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June 6th, 2008 by john andrews

Starbucks Losing Key Customers Over WiFi Glitches

I’ve been a regular Starbucks customer for many years. I spend about $250 per month at my local Starbucks, separate from WiFi access fees. I pay $7 for pre-made, cold sandwiches so I don’t have to leave my table. I visit Starbucks nearly daily when on travel, and I even buy stuff from their over priced gift racks. I have been a t-mobile unlimited subscriber for several years, just for the Starbucks connectivity. I have a collection of Starbucks cash cards, and I always maintain a balance. For years I was on the auto-renew program. I give pre-loaded Starbucks cards as gifts, and I reward tech workers with $100 Starbucks cards on a regular basis, often over the web. But this past week I have tasted the coffee and WiFi at 7 other coffee shops, because lately, Starbucks WiFi sucks.

I currently have both t-mobile and ATT unlimited WiFi subscriptions, so I can stay connected at Starbucks. And that’s not good enough. It still goes down, drops me, or refuses to grant me access. It is slow, it chokes on non-www URLs, and otherwise just plain sucks. If this is Starbuck’s version of the evolution of the Starbucks WiFi experience, I have news for Starbucks: your coffe is not as good as 5 of the 7 other places I tried this week. And neither is your WiFi.  In the 3 years I’ve had a smart phone, I’ve been technically able to tether the notebook and avoid the need for WiFi altogether. But I haven’t bothered.. until this past week.
If this goes on much longer, I hope t-mobile is able to sure Starbucks for the mis-management of the network. It appears to have been outsourced to SBC, although I have no interest in digging for those details. Whether I try to connect to the t-mobile or ATT account doesn’t matter.. I still get crappy service from the access point. Sometimes I connect to the t-mobile SSID and get an ATT sign on page, and sometimes I see a srong t-mobile signal and a weak ATT signal, so I know it’s bad management.

I used to think I needed my coffee, but it’s clear as day now: I need my WiFi connectivity, and I am willing to pay someone to maintain a comfortable community-oriented space for using it. Starbucks was on the right track putting a meeting place in every town with a big green sign. Read my lips: it’s college study hall for the post-graduate technical workers. It’s comfortable, familiar, and conducive to thought. No doubt Starbucks needed to put in free WiFi, but it’s a big mistake to muck up the reliable connectivity like this. Fire that director and try again… quick. If I end up discovering an alternative location, I’ll be happy to bring in my coffee or send out for it, but I won’t be willing to pay the Starbucks prices any more. There are quite simply better options.

Update: A few hours after I posted this, t-mobile files suit against Starbucks. Clue to Startbucks: don’t use your customers as pawns in your corporate games.

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June 6th, 2008 by john andrews

Bravo! Google Maps 4 Mobile gets Bus/Train Info

I’m a big fan of public transportation, and have since before gas was over $2 per gallon. I love to drive and I totally understand the phenomenon of 1 person per car on the freeway, but my choice is public transportation whenever reasonable. And historically it gets more reasonable as more people use it, until it reaches a financial/political ceiling (as it has in many urban areas). At some point it gets too crowded, too slow, and too risky to rely on an overburdened and under-planned public transportation system, which goes underfunded because the policy and decision makers aren’t riding it.

That’s where the green revolution actually helps us. As politicians and municipalities are forced to consider public transportation options and actually rewarded for making them work, we have a chance to break through those false ceilings and perhaps achieve the kind of momentum needed to build long-lasting, efficient transit systems. And Google just added a great feature to mobile maps that smartphone-toting riders will really enjoy.

I have enjoyed bus stop icons on Google maps in Seattle over the past year, but they were not available on the mobile version where I needed them most. In fact, having them on the desktop but not on the phone was doubly annoying. The only reason you need them is to check scheduling and plan a route. If you’re doing that on the desktop, you can simply look at the metro websites and use their trip planners. Once you’re on the streets though, you need an interactive system. Schedules provide info but don’t help you plan your route (unless you carry all the schedules and know all the bus/train routes). Most of the interactive trip planners fail to function well on the mobile device, but Google maps for mobile works great. And now Gogle mobile maps includes bus and train info.

If you haven’t been riding, give it a try. Boot up Google maps, hit “My Location” and zoom in to see the bus stop icons. Click and see the route, the scheduled times. Use it… and it will get better, as will the transportation system. In Seattle metro bus service is free in the downtown areas, and we have several express bus systems to the outlying communities that are amazingly efficient. Riding has never been easier.

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June 6th, 2008 by john andrews

Better Faster Cheaper — not the case with SEO

I just completed 4 hours of SEO industry research, and I am marvelling at how this SEO business is inverted when compared to other industries. In the tech and manufacturing worlds, the mantra is “better faster cheaper“. Over time, what is available to us is better, we can do things faster, and we pay less for what we get. Not so for SEO. It gets harder and costs more over time, largely because it takes more work to achieve the required quality and quantity of results. And if you signed a fixed term contract, I am willing to bet your SEO is getting worse over time, not better.

SEO is very competitive, so it makes sense that over time, any particular market will become more expensive for marketing successfully. It is harder to get attention in a more crowded room. But that is also true for tech and manufacturing, yet they still enjoy better-faster-cheaper. We don’t.

I just “hit the web” for some updating and spent over 4 hours “catching up” on my SEO / marketing skills, since it’s been a week since I last “studied up” like that. I come from a background in health care and research, where Continuing Education is the norm and a requirement. Let me tell you, Nurses, Doctors, and Clinicians have it EASY compared to search marketers. If someone gave CEU credits for the SEO research we have to do just to stay current, I’d probbaly log 300 CEUs per year compared to nurses in New York State, who are required to complete 4 CEUs every 4 years. And I just chatted with a handful of my peers over at the SMX Advanced Search Marketing Conference in Seattle, where I confirmed that I am quite certainly competitive as an SEO and search consultant.

Perhaps the most remarkable aspect of this “seo is changing fast and it is very costly to keep up” scenario is that more and more SEO “firms” are requiring yearly contract commitments, which clients are signing. I can tell you that my four hours of research tonight confirmed for me that 3 of the methods we have been deploying for SEO success during the past year are no longer profitable. Subsequently I am taking action to remove those from our arsenal, since they are no longer cost effective for our clients. Are those “SEO firms” taking similar actions? Of course not. I doubt many of them are even aware of the changes, and of those that are, many are simply going to stop putting in the time yet with those term contracts, still collect the fees. I’m willing to bet it is that slippage that fuels some of their profit margins. That is how they are able to offer low rates…

In our office (soon to be known as UpperLeftPlacement) We have a queue of potential SEO activities which we consider “hot prospects”. It comes our of our own research, across our own network of sites in various markets. It’s a very dynamic list, and represents our entrepreneurial SEO brain trust. What might work, what someone else suggested works or might work, what we see working on our sites, or what we see working from our testing — it is all on that list. Tonight I confirmed that 2 of those are indeed more effective than available alternatives, and safe, and so they are being added to the operational toolbox. For some clients, those tactics will be at work as soon as tonight. Other clients require some discussion and a more formal approach, which will be added to the agenda for the next meeting or conference call.

Which brings me back to the point of this post. Better/Faster/Cheaper is not the case for SEO, largely because of the management of change, as opposed to the change itself. The more time we have to spend explaining the new ideas, demonstrating effectiveness, and estimating time requirements, the more expensive it is to act. And the more expensive it becomes to act, the harder it becomes to compete. Our “overhead” is the time we spend not on SEO… and as that increases, the SEO cost effectiveness is challenged. In a business driven by bottom line success metrics, that’s an important fact. SEO success, by its very definition, is threatened by the very change that necessitates the deployment of the SEO.

See the problem? This industry is broken, and it won’t fix itself. The visible solution to the conundrum of SEO costing more over time, for lesser results, is churn. As clients address “failure” by moving away from the SEO who apparently failed them, they seek another SEO because, well, they know very well that they need SEO services. The new contract includes what they really need (now), but typically has a fixed one year term as well. What will happen in 8 months?

The SEO consultant model is the only one that works for real search marketing, which is expensive and time consuming. There are many tasks associated with execution for which firms and agencies and service providers are very useful.. even necessary n some cases, but the SEO functions cannot be clearly specified over a term contract. If you can negotiate time commitments from good people, it can work, but if you’re contracting for services, I just don’t see how it’s going to end well.

Update Tip: By the way, if you’re using a DOM script to highlight the existence of nofollow on web pages, it might be time to update your script. I’ve been seeing more and more sites using the “external nofollow” attribute pair for anchor tags, which will be overlooked by DOM scripts set to filter strictly for “nofollow” (including some of the more popular ones). Best not get too comfortable in the reliability of your toolset, eh?

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