Internet Explorer 6? It’s Time You Upgrade.

IEiconAre you still using Microsoft’s Internet Explorer 6 to view websites?  If so, it is time you upgrade.  Internet Explorer 6 (also referred to as IE6) is a pretty ancient browser.  I know it doesn’t sound that old, since the newest version is only Internet Explorer 8, but trust me, the number of years between those two versions is more than a handful of fingers to count.

IE6 can not take advantage of many of the newest web technologies – or if they do, the pages will be rendered incorrectly or be buggy in operation.  Security is not as strong as current browsers, leaving you more at risk to hackers and phishing attacks.  The feature set is also lacking, as tabbed browsing didn’t come along until IE7.  What?  Don’t know what tabbed browser windows are?  See how behind the times you are! 😉

If you are an AOL user, note that AOL uses Internet Explorer as the code base for it’s browser.  I’m no AOL expert, but I do believe IE6 is the platform.  So, AOL users, this post is for you too.

Upgrading to a modern browser is easy, so not doing so is only shooting yourself in the foot.  If you have IE6 and love the browser so much you don’t want to part with it, just point your mouse over to http://www.microsoft.com/windows/internet-explorer/default.aspx to download IE8 for free.  IE is still a good browser, so the newest version will get the job done for you.  However, if you want to live a little and hang with the internet in-crowd, the following browsers are all free to use and are arguably better choices than IE:

Firefox-iconMozilla Firefox – This is THE alternative browser to use and the one with the most market share behind IE.  It is also a fun browser to use with a ton of ways to customize it to suit your needs.  It’s also very easy to import your IE favorites so you don’t lose any of your bookmarks that you built up on IE.

Bottom Line: This has been my primary browser for a few years now.

chromeiconGoogle Chrome – Yep, Google does it all!  Last year Google released Chrome and it is a very worthwhile browser to look into.  It is very spartan in its presentation with only a minimal amount of things to click on.  For me, this took some getting used to, but once I did I found it a refreshing approach.

Bottom Line: The browser has been rock solid in the 6 or so months of daily use I have put on it – I honestly can’t recall it ever crashing or freezing up.

safariiconApple Safari – Even if you are on a PC, you can still use Apple’s Safari browser.  I haven’t used this one as much, but the times I did I found it to be an excellent application that is both usable and high in performance.  Version 4 is the newest version.

Bottom Line: If you like Apple stuff, then this one is a safe recommendation.

FlockiconFlock – Here’s your chance to really be cutting edge cool and start using a browser that most people don’t know about.  Flock is basically a modified Firefox browser than is specifically tailored for social media websites.  You get (most) of the benefits of Firefox (some add-on customizations are not compatible) and a ton of social networking management features to keep you up all night.

Bottom Line: If you spend a lot of time jumping around from website to website while chatting on Twitter and Facebook (as well as a long list of other social media sites), then definitely give Flock a try.

I have at least 3 different browsers open at any given time.   Not that I need more than one, but I like to experiment with what is available.  If forced to pick, right now I’m using Flock most.  But I still don’t have it loaded up with all the customizations that I have done to Firefox.  So, I’ll call it a tie between Flock and Firefox.  A close second is Chrome due to it’s robust nature – it is by far the most stable browser of the bunch from my experiences.  If stability is more important than feature-set, then go with Chrome.

Remember, if you are on AOL, you don’t have to use AOL’s browser – and I recommend you don’t.  You have the same freedom of choice in browsers too.

There are even more choices out there too, but these are the primary ones and they are all excellent alternatives to the out-dated Internet Explorer 6.

Star Wars and Spambots

Ever see Star Wars?  Of course you have.  Remember C-3Po, the annoying robot nobody wanted showing up to the party?  Of course you do.  I mean, come on, it’s Star Wars.  How could you forget.

Well, if you have a website with a form on it, you likely have become acquainted with one of C-3P0’s distant relatives.   You know what I’m talking about, you see a form submission that looks something like this:

Name: owihe0wlerjlwrrwer
Email: iru98uououou
Comments: wooeoeirororwieoirj

Yep, you have been visited by a spambot – impossible to avoid on standard web forms.  At some point they find you and start submitting random gibberish junk that makes about as much sense as R2-D2’s bleeps and blips.

You have probably seen CAPTCHA fields on forms where you are required to type in some random letters or words before you can submit a form?  These are used to keep the spambots out as the spambot, lacking the intellect of C-3P0 (I think it is a product of robot inbreeding), can’t reason with a CAPTCHA entry box, only a human can.  Problem is, humans tend to hate CAPTCHA fields.

You can add a CAPTCHA field but by default we don’t do this for our clients, since humans don’t like entering CAPTCHA fields, it can reduce the number of submissions you get. Also, we don’t use CAPTCHA fields on our forms for our own site, so we get a few of these spambot entries each day.  We just trash them as our time to trash a couple a day is worth the few legit ones here or there that we may not have gotten else-wise.

This is not to totally rule out CAPTCHA fields.  If you are having security hack attempts happening, then it can make sense to tighten down the site – which is why you see CAPTCHA fields on high profile sites.

If the spambot is coming from one or just a few IP addresses, you can also look at IP blocking to keep the offending bot away.  But again, it is usually easiest to just delete the spam.

Twitter Power Tools

Now that the hype has settled and the new website smell has faded, let’s take a look at Twitter and how to maximize it’s effectiveness via third party Twitter tools.  These tools come in various forms; from websites, desktop apps to mobile phone applications, there are many ways to get your tweets in order.

Seesmic Desktop, along with Tweetdeck, is one of the exciting Adobe Air desktop apps to try for Twitter.

Seesmic Desktop, along with Tweetdeck, is one of the exciting Adobe Air desktop apps to try for Twitter.

Multi-Account Management

Twitter is a great tool, but their website is pretty simple – and that has it’s pros and cons.  The pros being the ease of using it.  For casual Twittering, it handles most of what you need.  But what if you have a personal Twitter account and a work Twitter account – or even more Twitter accounts to promote various aspects of your business.  Now having various browsers open to manage all those accounts at once is not efficient – time for a tool that allows you to manage multiple accounts at once in one user interface.  Their are numerous choices out there, but the ones I recommend looking into the most are HootSuite.com, TweetLater.com, TweetDeck, Seesmic Desktop and Twhirl.  All these tools are fantastic to easily post a tweet from different accounts without switching browsers or logging in and out of the Twitter website.

Beautiful interface, great features, lots of fun to use - HootSuite is a hoot!

Beautiful interface, great features, lots of fun to use - HootSuite is a hoot!

Following more than a few hundred people on Twitter but have only a handful whose tweets you really want to read?  TweetDeck and Seesmic Desktop let you group those you follow into smaller more manageable lists.  You could create a list just of family members and friends, just of business contacts or whatever other criteria you wish.  Then you can just view one of these lists so it is easily to see these posts without them getting lost in the Twitter stream.

One of the biggest problems I have with Twitter is having the time to Tweet.  My day is busy and I can’t spend my time at work managing my Tweets.  This is where TweetLater.com and HootSuite.com shine.  You can load up a number of interesting tweets when you have 15 minutes available and schedule these tweets to get spread out throughout the day.  Now you can look like you’re busy tweeting throughout the day!  Busy Twitterers are more likely to gain more followers and get more visibility within their current Twitter network.  HootSuite.com even allows you to track stats of your post’s links so you can find out how many people are clicking on the links you are sharing.

Manage Followers/Unfollows

When you get to hundreds of followers, at some point you’ll realize you are following a lot of people you don’t really need to be following.  Maybe you followed them simply because they followed you.  But their posts have nothing to offer you or are so infrequent you never see them.  You try and track them down in your followers list, but all that scrolling through pages is not an effective use of your time.  With a tool like Twitter Karma, you can easily see all your followers and those you are following on one page.  And unlike the Twitter website, you can see at a glance if the following is mutual.  What’s that, that person you were thinking of unfollowing is not following you anymore anyway – Twitter Karma is a good way to find those tricky individuals that follow you first to get you to follow you back only to then unfollow you afterwards to make their numbers look better.

Twitter Karma is an easy way to manage your friends and followers on Twitter.

Twitter Karma is an easy way to manage your friends and followers on Twitter.

Grade Your Performance

What is your influence on Twitter?  How do you rank overall?  Hubspot has a clever little tool to help you get an idea of your level of influence on Twitter.  Go to http://twitter.grader.com to see how you stack up.  This is mostly for fun, but you can pick up some tips on increasing your Twitter influence and find other Twitter users of interest in your area.  Best of all, it gives you a goal to try and beat which encourages more Twitter activity.

Secure Your Tweets

You have to have a backup plan for when things go bad.  That Twitter Fail Whale could surface at any moment and eat your tweets and followers.  Stories have been told of users accounts getting wiped out, either in full or partially, for no other reason than a Twitter technical issue.  So, if you are investing valuable time in your Twitter account, then it makes sense to get it backed it just like any other valuable data you have.  A tool to do this easily is TweetBackup.com.

Share Media

Yep, you can do more than just share 140 characters on Twitter.  The most well know media sharing tool for Twitter is TwitPic which lets you share photos.  TwitVid.io is a newer one that lets you share video.  The video you share can be an uploaded video or one you take on the spot from your computer’s webcam.  You login to TwitVid.io using your Twitter login and post you video to Twitter directly from the TwitVid.io website.  Another cool service is TwitDoc.com which allows you to share files on Twitter.  It works in the same manner as TwitVid.io, but it also has a Desktop Application available.  Say you want to post a PDF document of a business flyer up for your followers to see, TwitDoc.com allows this – just make sure if you’re on the receiving end of a TwitDoc that it’s from a trusted source.

TwitVid.io - a good site to share video on Twitter.

TwitVid.io - a good site to share video on Twitter.

Take Your Tweets With You

On the go a lot?  Have a smart phone?  Then get a Twitter application for your phone so you can Twitter from anywhere.  I can only speak for iPhone apps as that’s the phone I use, but I’m sure if your phone is smart, it has a Twitter app available.  The iPhone Twitter app I like best is TwitterFon.  It is easy to use and even ties into TwitPic if I want to tweet a photo from my phone.  Many of these apps are free, so try a few and decide for yourself.

Promote via Twitter

Got a great blog post or webpage?  Use TweetMeme.com to make it easier for your viewers to retweet the content by placing a TweetMeme “retweet” button on your blog or webpage.  If a viewer likes your info, they just need to click the “retweet” button to broadcast the content to their followers on Twitter.  In addition, your TweetMeme retweets get tracked and if you get enough viewers clicking on your TweetMeme retweet button you will get extra publicity on the TweetMeme website (can you say “Digg.com”).

Build Community

If you really want to connect with your Twitter community, try Mr. Tweet.  This is a great tool for two reasons; 1) you can recommend other Twitterers (people love getting recommendations) and 2) you can get recommendations of other Twitterers that you may wish to follow but aren’t yet.  When you recommend someone on Mr. Tweet, it is recorded on the site and you can also have your recommendation tweeted on Twitter.  Also, Mr. Tweet only looks to recommend people you should follow that have recommendations from others you already follow – in other words, recommendations from Mr. Tweet are really recommendations from those you already know on Twitter.  This leads to having a higher quality of overall friends in your Twitter stream.

I pity the fool who don't use Mr. Tweet.

I pity the fool who don't use Mr. Tweet.

Got More?

This is a very short list of all the Twitter-related tools that exist.  You may find some that work best for you differ from this list – if you do, tell me what it is and how you’re using it?

Google Options are Good Options

If you haven’t noticed yet when performing a search in Google, you now have the ability to click on a text link in the top left of the search results that says “Show options”.  Pretty nifty, eh?

Yep, Google is rolling out new features because, well, because they’re Google, but also to compete with other specialized search engines including Twitter’s ability to offer real time search and the search options on Microsoft’s new Bing.com search engine.

One of the nicest aspects of these new search options for site owners is how it gives you additional criteria to optimize your content for.  Instead of rewriting the wheel, here is a great article from WebProNews that gives a nice summary of all the details:

http://www.webpronews.com/topnews/2009/05/18/how-do-googles-new-search-options-affect-seo

Brand New or New Branding?

Original and now new again Tropicana packaging on the left, new but now old generic branding on the right.

Original and now new again Tropicana packaging on the left, new but now old generic branding on the right.

This has been a busy year for companies trying to get noticed.  Now I can understand with the recession and all that there is cause for concern and more reason to bring attention to your business.  But attention alone doesn’t make a customer suddenly what to do more business with you.  There is something to be said about familarity too as well as what kind of attention you bring to yourself.

Eariler this year Tropicana brought attention to itself by switching it’s packaging.  A whole new look brought much attention for this orange juice icon.  However, the attention was not positive.  Amazingly, Tropicana was not able to have the forsight to realize that trading in a premium branding campaign built up over decades with a generic branding campaign anyone could have come up with wasn’t a good idea.  It makes it harder to justify a premium price too if your branding reflects a generic brand.  Customer outcry made them realize the mistake and a few months later, and a bunch of marketing dollars shorter, and the original branding is back. 

I’m driving to work and pass by the local Wal-Mart Super Center – what the heck is that funny new logo?  Oh my gosh, did they paint over the trademark blue on the outside of the building?  I just can’t help thinking this is a change for the sake of change without any business reasoning behind it.  I’ve never seen a shortage of cars in their parking lot and I’ve never stood in line for less than 30 minutes just to buy a pack of batteries.  Love ’em or hate ’em, the new branding is just going to further irk detractors and alienate core customers, in my opinion.  Wal-Mart is too much of an institution than a store – maybe more of a tradition as generations of families have been brought up under it’s roof.  You just don’t mess with tradition.  I’d love to see the price tag for this re-branding vs. how much more it actually adds to their bottom line.

How about that new Pepsi logo?  Kinda weird, huh?  Ok, they have always tended to market mostly to a younger demographic, so I’m not going to be too critical of their new branding.  It may not appeal to me, but then again, I haven’t had a soda of any kind in about a decade or so.  I’ll remain nuetral on this one.

Even Maxwell House!

Even Maxwell House! New on the left, older packaging on the right.

I dislike their shoddy, overpriced coffee and over-sugared speciality drinks like Frappacinos, but have always loved Starbucks coffee-flavored ice cream.  I mean, I really love the stuff.  But Starbucks has played musical branding  with it’s packaging  – each time getting more generic in appearance and each time I end up seeing less of it being stocked in the ice cream isle at my local supermarket.  Hmmm….  Then, about 6 months ago it disappered altogether from the shelves for a few months.  I must have bought every other coffee ice cream brand known to man when magically Starbucks coffee ice cream reappeared on the shelves with what’s that, yet another packaging design (and what I swear is a different taste too).  Why can’t they just leave well-enough alone – all these improvements are making it worse.

You’d think I was an anti-new-brander by this blog post so far, but I’m really not.  I love pointing to the rebranding that UPS did a few years back.  They took their tradition with them, enhanced their logo and made the color brown kinda cool.  There was no re-adjustment, no “that’s weird” stage – everything was the same just better.  You didn’t fell like you were doing business with a different company – they maintained their identity.

Now these are big multi-billion dollar corporations with established identities at stake, but what about the small business owner?  What is the identity of your brand – do you have a brand identity?

Usually small business owners start on a small budget and logos and branding tends to be at a lower importance level than other factors in getting the business up and running.  But as your business grows, the importance of your branding grows.  As you become more established in your field, your premium rises.  Just as Tropicana can charge more money for their better known, premium orange juice, your rates for your products or services will increase too.  As your rates increase your customers will expect your branding to reflect this new premium.  Tropicana spent a lot of money learning this lesson – don’t expect a premium while presenting in a generic fashion or stripping away your established indentity.

If you are new to the game then you are in a good position to start off on the right track.  Working with a good design team you can establish the look of a premium brand before you really are one.  Upfront costs in this case are more, but you can save yourself a lot of retooling of your brand down the road.

What does your brand say about you?  Are you a generic, a premium, or somewhere in the middle?

Should You Put Your Pricing On Your Website

This is a great question that comes up frequently when I speak with clients.  The short answer, in most cases, is yes.

The idea for this blog post came from an eNewsletter I recieved from Judy Dunn of Cats Eye Marketing – a professional copywriter who is part of my network of Biznik and Twitter.  Here is a link to an archive of the article:

http://archive.constantcontact.com/fs018/1102365023179/archive/1102555462571.html

The main points of the article are, if you are selling a product, by all means put your pricing on your site.  But if you sell a service, then you need to build value before providing a price.  It’s all pretty common sense stuff, but worth sharing if you are on the fence.  Give it a read.

Twitter for the Middle Ages

Surprisingly, it is not the kids that are doing all the Twittering – far from it.  New research shows it’s the middle age sector that is using it the most, and that means business – kids rank at the bottom of the list as the most common users of Twitter.  Full article from Web Pro News here:

http://www.webpronews.com/topnews/2009/04/08/what-twitter-search-can-mean-for-businesses-0

Internet Explorer 8 and Site Compatibility

Microsoft just released Internet Explorer 8 (IE8) last week, and we’re already seeing a lot of incompatibility issues with pre-existing websites.  Microsoft is taking a lot of flak on this newest browser due to them touting it as being a standards compliance browser, but it is actually ranking lower in compliance than all the other major browsers on the scene – Mozilla Firefox, Google Chrome and Apple Safari.

Some of the main issues we are seeing are issues with Javascript and the handling of modal windows – pop-up windows that are very commonly used for displaying overlaying content on a webpage.

What this means to your website is that you need to check it in IE8 to see if it is working correctly in this new browser.  It also means you might have to make a decision on what version of IE you want your site to be coded for.  As more browsers enter the scene and more versions of those browsers are released, having a site that is 100% compatible with all internet users is not achieveable.

High Ranking Social Media Profiles

A co-worker talked you into setting up an account on LinkedIn, which you briefly did, but then forgot about it and never followed up on it further.  It has a minimal amount of basic content on it and maybe you only linked up with a few other people at best.  Well, that basic profile is likely now one of the highest ranked webpages for your name in Google.  That’s a good reason to revisit that profile and freshen it up.

Social media websites are really starting to dominate search engine listings.  Social media profiles are getting top spots for individual names.  This is particularly true if your name is a somewhat less common.

Since your social media profile is likely one of the first things that will pull up in Google if someone is searching on your name, then make sure your profile is up-to-date and and complete.  If it is LinkedIn, they use a handy percentage meter to let you know how complete your profile is and what you need to fill out next.

How Long Has That Domain Name of Yours Been Around?

The length of time that you have owned a domain name has a some influence on how Google views your website.  This is because Google wants to avoid spammers as much as possible.  Spammers will frequently buy up discarded domain names and attach them to a spam-oriented website.  Since these sites muck up Google’s search results, Google is a bit leary with any site that has a fresh domain name registration as it may suspect spam.  Also, new websites with new domain names are not yet well established.  Google does not want to risk a high ranking for a website that just might be a short term site.  Quality listings are what Google wants.  Websites that have been online for a long time with a long standing domain name are viewed as higher in quality to Google.

If you have your domain name registered for 10 years out as opposed to year-to-year, then Google assumes you have more expectations of being around for the long haul.  Renew your domain name for large chunks at a time if possible, as it gives Google more warm vibes about your site.