Monday, November 21, 2005

Blogging, Part 2 - Dos and Don'ts

Blogging, Part 2 - Dos and Don'ts
By Steve Plunkett
Man: "Hi, my name's Steve...and I'm a blogger."
Group: "Hi, Steve."
It's true. I'm hooked on blogging. I have posted links and commentary to one blog since 1996. I have a personal blog, a work-related personal blog, a Yahoo! blog, and an MSN blog, not to mention the corporate blog I set up for our PR department.
As if the description "personal" doesn't say it all, my personal blog has commentary about my personal life. That's where I express my displeasure with Cingular, link to news stories that interest me and post stories and pictures from my free time. I post all these things using a process called "mob logging" (mobile blogging with a cell phone equipped with a digital camera.) One of these days, when I'm not too busy blogging, I'll learn how to "vlog." That's the process of sending video to a blog.
Partly out of personal curiosity and partly out of professional necessity, I started my Yahoo! blog and my MSN blog just to test Yahoo! and MSN search results as they pertain to those blogs.
To say I "experiment" with blogs would be an understatement. I blog daily. Several times a day. Thankfully, this addictive stuff is part of my job; I'm an Internet guy.
Speaking of work, my work-related blog has links to technology news - stories about data encryption, security and privacy issues, computer viruses, identity theft, spyware, Sarbanes-Oxley and HIPAA to name a few. That and pretty much anything related to Google or Yahoo! And anything containing Internet marketing information in general. Like I said, I'm hooked on this blogging thing.
My work-related blog is not linked to our corporate blog. That's a good practice for any blogger; don't mix your personal and professional blogs. I don't use my real name. The main reason? Sometimes I may post things, controversial or not, that do not reflect the opinions of my employer.
Conversely, on our corporate blog, I use my real name and post articles which have been edited by a copywriter, a VP, the PR department and sometimes the owner of the company. Rightly so. Everything appearing on the corporate blog represents the entire company, so it must fall within company guidelines.
So, why should you be very careful with your personal and corporate blogs? And why am I telling you all this? Hopefully, to share some hard-earned experience. Like I said, I've been at this since 1996.
In the relatively young world of the blogosphere, a few problem areas have arisen. Several bloggers have been fired from their positions for not exercising good judgment and posting something with which their employers didn't necessarily agree. In other instances, corporations have suffered negative consequences. For example, some insurance companies will cancel your corporate liability insurance if they learn your company has a blog.
Why? Defamation cases.
For a defamation lawsuit to succeed, there must be (1) a defamatory statement of fact; (2) of and concerning the plaintiff; (3) publication; (4) damages and (5) falsity and fault. Given the fact that any statements made by the blogger are actually published, a blogger should exercise great care in not crossing the line of defamation/libel.
Comments on another person's blog are considered published by the commenters and not by the host. Currently bloggers are accountable only for the information they write and publish on the Web. However, the laws in this area are still in development, and it's critical to stay informed about the changing laws that govern blogging. In other words, it's better to be safe than sued.
To help you with the process, here is a list of blogging guidelines. If you choose to involve your employer on your blog, be careful. You've been warned. And remember, involving your employer can be as simple as saying "I work at Company X":
1. You agree not to attack personally fellow employees, authors, customers, vendors, celebrities or religious or political figures. You may make personal observations respectfully without ridiculing, defaming or libeling them in any way.
2. You agree not to disclose any sensitive, proprietary, confidential or financial information about your company, other than what is publicly available in corporate press releases.
3. You may not comment on the company's competitors.
4. You agree not to post any material that is obscene, defamatory, profane, libelous, threatening, harassing, abusive, hateful or embarrassing to another person or any other person or entity.
5. You agree not to post spam advertisements, solicitations and/or chain letters or pyramid schemes. 6. You agree not to post any material that is copyrighted unless you are the copyright owner, have the express, written permission from the owner or are sure the use conforms to the doctrine of "fair use."
7. You agree not to post any material that violates the privacy or publicity rights of another.
8. You agree not to post material that contains viruses, Trojan horses, worms, and spyware
9. You acknowledge that any reliance on material, content and/or links posted by other parties will be at your own risk. You assume full legal responsibility and liability for all actions arising from your posts.
10. You MUST NOT allow comments on a corporate blog.
In Part 1 of Technique's special three-part series on blogging, we shared the basic definitions and descriptions of blogging. In this article, Part 2, we hope you learned the basic dos and don'ts of blogging. In Part 3, we'll share tips on how to make your blogging experience easier. Specifically, you'll learn about blog tools, feeds and blog engines.
Until then, see you in the blogosphere.

Your life secrets, left in a taxi - Security

Security - "It was just a tiny thumb drive, but now, it's a pretty big problem for a Hawaii hospital. And what happened there could eventually become a problem for you, too.

Last month, Wilcox Memorial Hospital in Kauai had to inform 120,000 past and present patients that their private information had been misplaced. Their names, addresses, Social Security numbers, even medical record numbers had been placed on one of those tiny USB flash drives and now, according to the letter, the drive was missing."

Saturday, August 13, 2005

Blogs: Part I - Everything You Wanted to Know But Were Too Afraid to Ask.

Blogs: Part I
Everything You Wanted to Know But Were Too Afraid to Ask.
By Steve Plunkett

By now, if you haven't heard the term "blog," you definitely live under a rock or have been on sabbatical for the past year on a secluded island somewhere off the coast of Tahiti. The trouble is that the blogging phenomenon seemingly has taken off so quickly that it can be a bit embarrassing if you have to ask some basic questions about this new medium. Let's face it... you don't want to be that shmo in the back of the room that has to ask, "What is a blog?" at the next association conference. No, you want to be the kid at the head of the class who knows it all. The one who gets the A+ for blogging knowledge. The one who can whisper the right answers in his colleague's ear and impress everyone with your all-encompassing knowledge of the blogosphere.

So...with that in mind, we're going to have a little tutorial over the next couple of months on the world of blogs. You're going to learn about the history of blogs, who blogs, why it's important to be in the blogosphere and some tips on how to keep yourself safe in this uncharted territory. It'll be fun, and we hope you feel comfortable enough to raise your hand every once in a while. My email address is at the bottom of the article... so please, feel free to shoot me a question.

A brief history
A "BLOG" is short for weblog, meaning a "log" or "daily diary" posted on the web. Blogs originally began in 1992 as a quick and easy way for the early users of the Internet to set up a discussion about the development of HTML and the start of public use of the Internet. Back in the early years, weblogs were manually updated using a modem and a telnet application or an FTP program. Needless to say, the cumbersome nature of updating blogs left them in the hands of the super geeks for most of those early years, which, as a result, left them fairly inaccessible and unknown to the general public.

The early bloggers
A guy named Tim Berners-Lee was one of the original bloggers, and he started by linking to websites and posting comments about them as they were posted online. Two other early bloggers were David Filo and Jerry Yang, grad students at Stanford University. They started what is today known as Yahoo! in February 1994 by "blogging" their personal interests on the Internet. This was a "blog" of the websites that they knew, categorized by subject, and it became the first web directory. Brian Pinkerton, a student at the University of Washington, started WebCrawler as one of the first search engines and "blogged" his first Top 25 list on March 15, 1994. Cool Site of the Day listed its first website on Aug 04, 1994 and became a daily blog of the evolving art and science of web design and development. My first day of blogging was September 1st, (Labor Day) of 1996. I just started by posting links to "cool websites."

KISSing Blogs
As with any progression in technology, you've got to make it so simple, any 85-year-old grandma could use it before it will finally take off in the public domain. I mean, you don't find a lot of people who know how to write DOS programs anymore (unlike the early days of the TRS80 and the Apple IIe computers), and why should they when they can just click an icon in Windows or on their PowerBook? The ol' KISS (Keep It Simple, Stupid) principle - that's what it's got to be to really take off, and that is what has happened to blogs. Now, there are tools that automate blog creation and maintenance, which makes them much more accessible to the larger population. In fact, the use of some sort of browser-based software is now a typical aspect of "blogging" and fosters a blog community. I still update my original blog manually and have since Labor Day, 1996. I also have three or four others that I use blogging tools to update. The "blogs" that have blogging tools tend to be updated multiple times a day. The one I update manually is almost two months behind. With the creation of "blogging" tools, it's much easier to update on a daily basis because of the time it takes to code the HTML to update a blog on a daily basis. It's also much easier for someone without knowledge of simple HTML to create and maintain a blog today, which is why many people and companies now have blogs.

Look Who's Bloggin' Now
Because they basically are unfiltered, unedited content, the appeal of blogs has grown exponentially. No one likes censorship, and blogs give people even in the highest and, unfortunately, lowest of places an opportunity to "vent" or wax eloquently on their subject de jour. It basically cuts through all the crap that people smell as propaganda a mile away.
Now, the bloggers aren't just the people sitting at the pinnacle of nerd-dom, they are high powered executives, credible journalists, movie stars (yes, they, not their publicists, really are blogging) and other celebrities. In fact, our PR department now pitches some journalists solely through their blogs instead of the traditional contact routes at publications.

Also, companies are blogging and encouraging their employees to blog. While this may seem a bit dangerous on the surface (and it does require a few guidelines, which we'll cover later), it is a great way for customers to "touch" the real you, the real company - not just the approved copy on the website or slick graphic design in the latest brochure. In a world where people are more cynical now than ever before, blogs offer companies a way to create powerful relationships with their customers rather than just sell them something.

Cool Things to Come
So, that's the skinny on the basics of blogging. In the next couple of months, we'll talk about how to start a blog and some principles when setting up a corporate blog and guidelines for employees who blog. Stay tuned 'cause there's lots more to come on the blogosphere.

Monday, July 11, 2005

Supercharge Your Search Engine Results

Supercharge Your Search Engine Results.
By Steve Plunkett

By now, just about everyone in the industrialized world has used Internet search engines. However, understanding the mysterious, mathematical machines that drive search engine results – that’s another matter. Millions of websites around the world are subject to complicated formulas and processes that determine where they’ll rank in search engines. Even more complicating, the math is ever-changing – so much so that it has created an entirely new industry called search engine optimization (SEO.)

Secretly, behind the scenes, “organic” SEO has been going on since the mid-90s from the early days of public Internet usage. In fact, I’d be willing to bet that every time you run a search on highly searched business words, nearly every entry on the first page of results got its top 10 ranking as a result of SEO. To be competitive on the Internet, every website needs to shoot for that first page. And if you’re not there, you need to contact an SEO professional. To get you started, here’s a primer on the two basic types of marketing via search engines – the first using “organic” methods and the other using sponsored links.

Going organic.

Simply put, organic search placements are the ones you’ve always gotten from search engines. The ones that have been around for years. The ones that make up the bulk of search results. And, other than the initial registration costs with search engines, a listing in organic search results costs you, the website owner, nothing if you know how and where to submit it.

Now, submitting your website does not, on its own, mean you’ll make the first page, or even tenth page, of search placements. That’s where SEO comes in. To optimize your organic search placements, an SEO professional determines the appropriate “searchable” terms for your website and optimizes each page within your site using these keywords. Also, the SEO professional modifies the HTML with certain properties that search engines consider relevant in their ranking methodologies. SEO services can be performed on an existing site or initiated in the planning stage of a new website. But for budgetary reasons, organic search engine optimization is most cost-effective as part of a larger commitment, guiding the construction or redesign of a website as opposed to simply trying to retrofit a site that already exists.

Optimizing a website for search engines does not carry a daily cost. Normally the investment is upfront – to determine the keywords needed and the process to insert them into your website. If the website is already listed in search engines but not listed favorably, organic search engine optimization can take less than 48 hours to take effect. Of course, that’s a best-case scenario. On the other end of the spectrum, if your website is brand new, plan on a study of your keywords and budget for Pay Per Click expenses until your website performs well in organic search engine results. That sometimes takes several months.

Click, pay. Click, pay. Click, pay.

Sponsored links, or Pay Per Click (PPC), are a more recent invention than organic results. Also based on keywords, PPC results appear physically separated from the other (organic) results. Normally located inside a box at the top or on the right-hand side of the page, they’re often labeled as “Sponsors,” “Sponsored Links,” “AdWords,” etc. Every time a searcher clicks on one of these PPC links, the search engine charges the website owner at a prearranged fee. Thus the term “Pay Per Click.”

The costs of Pay Per Click campaigns vary tremendously – from a few pennies per click to a few dollars – depending on the competitiveness or popularity of the keywords selected. For example, the phrase “Search Engine Optimization” currently costs $4.23 per click. In May 2005 on the Yahoo! Pay Per Click network, this phrase was searched 159,916 times. If every searcher had clicked on that link, at a cost of $4.23 per click, the expense for linking to the advertiser’s site, based on that one phrase would have been $676,444.68. On top of that, research has shown that the majority of search engine users prefer to click on the first three organic results before they explore PPC listings.

So which is better?

It depends on lots of factors – among them, whether your site is brand-new or existing, whether your existing site is registered or not, whether your goals are long-term or short-term, whether your need is lead generation or brand awareness. The list goes on and on, but I can share with you one certainty about organic SEO.

From an optimization standpoint, organic SEO is a necessary part of any long-term commercial website strategy. Much like having a sign in front of your physical location, it’s an investment in the future of your business. If enough people drive by and see your sign they will remember you and not have to look up your name every time they are looking for your product or service.

The decisions regarding PPC campaigns are not as simple. You need to ask a variety of questions when considering a PPC campaign in addition to organic SEO. How much will it cost you per click? How many clicks should you expect? How does your site already perform on purely organic searches? Are you looking for a long-term solution or short-term results? Do you need results yesterday or can you wait perhaps one month or more for organic SEO to kick in?

Like I said, it’s a mysterious, mathematical machine. That’s why the industry exists. For assistance, a credible SEO provider will help you find the right answers to all these questions and more.

Thursday, June 30, 2005 "SAN FRANCISCO - A seller of online marketing tools said Wednesday it sued Google Inc., charging that the Web search giant has failed to protect users of its advertising program from 'click fraud,' costing them at least $5 million."