Monday, June 30, 2008

Who Is Your Boss?

If you run your own business, you know that your customers are your boss.

If you want to do well and succeed, you need to make your boss happy. You also want as many bosses as you can get.

Is your customer telling you they want you to be online? Your honest answer can easily be "No".

If this is your answer, then I am going to tell you that you need to be online more than ever. Here is why.

If your whole industry is changing because of the way the Internet is changing communications and your boss does not think that is important, then I can only conclude that your boss is a part of a group which is getting smaller every day.

You want to be part of a growing group, not a declining group. You are not hearing the forest that does not know you exist, you are hearing the trees that still haven't changed.

I asked the staff at my office who are under age 40 how they bought their insurance. And by the way, the same holds true for everything they buy.

First - they did not look in the Yellow Pages. In fact, they no longer keep a copy.
Second - they did not call to get a quote, even when that was suggested online.
Third - they preferred to spend more if it meant they could finish the purchase online right then.
Fourth - if you were not found online, they never knew you existed.

I have heard a lot of insurance agents and companies say they did not want these customers. They thought they would be bad customers. I imagine lots of other business people have this same reaction.

So, the question you have to ask yourself is "Do you fell lucky?"

The question you have to answer is - "If you do not want new customers under age 40, where do you think new customers are going to come from?'

The question I ask is "If you think the 70% of potential customers are customers you do not want, are you saying you really want only the part of the population that can not afford an Internet connection or does not have the skills to use the Internet?" I have to really doubt that.

If your customers are your boss, and almost all new customers want you to be online, you should do what your boss wants you to do.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Your Visitors Want You To Succeed

When a person first comes to your web pages, they absolutely want your pages to be the best they could ever visit. They give you every benefit of the doubt. Why else would they have come to your page?

But they are not going to give you a lot of time if you disappoint them early.

When I was in college I made some extra money playing guitar at coffeehouses and bars. I learned that when I first got up on stage every one in the audience was hoping I was going to be the best singer/songwriter they had ever seen. And until I played my first note or sang my first song, they believed that was going to be true.

I learned that if I believed this also, they would believe it longer. If I acted like I knew what I was doing, if I told the audience through my actions that I was what they wanted me to be, I discovered most of them would believe me. After all, that was what they wanted to believe. 

This is an important lesson for your web pages. While it is probably impossible to be the very best experience any one online has ever had, it is possible not to make mistakes that will make it a bad experience.

Think carefully about why people come to your web page. What is it they are hoping for? Can you give it to them?

What is it that would make visitors leave? Try hard not to do that.

I have been told that the main purpose of the first words on any web page are to get the visitor to read the next words. The the main purpose of the next words are to get the visitor to read the words after that.

Take the opportunity your visitors give you when they first come to your pages. They want you to succeed. Show confidence. Show understanding of why the person is on your page. Figure out how to do what they want.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Express Yourself With Audio Files

The first thing a lot of people say to me when I meet them is "I know you. I know that voice."

They know the voice because I use a lot of audio on my web sites. It is a great way to create a richer personal experience and connection with the people who visit your site.

Audio is very inexpensive. I record using the free program . This lets you record directly to your PC, edit and mix. It creates .wav or .mp3 files among others.

You can use any cheapo, cheapo microphone and jack it directly into the audio input plug on your PC. I find the $5.00 mikes from Toys R Us have sound quality that is so poor it is irritating. I recommend against this. You want to be able to be heard.

I went the expensive route. I went to a local music store and bought a small mixing board for $79.00. I tried the Radio Shack first, but it just did not work.

You can get a great quality used Shure microphone with a standard RCA cable for around $100.00. Then you just jack the mixing board into the back of your PC instead of the microphone.

This combination gives you truly professional sound.

I mostly use the audio files as voice overs for Camtasia videos. I will talk about Camtasia in another post, but suffice it to say Camtasia records your computer screen while you run programs or PowerPoints or other things. I prefer voiceover to directly recorded audio on Camtasia because it allows you better control of editing. In plain English, it lets you cut out all the pauses and "Uhs, Ohs, and you knows".

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Web Site Design - What Goes Where and Why

In creating a web site that will attract visitors, be worth their time and have them come back again and again you need to create a three tier design.


The content you create needs to position you as an expert on the one subject the page discusses. By positioning yourself as a valid expert you create a level of trust.

The content pages are not sales pages. They talk about the one specific issue that is on the visitors mind. The page should talk about this issue from the visitors perspective. The page should empathize with the problem. It should demonstrate your understanding of the issue. Without being a sales page, it should discuss options for resolving the problem. It should discuss the things the visitor should be sure to think about.

You should look at this the way you would advise a friend if they came to you about this issue.

The traffic level of the site is the "Being Found" issues that have been discussed in many of my early posts to this blog. Remember to create pages search engines can understand.

The monetization level comes at the end of the content. Actually, it can come in the body, but only as a hyperlink. I believe you should always separate your actual sales pages from your content pages by a hyperlink. The content page should make the visitor take the action of clicking on the link to indicate that they would like to move to more of a sales oriented page.

If you are a small business, the monetization will be about selling your product or services. The content page establishes the relationship. Shows you are knowledgeable and creates a trusting relationship.

The links should occur naturally in your discussion of the issue. For instance, when you are talking about a possible solution, make the link a part of the sentence.

At the end of the page, you should clearly suggest the person take the next step to a specific solution by clicking on the appropriate link. If you are suggesting multiple options for solutions, clearly show each as a separate link.

Remember, let your web page represent you the same way you would represent yourself if this person came to your office. Build trust and a relationship and the sale will take care of itself.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Your Own Product

The people who make the most money online sell their own product. This is what I am hoping you will do.

The most difficult part of making this work is having your own product. But hey, if you are an insurance agent you already have this. The trick for you is going to be all the other things I will be talking about in this blog.

Now you know something about the real business models that many real people have been using for years to make real money online. And the one you get to use is the one that makes the most. Woo Hoo!!!

Monday, June 23, 2008

Affiliate Sales

Affiliate sales are done by you having a link on your site with your affiliate number on the link. When someone from your site clicks on the link and then buys a product at the site you sent them to, you get paid an affiliate commission.

You have to have signed up as an affiliate with the site and been given the unique link for this to work. pioneered this monetization technique. There are many, many people making a living online by referring visitors to another site from which they receive an affiliate commission. This can be a good revenue source, but it is not your primary business.

If you are in the insurance business you will be interested to know that in many states you can be paid an affiliate commission by insurance companies for things like car insurance referrals. Last time I looked you could be paid by Progressive for instance. It is a lot less than an agent’s commission, but then you are doing no work except referring the visitor.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Contextual Advertising

The easiest way to do this is using Google AdSense. This lets Google place ads on your web pages. Each time a visitor clicks on an ad Google pays you a large portion of the click through fee they charge the advertiser.

Remember my posts on Pay per Click advertising with AdWords? This is letting some one else run their AdWords ads on your site. Google pays you once a month or once you hit a certain minimum earning amount.

There are people who make over $10,000 a month from AdSense. You will not be one of those people. In fact, this will be your smallest revenue source.

Here is my rough experience with AdSense.

A reasonable click through rate for AdSense is about 1%. An average amount you might earn per click is maybe $0.60.

If you have 100 visitors to a page per month and get one click through you earn 60 cents.

The deal here is that you have to have lots of visitors or lots of pages. The real pros on this have tens of thousands of pages with some visitors to each.

You are unlikely to have thousands of page views early on.

Worse still, the ads will be on the topic you are talking about on your web page. They will likely be offering competition to what you are offering. Probably not the best idea.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

No Such Thing as Price Pressure

Seth Godin - - has been one of my favorites for a long time. Marketing ideas and advice just don't get much better.

He has two blog postings this week that I think are extremely relevant - especially to insurance agents. After all, agents can not control pricing. You have to sell the same policy as many other agents in your town. So how do you get past thinking of insurance as a commodity. Especially car insurance.

I believe Seth's thoughts are right on target. I also believe you are not selling a commodity, you are selling the unique experience of dealing with you. If you can see it that way and build on it, then the fact that your competition can not beat your product just gives you that many fewer things you have to focus on to win.

Here are the links to his short articles:

No Such Thing as Price Pressure

Is It Worthy - thoughts on always doing your best. That will make you a special experience.

Different Ways to Monetize Your Web Site

There are three specific business models for making money on your web site. I am going to strongly recommend just one of them. Still, I want you to be aware of all three so you can make your own decision.

Each of these business models can be built by people with limited resources of time, money and specific computer or web programming ability. You should be prepared to spend 1 to 2 hours a day – so 5 to 10 hours a week. You should expect to spend about $400. a year for your web site and related stuff. Most importantly you should be prepared to work hard, stick to a plan and not get distracted before you have finished your plan.

A word of caution, most people either think they can not make any money on line or that they will get rich quick online. Neither is very likely. I do make a living online. It took several years to get to that point. During that time I was making a living off line. I still do that business also.

Your online business for a small business like an insurance agency is not a replacement for your existing business. It is a great growth opportunity. It will probably grow over the years the make more money for you than you physical location. That takes time.

The thing to keep in mind is the time you spend building the online part of your business definitely does have a cumulative effect. There is no substitute. It is a permanent advantage to you over your competitors. Here are the two specific advantages:

1 – If it took you 100 hours to get to a certain point, it will most likely take your competitor 100 also. So you have a head start.
2 – While getting that head start you have been learning what works and what doesn’t work. So your next 100 hours will be even more valuable. While your competitor is going 20 miles an hour in the first 100 hours, you will be going 70 miles an hour in the next 100 hours. You will be increasing your lead. A great way to win.

The three specific business models which are proven to work for making money online are:

1 - Contextual Advertising
2 - Affiliate Sales
3 - Your Own Product

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Make Your Web Pages You

Here is a truth.

One person at a time views your web page.

Think about what that means to the opportunity you have.

You should take this truth and use it to present yourself as you. You are unique. You are really good at certain things. You have a personality. Your web page needs to offer all these things to your visitor.

I am sure you have noticed that customers who come to your office prefer to work with one specific individual. Folks that call ask for a specific person. That is because they like that person as a person. They have a relationship with that person.

Visitors to your web site will have a relationship with your web site. Make that a great relationship by making it a personal relationship.

Here are some examples of the things I believe create this relationship.

  • Write your pages yourself - no matter how you write.
  • Write your pages in a conversational style. This means write like you would actually talk to that visitor if they were in your office. There is simply no easier way to create a relationship than talking with some one.
  • Put a picture of yourself on your site. Not on every page.
  • Put your name on your site.
  • Put your specific contact information on your site.
  • Put a short video or voice recording of you on your site. The topic should be relevant to the page they are on.

Making your web pages you is the first basic step in creating an interactive relationship with your customers online. It gives them a way to begin to trust you as a real person.

While you are at it, if you have some real customer testimonials, put those online as well. People naturally are more comfortable with some one they have been referred to. Short of a direct referral, testimonials are the next best thing.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Make Your Web Site About Your Customer

Such an easy thing to say. If you read my last post you may or may not have made a list of the things your customer does when she comes to your office or calls you on the phone. 

This is the place to start planning how to make your site about your customer. Take this list and work through it one item at a time. Write it down.

Here is an example - take a payment.

How would you let a customer make a payment to you on your web site? If your answer was "I can't let my customer make a payment on  my web site", then write down the reasons you think you can't.

Again, using an insurance agency as an example, this is actually a very hard question. Here is a list of some of the problems:

  1. How does the customer know how much to pay?
  2. What if the customer enters the wrong policy number or payment amount?
  3. What if I can not figure out who made the payment or for what account?

These are all valid questions for an insurance agency. They generally do not send the customer a bill for car insurance or homeowners insurance. The bill generally comes from the insurance company.

Start with #1. Is there any way to help identify the customer? Do some of your insurance companies have online payments? If so you can provide a list of those companies as hyperlinks to the correct web page for your customer to make the payment on that site.

If not, can you create a screen that asks your customer for their name, policy number? Can you build a data base table to compare that information with your existing customer information? If so, this will keep you from taking payments from people you do not know.

Of course this table has to be kept up to date. How will that be done? Will the better customer service be worth the effort? Will the better customer service help you make more money? The only way to know is to do it and measure results.

You still have the problem of accepting the correct amount for the payment. Because of the basically non existent availability of current data from your insurance company that actually sends the bill you are not going to be able to be certain of the amount of the payment. If your customer comes to your office or calls you, you are able to look at the bill they have or call the insurance company, or go online to the insurance company to confirm the amount.

For an online customer, the current state of insurance technology does not enable your system to do this. The solution I suggest is to put wording on the payment page that your customer has to check to agree to saying the payment is a conditional payment pending your human review on the next business day. This wording and agreement should keep you in compliance with the insurance laws on cancellations and estoppel.

Then  you have the technical matters of creating or using software with your web page that will securely accept the payment. This kind of thing is easy to find and affordable.

So is this worth it? Well,  my question is "Is it worth it to take a payment when a customer comes to your office?". If the answer is "yes" to that, then I believe the answer is "yes" to this. 

Let me give you a real example from my life. I pass 4 gas stations between my house and my office. I only buy from two of them. Two do not have "pay at the pump". I don't even look at the price for gas at these two stations. As far as I am concerned they simply do not exist as a place I will do business.

Is your not being able to take payments online, 24/7/365, making you non existent to your customer? More and more it does. Plus you are never even in the picture for many potential customers. You are like the two gas stations that think they are open for my business but I don't think that at all. And as the customer, I am the only one that matters.

Believe it or not, price is at best the 5th reason for a buying decision. First is relationship, next are some combination of service, perceived value, perceived quality and ease of doing business. 

Do you have any online relationship? Does your customer have the ability to interact with you online? If they do not, it is kinda hard to have a relationship. And that online relationship is just going to be more and more important.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

The Real Question About Online Business

The real question for your web site is not "Why would any one ever come to my web site?"

The real - and most important - question is....

"Why would anyone ever come back to my web site?"

Your goal is to make your page a destination. Destinations are places where something gets done. Continuing to use an insurance agency as an example, your office is a destination for many people. They come to your office to do a specific thing.

Make a list of those things. They should include buy a policy, make a payment, get a document. You should be able to make a longer list.

Believe it or not, your phone number is also a destination. People don't call your phone number just to see what that is like. They call to get a specific thing done. Ask for a change, check on coverages, get a quote.

Your web site needs to allow your customer to come to it to get things done. Then you will be a destination page.

If your web site does not allow your visitors to do something, think about your phone. What if your phone only allowed your visitor to get your street address and your email address. Maybe your phone would also say some nice things about how many combined years of experience you and your entire staff have in the insurance business.

If this is what calling your phone number did, do you think anyone would ever call your phone number again? I know I wouldn't.

Think about how long you would stay in business if this is all your phone number could do.

Well, the same is true for your web page. If it is just an online brochure it has almost no value.

For the insurance business specifically I know it is hard to provide online services. But not as hard as you think and certainly far from impossible. The problem is that many small business people wait for a vendor to provide a solution for all their problems. Then most wait for the price to come way down.

You do not need to spend a great deal of money, you do not need to hire some college kid or consultant.You can spend a small amount of time and money and learn how to create and change your web site yourself.

You would never even consider hiring a consultant to tell you how to arrange your office for the best customer experience. You only do it for your web site because you think learning how to create and change web sites is something too hard for you to do.

When you start to understand that the experience your visitor to your web site will have is just as important as a personal visit or a phone call, you will start to understand why only you should ever be the one to create a change your web site. The interaction of your customers with your web site is an interaction with you. It should have your personality. You will find that your customers do see you as who you present yourself to be online. And if you can not do the things online you can do in person or on the phone, your customers will think you just can not do them at all.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Google Analytics – It Is Free

One of the many great things you get when you sign up for a free Google account is the use of Google Analytics. This tool lets you learn an amazing amount of information about the visitors to your web pages.

If you have more than one web site you are trying to track, you can set up unique analytics for each site.

The initial dashboard you get in Google analytics shows the activity by day for the past month with details for visits, page views, pages per visit, bounce rates, average time on site, percent of visitors who are new visitors.

It continues with how these visitors got to your site - for example search engine results, links from other sites, from a favorites or bookmark directly on their PC. Finally, exactly what pages were viewed and how often.

For example purposes I am going to drill down into the Map Overlay to show different levels of detail to which you have access. When I click on the Map Overlay, I get the screen below. It shows I have visitors from 32 countries and has a darker green for the countries with the most visitors.

When I ask for more detail, it will give me a text list showing the countries and the number of visitors from each.

Clicking on the specific country will give me the list of states or territories for that country. Selecting a specific state lets me see what towns or cities the visitors come from.

Clicking on this graphic gives you a text list of the cities and towns and the number of visitors from each. You can get this same information by scrolling over the image.

In Summary

To get the most from your web site you need to know the most about the experience your visitors have when they visit.

Analytics give you the ability to understand this. Believe me, the intentions you have in creating your pages is just the very first step. Probably no visitor will have the exact experience you want them to have. To get as close to that as possible you need to observe, change, observe and change until you have it right. Then keep observing because the visitors will change their behavior.

If you have a physical store - a bricks and mortar office - you do this just by watching with your own two eyes. You have to take a different approach to your web site. Analytics is that approach.

Using analytics will let you see what kind of browsers you visitors, what connection speed they have - endless details that allow you to change your pages to best represent you online.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

The End of Getting Found

This is the end of the string of posts on getting found.

I have left out the most basic of ways to get found online.

Put your web address on everything.

  • Your business card
  • Your letterhead
  • You sign
  • Every advertisement you ever do
  • Anywhere you list your name
  • In all e-mails

Everywhere you can.

If you make your web site a destination - more on this later - this will be enough to get much of the traffic you want.

From here on I may come back to getting found from time to time.

The rest of the posts coming up will be about making your web site work for you. Making it about your customer. Making it a destination.

What Is a Good Click Through Rate?

The average click through rates according to the common information you see online is apparently between 1% and 1/2%. That means that one out of every 100 to 200 times your ad is shown someone will click on it to go to your landing page.

Can this be profitable for you? I do not know. But you can know. And know for certain.

Google allows you to track many things that happen both in your AdWords campaign and on you site.

In the AdWords campaign settings, you can use the "conversion results" tools to put code on a specific page (or pages) that indicate the result you wanted from each visitor. This lets you track the percentage of your visitors that take the action you desire.

You can set these conversion tracking tools up for each AdWords search term or phrase. This means you can even determine exactly which search terms are the most profitable for you. Believe me, that is incredibly valuable information!

Don't get too carried away with dropping the less profitable terms. Things that make money today may not make money next year.

These tools will let you determine if the click through rate you are getting is good by your own definition.

Personally, I think you should be able to generate a click through rate of 2% to 20%. The magic is in persistently changing little things, one at a time, and then keeping a written record of the results.

I keep a spreadsheet for activity events for every single day. I update it daily. Next to the columns with numbers I enter notes about the changes I have made, the changes competitors have made, anything that I believe might have had an effect on my numbers that day.

Why do I keep my own spreadsheet when Google will let me run reports for any time period? Because for me, the notes I make in the margin are as valuable as the numbers. Without the notes I have no context. Also, the very act of typing the numbers in to the spreadsheet force me to be actively involved with them. Just looking at a report can be too passive an interaction for me to get the maximum benefit from my compulsive tinkering.

This may seem like a lot of work. Once you set it up it is really only minutes per day. The value beyond the obvious is it keeps you thinking about things and aware of your competition. Imagine how frustrating it is to compete against someone who is this attentive and meticulous. The picture you just imagined should be exactly how you make your competition feel.

As Red Auerbach said "Be the agitator not the re-actor".