Aside: Working in Moderation

Work to live; don’t live to work.
– Steve Povlish

Don’t get me wrong; I value a job well done as much as the next person. In fact, I feel unfulfilled at the end of the day if I don’t do something meaningful at work. I don’t have to get everything done, but as long as I accomplish something of value, I have the satisfaction of knowing I’ve earned my pay.

Work is tricky, though. It has a way of intruding on the rest of your life, of inflating its importance to the exclusion of all else. I’ve seen people who give in to the temptation, and it’s not pretty. I’ve known fellow web professionals who worked nights, weekends, holidays, and vacations. I’ve known others who slept under their desks. Tragically, the “Give 110%” mentality more often results in 50 or 60 hours a week, rather than the 44 you’d get by actually doing the math.

This phenomenon is often called “workaholism,” and I can think of no better name for it. Much like alcohol, work can become an indulgence that causes us to neglect relationships, responsibilities, and even our health, things that should rightfully be more important to us. We justify our addiction, saying things like, “Sure, I had to cancel a date with my wife, but the merger went smoothly,” or, “I may not have had time to exercise today, but at least I got the reports out on time,” even when, deep inside, we know how wrong it is.

Obviously, work is a necessity, but it can become an addiction if you’re not careful. If you’re at risk of developing an unhealthy addiction to work, here are a few tips to help you keep it in its place.

  • Focus on value. Your effectiveness as a professional has less to do with the number of hours you put in and more to do with how much value you create for your employer. In the end, if you’re generating more than you’re costing, you’re a good investment. Focus on that, feel good about your contribution, and stand firm when lines need to be drawn.
  • Prioritize your life. Nobody dreams of being a successful professional and nothing else. We all have roles that are just as important to us, if not more so. Do you want to be a good parent? A good spouse? An active member of your community? Think hard about the other roles that are important to you, then figure out what you need to do to excel at them and prioritize those actions.
  • Leave work at work. You’re paid for your time at work; time off is time you should spend on the rest of your life. This means unplugging; no calls, no emails, no homework. In fact, don’t even let work enter your mind. You’ll be happier, and you’ll quickly realize that most “emergencies” can safely wait until you’re back in the office.
  • Avoid Blackberries. This goes with “Leave work at work,” but it’s worth mentioning on its own. The Blackberry seems to be the worst offender, but really, you should avoid anything that chains you to work when you’re not there (remote desktop access is another good example). Avoid these things like the plague; if you already have them, get rid of them. Nothing is more intrusive to the rest of your life than taking your work with you wherever you go.
  • Take breaks. Human beings were never meant to sit at desks for hours on end. It’s bad for your health on many levels. Take the time to get up and move around. Let your eyes, fingers, and brain rest for a few minutes. I like to call my wife while walking a lap or two around the building. This way, I get fresh air and sunshine, a little bit of exercise, and some emotional release, all at once.
  • Just say no. There may come times when other people are forcing unhealthy levels of work on you. It’s up to you to have the integrity and commitment to say no. Obviously, different situations may warrant different responses. Remember, though; a yes today often becomes the expectation of a yes tomorrow.
  • Take control of your finances. Many people let work dominate their lives for fear of lost income. Remove that fear. Take control of your personal finances. Stop living paycheck to paycheck. Save up an emergency fund. Develop side income. Pay down your debt. When you know you’d be fine for some time if you lost your job, the fear of losing it ceases to have a stranglehold over your checkbook.

Ironically, those who moderate the impact of work on their lives aren’t only happier, they’re often more productive and successful than their overworked peers. That’s right; if you keep work in its place, you’ll probably get more done than the person who’s actually trying to get more done. Less isn’t just more; it’s a lot more.

A Value-Based Approach to Website Strategy

If you examine a website closely enough, you can almost always identify some form of commercial interest behind it. This is often overt, as in e-commerce websites or content sites with advertising. Sometimes, however, the commercial interest is more subtle. Ward on the Web, for instance, is a professional blog devoid of advertising. Because its purpose is to promote my professional standing, however, there is commercial interest in the usefulness and authority of my message. My strategy here is to show off what I know in the hopes that it will help me achieve greater career growth.

The first thing to realize is that a website is a tool for creating value. My very first post on Ward on the Web spoke about defining your site’s purpose, with the objective of building a website to achieve that purpose as well as possible. Does your website generate revenue? Does it attract attention? Does it build a reputation? Does it gather information?

Whatever your website does, it’s important to realize that the ultimate goal is always a resource that’s valuable to you. Money has obvious commercial value, but so does a large audience or a stellar reputation. It may be more difficult to tack on a dollar amount, but there’s no denying that even non-monetary resources have potential monetary value.

Viewed in this context, decisions about website strategy tend to become simpler. Say, for instance, that you’re writing a blog and toying with the idea of adding advertising. You’re afraid that this will turn off your visitors, reducing the size and responsiveness of your audience.

Remember, though, that your website is a tool for creating value. In this case, you’re examining the prospect of trading one type of value (audience size and engagement) for another (advertising revenue). Obviously, how much of one you’ll end up trading for the other is a complex question, but the basic proposition is simple. Do you stand to derive more value with advertising or without?

Even small website strategy decisions are best when advised by a value-based approach. For example, say you’re testing a landing page on a lead generation website. You want to know which of two calls to action are more effective. Generally, you’d do a simple split test (or multivariate analysis if you have other variables in mind). Let’s say your testing reveals that the first call to action converts 10% of visitors and the second converts 12%. Which do you use?

Of course you choose the second. But why? Because it makes your website a more effective lead generation tool. Because it adds more value. Thanks to analysis, this example is cut and dry; you simply take the greater of two values.

The important thing to realize, however, is that all website strategy decisions are value-based comparisons. Which provides more value, option A or option B? If you can answer this question with confidence, your choice should be obvious every time.

How to Spot an SEO Snake Oil Salesman

If you advertize online, you’ll eventually be contacted by SEO companies. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing; as an SEO expert myself, I know how much value there is in ranking well. However, for every legitimate SEO company out there, you’ll probably hear from half a dozen SEO snake oil salesmen. These people give the industry a bad name by offering services that are valueless at best and damaging at worst. Thankfully, they’re often easy to spot if you know what to look for. Learn these five key indicators and you won’t be fooled next time an SEO snake oil salesman comes calling.

  1. Black Hat Tactics
    I’ll go ahead and start with the obvious. If your potential SEO advocates the use of methods like manipulative cloaking, link farming, keyword stuffing, shady redirects, doorway pages, and the like, just say no. Not only are such tactics becoming less effective by the day, but they have the potential to do permanent damage to your site’s rankings. Black hat SEOs care only about the short-term success of your website, not the long-term consequences of their manipulation. Even if your focus is only on the short term, do you really feel comfortable trusting your website to someone who doesn’t have its best interests at heart?
  2. Guaranteed Rankings
    Nobody, and I mean nobody, can guarantee rankings. Period. If your potential SEO provider claims to have some secret method or special relationship that allows them to do so, you should walk away. They’re lying, and you probably don’t want to be in business with someone like that. Even if their ranking guarantee is based solely on confidence in their abilities, however, you should still be suspicious, because they’re either guaranteeing rankings for worthless keywords or they’re taking a major risk by making promises that they may not be able to keep.
  3. Rankings Focus
    Guarantees aside, even good SEO providers will talk about rankings. The difference is that good SEOs regard rankings as a means to help you achieve your business goals. SEO snake oil salesmen, however, want to wow you with ranking for ranking’s sake. In the end, it doesn’t matter how highly or for how many keywords your site ranks; like any other marketing channel, all that matters is your bottom line. How much does the service cost you? How much business does it produce? What’s the return on investment? Remember, rankings are worthless outside the context of your business objectives.
  4. Secrecy
    There are no secrets to SEO. The methods for achieving high rankings are well-documented. Mind you, that doesn’t mean they’re necessarily simple enough to undertake without an expert. It just means that you should be suspicious of experts who sell SEO like it’s indecipherable voodoo known only to an elite few, or those who claim to have some proprietary method that sets them apart from everyone else in the industry. Any reasonably intelligent person can understand SEO, and you should have no qualms asking for details about what your SEO provider plans to do for your site. If they’re unwilling to explain, you should be unwilling to do business with them.  (Update 10/9/08: Check out this comic on SEOmoz for a great illustration of this point.)
  5. Exclusive On-Site or Off-Site Optimization
    Good SEOs recognize that rankings are achieved through a combination of on-site and off-site optimization. If someone tries to sell you rankings based solely on visibility analysis, keyword research, content development, and meta tag optimization, you should be suspicious. The same applies if someone tries to sell you rankings based solely on links. You don’t get real results through one or the other; you need both.

Shiver Me Timbers! jQuery Off the Starboard Bow!

Before you get confused, no, jQuery doesn’t have anything to do with pirates (at least, not that I’m aware of). In honor of International Talk Like a Pirate Day, I’ll be interspersing this post with random, distracting, inappropriate pirate jargon. Don’t blame me; blame the guys who started the meme. 😉

I’ve never been a big fan of JavaScript. Like many developers, I use it when absolutely necessary (AJAX, form validation, DOM scripting, etc.) and avoid it in favor of server-side scripting solutions the rest of the time. This saves me the hassle of writing JavaScript that is cross-browser compatible, a feat which is often more troublesome than getting CSS to behave in Internet Explorer.

That was before I got a hold of jQuery. In case you’ve never heard of it, jQuery is an open source JavaScript library that simplifies most DOM scripting tasks. I won’t go into detail on its virtues here; if you’re curious about the specifics, I encourage you to check out the jQuery website. Instead, I’ll show you just how I used it to spruce up the starboard side of the site by walking through the contents of my scripts.js file.

// Custom jQuery interaction layer for WardOnTheWeb.com by Stephen Ward
$(document).ready(function(){

...

});

Most languages have boilerplate code, and jQuery is no different. This is just the part that says, “Weigh anchor when the page is loaded and ready to manipulate.”
// Toggle search prompt
$search_box = $('#s');
$search_box.focus(function(){
  if ($search_box.val() == 'search this site...')
    $search_box.val('');
});
$search_box.blur(function(){
  if ($search_box.val() == '')
      $search_box.val('search this site...');
});

Here, we see a few lines of code that toggle the “search this site…” prompt in the search box. I hate having to delete default text like this, so I made it so nobody has to. This used to be accomplished with much less in-line JavaScript, so, at first, it might seem like a bad example of jQuery’s seaworthiness. However, when you consider that the interaction logic is now completely removed from the semantic HTML without complicated selector and event binding functions, it’s pretty obvious how useful jQuery can be. It’s the holy trinity, the separation of content (HTML), presentation (CSS), and interaction (JS) with minimal effort.
// Set default menu states
expanded = $('li.expanded > h2');
expanded.css('cursor', 'pointer');
jQuery.each(expanded, function(){
  $(this).text('- ' + $(this).text());
});
collapsed = $('li.collapsed > h2');
collapsed.css('cursor', 'pointer').next('ul').css('display', 'none');
jQuery.each(collapsed, function(){
  $(this).text('+ ' + $(this).text());
});

// Switch menu states when the menu headers are clicked
$('li.toggleable > h2').click(function(){
  menu_header = $(this);
  menu_header.next('ul').slideToggle('normal');
  if (menu_header.text().substring(0, 2) == '+ ')
    menu_header.text('- ' + menu_header.text().substring(2));
  else if (menu_header.text().substring(0, 2) == '- ')
    menu_header.text('+ ' + menu_header.text().substring(2));
});

Did I need collapsible menus for Ward on the Web? No, but I thought it would be a fun exercise to make them anyway. Here, you see the code that does it. Again, notice how easily jQuery lets me select HTML elements for manipulation. All I had to do was assign the “toggleable” class to designate a collapsible menu, along with either the “expanded” or “collapsed” class to designate its default state; a few simple jQuery selectors did the rest. This is especially handy in case I decide to add more menus later.

The visual effect is, of course, stunning. Collapsible menus come in many varieties; I programmed a very simple, in-line script for Simon over at Bloggasm that toggles the display state without animation. However, jQuery’s “slideToggle” function blows it out of the water with smooth, organic transitions. Note that most of the above code toggles the plus and minus signs in front of the menu headers; I could have accomplished the collapsing menu effect with two lines of jQuery code.

Perhaps the most important part of all is what the menu looks like without the jQuery interaction layer. All of the CSS and content changes that have to do with collapsing the menus are isolated in the JavaScript. When it’s turned off, they revert to normal, non-collapsible menus. In other words, it degrades perfectly.

Overall, I’d say jQuery is a great tool that makes writing cross-brower-compliant JavaScript much simpler. Beyond that, its main benefit lies in simplifying the separation of interaction from content. No more in-line scripting; now your program logic can be just as extensible and maintainable as your CSS. Granted, I’ve still got a lot to learn about it; the above code could probably be accomplished in fewer lines by a more experienced scallywag. Still, it’s been a pleasure to discover jQuery for the first time. I only wish I had found it sooner.

Social Media Experiment Update, Week Six

If you’ve been reading awhile, you may remember the social media experiment I started a few weeks ago. Well, after a month and a half, I figured it was about time to check on my Frankenstein monster and see how it was progressing.

Social network search performance over time

So far, most of the readings are negative. It’s not lurching around. It’s not terrorizing peasants. All it appears to be doing it twitching and grumbling on the table. Here are my findings to date.

  • Naymz was very effective. As you can see, my Naymz profile is the earliest and highest result of the lot. It even enjoyed a brief stint on page one during the second week. At the time of this writing, it still ranks at a respectable 17. This is especially remarkable when you consider how little effort it took to set up and maintain.
  • Facebook was also very effective. Although I enjoy a lot of competition in Facebook (419 results for a profile search with “Stephen Ward” in the name), it turned out to be one of the best performers. It never reached page one like Naymz, but it’s held its position on page two for several weeks now. At the time of this writing, it appears to be holding around #15. Granted, I had to put more work into Facebook than Naymz, and it doesn’t do much for links or branding, but it still proved to be fairly handy.
  • LinkedIn and MySpace could have worked. Much like Facebook, there’s generally a lot of competition for name rankings on these sites. More importantly, entries for both of LinkedIn and Facebook consistently ranked on page one or two. The only problem is that they were some other Stephen Ward’s profiles. If I could manage to make Google think that I’m the most important Stephen Ward on those sites, my profile would likely replace theirs.
  • Blogcatalog and Technorati were so-so. I mention them because they were the only other profiles to show up on the radar. Blogcatalog built up from page 15 to page four only to mysteriously fall off and never recover. Technorati languished between pages 13 and 18 before it also fell off. Neither performed phenomenally well, but I was surprised to see blog listing pages showing up at all.
  • Everything else failed. The down side is that most of my monster didn’t so much as twitch. I invested the most time in social news sites like Digg and Reddit and social bookmarking services like Delicious and StumbleUpon, but the profiles never showed up in the top 200. Even my underdog industry profiles, DZone and SEOmoz, didn’t make the cut.

I don’t think I’ll abandon the experiment just yet. As I already pointed out, LinkedIn and MySpace show promise. I’ll keep things going, redistribute my efforts, and maybe add a new part or two. Who knows? With a little patience, I may get my monster up and dancing yet.

7 Lessons in Online Copywriting from Stephen King

Yesterday, I finished reading Stephen King’s “On Writing.” I didn’t read it with the intent to write a post about it; after all, Ward on the Web is about better websites. To be honest, I read it in preparation for NaNoWriMo (incidentally, I’ll be taking a hiatus from WotW in November for that purpose). However you look at web copy, though, it’s still writing, and King shares more than a few insights that add value to the medium.

  1. Read a lot; write a lot. If you want to be a good writer, you have to eat, drink, and sleep the written word. This is as true online as it is off. Want to learn how to blog well? Read and write blogs. Want to compose great online sales copy? Read and write online ads. The more you take in and practice, the better you’ll do, period.
  2. Adverbs are not your friend. This isn’t to say that you shouldn’t use them at all. Rather, King advises you to use adverbs sparingly. They should be reserved for those instances when they are truly necessary to clarify the sentence. Otherwise, they’re mostly filler to be discarded.
  3. Use the active voice. I knew this tidbit was true when it came to writing ad copy, but King gives it particular emphasis. Readers don’t want to read tentative, uncertain writing. They want to read bold proclamations of surety. Don’t be a wimp; step up and use an active voice.
  4. Everything has its place in the writer’s toolbox. Some people criticize King for his use of profanity. However, even profane language can be a useful for communicating ideas in the right context. To be clear, I don’t advocate swearing; neither does Mr. King. The point is to recognize the different tools in your box and use them when the need arises. For the online medium, this includes simple things like font modifiers (bold, italics, underscore, size, face, color, etc.) as well as complex interactive elements (images, video, Flash, forms, etc.). Remember; if you limit your options, you potentially limit your effectiveness.
  5. Take criticism for what it’s worth. No more, no less. Especially when it comes to blogging, the pros are often thick-skinned. King points out that some critics, like editors, offer genuinely constructive advice that adds value to your writing. Others may offer subtle yet powerful encouragement. Of course, there will always be those whose only purpose in life is to burn your writing and dance around the flames. It pays to recognize whether criticism is valuable or not before you take it to heart.
  6. Write the first draft for yourself; the second for everyone else. King equates the first draft to uncovering a fossil. It should grow organically, along whatever natural progression it takes you. The first draft should always be done with the door closed; no distraction, no critique, nothing but you and the blank page. Once you’ve got the first draft done, it’s time to open the door and start editing. Show your writing to helpful critics. Identify and reinforce themes. Cut out the crap (King uses the formula: Second Draft = First Draft – 10%). Especially on the web where attention spans are at their shortest, trimming your work down to make every word count is essential.
  7. Don’t tell when you can show. I took a few notes on the autobiographical portion of the book prior to the section about writing. This was one of the points I wrote down, not because he came out and said it (at least, not until alter), but because he demonstrated it so well. I found reading Stephen King’s life story very instructive about being a writer. The point here is, instead of making your points explicitly, it can be more useful to tell a story that leads your readers to those points naturally. Use compelling narrative and anecdotes instead of straight-forward facts and opinions. It may take a bit longer, but your reader will come away with a valuable lesson that is more easily remembered because it is tied to imagery.

These are just the points I could remember the morning after finishing On Writing. It’s a great book, filled with gems that a writer of any medium will find useful. In fact, it’s one of the few books I’ve ever finished in less than a week. If you’re in trying to take your writing to the next level (like me), or could just use some inspiration (also like me), do yourself a favor and order a copy of On Writing.

A Crash Course in the Streisand Effect

Chrome in Chrome

Picture yourself standing in your kitchen. You shake the last bit of broomed-up crumbs from your dust pan into the trash. It’s taken awhile to clean up for the party, but you made it just in time. Your guests should be arriving soon to enjoy a pleasant evening in your spotless home.

As you wipe the sweat from your brow, you hear a faint skittering sound near your feet. You look down to see a cockroach crawling across the linoleum. In anger, you stamp your foot down on the unsuspecting insect and hear a satisfying crunch.

As you raise your foot to make sure the roach is dead, however, five more crawl out from beneath it. How can this be? You hastily march about the kitchen in a desperate attempt to squash each of the offensive critters. Each time you do, though, five more appear, then ten, then one hundred! Your kitchen is now covered in a disgusting swarm.

Then you hear the knock at the door. A panicked thought races through your mind. “They’re here, and my kitchen is covered in cockroaches!”

You wake up in a pool of sweat. You rub your eyes and breath heavily, trying to banish the reputation nightmare from your mind.

Information is a finicky thing. If you leave it alone, the world at large may never know it exists. The single cockroach may find its way under the fridge and never manage to offend a single guest.

Squelch that information, however, and you give it power. You give it the status of an underdog or a martyr. Others rally to its cause and spread the word. Now what might have done little or no harm to your company is a public controversy. Instead of one cockroach, you have a swarm.

The history of this phenomenon is pervasive and well-documented, affecting businesses, celebrities, religious organizations, and even royalty. Not familiar with it? Well, for the sake of your business’ online reputation, now’s the time to educate yourself about the Streisand Effect.

Barbara Streisand v. Kenneth Adelman

Back in 2003, this phenomenon gained its official label thanks to Barbara Streisand, who sued photographer Kenneth Adelman for distributing aerial photos of her beachfront home. The resulting backlash caused the photo in question to receive widespread attention and distribution.

Daniela Cicarelli v. YouTube

As it turns out, “sex on the beach” isn’t just an alcoholic beverage. In September of 2006, paparazzi footage of Brazilian model Daniela Cicarelli enjoying some quality time with her boyfriend made it onto YouTube. When a lawsuit was filed demanding it be removed, users posted copies all over the place. The Brazilian legal system even went so far as to block YouTube for its ineffectiveness in preventing the spread, which caused Brazilian fans to boycott Cicarelli’s show.

MPAA v. Digg

In April of 2007, an HD DVD encryption key was posted to Digg. The Motion Picture Association of America sent legal notices demanding that it be removed, and the site administrators at Digg complied. When the removal became public knowledge, however, Digg’s users revolted, posting and digging hundreds of duplicates to the front page. The code also made it onto numerous other websites, onto T-shirts, and was even immortalized in song.

King of Thailand v. YouTube

The Streisand Effect even applies to royalty. When a insulting video of Thailand King Bhumibol Adulyadej appeared on YouTube in April 2007, the Thai government responded by blocking the site. Not only did the act elicit widespread notoriety for the original video, but it spawned numerous other insulting videos, many more offensive than the first.

Scientology v. the Internet

The Church of Scientology has several well-documented bouts with the Streisand Effect, even predating when the term was coined. In 1995, they attempted to remove the Usenet group alt.religion.scientology for posting private documents. In January 2008, they demanded that a video of Tom Cruise be removed from YouTube (which complied), and subsequently from Gawker.com (which refused). In April 2008, they demanded that WikiLeaks.org remove private documents from their site. All of these actions, of course, resulted in widespread distribution of the materials in question.

Tiny Details v. Me

As a side note, I myself have been involved in an instance of the Streisand Effect. In July of 2006, I posted a critique of a business named Tiny Details on my old personal website. In February of 2007, Kristopher Buchan, the owner of the business, emailed me with threats of legal action unless the post was removed. Within two days, news of his threats had circulated on the Consumerist and several other blogs. We managed to reach a peaceful settlement afterward, but not before permanent damage had been done to Tiny Details’ online reputation.

The truth is obvious: Online censorship has a way of backfiring. Often, the bigger you are, and the more blatant the censorship, the larger the resulting backlash.

This goes hand-in-hand with not attacking your critics. There may be sensitive or damaging information about your company or your website skittering around in cyberspace. And there are, of course, ways of dealing with it. But legal bullying is not one of them. Take care when handling your cockroaches, lest you suffer the wrath of the Streisand Effect.

My First Impressions of Google Chrome

Chrome in Chrome

Chances are good you’ve already heard the news but, in case you haven’t, Google recently released its own browser, Google Chrome. Naturally, the blogosphere is absolutely buzzing with feature mashups, performance comparisons, and more than a few conspiracy theories. I’ll digress with the more noteworthy points that you are better told by the front page of Digg and give you what you can only get here: My own first impressions of Chrome.

Installation

I’m an early adopter of pretty much anything Google-related, so naturally I had the Chrome page open through most of Tuesday waiting for the download to go live. The installation was surprisingly quick and painless. As others have noted, Chrome is very lightweight compared to other mainstream browsers, which is ironic when you consider that Internet Explorer is only getting fatter.

Shortly after download, I was prompted to select a default search engine. Even though it offers itself as the first option, Google was very smart to offer users a choice in search, as Internet Explorer was once bashed for failing to do so. Chrome also allows you to automatically import bookmarks, saved passwords, and other settings from other browsers, which was another unexpected plus.

Interface

Although it’s a deviation from what most users are used to, I found Chrome’s minimalist interface to be a breath of fresh air. Tabs are on top, there’s no title bar or extraneous menus, and the status bar at the bottom pops up only when it has something to report. It even disappears when you mouse over it so as not to interfere with browsing. Almost the entire screen is devoted to the web page.

This is a testament to Google’s design philosophy that Chrome should be a “shell for the web.” It seems like Chrome’s primary focus is to declutter. Instead of submenus and side bars, you open new windows for each task. For example, browsing history has become its own tab. This has the effect of making things very clean, which, in this age of information overload, is a welcome change.

Tabs are, of course, nothing new. They’ve been around for years, even long enough for Internet Explorer to grudgingly adopt them. Still, Chrome has managed to improve on an already good thing. Tabs are easily movable, with smooth, organic transitions. You can drag them around, or even out into their own windows and back. When you open a new one, you’re presented with a page of bookmarks and frequently-visited sites. So far, I’ve found the setup very intuitive and fun to work with.

Rendering

My first thought on hearing that Google was releasing its own browser was, “Great, now cross browser compatibility will become an order of magnitude more difficult.” Thankfully, that didn’t turn out to be the case. Not only did Chrome pass all of the (admittedly elementary) CSS compliance tests I threw at it, but I have since come to find out that it’s built on the same rendering engine as Safari. Websites are difficult to hack for Internet Explorer as it is; thankfully, Google’s not making our jobs any harder in that area.

Little Things

As with all initial user experiences, it’s the little things about Google Chrome that left a good impression. For example, in the address bar, the domain name is black and the rest of the URL is gray, causing it to pop out at you. This is a nice touch, since it lets you know what site you’re on. No doubt this feature was added as an anti-phishing enhancement, but it’s just plain nice to have in many contexts.

Another handy tidbit is Chrome’s Ctrl+F functionality. I’ve always been a fan of Firefox’s find box, but Chrome does an even better job by automatically highlighting all matches and even showing which match you’re on (i.e., “3 of 15”).

The Omnibox was, of course, just as useful as advertised. While typing in a friend’s name, it popped up the URLs of emails from him that I had previously opened. Seeing as his name was in neither the page title nor the URL itself, this goes to show how useful it can be. It’s literally a way to search everything you’ve browsed, among other things.

Criticisms

I’m a self-admitted Google fan boy, but even I managed to find a few problems. For example, some of the documents in the help section went to 404 pages shortly after launch. The same was true of several of the YouTube videos on the About Chrome site. Granted, these are minor quibbles, but I would’ve expected more from a company that has a proven track record for launching new products.

Also, much as Chrome handles tabs well otherwise, it fails when presented with large numbers of tabs. Firefox creates a scrolling list of tabs when it’s presented with too many to display, but Chrome continues to squish and truncate titles until there’s nothing left. This could have been done much better.

My last and perhaps most important criticism, however, is that there were no plugins available at launch. It’s an open source, extensible browser, right? Why not show us what we can expect from its plugin functionality? With Firefox, plugins aren’t an afterthought; they’re the main course. I look forward to seeing Chrome plugins in the future, but I was disappointed when I didn’t see so much as a teaser plugin at launch.

Conclusions

I’m an avid Firefox fan, but I’ll be switching to Google Chrome for most of my daily browsing needs. Of course, I’ll still be using Firefox for development-intensive activities until such time as plugins like the Web Developer Toolbar become available for Chrome. As always, I’ll be using Internet Explorer as little as possible (i.e., only for cross-browser compatibility testing and for the oddball website that refuses to display in any other browser).

Overall, for an initial public beta release, Chrome is incredibly polished. I look forward to seeing how Google and the world collaborate in improving an already outstanding browser. If you haven’t given it a try yet, you can download it at the Google Chrome website.

Explaining Social Media Optimization to the Uninformed

One of the major challenges of online marketing is communicating the value of new techniques such as corporate blogging, SEO, or social media optimization. Uninformed superiors are often wary of marketing tactics they don’t understand.

If you think you’re ready to ride the wild wave of social media optimization but your boss is still skeptical, here are a few points that can help increase his or her familiarity and, hopefully, willingness to give it a try.

It’s just another channel. List out the ways you market your website to your customers. You might use PPC, SEO, banner ads, email, online press releases, and the like to drive your message online. Offline, you might use radio, television, yellow page listings, newspaper ads, fliers, billboards, etc. These are all examples of marketing channels. Each has its own unique advantages, disadvantages, best practices, and success metrics. Social media optimization is no different.

It has its own rules. Even though it’s just another channel, social media optimization can’t be treated in the same way. Much like blogging, SMO is collaborative in nature. Branding messages and hard sales pitches are not well-received. The best approach could be described as mingling. Go out and talk to your customers on neutral ground. Get personal. Share something with them that is genuinely exciting, entertaining, or useful outside the context of commercial interest. Praise and reward those who bring attention to you. You may not get conversions (at least, not directly), but your brand as a whole will benefit.

It’s a lot of work. On the flip side of those who doubt SMO are those who think it’s a magic pill to ease all of their online marketing woes. It’s not. Social media optimization requires painstaking content creation and networking to pay off. It’s a lot of work with uncertain returns. Care should always be taken when determining what marketing strategy is best for the goals you have in mind.

It’s volatile. Traffic from traditional online marketing comes in steady streams; traffic from SMO comes in tsunamis or droughts. You may submit a piece of Diggbait only to have it languish and die in Upcoming, or it may hit the front page and bring in tens of thousands of visitors that overwhelm your server. It’s boom or bust; there is no in-between.

Much of its value is indirect. Social media traffic is notorious for low conversion rates. However, it’s important to consider the many indirect benefits of an SMO surge. For starters, it gets thousands of eyes on your brand. If they liked what they saw, that good impression may result in conversions at a later date. These visitors may also link back to your content, improving your search rankings. It’s true that this makes total value hard to measure. Whatever the real value is, though, you can be sure that it’s higher than the conversions generated off of the initial flood of traffic.