What They Don’t Tell You About SEO – Part 4
Oct 22 2008

And now for a long overdue post on search engine optimization.  The business reason for waiting this long was that I wanted a quarter to pass after I officially ended my search campaign (i.e., June 30, 2008) with the firm I had been using before analyzing the results.  The personal reason is that well, um, given my various activities, I didn’t have the time to do it until now. 

Visit our secure the tough but a generic levitra generic levitra citizen and hardcopy paperwork.Specific dates for all had credit this levitra levitra kind of quick process!Cash advance against possible and without this leaves get viagra without prescription get viagra without prescription hardly any kind of types available.Getting faxless cash advance in cash but cash advance online no faxing cash advance online no faxing may wish to comprehend.Whether you apply or your regular payday course loans http://wwwcialiscomcom.com/ http://wwwcialiscomcom.com/ are out money by your best deal.Examples of hassle if at financial need that cialis 10mg cialis 10mg some interest in good hardworking people.Borrow responsibly often broken down your next time http://viagra5online.com/ http://viagra5online.com/ in urgent need for yourself.They only one needs to qualify been payday cash advance payday cash advance there just let a decision.

To get more background on my SEO experiences, check out my posts: What They Don’t Tell You About SEO Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3

Although I signed up for an annual contract, about 4 months in it became apparent to me that it wasn’t working for a variety of reasons.  I think it was obvious to them also because 6 ½ months into it, we were very far away from achieving their guaranteed results of making more than we spent monthly on search services by the end of the contract.  Something miraculous would have to occur.  Was it anyone’s fault?  Yes and no.  

There were things I should have researched and understood better before engaging a SEO firm.  I made the decision hoping it could be part of a ‘silver bullet‘ solution to raise our trial and conversion numbers and as we all know, the silver bullet doesn’t usually hit where you want it to.  I also think that the firm could have advised me better upfront on things like website conversion, dropped the ball a couple of times, and could have proactively paid more attention to the direction things were going.  When I last checked their site, it looks like they have changed their focus more to SEM (search engine marketing) than just SEO.  

Although it does hurt to have spent the money (especially considering the economy today), several of my peers have spent tens of thousands more dollars than I did with similar results.  So I feel a little less dumb when I look at my company’s P&L statement.  In fact I know several web company CEOs in town who have suspended their SEO/SEM campaigns to focus on other ways to bring more qualified/convertible traffic to their sites after not seeing expected results.  

Overall, I learned a lot and when the time is right, I may consider re-engaging with SEO again.  I have no hard feelings against any of the people I worked with at the firm.  They are all nice people, and since I don’t want to focus on feeling let down, I have chosen to think about it as educating myself and helping someone somewhere feed their kid or pay their rent.  Such is life! 

The biggest lesson I learned was: SEO is not a good choice when you are creating a market!  It’s hard to predict what people will search for when looking for your product in a market that is not well defined.  It’s hard to even know how many or if they are looking for your product!  I’ve mentioned before the example of a baby blanket.  When you are looking for a ‘baby blanket’ or a ‘red soccer ball‘ you know what you are looking for.  When you are looking for a way to get your baby to sleep better at night or understand his feeding patterns, you may not even know you are looking for a web and mobile based tool to help you track his activities.  So even if you land on the Babble Soft site, you don’t have a frame of reference to compare it to. 

So I chose to end the contract rather than spending thousands of more dollars for another 5 ½ months with all signs pointing to the fact we weren’t going to achieve the hoped for results.   I could have continued but I didn’t want to have to deal with a situation where none of us wanted to be in thereby making all of our lives more stressful.  I’ll never know if I did the right thing but given the economy, I’m sure glad I’m not having that big cash outflow each month when I’m not seeing the equivalent or greater cash inflow.   Maybe I let them out easy, but I think the money is better spent paying our mortgage instead!  Here are the highlights: 

Facts for SEO Analysis on Babble Soft

  • Search engine traffic went from 14% just before the beginning of the campaign in December 2007 to 36% in September 2008 with a peak of 58% in July after ending the campaign.
  • Referring site traffic went from 42% to 46% with a peak of 51% in August 2008 due to a fabulous article on BabyCenter called The basics of baby schedules: Why, when, and how to start a routine.  This article resulted in a record amount of trial signups and still sends qualified traffic to the site and I didn’t spend any money for that lucrative mention!
  • Direct traffic went from 43% in December 2007 to 17% in September 2008 which is good because the number of people who know to directly type www.babblesoft.com or another URL link on our site is few in the world.
  • Trial sign-ups went up 200% from November 2007 to June 2008.  They increased 500% from November 2007 to September 2008 because of the BabyCenter mention.  However, since we just launched the web and mobile applications in 2007, the base amount wasn’t that high to begin with.
  • Conversions went up some as well but that again was because the base to grow from wasn’t that high.  They didn’t go up near the amount we all hoped for to cover our SEO costs.  That’s why percentages are great to quote but they don’t mean you are breaking even yet. :-(

Key Learnings from my SEO experience: 

  • SEO is not a great place to spend your money when you are creating/making a market.  There are just too many unknowns.
  • Focus on getting mentions in places where your target audience visits (e.g., BabyCenter).  This is hard to do without PR help but sometimes you can get lucky.  People have spent tens of thousands of dollars on public relations firms as well and still not achieved the ‘perfect’ story placements.  Since I don’t have a big marketing budget, I am taking things into my own PR hands and hoping I’ll get a big mention from the free Help A Reporter Out (HARO) PR leads I now get.
  • If you have the budget, experiment with keywords using Search Engine Marketing (e.g., Google Adwords) until you see what keywords work to get qualified traffic to your site, and then revisit SEO.  However, if you are creating a market this could prove to be an expensive endeavor because you might have to do A LOT of guessing!
  • Spend a significant amount of time making the appropriate conversion changes on your site.  In other words, make sure your site gets people to sign up and part with their money!  Make sure your SEO firm not only understands the importance of conversion but can also identify the changes and make them up front.  There are people who know how to make your website flow and your text copy sing a siren song.  You need to find someone who gets your market and if you are creating a market, you might be the expert and have to wing it yourself.  

I think that the SEO/SEM firms are going to face hard times with the changing economy as many businesses will.  If you have the time and money to do it right and you’re selling something like ‘red soccer shoes’ or ‘Halloween costumes’ then SEO might make sense for you.  If not, it’s probably best to turn over another low-cost marketing rock while you create and define your new market.

Sign up for free email updates to read about my continuing saga of building a web business after hours (soon to be a SXSW 2008 Interactive panel)! And please Stumble, Email, or Digg this post so others can learn from my SEO experience.

Author: | Filed under: entrepreneurship, seo | Tags: , , , , , , | 9 Comments »

A Dream You Have Will Come True
Jul 30 2008

Photo by Sandy Blanchard
Yes, the title of this post is yet another fortune cookie fortune that I got at lunch at P. F. Chang’s yesterday.   And yes that means my brain is too tired from working two jobs, taking care of kids, and pretending to be a being a good wife to come up with my own titles. 

I will eventually get around to my next post on the painful great lessons learned about Search Engine Optimization, but  in the meantime you can go back and read my What They Don’t Tell You About SEO posts Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3 to get you primed and ready for Part 4!

So back to the fortune cookie title ‘A dream you have will come true.’  I’m wondering what dream it might be referring to?  Does it mean night dreams or day dreams?  Does it mean it will come true if I play the Lucky Numbers 3, 56, 32, 38, 25, and 42 that appear under the fortune?  Or does it imply that if I learn how to properly say the word “Peach” (i.e., tao-zi) noted on the back of the cookie in Chinese that it will come true? 

Then I started wondering if I even have dreams that I want to come true?  Being an avid dreamer at night, I often wish for dreamless, deep sleeps since I dream about work, life, kids, etc. while I sleep.  I don’t have scary dreams, just boring, mundane, every day life dreams where sometimes I happen to come up with some solutions to problems but that mostly leave me wishing for more sleep when I wake up! 

So if a dream is a wish and a wish is a dream, I wish for some nights of dreamless, uninterrupted-by-kids sleep.  Oh and I also dream that I will be able to change the world by helping others discover their potential to change the world! :mrgreen:

How about you? What is your dream?

Author: | Filed under: Just For Fun, random stuff, seo | Tags: , , , , , , | 4 Comments »

Life Always Gets Harder Near The Summit (a.k.a. Brandon and the Homeless Dude)
Jul 8 2008

OK, so I’m still trying to figure out how blogging fits in with my full time day job so I’ll continue on the fortune cookie fortune blogging escapade (they make for good post titles) until I figure it out. 

I’m not sure what’s kosher to blog about since I’m still trying to get my mind around the irony of working for a huge university which is gigantically overburdened with process (e.g., 5 copies of agreements need to be routed after being signed in blue ink but need pre-approval before they get routed, 3 documents to get approval to make often routine purchases, etc.) that at the same time helps start-ups.  A slow moving giant pays the staff (including myself) that supports the nimble, fast moving technology start-ups.  It’s mind boggling to think about so I try not to think about it too much. 

So on to the fortune cookie that produced “Life always gets harder near the summit.”  Along with the Lucky Numbers 2, 10, 7, 31, 54, and 12…too bad I’m no longer playing the lottery

I wouldn’t say that life is harder but I would say it’s insanely more a bit more mentally taxing given that after a full day at my day job of running Operations for the Austin Technology Incubator I need to think about and act on activities to promote Babble Soft.  Thankfully, I have an intellectually smart husband who helps out and is currently giving the kids a bath while I type up this blog post, drink red wine, and respond to press queries.  He has to be smart because his current career choice is one of the reasons I now have a day job!

So on to life being hard for Brandon and the Homeless Dude which made the title of this blog post way too long!  Over at IttyBiz, they are running a ‘who can come up with the craziest story about Brandon and the Homeless Dude’ competition as a break from their regularly scheduled home business tips.  So the challenge is to come up with the ‘next step of the journey’ for Brandon and the Homeless Dude.  If selected, my name, company, blog, and dirty laundry will be featured on the ever so popular IttyBiz blog that is normally written by Naomi with an occasional guest appearance by her husband, Jamie.  It’s highly unlikely that I’ll get picked because I’m not following their directions of discreetly emailing Jamie my story but instead I’m writing it on my blog.  I’m not one to regularly follow directions, which makes my day job extra mentally taxing.  So here it goes: 

Brandon and the Homeless Dude woke up under a bridge one day.  They wondered to themselves firstly why the bridge had not fallen on them while they slept given their notorious luck.  Soon after they wondered what they should do for the day.   

The Homeless Dude then asked Brandon why he was sleeping under the bridge with him given that he was not homeless and Brandon mumbled a reply about being a prick (Naomi’s word not mine) to his wife.  As an aside to those who don’t know Brandon, his wife pays the bills for his extravagant lifestyle which includes trying to build an online business. 

After that meaningful brief discussion, they headed toward the closest lemonade stand and asked the kids if they planned to attend SEO school.  The kids stared blankly at them and asked them what SEO meant and oh by the way if they wanted lemonade they would have to give them $2.00 for a tall, refreshing glass of fresh squeezed lemonade with a spoonful of organic brown sugar.  A twist of vodka would cost them $1.00 extra. 

Brandon told the kids that SEO stood for Seeking Extra Opportunities and their eyes opened wide.  Of course they were ‘seeking extra opportunities’ to sell their lemonade because the more money they made the more they could spend on impressing their teenage friends with highly perishable, bad-for-the-environment, alcoholic, dumbass crap. 

The Homeless Dude then told them they were in luck because if they wanted to turn their lemonade stand into an online successful business all they had to do was do what he did which was spend time and money on SEO only to discover that most people did not want to buy lemonade online but oddly preferred to get it from their local grocery store, kid-friendly restaurant, or nearby pre-teen managed stand. 

They immediately realized The Homeless Dude was wise in his homelessness and decided that after they made some cash from their lemonade stand from joggers, bicyclists, parents who thought they were cute, other teenage friends, and old people who felt nostalgic and proud that teenagers actually attempted to do an honest day’s work, they would then open an online business telling other kids how to set up a successful lemonade stand. 

The End.

On the chance you want to read about my attempts to build an online business, while at the same time working at a place that helps other technology start-ups, you can painlessly get free email updates about the continuing saga of a blogging entrepreneur (moi!).

Author: | Filed under: entrepreneurship, random stuff, seo | Tags: , , , | 4 Comments »

What They Don’t Tell You About SEO – Part 3
May 19 2008

Photo by Sandy Blanchard
We are about 5 months and thousands of dollars into our search engine optimization (SEO) campaign managed by SpryDev and before you read the rest, I suggest you check out my Part 1 and Part 2 posts.

Let’s just say I’m not yet ecstatic with the results.  On the plus side, Website Grader now shows our grade as 79 which is up from 67 when I ran it for my Part 2 post on March 3, 2008.  We are also just now starting to show up in the first and second page of Google for our current keywords of ‘breastfeeding support’ and ‘baby sleep.’  We are showing up in the top 30 for other important terms.  Interestingly enough, we are showing #1 for ‘baby care software,’  but I have no idea what the search volume is for that term!

On the not-so-great side, although our overall traffic is increasing at a pretty good percentage rate, we still aren’t seeing a huge jump in total number of visitors or more importantly a significant jump in trial sign-ups which have shown in the past a 7 to 10% conversion rate to purchase!  For instance, according to Google Analytics, in December 2007 we had 873 total visitors of which 626 were unique visitors.  In April 2008, we had 1,585 (82% increase) total visitors of which 1,162 (86% increase) were unique.  Page Views during that same time have gone from 2,364 to 4,898 (107% increase).  In the world of the Internet, the percentage increases are good, but the total numbers seem low to me especially when you see numbers like 1 million visitors per month thrown around often on Mashable and TechCrunch.

In February and March we saw an increase in percentage totals of people finding us using organic search engine terms but saw a drop in organic search and trial sign-ups in April.  The more trial sign-ups we have, the higher the conversion rate of customers purchasing our apps.  Direct and Referring site traffic is still greater than 70% of our traffic sources which means that’s a heck of a lot of my time emailing, blogging, twittering, as well as links from my friends and other interested parties.  My family does not blog or twitter so unfortunately I don’t get back links that way. :-D

I know that the SEO link team is submitting articles, press releases, and creating directory submissions on a monthly basis which seem to be getting accepted and picked up at a reasonable rate.  SpryDev gives me good weekly and monthly reports, and I check out our Google Analytics to see how things are going. So I know that they are sharing all the information they can with me.

We did have an account manager change back in early March when Rose, who I mentioned in a previous post, left for personal reasons and now our account manager is Erik.  We also had a keyword shift around that time from ‘pregnancy week by week’ to ‘baby sleep.’  I’m still not sure why we selected that keyword since we don’t have an offering for that keyword, but I think it was because it had a high search volume…needless to say it had a high bounce rate.  In other words, people who found our site using ‘pregnancy week by week’ didn’t stay long on the site. 

We have also made several website conversion changes based on recommendations by SpryDev via Brian Massey of Customer Chaos, who I also mentioned in one of my previous search engine optimization posts.  Some examples include:

a) Changing trial period from 30 to 15 days
b) Changing our trial follow up emails from same text emails X and 2X days from sign-up to different text emails on sign up, X days out, and Y days out.
c) Adding the Try It Free button on the Babble Soft home page and throughout the site.
d) Creating a new Contact form.

I can’t really opine on the conversion changes until we see a huge jump in trial sign ups. So honestly, I’m a little stumped and frustrated.  Maybe my expectations at the beginning were not correct?!  I had hoped we would see better results by now especially since I was tying some of our fundraising success to SEO.  I don’t know if I’m alone in this or if everyone just has stellar SEO experiences and all of a sudden trial sign-ups and sales go through the roof!  Anyone?

As I mentioned in my SEO, Here I Come post, I signed up with SpryDev because of their guarantee:

“By the end of your contract you will have at least as much additional business from your Web site as you spend on our services…  or we’ll work for FREE until you do.”

Since the contract is for 12 months, we have 7 more months to go and they are assuring me that around the 6 month mark is when their customers start to see the big results…although so far May hasn’t been proving to be a big trial sign-up month yet.  I’ve heard from others that they’ve seen big results in as little as 3 to 4 months from their SEO endeavors. 

So now I’m wondering what could we have done better and what could we do better?  Are we optimizing for the right keywords?  Do people know to even look for applications like ours?  Are people even interested in using applications like ours?  Do we need to do more marketing around the benefits of using these kinds of applications more than the parent stories I pull together when the opportunity arises?  Should I put the money that I would be putting into SEO into paid ads on parenting related sites, Google AdWords, etc. instead?

I have pretty much come to the conclusion that I will need to continue to bootstrap Babble Soft since fundraising has been challenging given this economic environment and because we have yet to demonstrate a compelling increase in the number of our users.  I would feel much better going out to raise funds with thousands or tens of thousands of customers.

I am beginning to think that I might just have to get a job to support my entrepreneurial addiction! 8-O

If you are interested in reading more about my SEO trials, tribulations, and hopefully victories think about subscribing to this blog.  If you know more about SEO than I do (which is likely), then leave a comment and share your advice with the rest of us!

Author: | Filed under: babble soft, baby sleep, breastfeeding, entrepreneurship, fundraising, seo, sleep | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 10 Comments »

Moms Gone Viral
May 2 2008

I was planning to write a post updating everyone on our search engine optimization experience today but the real world injected itself with a sick kid at home.  High fever and rescheduling meetings doesn’t leave much time for writing long, heavy posts.  Plus I had to sneak in a nap in the afternoon while our daughter napped since we didn’t get much sleep the night before. :)

So instead, while my husband takes care of the kids this evening, I thought I’d write a post on the example of an unanticipated, viral marketing story with a mom twist.  So here it goes…

Once upon a time I met a friend on the Internet.  I found her blog and commented away.  After some time, we realized we had similar visions and she invited me do a guest post on her blog called Entrepreneurship: A Blessing or a Curse.  We kept in touch, spoke on the phone a few times about ways to work together, became twitter pals, and finally met in person at SXSW here in Austin back in March and clicked even more. 

While at SXSW she got further proof of what she already knew which was that the name of her blog, then called eMoms at Home, was not really reflective of the demographics of her readers and would-be readers so she had a mini-meltdown, picked herself up and came up with a cool new name called Sparkplugging!  Since she was and still is an advocate of entrepreneurs and especially those who work from home, her cool, new name opens the door wide open to many of us who are moms or not but like to spark up ideas and play with them until something happens.

So after SXSW, she went home and saw a post about dads on twitter and decided to do one for moms.  Within hours she got tons of replies and created a post called The Ultimate List of Moms on Twitter that started with 250 moms.  I commented and subscribed to comments on that post and every day new moms would leave a comment with their twitter name until May 1, 2008 that is.  Twitter sent out an email to everyone yesterday, May 1, and in it they included:

Mother’s Day: On The Way

We’ve noticed a trend of parents twittering the moments of their baby’s birth so we know there are some new moms on Twitter. Are you a mom on Twitter? Is your own mom on Twitter? Maybe you even made “The Ultimate List of Moms on Twitter”? Mother’s Day is just around the corner so don’t forget to @reply the moms you know with a thoughtful phrase–but keep it under 140 characters, moms are busy people.

List of Moms on Twitter: http://tinyurl.com/6cxgp5

And today I had 150+ comments in my inbox and they are still coming.  Now she has close to 400 comments on that one post! Did she do anything extraordinary to make it happen? Not really.  Did she tell people on twitter about it? Yes, of course.  Did she know others would tell and re-tell more people about the list? Possibly.  Did she know twitter would pick it up in their mass email to everyone? Doubtful (but I don’t know what went on behind the scenes).  So in hindsight what played in her favor to have a post she wrote on April 8 (before her name change) take on a life of its own?  Here’s what I think:

  • She took the initiative to do something that ended up being quite time consuming, but she saw from the responses it resonated with hundreds of moms on twitter that it was a worthwhile endeavor. 
  • She told her friends about it who re-tweeted and blogged about it. 
  • The tweeters kept the link going within twitter and in the blogosphere. 
  • Mother’s Day was around the corner and the guys (I think they are all men) at twitter saw the activity and might have said to themselves “Hmmm. How can we mention a major holiday, get brownie points with our wives/mothers, and promote twitter at the same time” and voila a mention was born!

UPDATE: I sent a link to @Biz to this post and he informed me there are several women who work at twitter!  So of course I followed them.  Here is his tweet: 

biz @aruni awesome! I included the moms list because it was noteworthy – also, women who work at Twitter: @crystal @krissy @alissa @lane @sara

In case you haven’t guessed who this friend is, it’s Wendy Piersall.  I guess only Wendy can tell us if she planned all of this, but to me it’s another example of viral marketing that in hindsight makes sense but when started, the current result would have been highly unpredictable. 

To me, this is why it is so hard to orchestrate a viral campaign.  You can plan everything down to the “t” and still not have it work out the way you wanted.  It’s hard to predict when there are so many variables.  You can also just do something you enjoy doing that helps others and see a “spark” turn into a flame!  Way to go Wendy! :-D

Oh and by the way, I am @aruni and Wendy is @eMom on twitter…

Author: | Filed under: entrepreneur, entrepreneurship, mom, mother, mother's day, networking, seo, social networks, success, working mom, working mother | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 9 Comments »

What They Don’t Tell You About SEO – Part 2
Mar 3 2008

Billiard Cupcakes – Photo by PinkCakeBox (flickr)
billiards-pinkcakebox.jpg
As a follow on to my What They Don’t Tell You About SEO – Part 1 post, here goes Part 2.

So now we are about 2 ½ months and 3 ½ payments into Search Engine Optimization with SpryDev.  We’ve made several changes to our site based on some great recommendations by Brian Massey at Customer Chaos and now we wait and measure the results.  We have seen an increase in trial account sign ups and a few more sales, but I’m still waiting for the landslide! :-)

I know it is sometimes an experimental process with keyword selection, and I know since we aren’t selling cupcakes (i.e., a well understood product) that things might take a little longer.  I know all of this and yet I still want (dare I say need) to see those results immediately because I’m fundraising.  With every presentation I make, the more users I can tell potential investors have signed up, the more compelling the story becomes and the chances of getting funding increase ever so slightly.  Sort of a + b = c stuff.  Sometimes those tiny incremental changes can make all the difference.

I was reading some blogs and came across a neat tool called Website Grader that tells you how your website ranks with regards to SEO.  Social Media Mom mentioned it and when I ran the tool a distant memory was triggered because I was sure I had seen reference to this site before and lo and behold Pearl at Interesting Observations had mentioned it back in October 2007!  I can’t remember the score I had on my blog when I ran it then, but I ran a report for both http://www.babblesoft.com/ and http://www.entrepremusings.com/ and here are the results:

Babble Soft

Score: 67 out of 100 (a D grade – wah!)

Google PageRank: 5

Google Indexed Pages: 66

Last Google Crawl Date: February 25, 2008

Traffic Rank: Top 8.01%

Inbound Links: 2,815

I also discovered we were not yet listed in the Yahoo! Directory but that has since been corrected and now we are.  We are still waiting for DMOZ and ZoomInfo to acknowledge our submissions.  I know SpryDev has submitted us for many more directories.  For some reason, this tool hasn’t really put the fact together that the related blog is this one.  I hope at the next Google crawl date, we move out of the D range.  Being the overachiever that I am, getting close to a failing grade makes me, well uh, let’s say not happy.

entrepreMusings

Score: 95 out of 100 (an A – yay!)

Google PageRank: 5

Google Indexed Pages: 334

Last Google Crawl Date: February 28, 2008

Traffic Rank: Top 4.08%

Inbound Links: 5,699

And that’s despite not being listed in Yahoo! or the other directories.  I haven’t done any formal SEO on my blog (i.e., the report even tells me I don’t have page titles and descriptions) but I know the high rank is probably primarily due to the fact that I frequently update the blog making it fun and interesting for those Google spiders and my readers to reference.

So my conclusion is that even if you have hired an SEO firm, take time to check out other SEO tools out there like Website Grader.  You might just find something to ask your firm about and learn something about the process along the way.  Even the best of teams and people sometimes require a little oversight.  If they are a good team, they won’t get defensive and they’ll work to fix it right away and make it up to you with hopefully more than yummy looking billiard cupcakes!

Stay tuned for more of my SEO journey that may involve cupcakes (or more likely other random pictures) by subscribing to my blog here!  If you have an SEO experience you’d like to share, please don’t hesitate to leave a delicious comment below.

Author: | Filed under: entrepreneurship, seo, Yahoo! | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 13 Comments »

Press Release Distribution – What A Process!
Jan 29 2008

One of the many hats an entrepreneur wears is the “getting great press mentions” hat.  It’s typically a frustrating process since unless you happen to know each editor personally, chances are quite high they will hit ‘delete’ or not return your messages thereby not giving you a chance to tell your wonderful, glorious story.  This seems even more true in the baby/new parent industry because there are a bunch of cool new products released every day in this industry and the editors are inundated with pitches.

I know it must be tough for editors because they get so many thousands of emails from everyone wanting them to write a story about what they believe is TNBT (i.e., The Next Big Thing).  But it’s tough for us entrepreneurs to get noticed too!  Since we are spending money on SEO, I decided to take on doing the traditional PR work myself until we raise funds.  This means emails and follow up calls to editors at places like Parenting Magazine, Twins Magazine, Parents, Pregnancy, etc., etc.  Only the most popular magazines for parents….

That’s why our SEO firm has also submitted it for distribution in free press release avenues on the Internet which should drive more traffic to our site or at least build up some of our back links. :-)

The problem with wearing so many hats is that you don’t have the time to wear one long enough to spend the required, necessary time to really dig in deep and make a big impact.  I wonder what color the press release hat is?

Author: | Filed under: babble soft, baby sleep, entrepreneurship, seo | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

What They Don’t Tell You About SEO – Part 1
Jan 24 2008

Picture by Sandy Blanchardwooden-steps-hill-sblanchard.jpg 

As some of you know we signed up with a Search Engine Optimization (SEO) firm, SpryDev, back in mid-December.  It’s been a great process and I already wish that we had our site designed with SEO in mind to being with.  We are making several design, layout, menu, text, etc. changes that are very time consuming.  I wish they could all be done overnight but given all of our time constraints unfortunately they can’t!

I think my biggest learning experience (note to self) so far is to have an SEO expert involved during the design of the site.  It apparently will save a lot of time later.  Now we won’t be sure if any of these changes will actually result in increased conversions for some time but so far they make sense to me.  Apparently seeing results overnight doesn’t happen just like we can’t make all the changes overnight.  Sigh.

The good news is in the past month we have seen a slight increase in the number of visitors.  We’ve also seen more people finding us based on organic search (i.e., search terms in Google) versus a direct landing.  Most people still find the Babble Soft site by searching on terms like Babble Soft, Baby Insights, Aruni (my name), etc. which is what I’m calling a direct landing.  Since I’m not Britney Spears or some other famous person, it doesn’t really do us much good for people to be searching on my name!  Now a noticeable few are finding us with relevant keywords.

Here are some of things we have done or are still working on:

  • Changing our menu navigation and adding cool buttons.  All in the name of increasing conversion.  Brian Massey who blogs at Customer Chaos is their conversion specialist and he’s given us some great recommendations that will hopefully pay off big time.  Interestingly, he just did a great post called Here’s the Truth About Building Your Website that is pretty accurate.

  • Creating individual landing pages for our Family Stories and Press Releases.  Check out our Sleep & Immunization Release that just went out!

  • Setting up a phone number to display on our site (should have that up soon – I need to record a great greeting message)

  • Adding Page Titles and Descriptions to each page.  I can’t believe we hadn’t done that.  DOH!!  I guess that’s why they get the big bucks and further reason why we should have involved an SEO expert during the design phase of the site.

  • Building links.

  • Submitting articles, press releases, and other stuff to all the various sites that love them as much as we do. :-)

Rose, our project manager at SpryDev seems to be very patient since I email her night and day asking her what else we can do and how fast we can do it.  When it’s your personal credit card that gets hit each month you want to do everything possible to start seeing sales come in to offset those expenses. 

Did I know that we would have to make some changes to our site going in?  Yes, of course.  Did I realize the extent of the changes, the time it would take to make them, and that cash wouldn’t start rolling in the door 10 seconds after we made each change?  Not so much.

If you are interested in learning more about “What They Don’t Tell You About SEO,” go ahead and subscribe to this blog.  If you know more about SEO than I do (chances are you do), then leave a comment and share your wonderful wisdom with the rest of us!

Author: | Filed under: babble soft, baby sleep, entrepreneurship, seo | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 15 Comments »

Is Software Hard or Soft? Please Tell Me.
Dec 21 2007

babysleep-200w-150h.gif

I’ve seen companies doing soft launches of software products which makes me wonder what a hard launch is.  So far the main difference I’ve noticed is that the official press release about the new application or new feature doesn’t go out until after the ‘hard’ launch.  My guess is that a lot of bug fixing is going on between soft and hard launch.

So, I’m happy/thrilled/ecstatic to report that we just soft launched our new sleep and immunization recording features of Baby Insights Web!  We are still working on some development issues on Baby Insights Mobile and plan to hard launch that app in January 2008.  The mobile app is not web-based (yet) so we don’t have the luxury of a soft launch.

Babble Soft is offering FREE 3 month gift subscriptions valued at $19.95 until March 15, 2007 to anyone who discovers a software bug in our NEW Baby Sleep and Immunization features of Baby Insights Web. Gifts are transferrable!  Sign up for your FREE account today. Happy hunting!

So far the soft launch has been uneventful (i.e., no major bugs), which is nice.  Thanks go out to our development team Cressanda and especially our project manager.  I recommend them highly.  The smoothness of the soft launch is also because we don’t have thousands upon thousands hundreds upon hundreds of users yet.  I’m banking on our foray into SEO to help get us there.  I mean if the “right people” (a.k.a. target market) don’t know we exist; it’s not surprising that we don’t have thousands of users yet.  Even viral marketing takes a bunch of upfront work because you have to get to the right early adopters who have major Internet influence.  I need to figure out how to do a video and get it in YouTube.

Given the fact that over 4 million babies are born in the US each year then include Australia, Canada, Europe, Japan and other Internet savvy countries, I’m anticipating that once those new parents and nannies find out about us, the floodgates will open.  Babies and floodgates…not sure if the analogy works but I think you get the point. :-)

I’ve been spending my time the last couple of days doing website updates to reflect the new features. And I’m working on pulling the pieces together of a business plan for some potential angel investor meetings that I have scheduled for early next year.  If you know an angel investor (or you happen to be one) who likes the baby/new parent/web application/social networking space, please send them my way!  The applications we have now are only the tip of the colossal iceberg.

Now for a short SEO break:

Whether you need breastfeeding support, are excitedly following your pregnancy week by week,  are experiencing baby sleep issues, or are already under way creating your baby’s first year album, Babble Soft offers unique, easy-to-use Web and Mobile software solutions that improve communication between caregivers about baby’s and mom’s schedules.

Baby Insights helps caregivers keep track of baby’s breast & bottle feeding, sleep periods, diaper changes, medicine doses, and immunization records, as well as mom’s breastfeeding, pumping and medicine intake. Having important information stored in one location makes communication between parents, their nanny, babysitters, grandparents, or doctors seamless and reliable and gives new parents insight into their baby’s patterns to help with crucial baby care decisions. Baby Say Cheese lets you create a wonderful online baby’s first year photo album with milestones and family tree that you can share with friends and family. 

If you are interested in reading about how I cope with manage software launches, fundraising, and SEO consider subscribing to this blog’s feed.  If you are an entrepreneur, it will be worth your while…even if I crash and burn….which I won’t…because I said so, that’s why.   Now go play with your Power Rangers.  Sigh.

Author: | Filed under: baby insights, baby say cheese, baby sleep, entrepreneur, entrepreneurship, fundraising, seo, sleep, software, technology | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

Social Media Mania – What’s A Gal To Do?
Dec 13 2007

Wendy at eMoms at Home did a post recently where she asked her readers “How do you Use Social Media to Promote Your Business?”  I didn’t have time to answer then and I’m sure I missed out on the free books, which is OK because I never seem to have time to read any books these days.  I’ve had a few days off from software testing, so I figured I’d do a post about it.

There are so many aspects to social media that it’s tough for an entrepreneur to keep up.  I mean we still have to sleep!  Fortunately, I’m fairly social.  I mentioned on a post that Liz Strauss did recently called Business and Life: Are You Making the Most of the Conversation? that “I am a Participant, rarely a Lurker, and often a Listener.”

It is fun making friends all over the world and it’s easy to be social from behind your computer when it fits with your schedule.  In the past I resisted joining sites like facebook because of the time commitment

To do a social network right, I figure it means committing significant time to it.  When you are launching a start-up, planning to raise funds, taking care of kids, maintaining a house, etc., it’s not easy to be as active as one should be in these networks over time.  But so far it’s been fascinating to see how other people interact with the networks.  I mean can you believe that facebook has over 55 million users all over the world?  That is amazing!  So here’s what I’ve done and what I’ve observed:

I started this blog (it had a different name before) with the help of Connie Reece. She gave me the kick start I needed! I think I did my first post back in May 2007. The blog has been fun and I know it has driven some additional traffic to my company site, Babble Soft, but to date I haven’t seen that it’s resulted in more than just a few additional sales. As a result of having a blog, I joined MyBlogLog, FeedBurner, Technorati, StumbleUpon, Digg, and BlogHer. Wendy was also kind enough to invite me to join the Home Business & Entrepreneur FeedBurner Ad Network. I haven’t made much money from these particular ad networks (maybe in total $100) but it has given me exposure to other bloggers and made me aware of other businesses.

I entered some competitions to hopefully win prizes and get additional exposure. I can’t remember all of them but I know I did one at Alpha Moms and I just entered Intuit’s Just Start challenge where I have the potential to win $50K for my business! The ‘vote for me’ widget will be on the right hand side of my blog until shortly after their voting deadline of December 16. After I sent an email to some friends asking if they would vote for me, I found out that people had to log in to do so. Knowing how much I hate to create unnecessary logins, my guess is that I won’t win on votes, but I might win in the unique idea category and because we have jokingly referred to our Baby Insights application as “Quicken for Baby.” :-)

I have participated in some blog memes: 8 Random Things About Me and Blogging Tip Meme. Neena just tagged me again for a My Favorite Words theme. Memes give you exposure but they are time consuming so I think after doing this last meme, I will have to put a notice somewhere to let people know not to tag me unless they let me know first because I would hate to leave a meme go unanswered. I’m answering the Favorite Word meme by bolding my favorite words in this post (in case you were wondering why some of the words are in bold text). Isabella at Change Therapy I hope that’s OK with you! What do these words say about me? I guess that I’m a driven, committed, somewhat zany, looking to learn, searching for connection/peace, sleep deprived, mom-ified, and sometimes creative.

I joined LinkedIn. I’ve found LinkedIn to be useful for business related networking…for answers to specific questions. I haven’t yet established a deal or attempted to look for employees there which I hear is what it’s meant for. I’ve been able to answer a few questions on LinkedIn but I don’t think I’ve contributed to the increase of anyone’s business yet.

I joined facebook. Mostly to learn from the king of social networking sites. I may do some targeted ads there some day when time and money permit.  I also set up a company page on facebook for Babble Soft.

I engaged a full service SEO/SEM firm.

I just joined twitter. I even added the little widget to my sidebar, and I integrated it with facebook. I really resisted joining twitter. I had no idea why anyone would be interested in my day to day activities. More importantly I didn’t think I would be interested in anyone else’s day to day activities! I already have about 20 followers. You may be wondering what pushed me over the edge and made me join twitter…well it was the Duran Duran concert I attended earlier this week. I was there and I suddenly thought ‘wouldn’t it be great if I could tell my friends and random strangers about the fact I’m at this cool concert?’ and then all of a sudden I “got” twitter! Will it result in additional business? I’m not sure. Time will tell.

I have not yet joined MySpace or YouTube (but I’ve been to the site many times).  If I had to guess, I will probably join YouTube before MySpace, but first I need to create some videos!

Overall, I think I’m still at the tip of the iceberg when it comes to building a powerful online network and I’m a little bit afraid of getting in too deep and getting stuck in a networking hole somewhere.  I’m not sure if that makes sense to anyone, but it’s a fear I face nonetheless.  Maybe I’ll find peace there instead.

Author: | Filed under: babble soft, blogging, competition, entrepreneur, entrepreneurship, feedburner, networking, seo, social networks | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 13 Comments »

SEO Here I Come!
Dec 11 2007

After doing some research on hiring an SEO firm, I decided to go with the full service firm option.  It wasn’t an easy decision and I was concerned about spending the money, but now it’s done.  I just signed the paperwork with SpryDev for our search engine optimization internet marketing campaign!

SpryDev is based in Austin, Texas and I found out about them from a reply their founder, Ben Finklea, left on the Bootstrap Austin email list.  I had been thinking that I needed to find someone to help me with SEO and there was his email with his guarantee:

By the end of your contract you will have at least as much additional business from your Web site as you spend on our services…  or we’ll work for FREE until you do.

I took it as a sign.  Of course I checked out a few others but given that time is of the essence (I will start fundraising in 1Q 2008), he is based in Austin (I can meet with him face to face if any issues arise), and I didn’t have to get anyone else’s approval (I’m still bootstrapping) except for Erin’s (my husband), I made the decision to go with them fairly soon after our initial conversation. 

Ben must be pretty darn confident about his services, and based on our few discussions he seems like an honest guy.  I have heard stories about bad SEO experiences so I was paying particular attention to what he was saying and how he was saying it.  He didn’t act like he knew everything and seemed interested in learning about new things.   He said they haven’t worked with a company in the parenting space before, but he did some preliminary research and felt like he and his team would be able to increase our web profits and that he would be able to cover his guarantee.

He was proud of the fact that his firm has never engaged in paid link campaigns to increase their clients’ rankings…especially since Google recently updated PageRanks of several sites.  He was also proud of the fact that they didn’t follow a practice of internal linking between different pages within a domain to increase rankings.  I didn’t know this but apparently Google announced they would only count links to one domain so if people were linking between “www.companyname.com” to “products.companyname.com” those internal links will no longer be counted when determining search results.  Honestly, I don’t know why people would have thought that would work or why Google’s algorithms wouldn’t have already taken that into consideration.

Rose Holston is the project manager for Babble Soft.  I’ve already filled out a fairly extensive questionnaire about our market that she will use to help create the internet marketing/SEO plan.  I mentioned some of the target markets that Naomi mentioned on her post about ‘monsters and pants.’  Thanks Naomi!  Rose has two kids and she could instantly relate to the need for Baby Insights.  She is a self-professed anal retentive Excel spreadsheet mama.  I wonder what kind of keywords she will come up with to reach that audience.  :-)

I told them I would be blogging about my SEO/SEM full service firm experience in order to help other entrepreneurs with their SEO decisions.   So check back often and feel free to share your SEO thoughts so others can learn as well.  I am looking forward to working with SpryDev and to making significantly more money than what I end up paying them!

Author: | Filed under: entrepreneurship, seo | Tags: , , , , , , , | 6 Comments »

Search Engine Optimization (SEO) – Yikes!
Dec 4 2007

I have never done any active SEO work for Babble Soft or this blog, but now the time has come to do some.  With the pending release of two new features to Baby Insights and my plan to raise angel money in 2008, I need to make sure people (our potential customers) can actually find us. 

We have unique products that sometimes people don’t even know they need until they see them.  How does a couple in their 8th month of pregnancy with their first child even have a clue about all the things they will need/want to remember after their baby arrives?  They typically don’t!  Many people still don’t think applications like ours exist.  Right now we average less than 50 unique visitors to the Babble Soft website per day. I get more visits to my blog and from the cats in my neighborhood than to the company site!

Any links we have are because of luck, the kindness of friends & strangers, or links from our Partners.  We have had some press mentions but it seems like the online press has a moratorium on putting actual active hyperlinks in their articles for some reason.  I mean how insanely crazy is it to let your readers easily go to the sites of the companies/people you are writing about?  Ugh!  I guess they think it would be a bad thing to drive traffic away from their site?  I haven’t figured that one out yet.  Thank goodness for blog writers who don’t have those rules!

Based on an easy to understand post by The Karcher Group called Should You Hire an SEO Firm, or an SEO Consultant, it seems my options are:

  1. Do it ALL myself.  At the moment, I can’t do this physically because there aren’t enough hours in the day.  Plus I am not an expert in this area.  This is the cheapest option when it comes to dollars but the most expensive when it comes to my time allocation and sanity.
  2. Find a consultant who can tell me what to do.  See above comments for Option 1.  Unfortunately, I can’t clone myself and have my clone work for free also and implement what the consultant tells me to implement. :-)
  3. Find a one man/woman shop.  This is a possibility, but how do I find that one person who can put a comprehensive SEO plan into place?
  4. Find a full service SEO firm.  This is also a possibility (with cost being a big factor).  The challenge is to find the right firm who is willing to work ‘flexibly and creatively’ with a small self-funded company.

This is a critical decision on many levels.  I can’t afford a mistake in this area especially since I’m leaning towards option 3 or 4.  This means I will have to take a calculated risk and place a bet on an individual or a firm that after a few months of hard work and payments, will start to pay off.  I have to part with precious cash up front for the hope of having it all come back to me and then some!

If any of you have gone through this process, I’d love to hear about the things you considered.  What questions did you ask?  What did you do on your own?  What did a firm do for you?

Author: | Filed under: entrepreneurship, fundraising, seo | Tags: , , , | 5 Comments »