A Change as Good as a Holiday

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For the last three or four years I have been thinking about switching from Typepad to WordPress. I had originally chosen Typepad because it was easy, simple and powerful, but it is essentially the same platform that I began using seven or more years ago.

WordPress, on the other hand, continues to improve. With a strong developer ecosystem producing improvements to user experience, functionality through plugins and connecting web publishing to social networks, WordPress has consistently innovated – transforming from a blogging system to a matrix commerce platform.

So, I bit the bullet and moved Servant of Chaos to the WordPress platform. I had a couple of key criteria in moving:

  • Maintain inbound links: After writing almost 2000 articles there was a lot of inbound links. I wanted to maintain these wherever possible. This meant enforcing a strict permalink structure within WordPress that mirrored Typepad
  • Carry over content: I wanted to bring over images, articles, links and embedded material as easily as possible. Unfortunately images are an issue which means I will have to slowly republish images over time (before switching off Typepad)
  • Improve the mobile experience: After writing so much recently about mobility and the need to cater to a mobile only audience, I felt I needed to walk the talk. I chose onswipe to handle the iPad experience of the site and WPtouch for the iPhone/mobile version.

So far, the site seems to be stable and functioning as hoped. There will be more tweaks along the way, but I trust it now helps you read, comment and engage with the site more easily.

Your First Week of Blogging

When I first started blogging, I felt like I was living a divided life. There was “real life” – colleagues, friends and family – and then there was my “blogging life” – these great new people that I was connecting with all over the world.

Back then the “real life” people couldn’t understand my interest in my “pretend friends”. They could not understand the hours that I would spend on my computer. Of course, the real mis-understanding was that I was focused on the machine in the corner of my study – for in reality I was in deep relationship building with people on the other side of the world. The computer was almost invisible to me.

These days things have changed. Now I am often setting up blogs for friends and family – and watching them pick up, stumble and even sometimes power along with their online efforts.

With most businesses I recommend the development of a continuous digital strategy, and while the same approach can be applied at an individual level, most people aren’t ready for that kind of commitment. YET, almost everyone needs a framework within which they can understand what they are doing. They need something practical.

And for that, I always recommend connecting in with Darren Rowse. Australia’s very own ProBlogger knows his stuff – and his Guide to Your First Week of Blogging really helps you to get started. Of course, you could just trawl through the archives on Darren’s site, but most people are impatient to get started. So download the book and send me a link to your new site! What are you waiting for?

Design is Trust – Using the Nine Principles to Change Your Work Practices in Nine Days

I like the central theme running through this presentation by Jason Cranford Teague – trust. And while the focus is on design – mostly web design as it turns out – these nine core principles can so readily be applied to any business or communication challenge. They can be applied to advertising. To social media. To storytelling. To literature.

So as you are browsing through this presentation (and yes, the 100 odd slides will slip by quickly), think about your particular business challenges in light of the nine principles. Consider the changes you need to make in your current work patterns to deliver on each principle. And if you dare to, write down one thing you WILL do for each of the next nine days – taking one  principle per day.

And I’d love it if you’d also go one step further – to write a blog post about what you are doing. Each day. Nine blog posts. You know you can do it.

Three Blogs to Watch (and Read)

I have always loved finding a new blog to read. There is something in the search and the surprise that really satisfies my curiosity.

Finding new blogs to read used to be relatively easy. There was a period of amplified discovery – where great effort was put into thought leadership, strategy and connection. There was great joy in not just finding, but also in the sharing of websites that tickled our creative brains. It was also fun – learning about this “social type of media” through the act of participating.

But these days it feels like it is harder to find new blogs. It’s not that they aren’t out there – it’s that the categories of content are brimful of good writing already. As readers then, we have to dig deeper – and as writers we have to share the gems we find. We have to remain curious – and also generous.

With this in mind, here are three blogs that I have been tracking over the last six months. Hope you enjoy them! Oh, and be sure to send me other new blogs my way.

  1. Tashily: One of my favourites, this sparsely populated blog by Sydney local, Tash Hanckel leaves you wanting more. Read her Through the generations – the impact of social media article for a brilliant Gen Y perspective – and cross your fingers for more posts in the future!
  2. Creative +Biz: Ryan Spranger’s blog is an online home for video interviews and stories that he produces on the people who pursue creative business ideas. It’s a nice way of capturing not only the successes, but the personal stories behind what it means to “be creative” and the “hard fought lessons” that come with that journey.
  3. Jack Cheng: Jack Cheng’s blog tracks his own interests, passions and professional excursions in an entertaining way. A designer and start-up merchant with a penchant for storytelling and reflection makes this a great blog to read on a Saturday morning, coffee in hand.

The Value of Conversion

chart-of-the-day-revenue-per-unique-visitor-google-facebook-ebay-jan-2011

I can remember way back in the early days of the web that we used to count hits. This basically meant that we would count every element on the web page as a single item and each time it was displayed, we would get a “hit”. So a page with ten items would rate as ten hits. This would get people very excited! “My page got 1000 hits” could translate to as little as one visitor if you have 1000 items on your page.

Of course, to the web novice, 1000 hits sounded great.

As we got savvier – and as the number of web users grew – we started counting visitors. And then unique visitors. And then repeat visitors. We started to think of our websites as destinations – as homes for our content, our ideas, products and services.

But, inevitably, someone asks about ROI. What is the value of the transactions that come in when measured against the money spent in creating, maintaining and improving your web presence? In the early days of the web, the cost of implementing a payment gateway was astronomical, so very few businesses could afford it. (These days, you can implement a PayPal gateway with a few clicks and a couple of hours!)

But those businesses that got involved in online commerce early were able to learn valuable lessons. The value to their business was not in the transactions that came through the web (as a channel). What they gained was an understanding of the web AS a business. They learned how to translate business models into the online space – focusing on the hard metrics (ie revenue) rather then hits, visitors etc.

In the online world – where attention is scarce – your challenge is to convert your website visitor’s attention, interest and trust into something more tangible for your business. Sometimes that is not transactional – perhaps you want to grow a community or position yourself as a thought leader (if so, think through the appropriate metrics such as subscriber numbers, inbound links, community membership).

Now – make the hard decision.

Divide those numbers by your traffic figures. What is the conversion percentage (ie how many “visitors” sign up or subscribe)?

Relentlessly focusing on that per-visitor statistic will help you improve your efforts and achieve your objectives. Just take a look at the graph above from the Silicon Alley Insider (via the Measurement Standard). Amazon drives conversion at every opportunity – and the results show. Make just one change to your site and see what impact it has. Keep refining it until you see improvement. And once your site is more relevant to your audience – and is easier for them to use – watch as your conversion rates improve.

Oh, and on that subject, be sure to subscribe here to my blog. Then there’ll be more branding, marketing and social media goodness coming your way.

Julian Cole’s Top 50 Australian Marketing Blogs for 2010

A couple of years ago, when Julian Cole kicked off his Top 50 blog list, ranking “Australian pioneer marketing blogs”, it caused something of a sensation. Some people loved it. Some people hated it. Many could care less. And that’s the way it is with social media – there’s plenty of interesting content to consume, so if you don’t like one blog, or social media channel, you can simply surf across to another.

But for those of us who ARE interested in Australian marketing blogs, this list has become something of an institution. Here is Julian’s updated list for 2010. It’s good to see some new entrants – I will certainly be checking out a few of these.

Blog Name Pioneer Score Google Reader Alexa Score Total
1 Digital Buzz Blog 9 7 9 25
2 Mumbrella 9 5 9 23
3 Bannerblog 7 7 9 23
4 The Inspiration Room 7 6 9 22
5 Campaign Brief 7.5 5 9 21.5
6 Marketing Magazine 8 4 8 20
7 Servant of Chaos 9 4 7 20
8 B&T 6.5 4 9 19.5
9 Laurel Papworth 7 4 8 19
10 Young PR 8 3 8 19
11 Personalize Media 7.5 3 8 18.5
12 Adspace-Pioneers 8 4 6 18
13 Better Communication Results 7 5 6 18
14 Media Hunter 8 3 7 18
15 Amnesia Blog 5.5 5 7 17.5
16 Life. Then Strategy 8 3 6 17.5
17 Online Marketing Banter 8 3 6 17
18 acidlabs 8 3 6 17
19 Talking Digital 8 3 6 17
20 Consumer Psychologist 8 4 5 17
21 Brand DNA 8 4 5 17
22 Digital-Media 8 1 8 17
23 Get Shouty 8.5 3 5 16.5
24 Gold Coast Web Designers 6 3 7 16
25 Shifted Pixels 7 2 7 16
26 A perspective 8 2 6 16
27 Angus Whines 7 3 6 16
28 Dan Pankraz 8 3 5 16
29 WayCoolJnr 8 3 5 16
30 AdNews 8 0 8 16
31 Publicis Digital 7.5 3 5 15.5
32 Gourmet Ads 7 1 7 15
33 PR Warrior 8 2 5 15
34 FRANKthoughts 8 2 5 15
35 PR Disasters 7 3 5 15
36 Matthew Gain 8 1 6 15
37 Zakazukhazoo 6.5 1 7 14.5
38 EcioLab 7.5 2 5 14.5
39 Corporate Engagement 6.5 3 5 14.5
40 Dominique Hind Collective 7 2 5 14
41 Tim Longhurst 6.5 2 5 13.5
42 Pigs Don’t Fly 7.5 2 4 13.5
43 The Flasher 8.5 1 4 13.5
44 Three Billion 6 1 6 13
45 Marketing Easy 6 1 6 13
46 Who is in conrtol of your b**** 8 1 4 13
47 Sticky Ads 6.5 0 6 12.5
48 Mark Neely's Blog 7.5 1 4 12.5
49 Business of Marketing and Branding 6.5 2 4 12.5
50 CIIMS 7 1 4 12

Respect for the Community Builders

Some years ago, when I first started blogging, I loved the way that people would creatively think through what it would mean to contribute to a global community. Often this involved the creation of lists – like Mack Collier’s collection of relative unknown bloggers – the z-list, or Todd Andrlik’s Power 150 which eventually transformed into the AdAge Power150. I’d even class Ann Handley’s clever curation of MarketingProfs daily fix bloggers in the same way.

In the world of strategic/creative planners, a number of people have been continuously building and engaging their professional communities. Iqbal Mohammed has been regularly publishing his Plannersphere lists for years, and Neil Perkin provides a valuable conversation point (and light competition) around the “post of the month”, complete with voting. In a more complicated twist on community building, Rob Campbell challenges the veterans, the wannabes and the up-and-comers with his Advertising Planning School of the Web assignments, veering between scorn and applause depending on what’s submitted and it’s quality.

These examples stand out as beacons – not just because they have been doing this work consistently, but because they are generous. They are inclusive. They stand out because much of what we now see on the web is based on one-up-man-ship. It’s like a pissing match between row after row of intellectual dwarfs. And it’s a shame, because it doesn’t have to be this way. It’s a shame because we are all impoverished by it.

So, it is with some joy I came across Heather LeFevre’s Planner Survey for 2010. It covers the industry from top to tail – sharing details of salaries, roles, locations and so on. It captures what planners think of their jobs, why they stay, why they go – and who they think is doing the best work. It also lists a bunch of people who the community rate – not because they are famous, but because they get on with the challenge of producing good work. Check it out.

Social Media: Who’s On Your Blogroll – And Who Cares?

What we loosely call "social media" is built on shifting sands. When I first started blogging what now seems like eons ago, blogrolls were a hot topic. Even now I still get the occasional email from someone asking for a “link exchange”. (And if you are reading this, please note, I will link to you as long as you write something worth reading.) 

Blogrolls – those long lists of websites scrolling down the side of a blog were the equivalent of gold, achieving four things at once:

  1. Roll call: It is an easy to use way of reading your favourite blogs. Simply click through and read
  2. Inbound links: Creating an inbound link for another website pushes it further up the Google search rankings
  3. Social capital: When you link to another website it provides an easy way to drive traffic to another’s website. Just like you share your ideas and content on your blog, links on a blogroll allow you to share your readers
  4. Social proof: A link on a blogroll shows your readers (and the authors of linked websites) what you consider worth reading. It’s an endorsement and acts as a form of social proof.

Over the last couple of years, the practice of updating and actively managing a blogroll has fallen away. In my case, it is to do with the sheer number of quality blogs that I read – I have effectively moved my blogroll to a feedreader – so it no longer functions as a roll call of my favourite blogs.

However, the remaining points hold true. Inbound links are still important for website rankings, creating context for your readers via links to other sites is essential and in the great sea of anonymous web analytics, it’s great to know that YOU read ME.

So it is in this spirit that I am making a concerted effort to update my blogroll. Today I will be adding the following blogs to my long-neglected blogroll.

  • Matthew Gain: Writes a great blog on PR and the changing media landscape. He provides deep analysis on interesting topics (well, interesting to me, anyway). His blog (and Posterous) site are a great filter – it’s what you need without the distraction
  • Dave Phillips: The Cafe Dave blog is a lovely mix of personal thinking and coffee reviews. A regular of coffee mornings here in Sydney, Dave is to go-to guy when it comes to getting a latte just right.
  • Gavin Costello: Opinionated and pithy, the franksting blog dissects a range of social media and product marketing topics. You’ll love it.
  • Vocal Branding: The always charming Tim Noonan has a special gift. He can hear the way your brand makes people feel. And if you come to coffee morning he will read back the personal brand in your voice. Scared?
  • Sales Habitudes: I was lucky enough to meet Jeff Garrison during a recent trip to the US. I was amazed to be introduced to an energized group of bloggers and social media folk living and working in and around Des Moines, Iowa. Jeff’s blog brings a refreshing focus on sales – yes, social media + sales. Believe it.
  • Rob James: The blog of local startup Posse’s CTO, is full of tech, gadgets and tips. But I am hoping for some behind the scenes storytelling as Rob helps Posse take on the big players of the music promotion world.
  • My Proactive Life: The energetic Andrew Blanda has stopped talking and started walking. It’s a great blog (and personal diary) about transforming your life … from someone who is in the midst of doing just that.
  • A Cat in a Tree: Cathie McGinn’s intriguingly titled blog muses on topics close to her heart – from work to life and all the things in between.
  • B2B Marketing Insider: Michael Brenner’s prolific blogging on B2B topics is a must read for the serious marketer. How he finds time to also write the B2C Marketing Insider blog as well is anyone’s guess.
  • Happiness We Share: Nicola Swankie has the curious ability to weave marketing, social media and personal history into compelling blog posts. Definitely one to watch.
  • Warlach’s World: Lachlan Hibbert-Wells is a self-confessed geek. More on the cultural studies side of the fence than technology, he shines a light on the strange dance that we people do with the gadgets and technologies we love.
  • Marc Jarman: Promises to blog more. Of course, promises are cheap. I am hoping to see more on the orchestration of social media!

Five Must-Read Posts from Last Week

Amber and GavinI was on-the-fly last week, jumping from city to city across America. I was lucky enough to catch up with a bunch of Age of Conversation authors in Des Moines (see Drew McLellan’s snaps) including my longtime-online friends Mike Sansone and Mike Wagner. I also got to have lunch with Amber Naslund, dinner with Beth Harte and Valeria Maltoni in Philadelphia, share ideas with Marilyn Pratt and Cory Coley-Christakos (who has a great article on sustainability on the SAP community), drink and talk with Angela Maiers, Sandy Renshaw and Jim Lindberg, and hang out with Jeff Cutler. Special thanks go to Drew McLellan and his family for sharing their home with me over the weekend.

In amongst all this travel (and work), there were also hours of jetlag-induced sleeplessness allowing me to do quite a bit of reading. The five posts that cut through the haze for me were:

  1. Katie Chatfield asks – if we look into the future, to 2050, what will we be nostalgic about. It makes you really think through the changes that are affecting us, and what we prioritise in our lives.
  2. Neil Perkin has a great post on Unproductivity. Take a look at the “cycle of doom” – you’ll nod your head because we have all been there!
  3. Saul Kaplan reminds us that stuff happens – and the best thing we can do is to ensure that we have built in resilience.
  4. Ellen Weber challenges us to inspire change in the uninspired. Easier said than done ;)
  5. And I loved the whimsy the balloon tank evokes over on Angus’ blog. It was a bright spot in a long, dark night in Washington DC (incidentally, it’s the same pic used in Katie’s post).

Blogging is Writing with a Thick Marker

Many blogs never make it past the first three months. The authors start with a flourish, then founder sometime between months two and three.

What happens? Is it to do with priorities? Effort? Lack of ideas?

My view is that it boils down to one thing – over thinking.

After a couple of months, a blog starts to develop an audience. The author starts to establish a rhythm and a consistency of voice. Comments start to come in and it becomes thrilling to engage with “your” audience.

But then there is a choking point. The authors lose their way – wanting to dramatically increase traffic, comments and subscriptions. There is an attempt to make each post better than the one before, and increasingly the “fun” of blogging begins to look more and more like WORK.

If this sounds familiar – then one technique to help you smash through the three month barrier is to remember that blogging is like writing with a thick marker. This is how Jason Fried from 37 Signals (see below) describes his idea sketching process. The aim is to NOT get buried in the details – and a thick marker is the tool designed for that very purpose.

Think of your blog as a thick marker – and each blog post a single idea designed to inspire, engage and stimulate. And then, sometime in the future, go back, write a whitepaper, create a presentation or write a book on the ideas that stick.