25 November 2007

Monument circle tree lighting

On Friday, we went to the 'tree lighting' ceremony at Monument Circle in downtown Indianapolis. The monument is neither a tree nor a light. Discuss.

24 November 2007

Politics & Prose Bookstore and Coffeehouse

Politics & Prose Bookstore and Coffeehouse offers a neat-o gift to consider for those hard-to-shop for folks this year. A veteran bookstore staffer will personally select a book based on the reader's profile, which you provide. The costs include the book and postage for delivery - that's it - with no charge for their service or the gift wrapping. Thanks Mia for the tip. Reading; share and enjoy!

And if you're more interested in odd gifts, try a squaremelon.

16 November 2007

Travel diaries: Search Engine Marketing with the AMA

I traveled to Chicago earlier this month for work and attended a American Marketing Association 'Hot Topic' seminar: Search Engine Marketing. It was very informative, and filled my head full of useful tools and website info which will be immediately applicable at work. It was one of the best conferences I've been to in terms of the ratio of chair time to applicability of content. Following are some jotted-down notes I made of things that were of most interest.

The conference covered at its core the search engine bots - how they work, and why, and how to play nicely with them. The bots have an affinity for certain web elements - attractive hot spots that call out to them for attention. Similarly, there are certain chilling items that will drive the bots away. Fortunately, the bots' activities are based on some sound statistical linguistic processing algorithims - at least for now - and it is not arduous nor unethical to work to improve one's search engine ranking through applying some knowledge of how they work to one's own site.

A 'hot spot' for the search engine bots is the page title, which is often underutilized for marketing, or used to promote the company branding instead of the specific offering being made on the page. Title pages should be reflective of the conversion activity on the page, either related to the product or the action. I just finished Chris Anderson's The Long Tail and one of his key points there was that as the technicality and specificity of the search query increases, the frequency of searchers at that index point drops but the propensity to convert is much higher. For example, someone searching for 'external hard drive' is likely to be part of a large crowd searching for just that term who are less inclined to buy - they may be just browsing. But someone searching for 301110U - the sku of a LaCie 500GB external firewire drive - is likely to be part of a much smaller group of searchers who are ready to buy immediately. The following article is useful on this topic: Web Page Title Tags by SEOLogic

Another hot spot for the bots is the keywords; in designing a site for SEO, more technical keywords are recommended: use product SKUs where available. I ran into this myself today, when searching for a new firewire drive with which to start taking advantage of the new time machine feature of Leopard - in hunting down where I would buy from, I found it easiest to narrow down to a sku at the manufacturer's website and then check out distributors offering that SKU. Websites featuring SKUs fared well in this effort; those without became difficult to find. (Frys.com take note - checking out my product sku for my new LaCie 500GB Firewire drive dropped me onto the Leappad Disney Princess Stories. Uh, no, that's not what I wanted!)

The last hot spot of interest is the anchor text. As anchor text is highly interesting to the googlebot, monitoring this is essential for a comprehensive strategy of SEM. For example, googling 'click here' at this time will display a link to Adobe's pdf reader foremost, because that anchor text is so often used to direct people to the site. Check out how many times the phrase "click here" shows up on your website, and change that to be more useful text in order to improve your site's search engine placement. More importantly, in the web world, 'click here' is analagous to the ums in a spoken presentation - just wasteful filler.

A series of tools were reviewed, as follows:

  • One of the reviewed tools was the Neat-o tool for checking backlinks from We Build Web Pages, including a display of the anchor text used for the backlinking.

  • A historically useful tool is the Waybackmachine at archive.org - useful when evaluating paid ad spend options, to see who has previously been in that ad spot at which you're looking. For fun and kicks, compare the first incarnation of Blogger with today's current blogger homepage.

  • Another interesting tool was Alexa.org's site comparison tool. Unfortunately, it doesn't seem to do very much for sites not in the top 100,000. But if you have one of those Goliaths, check it out.

  • A Googleite presented also regarding Google's tools for webmasters. I found that pretty darned interesting, in terms of what tools are out there and what they can do for you. Check out the webmaster tools for inbound link checking to your site.

  • Some new cool search tools are showing up, including Yahoo!'s mindset and Become.com. These provide for differentiated search results depending on the stated frame of mind of the searcher: checking out "Ethiopia", where a pal of mind is heading this week, allows you to differentiate between shopping and research type results. One complaint I have is that there are many more dimensions to a concept than just these two variables, but in beta mode that's all that is available.

  • A variety of keyword popularity tools are available at inventory.overture.com, wordtracker.com and keyworddiscovery.com.

Finally on the web, each page should have a call-to-action, somewhere, and the effectiveness of these should be measured and tracked. I don't advocate overcommercialization, but as one of the presenters pointed out, you are investing in your web site to do something - educate, advocate, profit, or whatever - so that should be more than an afterthought on the site.

One thing that seasoned marketers will have to wrap their heads around is the idea that the IT functions relating to marketing need to get a few cycles of brain time. If not properly set up and maintained, a web site's results can't be measured, won't convert properly nor will the site be represented in its optimal position in the search engines. So, whether you like IS or not, it is time to make friends with your local IS department geek and find the resources to do what needs doing - otherwise the effect of the dollars spent on web advertising will be diminished. This includes checking that multiple domains reroute via 301 redirects to the preferred domain and ensuring that each page of content can be accessed directly by http: string; if it can't be accessed due to technical restrictions, it can't be indexed.

Websites offer a direct-to-customer communications path from the corporate Marketing department for the first time since Moses got the message from the burning bush. Cutting through the clutter offers wonderful opportunities to increase revenues profitably by serving customers what they need when they need it.

11 November 2007

The cheapest best bath remodeling item

My mom recommended this neat item as a way of adding about 3 inches in depth of water to my tub. Check it out for yourself: the Deep Water Bath accessory from better-sleep.com costs less than $5 and turns a regular old bathtub into a soaking tub. Serenity now, here I come!

Seven on Sunday

I am having a rainy Sunday at home, enjoying the day with the family. So here's a new meme to consider: Sunday Seven - 7 things to do on a quiet Sunday.

  • Building a pagoda.

  • To Beowulf, or not to Beowulf: deciding whether to go see a movie next weekend.
  • Bidding on elliptical trainers

  • Listening to podcasts of Top Gear

  • Updgrading to Leopard

  • Reviewing charter school information

  • Playing Boggle (I won!)

  • Hung some photos up that have been asking to be hung for a while.

02 November 2007

Travel diaries: vos es hic

Yesterday I attended a way-cool lecture at the Field Museum in Chicago which blended high-tech electronic visualization with one of my favorite subjects, Ancient Roman history. Forma Urbis: Mapping Ancient Rome concerned a collection of map fragments from the Capitolini Museum of Rome, which had been digitally scanned over a period of 25 labor intensive days - working around the clock - by some admirable Stanford uber-geeks.

For the uninitiated (and the project management oriented) the project charter was thus: put together an 1800 year old puzzle. The puzzle portrayed a ground plan of the central urban area of Rome as of about 203-211 A.D. and was inititally not a puzzle at all; it was 150 beautiful marble slabs affixed to a wall of the Templum Pacis of Ancient Rome. (Sadly, the fragment reading voc es hic - you are here - has not been found.) the ancient temple wall, serendipitously survived to modern times via its inclusion as a wall in the structure of the Church of Saints Cosma e Damian which was founded approximately 530 A.D. How did it turn from slabs into a puzzle? It fell off the wall, and shattered. Oh, and like many of my sons' puzzles, a few pieces are missing. Actually more than a few - only 15% of the pieces are collected which provides slightly over 1100 pieces with which to work. Some sketches of missing pieces exist, drawn by scholars and others who handled and preserved the piece over the years. For scholarship, the value of the map is immense - it provides archeologists and historians with detailed info about where certain structures existed , how big they were and what features they had.

The lectors included Dr. Laura Ferrea, Dr. Robert Meneghini and Dr. David Koller. Dr. Ferrea was an evocative speaker in detailing the context of the map and the museum's role in preservation; unfortunately, her translator did not seem to do her justice. For example, he rendered what I heard as "the equestrian statue of marcus Aurelius would have been encountered by visitors to the plaza as they ascended the staircase shown here," as "Here are some pictures of the plaza." I'm not sure why the translator worked in this manner. The next speaker, Dr. Meneghini, offered detailed descriptions of some of the buildings portrayed in the map. One very interesting detail he offered was graphic renderings of the view of the buildings and temples of Ancient Rome as they were used during medieval times, showing, for example, 2 room thatched homes made from marble harvested from the temples and ruins, pleasantly situated in the open spaces of the temples, allowing free roam for livestock through the colonnaded walkways of the ruins during the 10th century. aside from this presentation, I can't recall having seen any such renderings anywhere else.

My favorite part of the presentation was the last speaker's portion, who reviewed the project he had been part of to scan and digitally manipulate the images of the map fragments in an attempt to situate some of the pieces whose location within the overall map was unknown. The images of the pieces are hosted at Stanford's Digital Forma Urbis Project Site, available for users of any skill level to twiddle with the puzzle and try to identify new matches. Dr. Koller reviewed the techniques he and the team used to find matches, including 1) using the map design on the front of the pieces, 2) using the marble veining and coloration and 3) using the edge fracture patterns. Using these methods and statistical analysis of hand coded topographical features of the images, the team was able to match an additional 1% of the pieces which had for past centuries had their position in the overall puzzle unknown. Very impressive! Not so impressive - a lack of support by the image viewer for Mac users. Boo, hiss! I do wonder also if the Stanford team was able to confirm the placement of any of the previously assessed pieces, though he didn't cover that in the lecture.

I did identify one interesting book which I may add to my stack for later reading: Rome: Profile of a city by Richard Krautheimer.

(Photograph courtesy of Prof. Rodriguez-Almeida.)