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?

johnon.com  Competitive Web & SEO
October 23rd, 2010 by john andrews

Web Site Performance

The lead calls out the name of the next song, and drummer starts the back beat, and the rest of the band comes in. The piece is underway, the crowd recognizes it, and the singer starts singing. It’s a performance. Everyone has practiced the bit, mastered the steps, knows the routine. They’re pros, and they look like they love being up there on stage.

At the best live performance, everyone involved with the production flows along with the jive, the mood, the flow…and plays to the responsive audience. It’s not canned, not pre-recorded, not the same as the studio track. It’s a little different from the last time, and a little different from the next time. These guys are really on tonight, they’re really good.

Most of us fans can tell when a musician is part of show or just supporting it. Most of us know in our hearts what makes the band - whether it is the rock star or the compositions, the lyrics or the visuals, or the unique blend of personalities acting as one. Sometimes it defies modern convention - like when the Grateful Dead brought folk and bluegrass to the rock and roll party and everyone just called it “eclectic”. That run lasted like 50 years (so far). Other times, well, let’s just say the term “cookie cutter” is aptly assigned to a lot of musical entities brought out by record companies these days.

Web design and SEO are just like that. The production of a successful web site is a performance. We — the SEOs, strategists, producers, designers, webdevs, copywriters — are the band. Maybe there’s a rock star lead, maybe not. Maybe there’s a groove, a jive, a flow achieved, which brings together a talented and skilled group of professionals, and maybe the audience engages. Or maybe not. Maybe it’s a cookie-cutter website. Maybe it doesn’t really fit, maybe it isn’t really so special, and maybe this web site looks just like the last, and the next. Maybe the players in the band are merely skilled, supporting professionals, and the bulk of the band could be replaced with just about any other competent professionals without impacting the performance.

When the guys are on, really together, they create something bigger than the individuals themselves. That’s magic, just like a priceless live performance. Can you do that?

From early stage SEO and market research, through client meetings where the client’s eyes are opened to the real online marketplace and customer actions, to design comps, moods, and functional IA meetings, we’re all composing, writing, choreographing and playing our instruments. We are creating.

We bring our skills and talents, and focus on the mission/mood/concept, in preparation of performing before a live audience of Internet users actively engaging with our content.  We may not be “live” when the audience enjoys our live performance, but we’re live during planning and production. It’s a little twisted - the audience is live, the performers are not. Isn’t that the future interactive recorded performance so many performing artists have dreamt of? In fact, won’t their ultimate achievements in that direction be web-based, using the same technologies we are all extending, perfecting, and “playing” as we build successful web sites? Yes, we are the artists leading the way, putting on the performances that will ultimately guide and influence those follow-on performers when they engage audiences via the web (when they finally get past the “we need a Flash artists” syndrome).

My project lead calls and says - “we’ve got a new project starting - in consumer products, starting with a tooth paste”. It’s like when Johnny Cash calls out  “Walk the Line” and in the band everyone’s eyes scan everyone’s eyes to synchronize the start up of what they’ve practiced so well.

I immediately start playing TheGoogle in the toothpaste space, looking at keywords, user generated content character, forming a symphony in my head of all of the channels of Universal Search and consumer engagement. Our designer visualizes the first mood board, hitting Bing for image searches, cutting out red/white/green striped tubes of toothpaste and 8 year old kids with bright white smiles. Creative/Interactive spits out early ideas like “we could do a B-move take on TheBlob, but it’s in color and the blob is made of toothpaste.. mwhahhahaha“. I laugh out loud… gotta love those creatives. Unafraid to start out on any new idea, to get the creative juices flowing.

We’re jamming… and it’s fun. All unique, all skilled and talented, and all fine with the fact that alone, we might be great but we’re probably unable to truly hit it and make nearly the impact we can make together, especially when we’re “on”. We’re a team, and for the next few sessions we be jammin’,  to see what comes out of it, backed by our seo-provided common vision of toothpaste, product claims, and knowledge of the SERPs.

It’s all good.  I hope you enjoy the performance.

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October 23rd, 2010 by john andrews

Internet is not “free”

When Pandora.com asked me for $0.99 to continue to use their service, I immediately tried Grooveshark.com and last.fm. Prior to that, I had no interest in finding out what my options were for music over the Internet. Pandora was enough for me. I now use Grooveshark when I want to listen to something specific (album or series, or just individual artist or song). I don’t use last.fm because the interface doesn’t work for me. I still use Pandora (for free)  and it hasn’t asked me for any money since because I’m not spending as much time on it any more.

Am I so cheap that I would not pony up $0.99 for a service I obviously use and enjoy?   Nope.

The Internet is not free. I am not freeloading.

Pandora didn’t just ask me for $0.99. Had Mr. Pandora stopped by my table at Tully’s Coffee House and asked me for a dollar, I would have thrown him a fiver and thanked him for his music service.

Instead, Pandora asked me to allow a credit card company to  start charging me a recurring fee, with a few pages of fine print somewhere granting them rights and privileges, just to continue what I’ve already been doing without granting such privileges. To that, I balk.

Dealing with credit card companies is not simple nor free. In this case, for a $0.99 transaction, I don’t trust the credit card companies. Access to my permissions is worth more than that, and  everyone knows it. The request for $0.99 simply reminds me that a few industries are anxiously monetizing everything they can about my use of their service and anything else they can access via those fine print permissions and waivers.

Of course it’s not Pandora… it’s the system of industries controlling the flow of revenues. And the Internet. Pity poor Pandora, right?

I have many ways to listen to Bob Dylan with or without the Internet. As long as it is dumb simple convenient for me to listen via Pandora, it will have my attention. I’m sure a very small fraction of the user base spends serious time in the features that are unique to Pandora. Oh sure it’s potentially cool and amazing and revolutionary, but the best music I listen to is still handed to me on CD even today, or emailed to me by friends. As always, that control of choice is hard at work limiting my choices. Some things never change.

The request for $.99 reminded me I pay several hundred dollars per month to Internet service providers for this “free” Internet. Each agreement comes with terms and waivers and access permissions, in fine print.  Each is taxed, and not just with percentage-based taxes. Most now include fees and special taxes, many of them poorly described if at all. Who’s getting the money? Does anyone really know?

I pay for my cell phone, and then an additional $100 per month for that cell phone to access the Internet. I  pay for cable Internet and DSL, from two companies, and I pay for global wimax access through yet another company. I pay a tethering fee on another cell phone, to access and share the Internet wirelessly.  Everyone of these “deals” includes multiple pages of fine print waivers and terms, which most people don’t read and probably can’t comprehend anyway. Those of us who do read them often find them obsolete and/or full of odd terms that really shouldn’t be in there (but are probably there for very specific, likely abusive reasons).

When I travel I am asked to pay exhorbitant prices for a day or two of wifi access at each location. The service provided by hotels is usually of terrible quality and sans even basic security. Consumers who wisely choose to use VPNs and private “hot spot security tunnels” get blocked by nameless, faceless, voiceless IT administrators whose attitude is clearly “use the network our way or don’t use it”.As we all wisely opted out of the hotel wifi (to use wimax or other cell-based options), the hotels moved the $15 or $20 per day fee into a no-longer optional  “facilities fee” or “resort fee”. How nice.

The Internet is not free. It is actually quite expensive. If your service needs to get a piece of that pie, you need to chase the deep pockets, not ask me for $0.99. The way I see it, you all already are taking way too much, delivering too little, and hiding alot of potential risk in fine print you feel free to change in your favor, at any time.

One of these days the people will overthrow the establishment and some rules will change. That’s for certain. In the mean time, I’ll keep taking as much value as I can out of the free innovations, while the establishment robs me through the back door terms and conditions via my credit cards. From my perch I’m still paying too much for what I get, and I can’t really afford to care if Pandora or any other player in the game is getting his slice of the pie. That’s not my problem, Pandora, it’s yours. Innovate or die, like the rest of us.

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John Andrews is a mobile web professional and competitive search engine optimzer (SEO). He's been quietly earning top rank for websites since 1997. About John

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