Wednesday, May 31, 2006


Have you taken your kids to a museum or a zoo lately? Maybe a planetarium or some other destination that involves some sort of experience? Here’s how that experience might look:

First, you arrive. You might have to pay for parking, depending on where the center is. You might also have to pay admission, but most likely the entrance is free. At the very least, the admission isn’t very much.

Once you get inside, there’s a whole bunch of exhibits and activities all around. There’s lots of places where you and your kids can learn and dig and touch and experience whatever the theme of the destination is. Maybe it’s all about dinosaurs, or wildlife, or space. Your kids will probably rush in and start “feasting at the table” that’s spread there in front of them. You might have a tough time keeping up with them.

As you’re walking around, you might be a little hungry or thirsty, so you might spend a buck or two on a soda and a bag of chips each.

Then, you might notice some special exhibits that cost extra. Maybe one is a touring exhibit only there for a limited time, or maybe it’s one of those huge-screen Imax films. These things might cost anywhere from $5 to $15.

As you look at the printed program they gave you when you came in, you might notice that they’d love to have you contribute to the charitable foundation that supports the museum. Maintaining these places ain’t cheap, and they’d love to have help from those that have enjoyed the experience. You can buy a “membership” for as little as $50 or so, which allows you discounts on some of the other stuff, and maybe advance notice on special events. You could become a “patron” for as much as $500 or even more, where they would engrave your name on a big wall.

Finally, just before you leave, you hit the gift store. You’ve just had a great experience, and your kids want T-shirts, and toys, and hats, and souvenirs.

Let’s look at what happened:

1. You got in for free (or very little money), and you got to experience a lot of really cool stuff just for showing up.
2. They offered you a chance to enhance your experience by upgrading into a better package.
3. They presented you with opportunities to get involved that were all across a price spectrum. Some things were cheap, some quite expensive.
4. Finally, there was an opportunity to shop.

So, let’s talk about how to make this business model applicable to your website.

First, entice people to come into your site, and participate in the experience. That means content: Articles, information, interactive bits, relevant games. Have them join a forum, or comment on a blog. Bring them in and let them get their hands dirty in your site.

Second, get them interested in some advanced features of your site. Offer some special services to “members”. Offer some products to them that are not available to regular shoppers, or a bit of special consulting time.

Third, don’t just carry cheap products, and don’t go exclusively high-end. Make sure that all your products are relevant to the theme of your site, but offer a wide variety. Not all fine jewelry costs $2000.

Lastly, After they’ve looked around the site content and enjoyed the tour, let them shop through your catalog.

These four steps can change your web business from a simple website to a destination!

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Podcasting Without Actually Podcasting


Did you understand what you just read? Or am I finally completely flipped out? How can you do something without actually doing it?

Well, what I’d like to talk about today could be summed up as “How to use the current trend of podcasting to promote my web business, without the difficulty of creating, maintaining, and promoting my own podcast!”

First, a bit of catch-up: Podcasting is a relatively new phenomenon where people create audio content (like music, or spoken commentary and interviews) and put it out on their websites. The advent of the iPod technology allows listeners to subscribe to their favorite podcasts using a program called an “aggregator”, and whenever a new episode of a ‘cast is released, it is automatically downloaded. In many cases, programs will not only download it automatically, but will also immediately install it onto the subscriber’s iPod, or other portable mp3 player. It’s information about your favorite topics, on a complete grab-and-go basis.


There’s lots of potential for promotion of a web business this way. Creating a “radio show” full of cool information and interviews about your website topic is great, and while building a subscriber base, you’re also pointing people to shop at your site.

But, creating a podcast can be a technical affair, involving mics, recording, tweaking of volume levels, waveform editing, and lots of other twists. Then you have to find the host and set up the site. It can be an organizational challenge as well, booking guests for the interviews, blocking out time to produce the ‘cast… For some, all these add up to make it all prohibitive.

So, that’s where this article comes in. In the past year, as I’ve seen the podcasting phenomenon grow, I’ve begun to see how it can be very effective to use other people’s existing podcasts to promote your site rather than trying to start your own.

One way is to acquire advertising time and/or space on someone else’s ‘cast. Another is to be the interviewed guest on a ‘cast, or to provide some kind of content for them to use.

Either way, the first step is to find the ‘casts you want to get in on. Look to podcast hosts like, or podcast directories like, and Remember the guiding principle of targeted marketing: Find where your audience is, and put yourself there. Look for ‘casts based around topics that interest your demographic.

Once you’ve found one with possibilities, investigate it. Most ‘casts have their own main host website. Check it out. Download and listen to an episode or two. This can be time consuming, because some ‘casts can be as much as an hour or more long. Still, not only will you find your audience in this process, but by listening to what they’re listening to, you’ll also find out lots ABOUT your audience as well!

That’s the real work. The next step is getting your site’s name and message in front of the audience of these podcasts.

One way to do this is to buy advertising in the ‘cast. And there’s a couple of ways to do that as well. One is to buy visual advertising on the ‘cast’s main page. This is a great way to get eyes and clicks on your ad. The downside of that is that once people subscribe to the ‘cast, they’re getting the content delivered straight to their iPod, and there’s no need to return to the site. So, if the ‘cast is growing, then there’s lots of new eyes on the site. If the ‘cast is stable, there won’t be so much site traffic.

Another benefit to visual advertising is that it provides a link back to your site, which can boost your search engine link popularity.

Another approach some ‘casts will do is to make audio ads in the podcast itself. The big advantage of these is, of course, that the listeners hear the ad whether or not they go to the site. The down side of these ads is that there’s no immediate response. The interested listener has to go back to their computer, call up a web browser and type in the address themselves. Still, it’s good for branding advertising.

The cost of these advertising efforts depends on the individual podcast. Generally speaking, the more popular the ‘cast, the more expensive the ad, and the greater the reach.

A second approach to utilizing other people’s ‘casts is one I’ve been able to play quite a bit in my efforts to promote my CD. That’s the strategy of providing content (often in the form of guest interviews) to existing podcasts.

Again, the first step will be to find ‘casts that appeal to your audience. Then, when you’re checking out their website, contact them. Mention your website, and your unique area of expertise. Comment on how that knowledge is of interest to their (and your) audience. Let them know that you’d love to do an interview. The actual process for the interviews can differ. I’ve just set one up that will take place this summer that will be done over Skype (internet voice phone). Another one I did last year was an actual face-to-face interview that got recorded. A third one that I’ve participated in was one where I merely sent some audio content (a song), and they included it in their ‘cast (a musical radio show).

This has a lot of advantages over advertising. One big one is that you get a lot more time and attention in the interview than you do in a short ad. Often, the ‘casters will include info and a link in their site for their guests, where they might not always for advertisers.

Keep in mind that one of the great challenges for a podcaster is to find interesting and relevant content week after week, month after month. You’d be helping to provide that for them.

All in all, it adds up to a great way to promote yourself, especially if you’re not feeling technically confident enough to produce your own ‘cast. You can still get in on what is becoming more and more an entrenched movement, and less and less of a passing fad.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Let’s Affiliate!

(Part of the Internet Business 101 Article series)

Unless you’re brand new to the internet, or you’ve been hiding under your mouse, you’re probably aware of what an affiliate program is. As a catch-up, it’s an advertising network where lots of websites (the affiliates) point links to a central website (the merchant). A visitor comes to the affiliate’s site, and clicks through that link to the merchant site. The clickthrough carries a tracking code with it, so that if the visitor buys something, the merchant records who the visitor came from, and credits that affiliate’s account with a percentage of the sale. When that account reaches a threshold (often $50), the merchant cuts a check to the affiliate.

It’s a pretty simple system. As an affiliate, you provide the merchant with an inbound link, and traffic. If you make sales, they provide you with money. Win-win!

This technology and marketing strategy has been around for many, many years. I remember back in the day, when I was first learning how to build websites, I signed up for a GeoCities free personal page. I was making a family tree site. I liked how it looked, too. I noticed that there were a lot of other GeoCities sites with this strange ad to a place called “”. A little bit of research showed it to be one of the first affiliate programs, and actually, that’s what put the now-huge retailer on the internet map.

So, it’s possible to use affiliate programs on your own website in a couple of ways.

One is to monetize an information-based website. Is there something you really enjoy, but you can’t find product to sell in that topic? Find some affiliates that relate to that content and that audience. Make a site with lots of up-to-date information, and lots of affiliate links. Got a blog? Put on the affiliate links and turn it into an income stream!

Another is to provide additional products for your customers to buy. Let’s say you have a site selling dropshipped camping supplies. Why not affiliate link to Amazon for some camping books or travel guides?

There are a lot of mistakes made by many affiliate adopters that you should be aware of.

1. Picking the wrong Affiliate Program to join

Always pick programs that sell products of interest to your audience. In the early days, people would put up an Amazon link just to have one. Just because of the off chance that someone would arrive at their site and think, “Oh! Now’s the chance to buy that new mystery I’ve been wanting to read!”

The end result was no clickthroughs, no commissions to speak of, but a lot of free branding advertising for Amazon!

Do some due diligence and look into the companies. It’s tough to take the effort to sign up, paste the codes into your site, and then see the company fold.

There are a lot of great sites where you can research and find good affiliate programs. Sites like,, and These sites also have articles loaded with good affiliate marketing tips.

2. Generic Linking

This mistake refers to linking from your site to the main page of a merchant’s site, with little or no reference to the products inside. It’s like you signed up for the affiliate program, and simply copied and pasted the link into your site. No setup, no recommendation. Just “click here and buy something.”

There’s very little that could be less attractive than this.

Consider these case studies.

A long time ago, I was looking for a site where I could buy a “Dummies” book. I did a quick search engine check, found a likely site, and clicked in. What I found was a very well-made site, full of reviews of the various books. I found the one I wanted, and when I clicked on it, was surprised to find myself at the page OF THAT VERY BOOK. This was not a generic click to the main page in the hopes that I would find something I liked. This was a site that essentially set up Amazon as their dropship fulfillment house. They prepped me, they closed me, and they sent me to Amazon only to take the order.

Another site I visited was owned by a doctor. It contained pages and pages of information about the various illnesses and procedures he specialized in. At the bottom of each of these pages there was a bibliography. As I moused over each book in the bibliography, I discovered they were links. Guess where they linked to? That’s right! The page for that book.

The moral of the story? Find and use affiliate programs that allow you to link to specific products, not just the main page of the site.

3. No content

Affiliate sites thrive on traffic.

Think of it. A certain amount of people will click into your site. A certain percentage of those will find your affiliate links interesting. A certain number of those will click through, and a percentage of those will actually buy, generating a commission for you.

So, it stands to reason that the more people you load into the front end of that food chain, the more people will buy at the back end. So, what’s going to bring people to your site, and then keep them there long enough to go to an affiliate merchant? Content!

You have to have information, relevant and usable, on the website. That’s what draws in the visitors, that’s what makes them want to buy. Articles, instructions, blogs, whatever you do, make it informative and update it often!

And make the affiliates you join relate well to the content. You’re drawing in that audience, so sell them what they’re looking for.

4. Not knowing the payment thresholds and policies of the merchant.

Read your agreement! Know what the percentages are, and how often they pay. Learn how they account for the money and how they’re audited. This will save you a lot of grief in the long run.

5. Gaming the system

If there’s a system on the net that can benefit someone, there will also be a program someone has written to game it. By that, I mean that someone will create a way to cheat it and make either money or misery off of it, without providing the value. Affiliates can find a way to cheat the merchants with fake clickthroughs and orders. Merchants will find ways to cheat the affiliates out of the clickthroughs.

The best advice regarding gaming? Don’t! Eventually, you will be caught and you could face expulsion at least and criminal charges at worst. Long run, It’s not worth it!

6. Spamming

And while we’re talking about bad form, let’s not forget spam! Including affiliate links in spam emails can get you expelled from a merchant’s program pretty fast. It doesn’t take much for people to get irritated enough to report you. Best to not push it! If you do send out an affiliate address (in a non-spam email, of course), make sure that it’s not so long that it breaks and wraps half-way onto the next line. That will make it so the click link won’t work, and it’ll be much more clumsy for people to respond to.

So, there you have some great ideas for avoiding bad ideas in the affiliate world. Let’s turn traffic flow into cash flow!

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Scanning the Horizon: New outlets for TV ads

Note: “Scanning the Horizon” articles are notes about trends that are happening in the web marketing world. It might not be possible for many small web businesses to take advantage of these ideas yet (due to financial or other challenges), but it’s vital to be aware of what’s happening around the world of net business.

“Viral Videos” have been around for a long time. Short, funny little clips that people share around the web. You might get one in your inbox, play it, and smile. Then you think of someone that would enjoy it, so you send it along to them, and a bunch of other people that you see in your address book. It’s likely that many of them will do the same, sharing it through their social network. Pretty soon, the clip has made the rounds, spreading across the ‘net like a virus, but not doing any damage.

Some of the early ones I saw were simple things, like the funny clips of someone riding their bike into a tree or falling off a boat. Pretty soon, anything funny, quirky, or attention grabbing was circulating all around the web. People started making their own fun clips and sharing them.

It was only a matter of time before people saw the potential for marketing. It’s easy enough to simply put a company name on the email that’s carrying the video attachment. It’s a little more difficult, but a little more effective, to put your company name and address directly in the video, at the beginning and/or the end.

But the best idea is to make the video itself an ad for your product. And that’s where all this has been going in the last few years.

A lot of companies put their TV ads up on their websites, for people to download and share. It’s easy to find, for example, all the superbowl ads for a given year. keeps a running archive of their often-controversial, frequently-censored ads.

But even more recently than that, companies have seen the potential for branding by creating ads for the sole purpose of releasing them virally on the web. These are never intended for Network or even Cable TV release in the first place. Companies put them out, and let the power of viral interconnectivity do the talking.

It has some real advantages and challenges:

First of all, the ads have to be good. They have to be funny, shocking, or attention grabbing. They can’t just announce your president’s day sale or a special discount. There has to be a story line, a punchline, and payoff. If it’s like 90% of the ads on TV today, it’ll never go anywhere on the web. The result? A company might end up paying a whopping lot more to produce an ad for the web than they do to produce a TV spot. They’ve got to have good creative people who can think innovatively, and deliver.

Second, once the ads are made, the delivery is much cheaper. Considering the millions of dollars spent getting their ad into the lineup at each TV network and station, it’s much easier to put it in a few key sites on the web, and let nature take its course.

Third, a company can get away with much more in web-based ads than they could ever do even on cable TV. Many viral web ads are racy, violent, shocking, and edgy. Why? Because they don’t have to deal with FCC regulations. They’re not being broadcast over airwaves, but rather made available for those that want them. As a result, they can push the envelope. In fact, many feel that in order to get any sort of impact on the information-glut that is the internet, they HAVE to be more daring.

Not everyone agrees. There are many ads that are simply clever, funny, and intriguing that are being circulated. Here are some good examples to begin an exploration of these kinds of ads:

How does all this impact a small business owner? Most are unlikely to have the budget required to create a high-end, professional ad, but if someone’s clever, and has access to a camera and some editing software, who knows what can be done? Adapt the ideas, be flexible. Taking advantage of the viral nature of the way information spreads on the ‘net is an excellent way of promoting a website.

Most of all, simply being aware of what’s happening better prepares you to participate as circumstances change.