world.”  Unless you’re reading the results at the same time there’s an earthquake, this is very unlikely.Granted, a 200% lift sounds sexy until you put it into perspective and realize that the difference may only be 2 orders.   (Which from an online perspective isn’t statistically significant anyway.)  Yes, there are times when the numbers are real – and amazing – but do some digging before you don a hardhat.

Prevaricators who yap that the only reason why people abandon their carts is because they want to look for a discount coupon.  Yes, there are people who do this – especially if you give your promotion code box/field a lot of prominence.  However, it’s not the majority or primary reason.  In fact, it’s usually on par with the “I-was-shopping-at-work-and-my-boss-walked-in-so-I-quickly-closed-my-browser” rate.

Falsifiers who report that the majority of sales from your remarketing campaign are incremental. I am a big fan of remarketing and if you have an aggressive email capture system and a solid abandoned program you’ll be able to pluck off a lot of the leads, without paying someone a commission.  

Misleaders who try to convince you that you should only email your customers once a week because people hate email.  (These are usually the same folks who say that you shouldn’t use pop-ups because users hate them too.)  Internet marketing is a numbers game.  Get your ego out of the equation and do what’s right for your business.

Fibbers who tell you that mobile marketing is difficult and expensive.  Yes, there are many consultants/agencies making boatloads of cash off of mobile.  However, that doesn’t mean you need to spend that much.  Right now, there are three keys to mobile: just showing up, speed and navigation.   Not to mention you simply must have mobile-friendly emails.  Do you need to spend $100k and $5k a month for service to get good mobile results?   Only if you can’t find some swampland in Florida.

Trickster ESP’s who tell you their delivery rate is 96%.  Unless you count delivering to SPAM and trash folders as “delivered.” As an aside, these are often the same folks who tell you to split your list into openers, non-openers, clickers and non-clickers.   You know what that does?  Puts all the garbage names into one bucket so they’re easiest for the hosts to delete!

Snake oil salesmen who repeatedly ask you “what the ROI of your mother is” when you ask how much money you can expect to make from social media. You’re right to ask.  They’re not liars for saying this, they’re just idiots.  Or maybe they’ve just pounded back too much nutmeg.

Exit Strategies (or why I could never get a job at IKEA)

There’s a comedian who tells a story about getting lost in a forest which he had apparently mistaken for an IKEA.  “I thought the instructions just hadn’t been stapled on to the trees yet.”

Most people, especially those who know the difference between a Phillips and a whatever-one-of-those-other-screwdrivers is called, don’t really think this joke is all that funny.

I, however, find it hilarious.

I put together a piece of IKEA furniture once.

Well, technically that’s a lie.

I bought a piece of IKEA furniture once.

It never really got put together.

I carefully opened the box. 

I gently laid out all the pieces.

Next, I took off all the A-B-C-D labels that were dotting the furniture.

It was a hassle.  They really stick those suckers on.

Then, I looked at the directions.

“Put A into B.  It should latch tightly.”

Um yeah.  About those stickers.  I looked at the little pile of them in the garbage and remember distinctively thinking “you are not so smart.”

Yes, I tried matching up the pieces of wood to the little map inside.

For about 10 seconds.

Then I went and got a Hefty Cinch Sak.

There are some things that are not worth $99.

Specifically my heart.

So what exactly does my incompetence have to do with the web, ecommerce, mobile, email, and whatever else I occasionally (yes, I am being generous here) write about?

Web users – YOUR users – are much like me.

They may be Rocket Surgeon sharp, dumber than a box of rocks, or somewhere in between but when they come to your site, they’re going to do it their way.

Then, they’re going to ask for help.  Or, you know, they’ll just throw your crap in the trash and go with pre-built find a “better company to do business with.”

The difference between me and YOUR user is that you have a good chance of saving them.  IKEA had no chance of saving me – sitting on my floor contemplating whether or not I should start taking the short bus to work – but you have a good chance of saving your users from leaving when problems arise.

What’s the best way to do this?

Exit strategies.

There are lots of different types of exit strategies.  These are the best four:

Develop an instigated chat program.  It blows me away how few companies use instigated chat.  Sure, a lot of folks have regular chat (which incidentally is almost never on when I need it) but very few companies are using instigated chat to their advantage.  Where do you start with instigated chat?  Checkout/cart and search functions are usually the best.  (If you are not an ecommerce business, start with your forms: quotes, inquiries, etc.)  Help your user in the place(s) they  are struggling the most – not only will you reduce your abandons and increase your revenues but you’ll learn what works and more important, what doesn’t, on your site.  It takes about 9-12 months to get your instigated chat formula down pat, so don’t give up on it a minute before then.  Why does it take so long?  Usually it’s because it takes that amount of time to figure out who the best “chatters” are in your company.  (Hint: they’re typically not the best phone reps but instead the people who can text message, Tweet, and so on.)

Implement a usability program, even if you just use the Google tools that are available to you.  Yes, I am a big fan of TeaLeaf.   No, not everyone can afford it – and even if you have the money to buy it, you may not have the people resources to use it.  However, there are lots and lots of other user tools available to you – check out Bryan Eisenberg’s honking big list, er, site here which includes ClickTale and Crazy Egg, two very economical packages.  Heck, if you don’t want to spend the $350 a year, use the free one provided by Google.  None of them are perfect but they will give you a solid indication of what’s happening on your site: what people are clicking on, where they are stumbling, and so on.  Plus, they’ll really help your creative team (including your artists and your copywriters) by showing what messages and art styles are the most compelling for your users to click on.

Add the phone number to your top navigation, your righthand column and the bottom navigation.  Put it all over the place in the cart/checkout and internal text search results. I’m a huge proponent of putting the phone number at least once per view, especially on your top exit pages.  Many companies are allergic to this – they think that customers shouldn’t need to call – and they’re right.  Customers shouldn’t need to call.  The reason they do is because your site sucks and they are giving you one last chance to get the order.  If you’re like most, you will get a quarter of the people on the phone.  If you don’t get a quarter or more, your website is often either terribly efficient or just plain terrible.

Utilizing effective pops.  Pops are another one of those things that marketers avoid like the plague.  Their logic is “I hate pop-ups, they’re very distracting.”  Um yeah, you bonehead, that’s why you use them.  You want to distract the user from leaving.  Pops come in all shapes and sizes.  They don’t have to be anything like the ones you see on the adult content sites.  (We all know that’s what scares you – you can’t close those suckers fast enough and you freak.  Stop looking at things you shouldn’t at work or when your wife is 10 feet away.  You’ll like pops a lot more.)  Pops can pop up or pop under.  They can come in the form of midis, catfishes, or sidewinders.  The key to good pops is killer creative.  If your creative isn’t killer, thehe pops aren’t going to work. 

What other exit strategies do you use that work?  Share them in the comments below or send me an email at info@amyafrica.com.

Do You Keep Hoping For the Best?

Yesterday, I spent $624.17 in a bookstore.  The old school bricks-and-mortar kind where you can actually touch and feel the books.

If I had bought the same books on Amazon, I would have gotten them for under $400.00.  ($363.20 to be exact.)

I read everything on my Kindle, my iPad, my Tablet, my Droid, my iPhone, sometimes even my BlackBerry but unless the publisher isn’t selling an ebook version or it’s a cookbook, I rarely buy “paper” books any more.   Except for the tiny terrorists.   They get REAL turn-the-page books.

However, this post isn’t about how much I overspent or my nephews — which according to the missile mail I got last week, I talk about FAR too much.  Cute considering blue moons come along more than I blog as of late.  But I digress….

I was waiting to meet a friend for lunch.  I was early and since he is Iranian (translates to he will undoubtedly be at least 45 minutes late at all times) I knew I had some time to kill so I wandered into a small children’s bookshop.

The place was cluttered and just-a-little-bit-dusty in a magical sort of way.  There were all sorts of nooks and crannies filled with overflowing beanbags and little chairs.  There was a tot-sized stuffed animal tea party going on in the back.  The entire store was dotted with colored 3×5 index cards with handwritten reviews.  And the owner, a doppelganger for Angela Lansbury,  had a pink name tag on that said “Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle,” one of my favorite children’s book characters.  (I still have my Mom’s copies of the Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle books from when she was a child.  Yes, Sherry Chiger, I do have a mother.)

It was absolutely perfect.

“Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle” spent about an hour helping me find new children’s books.  I told her what my nephews liked and she found all sorts of things for them.   The boys have a lot of books so for every 10 books she showed me, there were about 2-3 I didn’t think they had.  

I read the first six books she suggested and then I just took whatever I thought was missing from their collection and added it to my stack.  I totally trusted her recommendations.  The quaint little lady who smelled like lemon and gingersnaps knew exactly what she was doing.

When I went to checkout, I gave her my credit card and asked her if she could keep my number on file and just send me new books every month.

“Why would I do that?” She inquired in earnest.

“Because I love your recommendations and it’d be great to send the boys a surprise package of books each month that have already been pre-approved.”

“That’s a lot of work.” She said in a somewhat exasperated voice.

I looked at her and smiled.

I wanted to explain to her that another $300-$400-$500-$600 (or whatever) order a month was a lot of money – especially since she DIDN’T DISCOUNT A PENNY and WAS MAKING FULL PRICE ON THE BOOKS.  (Not to mention I had been the ONLY one in the store for the better part of an hour — at lunchtime on a very busy street.)

Or that the UPS store was just two doors down and she could basically drop off the books with our account information and they’d take care of the rest.

Or a bazillion other things that would help her make money. 

But I knew it was a lost cause.  Mrs. Piggle Wiggle knew her children’s books but things like deploying triggered emails and mailing packages were way outside her comfort zone… and her scope.  Her strategy was, in her words, “to keep hoping for the best.”

Haven’t we already proven this hope stuff is sort of depressing? 

Customers tell you what they want all the time.  They tell you what would make them happy and how they would spend more with you if they could.  Sadly, most of us choose to ignore it.

What would happen if you didn’t?  What would happen if you tried a bunch of new things to see which one(s) worked so you could add them to your arsenal?

Chris Hansen co-owns a company called Great Garden Plants.  His business is growing like weeds, er,  gangbusters while the other behemoths in his industry are falling and failing.  Why?  Because he’s always asking his customers what he can do to make their gardens better.  He’s not like me – he doesn’t say “I want to sell you more stuff” – he says “what do you need that I am not offering?  What problems are you having in your garden (i.e., are the deer eating your trees?) that I can solve?  What favorite things are you not growing because you think you can’t – I know I can find something similar that will work for you.”

Great American Business Products is a much larger company and they do the same thing.  Take their Convenient No-Hassle Refill Program for example.  You pick the products you want to receive on a regular basis and they’ll automatically ship them to you FREIGHT-FREE on your schedule.  They guarantee you’ll never run out and that you won’t get price increases.  Their overworked-and-often-frazzled customers LOVE it — they lock in the product AND the savings and they lock out the stress!

Stave Puzzles customizes your puzzles JUST FOR YOU – not just in the level of trickiness but in the pieces too – you can get different shapes, different words, different whatever in your puzzles.  (As an aside, they are my VERY favorite puzzles on earth.)  Eastwood offers instructional product videos.  Stonewall Kitchen and King Arthur Flour both have recipes.

What are YOU doing?  How are you listening? 

P.S. Remember, for every 10 things you try, you only need a couple to work.

Are you a race horse or a rocking horse?

Do not confuse motion and progress. A rocking horse keeps moving but does not make any progress.
—Alfred A. Montapert

Lately, I’ve read far too many #measure reports (I really should set up an analytics firm that understands the difference between theory and practice) and seen far too many project lists (the perfect cure for insomnia) that are packed with a whole lot of nothing.

I’ve already written about How To Axe 90% of Your Project list so today I thought I’d share a list of some of the things that you might find worth concentrating on for the Fall.

INSTIGATED CHAT:   Late summer/early fall is a great time to test the waters of instigated chat if you don’t already have it.  Start with your shopping cart and/or lead forms and then move on to search results and top exit pages.  It may take a while for you to get live chat down pat so keep playing with it till you get it to work.  It WILL work but if often takes time to perfect your secret formula.  You should give chat at least 9 months before you even start reviewing the results.  (Tip: The best phone reps often suck at chat.  Chat is a different beast and a lot of your success will depend on whether or not your folks can sell/solve via what it basically text messaging.)

REVIEWS:  If you don’t have a review program, now is the perfect time to get one.  There are a lot of companies (from PowerReviews to BazaarVoice) that handle reviews well.  Remember, if you are going to commit to a review program, you need to work it.  Develop solicitation emails and tools on your site (midis and catfishes on return after a purchase work really well) to get your users to rate and review their purchases.   Want to get the biggest bang from your buck out of your user reviews?  Organize them by importance.  A lot of companies organize their reviews by date.  It’s unfortunate.   Reviews typically work a lot better when they’re prioritized by significance.   What’s a good formula?  One fantastic (i.e. 5 stars review) and one not-so-great (i.e., 1 star review) at the top.    On another note, don’t delete or hide negative reviews but do respond to them.  (This is something that a lot of companies forget — if it’s your site, you can – and should – respond to as many reviews as is appropriate.)

THRUST EMAILS:  Deliverability is going to be a big issue this Fall.  (Read: more problematic than ever for a lot of companies.)  So, it’s now more important than ever to seed your list.  Set up 6-10 boxes each at Gmail, Yahoo, Hotmail, AOL and anywhere else you can.   Open half the seed emails and leave the other half unopened/unclicked.  It will give you a good indication as to where your emails are being delivered – inbox, SPAM folder, or the trash.  As an aside, do this in-house, don’t just rely on your provider to do it for you.  (Yes, you can also get a service to do this for you – I am not opposed to using a service but I’ve found that if people do it themselves they actually monitor and manage it.  If it’s just another report?  Not. So. Much.) 

Test pop-ups to capture email addresses.  The Golf Warehouse (www.tgw.com) often uses a sweepstakes, Birkenstock Central (www.birkenstockcentral.com) gives away a free gift (socks, for example.) You can test an offer, a sweepstakes, a Deal of the Day, or even just uber-compelling creative.    Pop-ups will work.  If they don’t, it’s likely because your bias against them is keeping you from developing killer creative!

Be sure your phone reps are collecting email addresses (to the tune of 85% at a minimum) as well as mobile text numbers.  Yes, you really should try to obtain mobile numbers even if you don’t know how to use them right now.   It’s also a great time to train your customer service reps on upsell items that your web customers are most likely to buy.

TRIGGER EMAILS:  Triggers should be the MOST successful program in your arsenal.   Don’t have a trigger program? Start with order confirmations and abandoned cart emails.

An abandoned cart program is made up of a series of emails (not just one but a series of 3-5 at least.)  Keep the emails simple (they shouldn’t look like your regular thrust emails); personalize them;  include the items that the user has abandoned; and make sure there are lots of clear action directives (i.e., RETURN TO CART NOW.)

With abandoned carts, you’ll also want to test some kind of pop-under on entrance (reminding the user they have something in their cart) and/or taking them right to the cart when they come back.  Additionally, you should consider internal remarketing banners and plugs (plugs are non-animated banners) and outbound telemarketing.

Your order confirmation program should also be made up of a series of emails.  If you are able to test your confirmations, test your standard “thank you email” versus an immediate thank you letter that allows the user to add anything to their order before it’s shipped – use this space to upsell anything the user should have bought but didn’t.  It may take you a while to figure out this formula – what the user will add to their order – but once you’ve discovered it, it often adds a whopping 15-30% to your average order value, depending on your order size.  You’ll also want to send out a shipping confirmation as well as a “you have your order, now’s the time to order more” and a “please rate and review your order” emails.  A lot of times, companies use generic, written-by-IT-type emails for order confirmations – order confirmations (and any other kind of thank you emails) are great opportunities to sell more stuff.  Use them wisely.

If you’ve mastered both order confirmations and abandoned carts, you should look at EBOPP’s (emails based on past purchases) and reactivation emails.  The holiday seasons is the ideal time to reactive old customers and old inquiries.  Again, these should be personalized triggers.

If you have time to do it now, you may also want to look at ECOA (email change of address), e-append (adds email addresses to your snail mail names), and reverse append (adds snail mail addresses to your email names.)  All of these programs will work as long as you stick to the best practices that your provider recommends.  (They really do know what works best in these type of situations.)

EXTERNAL REMARKETING BANNERS:  The holiday season is a great chance to test remarketing banners.   Your banner success will be largely dependent on your creative so test out a bunch of versions before you roll-out your program.   If you can, be sure to test a version  where you add the picture of the last item the user abandoned to the banner – RBI’s (remarketing banners with items) are typically the most successful by A LOT.

OUTBOUND TELEMARKETING:  Have a lot of abandoned carts?   Test calling the carts with the highest average orders that have been abandoned.  You only need to test a few of these to know if this program will work for you.  (Hint: Chances are it will work like gangbusters.)

MERCHANDISING:  Promote in-stock messaging.  Availability is a big issue for a lot of folks, especially around the holidays.  Look at messaging that showcases your availability and delivery times near your pricing.  (For example: In Stock!  Ships Today!)  If you’re already an availability messaging whiz, test tickers.  Tickers are great because the rolling deadlines emphasize urgency and cause people to focus.  Need it tomorrow?  Order within the next 3 hours and 33 minutes and you’ll get it by noon! (Amazon does a great job at this.) 

Increase the size of your action directives. Keep in mind: the BIGGER the buttons the better and the more, the merrier.  Remember, you should ask for the order (or inquiry if you’re a lead generation business) in every view.   We design pages but users see views – there’s a VERY big difference. 

NAVIGATION AND INTERNAL NAVIGATION:  Internal search is one of the most difficult things to master.  Even with a fancy package, you can’t change the fact that users are often abysmal at finding what they want.   However, you can look at the top 100 searches you’ve had on your site this year and make sure those words (the words and phrases the users searched for) are better represented in your navigation

It’s important to remember that the order in which you present the results is critical to your success in search.  Take the 100 top searches and conduct them yourself, one-by-one.  Review each result.  It’s important that the item you most want to sell is first and the rest are in descending priority. 

Be sure to review your refinements as well.  Due to the onslaught of guided navigation, many companies have gotten really sloppy with their refinements – when someone chooses “sort by bestsellers” from your dropdown, they should get your top selling products and not a hodge podge of garbage.  Same with new – if someone is sorting by new and they get all your items from Fall of 2008, it diminishes your search credibility and makes your search look broken. (One of the top two reasons why users abandon searches.)  Again, if you take your top 50-100 searches, you’ll get a good indication of how you’re  measuring up in this area of your ecommerce business.

Take a quick look at your top navigational bar to make sure that the right items are emphasized.  If you are getting a lot of traffic in a particular area (clearance, sale, or overtock for example), consider making it stand out more – either as a bigger or different colored tab.

Navigation is one of the biggest determinants of your online success so you may also want to do a quick elimination of all the unnecessary/irrelevant items that have gotten added (especially to your top and left hand navigational bars) along the way.  We tend to muck up our top header with all sorts of customer service elements when we really want orders.  We tend to list everything and the kitchen sink in the left when only half of those links ever get clicked on.   Do a quick clean-up.

ANALYTICS:  For many, the holiday season is an extremely busy one both personally and professionally so make your life easier and develop some Read and React reporting.  This one-page report should include ONLY the essentials you need to run your ecommerce business.  The format should be an overview so you can look at it at-a-glance and then delve deeper into areas where you see problems.

Make sure to separate your iPad and tablet traffic from your smart and feature phone traffic.  iPads and other tablets make great shopping devices so you often see twice your regular conversion on them.  You don’t want those results to influence what might be happening on your other mobile results.   You may also want to consider adding a package like Bango to help you with your mobile data as it’s not always well interpreted by some of the other analytics providers.

MOBILE: Speaking of mobile, if nothing else, you should make sure your emails are mobile-friendly.  Less than ¼ of the emails sent out are and it’s a BIG issue for a lot of folks.  Do you need a mobile website or app for the Fall?  Depends on your business and the traffic you are getting from mobile.  With that said, if you are sending out a lot of email, you likely want to add at least a couple mobile jump pages.  And if you do PPC, you may want to test a mobile program.  (PPC keywords for mobile are still A LOT less expensive for the most part.)

Anything else on your list?  Please add it in the comments below.

Focus.

Debbie said “Hi. I don’t know if you remember me but I met you at a MarketingProfs conference. I came up to you after your session and shoved my stats in your face and then when you said you had to go to the ladies room, I followed you in like a stalker so you could not blow me off!  You looked at our Omniture data for 10 minutes and then told me to ‘bag 90% of what we were doing and focus on a few very specific items.’ We did and we went from the verge of bankruptcy to a place where we now have a little money in the bank for a rainy day.  We were also able to hire back the six employees we had laid off and thirteen new ones too. Thank you.  I mean that from the bottom of my heart.   My question is, and I don’t know if you’ll remember me but if you do, what did you see in our stats that made you say to us what you did? I ask because I need to do it again and I don’t see anywhere I can stalk you!)

Thanks Debbie.

After all today’s drama (hello people who misconstrued my post about blog comments), it’s nice to get a  note like this.

I do remember you although you are not the first person who has chased me into the bathroom.  Hell, I’ve even had people shove me paperwork under the stall begging me to take “just one look.”

Here’s the thing…  In business, focus is what makes you successful.

People don’t talk about it much because it’s simple and not very sexy.

But it’s reality.

I get hundreds of emails every week (sadly, that is not an exaggeration) from folks wanting to know about the latest and greatest trends (today it’s Empire Avenue, yesterday it was BO.LT)  Some of them are worth testing.  Others?  Not. So. Much.  (Translation: many of them are not worth the time you spend reading about them.)

When I looked at your stats, it was clear that you were getting enough traffic but you weren’t converting it.  When I looked a little deeper, I saw that you had a huge amount of direct/no referrer traffic.  I also saw that there were huge abandons on your quick order form so I recommended that you change “Catalog Quick Order” to “Ordering from a Catalog?” and then really work that page till you got it close to perfect. It’s been awhile but I believe I also recommended doing specific things with your non-brand PPC keywords as well as developing a trigger email program in lieu of all the time and effort you were spending on social media, which at the time, wasn’t bringing you any return.

The thing about your analytics is that they’ll tell you everything about your business you need to know… and then some.  The challenge is that most folks can’t look at their data objectively – in other words, they make excuses for how things are or even worse, they don’t look at the stuff that matters.  (They get caught up in stuff they can’t change or they look at things that they won’t be able to impact.)  We also tend to ask the wrong people for advice.  If you have a medical problem that can be fixed with surgery, medication or a lifestyle change, a surgeon is going to tell you to opt for the surgery because surgeons like to cut.  That’s what they do. 

Not every company needs a Twitter or Facebook account or a blog.  Nor does every company need affiliates or a mobile app.   You need to do what’s best for your business.  Test new things (this really is a must unless you’re struggling and then sometimes it’s a good idea and others it isn’t.)  However, pay special attention to your biggest winners.  Those are the things you need to do more of and programs you need to keep improving.

In the big scheme of things, business is simple.  Most of the times, our egos are what complicate it.

Oh, and if you want a place to stalk me — come to MCMLive.  If you use my priority code (AMY), you’ll save $100 off the registration fee and you’ll get a FREE hour of consulting. Sign up today

Have a question about your stats or the direction you’re moving in from an online perspective?  Jot it in the comments below or email me at info@amyafrica.com

Do you really need comments on your blog?

Jen L. writes “Three weeks ago, I watched you fight with Mack Collier and Wilson Ellis on Twitter.  The guys were insistent that comments were very important and you said they were overrated and misleading.  You promised that you would write a blog post about it but I have checked your blog a few times a day ever since and I haven’t seen anything.  I am sure you are very busy but when are you going to get to this?  I don’t mean to be rude but I am desperate. I am the social media director at one of the  biggest engineering firms in the world and my review is in July.  I am pregnant and my husband is recently unemployed so I really can’t afford to lose my job but I am afraid that I am going to get fired because I have not reached the blog metrics that I set out for myself.  I got the Facebook likes and Twitter followers (that was easy) but the partners think ‘Twitter is stupid and that Facebook for B2B is a joke.’  They are obsessed with blog comments and say that they’ve spent a lot of money paying for posts (we use freelancers to help write our posts as the concepts are very technical and the engineers aren’t very good writers.)  Whatever you can do to help me would be most appreciated.  Thank you very much!”

Jen, you sound like a country song.  You just need a dying dog and a rusty pick-up truck!

First, Wilson Ellis is a woman named Debra (her company is called Wilson Ellis Consulting) and Mack and I go at it about just about everything.  He’s from Alabama and I’m from Vermont (thus a Yankee) and he’s still fighting the war.  (Just kidding.  Well.  Sort of.)  Hopefully they’ll both comment below (yes, I realize the irony of that statement.)

I think blog comments are VERY overrated.  “Social media experts” act like they are the be-all-end-all but personally I think they are insignificant for many (not all, but the majority of) companies.

If I ran an SEO blog, I’d expect comments from my peers and MAYBE a few clients.  However, if I was in charge of a blog for plumbers, I would NOT expect any comments. Plumbers are going to be out fixing sinks and such all day long, they are not going to be sitting in front of their computers waiting to weigh in on clogged toilets and whether or not industrial Drano is environmentally friendly. 

You need to know your audience.

Kevin Hillstrom of Mine That Data (@minethatdata on Twitter) is unequivocally one of the best bloggers (and most prolific) I know.  He writes every day and his stuff is ALWAYS solid – not throwaway “I believe the sky is blue, do you feel the sky is blue too?” garbage type posts that a lot of the A-listers kick out.  (I am partial to Kevin’s Glieber’s stories mostly because they’re fun and I can actually understand them!)  According to Kevin, 80% of his posts get ZERO comments and the ones that do get comments are “pedestrian or controversial!”  He sells three times as many books (this is my favorite) per post as he gets blog comments per post.  (SELLS as in directly makes money!)  Till recently, Kevin got 70% of his business from his social media efforts and I believe all but 1% of that was from his blog.  In other words, Kevin  makes the big bucks from his blog WITHOUT m/any comments.

Social media people like to talk about community and how important it is.  Many of them believe that if you build a community you may eventually get business out of it.  That’s often (although not always) true.  However, it’s BS that if you build it they will just come.  It takes time and effort and even if you do put in both, it may not be worth it to you.  In other words, you can’t take this whole “listening is the new black” social media people spew literally from a balance sheet perspective.

Take me for instance, I’m the world’s WORST blogger and I feel that if I REALLY worked at it, I could probably get 25 comments per post on average.  However, of those 25 comments, my potential for business would be $0.  Yes, ZERO. ZIP. ZILCH. NOTHING. NADA.  It’s possible that I’d get referrals that would lead to business but I have no confidence that I’d get any direct work from it.  Why?  Because the people who hire me don’t typically comment on marketing blogs.  (Think this is too broad of a statement?  Study the top 10 players in your market and figure out who is commenting – is it your clients?  Competitors?  Students?  Vendors?  Both?  None?)

Does that mean blogs shouldn’t have comments?  There are actually several good SEO reasons to NOT have them but if you position them properly, there’s often no harm in allowing them.  With that said, I don’t think people should set up getting blog comments as the sole measure of success.

For example, Jen, you said you’ve seen my blogs a couple times a day for the past three weeks – which means you’ve seen my blog at least 30 times and have never left a comment.  However, you did send me an email.  So if someone was measuring me based on blog comments, I’d get a whopping F.   However, if you were evaluating my success based on good leads, I’d get a better score.  I’m not listing your company name out of respect for you, but your company would be a good client for us, especially if I could convince you to develop a trigger email program.  If we put you in one of our aggressive follow-up programs, there’s a big chance we’d convert you, and your email would result in a sale.   That’d result in at least a passing grade.  Give me several of those and I’d have an A+!

So, what should you do?   Look at the metrics that matter.  For a blog, you should look at your visitors – you should study how many of them come back again and how many of them take some sort of action.  Those are two of the MOST important metrics – repeat visitors and adoption-to-action. (Sadly, very few people measure adoption-to-action and EVERYONE should.)  Look at how many of them sign up for your RSS feeds, email program or whatever else it is that you offer.  Every important action that the user could take – for example, filling out your lead form – should be tracked. 

Should you track your comments?  Sure.  If they’re important to you getting business or whatever it is that you’re blogging for.  I have a client who posts technical support information to reduce customer support calls.  They track visitors and they do in-depth tracking on what pages and products are most popular so they can improve their front-end service. 

What other things can you do to increase activity?  There are lots of things you can do.  For example, you could get people to sign up for your email list by offering some sort of incentive.  Social Media Examiner offers a FREE Facebook Marketing Video Tutorial.  Neil Patel from QuickSprout offers a free guide with 13 simple business strategies.  John Chow offers a free ebook. I have a section on my blog called Ask Amy where users can submit whatever pressing internet-related questions they have.   There’s no limit to the number of things that you can do, so do as many as you can to determine what works best for you.

Focus on the things that you can do that will make you money or get you to your end goals.

My recommendation to people who’ve promised lots of comments and can’t deliver is to readjust your metrics.  If you really MUST get comments in the short-term (before you change your metrics), you’ll read all sorts of bogus advice like “comment on other people’s blogs and they’ll be sure to reciprocate.”  That sounds great in theory but my (and many others) experience is that it doesn’t work in practice.  And even if it did, it’s not very predictable. 

So, I’d recommend being MUCH more aggressive about soliciting them, i.e., asking people via Twitter DM or through email, for example.  (I’ve just killed about 20 social media people with that blasphemy, er, recommendation.)  You can also offer prizes – sweepstakes and giveaways really do work. (Yes, even in B2B.  You just need to offer something REALLY fantastic so the visitor will be compelled to click.)  You can also proactively solicit tips from your users – this works in all sorts of unique situations – and then use them in a blog post.  Don’t forget to respond to all the comments – if nothing else, that will double your comments!

Have other suggestions for Jen?  Put them in the comments below.  Have questions about your own blog that you don’t want to put in the comments?  Send me an email: info@amyafrica.com.

P.S. I’m not going to lie, it can suck to have a blog that doesn’t get comments.  You spend a lot of time writing posts and then you get nothing but CRICKETS.  Sometimes it’s demoralizing.  However, I can name at least a half a dozen popular bloggers who get dozens (sometimes hundreds) of comments and are REALLY struggling for business. (Translation: they don’t have any.)  In fact, if it weren’t for their speaking efforts, I don’t think they’d have any incoming money at all.  (At this point, Verizon doesn’t accept Atta-Boys and Amens.)  Comments don’t necessarily correlate to money.  They may.  They may not.  Figure out what’s right for you.

P.P.S.  Why do I have comments on this blog? I test doing them on and off.  For me, they do not matter in terms of business and I do not measure them whatsoever.  I like them because once in a while I get to see a friendly face (hello James Fowlkes and Michael McCormick.)  When I reformat this blog, they’ll likely be gone.