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Archive for June, 2009

“High Speed, Low Drag” - the Only Way to Develop Scalable Websites

June 8th, 2009

It’s amazing how you can do something for 25 years, feel like you’ve “seen it all” - then read a book that causes an “aha moment” and gets you as excited as you were the day you started with it.

Oddly enough, I had such an experience when I read “Building Scalable Websites” by Flickr CTO Cal Henderson. And it wasn’t a “geek moment” that you’d expect from a book on website architecture…

It was a validation of a Common Sense Approach to Software and Website Development that I had evolved throughout my career.

In the book, Henderson details all of the various best practices learned while building Flickr’s architecture from startup phase to a website that handles millions of hits a day. And - contrary to popular belief - the secret to handling the growth is more about “pragmatism” than it is about “rocket science”. 

But the part of the book that really hit home was how the team’s choice of development approach drastically influences its ability to get work done throughout the growth of a website. At the two extremes of development approach are what can be described as “One Giant Function” on one side, and “Object Oriented Programming” on the other - and (here’s the key), Sanity in the middle.

Few software development professionals would argue that “One Giant Function” (OGF) is a viable approach to building websites…

OGF (or putting all of the code into huge, quickly unmanageable scripts) is an approach that dominated the early web. It certainly made it easier to “get something up” faster without having to worry about frameworks or infrastructure, but in the medium and long term - it’s a disaster. With the exception of bottom-of-the-barrel offshore sweatshops, you’ll be hard pressed to find a lot of support for the OGF approach, but…

Too Much Focus on Framework can be just as deadly to a website’s success as not enough.

Without any framework, a website is unmanageable over time, but with too much framework - it can get stuck at the starting gate. Teams that overdo framework end up spending 80% of their time “paying homage to the environment”, and 20% of their time solving the business problem (vs the reverse which is clearly a better scenario!)

I’ve seen teams waste enormous amounts of time trying to get some awkward framework to do something absurdly simple, only to get stuck for days or weeks dealing with obscure errors spit out by a framework that required too many i’s to be dotted, and too many t’s to be crossed for any practical project. So if you’re about to build a new operating system, you can ignore what I’m about to say, but otherwise:

Aim for “High Speed, Low Drag”

Whatever “methodology” you use to get a project done, it should pass two simple tests. The “High Speed test” requires that your team is able to get functionality delivered rapidly at all phases of the website’s development. Elaborate frameworks fail this test miserably because they waste the team’s time figuring them out instead of delivering functionality.

The “Low Drag test” requires that you have enough framework in place that the site is easy to maintain over time. I.e., as the site gets bigger and more complex, it doesn’t create “drag” on integration of new functionality. Fortunately, there are several simple “lightweight” frameworks out there that deliver on this promise by creating just enough rails on the development process to prevent “spaghetti code” without slowing the process to a crawl.

Author: Jeff D'Urso Categories: Web Development Tags:

Marketing Tip: Manage Leads Well, or Don’t Bother Marketing…

June 6th, 2009


When I was learning the nuances of web marketing back in 2004, one lesson that really hit home came from direct response guru Dan Kennedy.  Oddly enough, it had nothing to do with “marketing” per se, and everything to do with what happens in your company after the marketing has done its job of bringing someone to your website, your telephones, or your place of business. His message was simple…

“Get Your House in Order, or Don’t Bother Spending on Marketing”

While most marketers focus their time solely on trying to get traffic on the cheap, the smart ones (according to Kennedy) focus on efficiencies at every step of the process. Does the traffic convert into leads? Are the leads followed up with promptly? Are the people managing the phones moving leads forward, or stopping them dead in their tracks? Do the sales and ultimate product experiences work?

Although all of these questions seem obvious on the surface, it is a rare company that thinks of marketing in the context of all of these at once. And yet - the more you increase your backend efficiencies, the more you can spend on marketing up front while achieving the same cost per lead / profit margin on the backend. And ultimately…

Whomever can pay the most for advertising (because they have the highest backend efficiencies) will clobber their competition in all media.

Think about it for a second. Just say you and I compete, and you are twice as efficient as I am in your backend processes. What this means is, if I can afford to pay $50 to acquire a customer, you can afford to pay $100. You will not only beat me in the media we compete on, you will also be able to buy higher priced media than I will (while still being profitable) - and since higher priced media often has greater reach, you will be able to drive growth faster than I will. Your operational efficiencies will allow you to clobber me in the marketing arena all day long.

Now for some brass tacks…

So all of this sounds great in theory - but what are some examples of back-end processes that are often overlooked and have huge sway on conversion and profitability?  Well - let’s go with lead followup for starters…

A study commissioned by MIT on the correlation of lead response rate to ultimate success uncovered some pretty stunning results:

MIT Lead Response Management Study

In the study, it was shown that web leads that are followed up within 5 minutes have a 4X better chance of success than those followed up with after 10 minutes. After 30 minutes, the differential was 21X.

How many companies do you know that follow up with web leads within 5 minutes of receiving them?

In my own experience, I’ve had a few companies over the years call me within 5 minutes of filling out a web form - and come to think of it, those were the ones I ended up doing business with! The ones that called after 45 minutes were calling me about something that was “ancient history” in my mind.

On the flip side - how many companies do you know that are tight enough on their lead handling process that they respond this fast? It’s clearly possible - and obviously a good idea. But alas, very few companies think about this part of the process - or any other part of the critical backend - when they are thinking about “marketing”.

The Bottom Line: Your next marketing breakthrough could come from your backend processes.

Author: Jeff D'Urso Categories: Web Marketing Tags:

Interesting SEO Strategy: Write Relevant Content!

June 2nd, 2009


Over the years I’ve heard lots and lots of debates from experts and charlatans on the best way to “get to the top of the search engines”, the most prominent approaches falling into the 15 year cat-and-mouse game that started when someone figured out how to game WebCrawler in 1994 with keyword stuffing - to all sorts of elaborate methods used today to “make Google think the content would be interesting to an end user.”

And all of these SEO methods have had one thing in common…

When they crash - they crash HARD! From websites that go from the top to the bottom in one quick “Google Slap”, to websites that got entirely banished & blacklisted from the search engines - to stories of companies that built their entire business (and hiring plan) based on “free traffic” from SEO, only to have it disappear randomly in an instant (and with no way to rebuild the traffic, or business for that matter).

SEO just seemed to risky - and for years I recommended PPC as the far safer alternative.

As strong as the allure of “free traffic” from SEO was, I personally had much better luck with pay-per-click search engine marketing, most notably on Google. In fact, I built DestinationWeddings.com’s traffic machine almost entirely on Google PPC in the early years - and it was great!  Sure we had to pay for each click, but with solid conversion on the back-end, PPC allowed us to predictably put money in, and get more money out the other side.

And we didn’t have to worry about random “Google Slaps” coming out of the blue and hitting our traffic when we least expected it. It was so good that for a while I strongly believed SEM was the only solid traffic strategy, and SEO should be used with great caution.

But then I learned about an SEO strategy that actually works.

In late 2007, I reconnected with college classmate Sherman Powell, and he told me about ArmyProperty.com, which at the time was a homegrown site he built by creating interesting content he thought army personnel would want to read. They did, of course, because it wasn’t written to “seem relevant” to search engines - it actually was relevant.

But here’s the interesting part - every time he created a new page on the site, it very quickly went towards the top of Google, and his traffic kept growing until he had hundreds and then thousands of users coming to the site - to read the content, and to use the other tools he built there.

Relevant SEO Content –> High Google Rankings… Go Figure!

Since Sherman enlightened me to how SEO really works, he and I have worked on the site and have been able to generate enormous levels of traffic - all by continuing to build relevant content and presenting it in a way people actually want to read it. And of course - it turns out in the end it can be easier to create actual relevant content, rather than trying to simulate what you think Google might consider to be relevant content…

Author: Jeff D'Urso Categories: Web Marketing Tags:
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