Expanding a business brochure site into something that will really help your business

To illustrate advertising and informational pa...
These days, brochures aren’t enough to make your business findable. (Image via Wikipedia)

If you’re a semi-retired professional who wants to build a consulting business, and you’re not an internet whiz, what kind of web site will really help clients find you? And how can you easily build and maintain a useful professional network?

My dad, Jack Gahran, is a semi-retired management consultant who knows many other semi-retired professionals. Today he asked me to look over the brand-new web site of a colleague of his, to offer some advice as to how it might be improved in ways that will build this person’s business.

The site is a pretty standard brochure site — a few static pages of basic information. It had a nice but simple design, and the content seemed to use keywords appropriately — both of which help search engines like Google index the site well. However, Google generally isn’t very interested in small brochure sites that are infrequently updated and don’t attract many inbound links.

I offered my dad’s colleague four basic tips for improving his site in ways that will make it much more visible in search engines, and thus more likely to attract inbound links from other sites (another thing Google rewards).

I get asked for this kind of advice a lot, so I figured I’d make a blog post out of it, so everyone can benefit.

Here’s what I told him…
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Experiment: Great Live Event Coverage for Hire. What do you think?

As I mentioned in my previous post, today I’m liveblogging and tweeting a daylong Las Vegas event by Metzger Associates: Social Media for Executives. It’s a small event for a select group of executives representing several types of companies.

I’m doing this as a pilot test for a new professional service I’d like to start offering: Great live event coverage.

In my experience, most online event coverage isn’t so great. A few folks will be tweeting or blogging in several places, some hashtags will be used, but it’s all rather confusing and inconsistent to follow. Also, a lot of people tend to tweet items like “Jane Doe is speaking at this session now.” Uh-huh… AND….?

Liveblogging/tweeting has turned out to be a real strength of mine — I’m good at it, and I enjoy it. I’ve also had the good fortune to collect a sizable Twitter following among folks whose interests in media, business, and other fields overlap with mine — and who enjoy my particular blend of reporting, analysis, and attitude. (Or at least I guess they do, because every time I do live event coverage my Twitter posse swells noticeably and those folks tend to stick around afterward.)

I do a lot of live event coverage via Twitter and CoverItLive. For instance, earlier this month for my client the Reynolds Journalism Institute I liveblogged/tweeted J-Lab’s Fund My Media Startup workshop at the 2009 Online News Association conference.

So, being a longtime entrepreneur always on the lookout for new opportunities, I’m looking for ways to offer live event coverage as a service for my clients. Today’s event is an experiment on this front.

I want to figure out how this service could work in a way that would appeal to my Twitter posse, maintain my integrity and independence, and provide value to clients who’d pay for it.

Here are some of the issues I’m wrestling with, that I’d welcome your thoughts on…

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Google Wave: I want it because I hate e-mail

I have come to loathe e-mail. Well, at least for coordination (like setting meetings) or collaboration (like working together on projects) or tasks (like answering people’s questions) or ongoing conversations (like discussion groups). I quickly get overwhelmed by all those separate messages, each of which requires a surprising amount of thought to place it in context and figure out what I’m supposed to DO with it.

It makes my brain hurt.

This video from EpipheoStudios.com nails exactly why I hate e-mail, and how Google Wave is trying to solve the problems of e-mail.

YouTube – What is Google Wave?.

I don’t know whether Google Wave will actually solve these problems. But dammit, at least they’re trying to tackle the problem. And they have the development power and user base to stand a chance of pulling it off.

A friend has sent me an invite. I haven’t received it yet. But when I do, I’ll give it a try. UPDATE: I just got my Google Wave invitation today! I’ll get a chance to play with it over the weekend. I expect it to be rough. (OK, everyone who’s whining about it: rough is what “alpha testing” is all about!) And hopefully I’ll start to glimpse an end to the e-mail madness.

Death of Tr.im: Rolling your own link shortener might be a good idea

RIP, Tr.im

RIP, Tr.im

UPDATE AUG 12: Tr.im reports that they’re not dead yet. Hey, congrats to them for working something out, at least for now. But still: As Aron Pilhofer notes in the comments below, relying on any third-party for a core functionality represents a significant risk, so I still stand by my advice in this post.

Yesterday the popular URL shortening service Tr.im abruptly bit the dust — begging the question of whether existing Tr.im shortlinks would suddenly break. (Tr.im says its existing links will continue to function at least through Dec. 31, 2009.)

This doesn’t affect me much, since I rarely used Tr.im — but others relied heavily on Tr.im and its statistics for how its shortlinks were used. Bit.ly, which also tracks shortlink statistics, is now Twitter’s default link shortener. PaidContent recently covered how difficult link shortener service business is. Which means that other link shorteners could fall down and go boom at any time.

So if you really must rely on shortlinks for any reason, it probably makes more sense than ever to create or control your own link shortener

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Kindle Problem: No reformatted PDFs, no Instapaper since late July

UPDATE Aug 5: Amazon’s Kindle support called me this morning to let me know that they’d fixed the pdf conversion problem — which is indeed now working. (Thanks, Amazon.) However, I still am not receiving my Instapaper digests on my Kindle. I’ve contacted Instapaper twice about this; no response yet. I’ve also let Amazon know of the continuing Instapaper problem.

I’m an avid Kindle user, mostly because I’ve come to hate paper and need to save space. I love the device, I think it’s a great reading experience and it suits my lifestyle — even though Amazon’s choice to rescind my George Orwell anthology a few weeks ago was simply beyond parody. (Lesson: Back up all your Kindle content as soon as it arrives on your machine. I put Orwell back on my Kindle simply by copying it from my backup.)

In the last couple of weeks some significant problems have developed concerning non-Amazon content for my Kindle — specifically PDFs I’ve been trying to reformat for Kindle reading, and digests sent to my Kindle from my Instapaper account. In late July both of those services stopped working for me entirely. That’s a big problem for me. Without those services, the Kindle is much less useful to me.

I don’t know whether other Kindle users are having these problems, but I thought I’d explain what I’m experiencing just in case someone has an explanation or solution. I’m working with Kindle support on this, but they said it might take a couple of weeks to resolve.

Here are the details…
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Twitter via text messaging, on the cheap

homeless guy on his phone
Image by Malingering via Flickr

UPDATE: Right after I posted this article, David Herrold told me (very nicely) that you can indeed turn device updates on for individual Twitter friends via the Twitter interface or by texting “on username” to 40404 from the phone number you’ve connected to your Twitter account. So you don’t need to convert RSS to SMS to get text updates from specific Twitter users. Still, the strategy I outline below is helpful for following Twitter search queries and hashtags via text messaging.

Technically, Twitter is designed with that frustrating 140-character limit so it can work even over the barest of bare-bones cell phones via text messaging. But even so, twittering by text messaging is cumbersome and a little financially risky.

A colleague e-mailed me with a Twitter question. She wants to use her mobile phone to send and receive tweets via SMS text messaging, but doesn’t have a data plan for her phone. (Hey, there’s a recession on, you might have heard.)

Yes, you can indeed read and post to Twitter solely via text messaging if you choose. I do think it’s a good idea to get set up to post to Twitter via text. You never know when you might need it.

The tricky part lies in receiving tweets via text messaging, while controlling costs…

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Being a Citizen Shouldn’t Be So Hard! Part 2: Beyond Government

NOTE: This is part 2 of a multipart series. See the series intro. More to come over the next few days.

This series is a work in process. I’m counting on Contentious.com readers and others to help me sharpen this discussion so I can present it more formally for the Knight Commission to consider.

So please comment below or e-mail me to share your thoughts and questions. Thanks!

To compensate for our government’s human-unfriendly info systems, some people have developed civic info-filtering backup systems: news organizations, activists, advocacy groups, think tanks, etc.

In my opinion, ordinary Americans have come to rely too heavily on these third parties to function as our “democracy radar.” We’ve largely shifted to their shoulders most responsibility to clue us in when something is brewing in government, tell us how we can exercise influence (if at all), and gauge the results of civic and government action.

Taken together, these backup systems generally have worked well enough — but they also have significant (and occasional dangerous) flaws. They’ve got too many blind spots, too many hidden agendas, insufficient transparency, and too little support for timely, effective citizen participation…

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TechStars Investor Day and other good stuff today

This morning I had the privilege of attending some of the morning presentations from this year’s crop of TechStars startup companies in an event called “Investor Day,” held at the Boulder Theater.  TechStars is a Boulder, CO-based program that provides seed capital and mentorship for tech startups. SocialThing (which just got bought by AOL) and Brightkite were both graduates of last summer’s TechStars.

The main reason I went was because my good friends Susan Mernit and Lisa Williams were presenting the flagship product, WhozAround, from their new company, People’s Software Company. I’ve been watching them endure the TechStars maelstrom this summer, and they pulled through great despite lots of pressure and stresses.

WhozAround is currently a Facebook application in alpha. It’s the first step in their plan to bypass the current communication chaos that ensues whenever two or more people try to agree on a place & time to meet. As Susan said in her presentation today, “Do all those e-mails, IMs, texts, Facebook notifications, and other messages really make getting together easier?” I can answer that with a resounding “NOT!!!”

Here’s Susan giving the presentation:

Susan Mernit presenting at TechStars Investory Day, 2008

And Susan and Lisa taking questions from investors:

Susan Mernit & Lisa Williams taking questions from investors

(Apologies for the crappy images, my iPhone camera isn’t great for that sort of lighting and distance. I was sitting in the balcony.)

I’ll be heading back to the Boulder Theater in a couple of hours for the Tech Cocktails event there:

Tech Cocktails

But some more cool stuff happened today…

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Poof! There went Nokia’s high-end US market…

Stories that Matter
Ooops, sorry, Nokia — was that YOUR market?

Nokia has been running a US TV commercial featuring the world’s most inept magician, to tout its high-end N95 8G phone. How appropriate — because today, Nokia’s high-end US market just went “Poof!”

Apple just announced its new 3G iPhone — and I think it’s most of the way toward being a pro-level tool for journalists and mobloggers. I plan to get one as soon as they become available in early July.

I say “most of the way” because the 3G iPhone still has a glaring omission — no provision for an external full-size keyboard, either Bluetooth or docking. That’s a bummer. I’ve demoed the iPhone touch keyboard several times, and have found it frustrating to try to write anything more than a few words at a time with it. That may be fine for the vast majority of iPhone users — but for serious journalists, bloggers, and mobloggers, that’s a serious handicap.

But lack of keyboard support no longer a dealbreaker-level handicap as far as I’m concerned. Not like Nokia’s abysmal US service, which can leave users of the fancy, pricey, delicate N95 (a superior device for journalists and mobloggers, in my opinion) without a phone for up to a month — or longer, some users report.

In contrast, Apple offers prompt, excellent service at many, many US locations. I’ve used that service for other Apple products, and I’ve been impressed.

I’ve said it many times, but it bears repeating: For a high-end, can’t-be-without-it mobile device that people put their entire lives on, service quality is at least as important product quality. Nokia may still have the superior product for high-end users — but their service sends a clear message: We don’t really care about your experience after you buy our fancy phone.

Besides myself, I’m sure that the new 3G iPhone has swayed the opinion of many other would-be high-end phone users in the US who have been waiting (and waiting, and waiting…) for a mobile device that will let us create and share the kind of content we’ve always wanted to make on the go — with the confidence that if and when it goes awry, we won’t be stranded.

This is very, very bad news for Nokia USA. Because…
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3G iPhone Coming June 9 (Look Out, Nokia!)

Open Democracy, via Flickr (CC license)
Can Nokia move fast enough to keep competing with the iPhone in the US? Time’s running out!

I’ve been hearing the rumor, and Gizmodo claims it’s true: Apple is supposed to debut the next-generation iPhone on June 9, during the keynote address of its Worldwide Developers Conference. I would expect it to go on sale in the US pretty soon after that. (But of course, you never really know with Apple.)

Apparently this new iPhone will include 3G network compatibility. That’s really important for people who want a true multimedia content creation and distribution tool, not just a phone. It’s also likely to have real GPS — which is far more accurate and useful than the crappy fake GPS the current iPhone uses (based on cell phone tower triangulation). That’s important if you want to accurately geocode the content you create (photos, video, etc.).

BUT… the new iPhone is not likely to be the complete Max Headroom device that journalists and mobloggers really need. Because it’s not likely to get a much better camera (currently just 2.0 megapixels). And it’s not likely to support a Bluetooth keyboard. And it’s not likely to get a built-in video editor. So it’s still meant mainly for mobile content consumers, not creators.

In other words, the new iPhone still won’t be as good a product as Nokia’s N95 already is — at least not as far as journalists and mobloggers are concerned.

Nevertheless, I might soon end up settling for an iPhone — unless Nokia pulls its US service act together damn quick. (Specifically, before the new iPhone goes on sale in the US.)

Why? Because the new iPhone might be barely good enough for much of what I need a mobile device to do. More importantly, Apple has proven, through its service practices, that it stands behind its products and cares about customers’ experience after they buy. Apple understands and respects that users of high-end phones run their lives on those devices, and thus cannot tolerate being without them for more than a few days at a time.

Meanwhile Nokia’s dearth of US local service centers, requirement that customers ship damaged or dead phones to Nokia at their own expense, and warranty that allows Nokia up to 30 days to return a phone — plus its risky, clunky, PC-only firmware update process — convey the message that Nokia doesn’t really care much about its US customers. (At least, not after they fork over $500-$700 for an N-Series phone.)

And when it comes to must-have, multi-use mobile devices, service quality is at least as important as product quality. In fact, I’ve come to the conclusion that, for me, service is more important — since evidently I am willing to compromise (within reason) on the product I want in order to get the service I need. I doubt I’m the only journalist/moblogger willing to make that tradeoff.

That said, I know that Nokia has recently woken up to the fact that its US customers are so very displeased with their service, and they are starting to try to make amends. Here’s where that’s at so far…
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