John Andrews is a Competitive Webmaster and Search Engine Optimization Consultant in Seattle, Washington. This is John Andrews blog on issues of interest to the SEO community and competitive webmasters. Want to know more?

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September 30th, 2009 by john andrews

Always Be Link Building

Every few days a note flies across the discussion groups pointing to some trick that improves web site performance. Today is was this interesting article on button colors and conversion rates. Dan Harrison published “How to Quickly Triple Your Conversion Rate“, describing some testing he did on his gadget affiliate site. The bottom line? Orange buttons outperform blue. And red outperforms orange. And “shop now” outperforms “more info” and “buy now”. Or something like that.

Of course I got some emails today asking me if “we” should change our buttons to red, and our button text to “shop now”. Please re-consider Dan’s post, and consider context.

Red and orange were higher contrast than the blue, for Dan’s site. The contrast attracts the eye. The eye then reads the message (button text), which makes a suggestion to the reader. If the reader has just browsed an item and found it intriguing, a “shop now” message may be very effective. If the reader has not been so primed to buy, “more info” might perform better.

Dan’s site has a top section with brief blurbs on popular products. Products the landing user has not already expressed interest in, specifically. I expect in that circumstance, a “shop now” will outperform a “buy now”. Only the most impulsive visitor would “buy” something they never knew before seeing a brief blurb. The “buy now” asks for a commitment. Shop Now does not.

Of course Dan’s visitors are to some degree primed for gadgets and enviro gadgets. Only Dan can test Dan’s traffic. And only you (and Google if you let them watch your business activity via Google Analytics or AdSense) can test your traffic.

Dan’s inner sections, where products are found via drill down, would probably do better with “buy now”. I’m not positive, and like Dan, I would want to test. But I would not consider it magic if it worked… I would consider it good design.

Also keep in mind that the overall visual design influences the visitor. Not just contrast, but lines present on the page, distractions, attractors, and scanned text. It all works together, as the user puts it to work on a task (find what I need).

Is it a good article? It’s a great article. It’s link bait, drawing links (like the back link in this blog post) which Dan will convert into money as he links over to his gadget blog or cashes in on his profile as a web publisher/affiliate. A blog which, should be noted, I never knew existed before Dan wrote about his testing. And yes, we are his target audience (we buy gadgets).

Should we change our buttons to red? No, but we should revisit the importance of contrast and visual design, because apparently we have forgotten some of our priorities (demonstrated by how easily we were impressed by Dan’s article). We may need to do some more testing to see if we can further boost conversions for the happy potential customers that are primed to shop or buy, but which we are failing to entice completely.

And finally, we should always be link building. Always, as a matter of course.

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September 30th, 2009 by john andrews

Rocky Mountain Bank Security

Last week Rocky Mountain Bank (according to reports) emailed, unencrypted, social security numbers and personal financial data on 1300+ customers, to the wrong address (link below):

The e-mail, sent by an employee of Jackson, Wyo.-based Rocky Mountain Bank on August 12, contained names, addresses, Social Security numbers, and loan information of more than 1,300 bank customers.

From court documents (PDF):

The confidential information includes names, addresses, tax identification numbers,3 and loan information for each of the 1,325 customer accounts.

That email, with the customers’ information, went to a gmail address. A frantic skirmish ensued, with Rocky Mountain Bank actually getting a court order to force Google to lock the email address. That part got the attention of the tech community, but what about the part about Rocky Mountain Bank leaking customer social security numbers? Why wasn’t that part sensational? And the part about Rocky Mountain Bank filing a request to seal the court order, on the grounds that it was not good for the bank, with an assertion that the confidential information may not have been actually “disclosed”:

Plaintiff argues that if its complaint and motion papers are not filed under seal, all of its customers may learn of the inadvertent disclosure. Plaintiff further argues that publication of the disclosure before it determines whether the Gmail account is active or dormant will unnecessarily create panic among all of its customers and result in a surge of inquiry from its customers. In his declaration, Mark Hendrickson, states that “until there is a determination that the Confidential Customer Information was in fact disclosed and/or misused, the Bank cannot advise its customers on whether there was an improper disclosure.”

It gets worse. Now that Rocky Mountain Bank (of Jackson, Wyoming) has confirmation from Google that the owner of the gmail account had not yet read the email, we are asked to accept that all is well in Rocky Mountain Bank Security Land:

“As a result, no customer data of any sort has been viewed or used by any inappropriate user during this data lapse,” Martinez wrote. “Rocky Mountain Bank acted to protect its customer’s confidential information. That objective was accomplished. The matter is now closed and the TRO (temporary restraining order) entered on September 23, 2009 is now vacated.”

Seriously? Unencrypted emails are stored on numerous servers on their way to their destination. An email sent from Rocky Mountain Bank in Wyoming to a Gmail account, is not “secure” along the way. Just because Google says the email has not been read via the gmail account, does not mean the email has not been copied, stored, archived, or even read on numerous cooperating servers in the public path between Rocky Mountain Bank and Google’s GMail servers. I don’t even trust that Google’s determination is accurate. Without details, who knows if the email and been read and marked as unread? Or forwarded? Or accessed outside of the web interface? Has anyone looked to see just what Google specifically examined? Or is Rocky Mountain Bank just hoping we’ll all forget this “mistake”?

Not to mention the tougher questions. Is it standard Rocky Mountain Bank procedure to email confidential customer data unencrypted, every day? Is it only when they realize they sent it to the wrong address, that it becomes news?

I expect a name change for Rocky Mountain Bank in the near future, for Reputation Management purposes, but really… when will we start demanding more from our banks and their inept managers and executives?

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September 28th, 2009 by john andrews

The Value of Gestalt

Just back from Think Tank meeting in San Diego, I am struck anew by the awesome latent value of SEO “gestalt“:  the collective gut feeling that practicing, experienced SEO people have. That is arguably one of the most valuable parts of a conference like Think Tank. A gathering of Internet entrepreneurs, Think Tank is not just search people. But there are enough SEO experts in attendance to make it a valuable gathering for those of us focusing mainly on search issues. The collective demeanor and opinion of those engaged with the optimization of search monetization on the web has incredible value.

Today’s Techmeme highlights a Wall Street Journal article entitled “Monster Has Plans to Become 800-Pound Gorilla of Job Ads“. The article states things like “Over the past three years, it [Monster.com] has spent more than $200 million to redesign its Web site for job seekers;“. It includes a number of optimistic quotes from Monster’s representatives.  Clearly this Wall Street Journal article will help Monster.com maintain its stock price or even sell more stock. The problem is, this article goes against some very strong SEO gestalt currents I’ve witnessed.

I recall a number of recent conversations with colleagues about how doomed career sites like Monster are these days. How the job/career marketplace has moved away from central database-driven sites and into decentralized social media. How the monetization of career opportunity has shifted away from the old “employer/recruiter” system, despite the efforts of companies like CareerBuilder and Monster to syndicate and socialize their efforts. I won’t highlight here where the insights pointed, but that these private conversations with web entrepreneurs practically deny this Wall Street Journal article’s main premise. See the disconnect?

The Wall Street Journal has access to leaders and analysts in the career industry. I only accessed the collective gestalt of a few dozen web entrepreneurs. Who would you bet on? What does that say for the value of the broadcast news media, and the value of the gestalt of your network of peers, friends, and colleagues? What does that say about how media outlets like The Wall Street Journal have evolved in this day and age of Social Media, perhaps as tools of industry instead of tools of the readers? If outlets like the Wall Street Journal are recognized as tools of marketing for the corporations they “analyze”, and are no longer considered sources of insights and education for the readers/investors, how can they survive? Should they survive as consumer products?

Social Media is most revered for its ability to aggregate the collective conscience of small niche groups, in public, for free. That may not yet be recognized, but should be. But Social Media does not have to be free. That collective gestalt is valuable. We are still in the early stages of tool development, which is largely driven by investments chasing huge markets, but soon enough the private forum/private membership sites will be able to lock up those communities. It has to happen… that is the only way to develop them beyond the basics structures we have now.

I’m sure there are theories addressing all of this, but I, like today’s software developers, don’t have time to investigate. We are all forced to go with the flow during the transition phase. But don’t be fooled… those entrepreneurs who branch off early enough (but not too early) will win big. I doubt the wisest investment involves Monster.com except as it plays in an exit strategy.

Pubcon is coming up in Las Vegas, and that is the next big gathering of search-focused web entrepreneurs I’ll attend. I’m going to  set up at least one small private dinner or gathering, specifically to address some of this SEO gestalt theory in the context of Pubcon networking. If you’re interested, drop me an email or call. I can’t promise you’ll get a seat, but I will put you on the list. Aside from networking with quality peers in a quality venue (good food, good fun) it will aim to elicit a general sense of the status quo and the future of select SEO issues we all deal with every day. Nothing intense… nothing to distract from the general value of networking, but I will ask everyone to contribute some gut feelings on core SEO issues that are certain to be important going forward. I think that has incredible value, and would like to prove it.

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