We're Going to Need a Bigger Boat

This post title is taken from Jaws and that famous scene (above) where Roy Scheider is at the stern of the Orca and gets his first glimpse of the worlds most famous movie shark.

The job Scheider was relegated to you was "chumming". For anyone who has never fished, this is the process of spreading cut-up and ground-up chunks of bait fish over the sea to attract game fish (sharks in many cases). Its not a very glamorous job - it smells bad and there's lots of blood and guts - but its quite effective for catching fish.

Whenever I explain to a client the why's and how's of content marketing, it can get pretty wordy and maybe even confusing. Worse yet, it can sound like more Internet "black magic".

Then just this morning, it dawned on me content marketing might be more easily understood by using the chumming metaphor where the sharks are prospective customers, the "chum" is the quality content, and your blog, social media outlets and press releases are your "chum slick". The bigger the slick, the more sharks you'll attract.

There's a whole lot more to it - and we all know the magic is in the uniqueness, relevance and quality of the content. But it's nice to sometimes use a simple picture to explain a complicated process.

A Simple Introduction to Amazon AWS Part Three - Simple Email Service (SES)

Sorry for the long time between posts. We've been really busy here - which is good. But as you know, when things get busy, all the "wanna-do's" (our blog) get pushed aside by the "have-to do's".

This is the third and final part of our series on Amazon AWS services. This post is on Amazon's "Simple Email Service" or SES.

Personally, I've been involved with large scale email marketing for 10 years now. I've set up and managed email servers for clients, and I've set up and run bulk email programs for email newsletters and marketing efforts. It's actually pretty difficult to do properly.

Let's use setting up and sending an email newsletter as our example that will lead in to why we recommend the Amazon SES service.

Let's say you're the owner or president or key manager of a business and you want to use email newsletters as a way of staying in front of your customers. Great idea, but where do you start?

If you're mailing list is under 300 people, you could just "bcc" (blind copy) your whole list and send right from within your email program (assuming you just want a very basic. plain layout). For very small lists, it's not a bad method. Most programs allow up to 300 bcc's, and you don't need any special programs, servers or help. With such a small list, you can quickly remove any bounced or removal requests you get.

A Simple Introduction to Amazon AWS Part Two - S3 Online Storage

Data storage and backup are critical to any organization's IT infrastructure. Just having a large, external drive attached to your office server isn't enough. While drive reliability has gone up, and costs have gone down, local (in your office) external storage is still subject to the weird and unexpected. Disks still crash, data is still corrupted and systems can be hacked. Worse, your office could be flooded (recall Tropical Storm Sandy) or you could be hit with a fire in your building. With more and more of your business being run on software, you need to make absolutely sure you have multiple, redundant backup stored at different locations. We not only backup all our web servers and data servers fully at our data center, but we also backup EVERYTHING to the cloud with Amazon S3.

There are great backup services out there like Mozy and Carbonite. They are easy, fairly inexpensive and reliable. But for this post, I am focussing on Amazon S3.

A Simple Introduction to Amazon AWS Part One - EC2

Everyone knows Amazon.com for their online book sales and ecommerce offerings. But not everyone knows that Amazon also offers IT infrastructure for companies needing servers, cloud-based services and offsite storage. Its called Amazon AWS (Amazon Web Services) and it's a fantastic deal.

The next three posts are written for the small to mid-sized organization who may have limited IT staff and resources. Larger organizations most likely already know about Amazon AWS since the service has been around for sometime. In the next three posts I'll focus on the three AWS services I see as most attractive to small business - EC2 virtual servers, S3 storage and SES email services.

Dante's 10th Circle of Hell - Running Your Own Email Server

This is a very biased opinion, and is intended for those of you small businesses still running a mail server somewhere in your office. While the number of companies still doing this is declining, it still surprises me (and drives me crazy) when I come across a prospective customer still doing their own email.

Running and managing an email system is hell. Period. The risks are way too high. You can't convince me that having an aging piece of equipment, loaded with an aging piece of software, running on your insecure office network, is smart to do nowadays.

If you just consider the threats of viruses transmitted via email and the massive amounts of spam that has to be managed, this alone justifies NOT doing it yourself. Then consider the thousands of dollars of depreciating assets in your closet (server and software), plus IT costs for tweaking and maintaining, and the decision is even clearer. Finally, consider your organization's email retention policies and requirements for backing up and storing.

The answer, in my opinion, is changing to one of the cloud-based systems such as Google Premier Apps or Outlook.com.

We know, you love your Outlook client running on your Windows laptop. You've got all you emails for the last 10 years nicely organized in all your folders. Outlook has a great little calendar that ties nicely together and sends out cool little meeting confirmation emails. We've been through all the stages and have many customers who are in the various stages of email "sophistication".  We understand your concern and don't want to upset your system. But hey, things change. If you're stuck in the "local email client" paradigm (an email client like Outlook running on your computer), it's time you learned something new. There are many supplemental benefits to doing so.

In today's cloud-based, software-as-a-service, tons-of-free-or-low-cost-storage world, you can have a powerful, feature rich, SAFE (as in virus screened) and SPAM-free email system for $50 per user per year. Trust me, that's a fraction of what it's costing you now if you're running your own email system. The two products I typically recommend are Google Premium Apps and Outlook.com. Google because I know it best, use it myself, and think it's a great bargain. Outlook because I have many clients who are "crack-addicted" to their Outlook client which I "think" offers a better interconnection between web and machine systems. There are many other email providers that can offer cloud-based enterprise email.

If you have a relationship with a company who maintains your email server and office network now, ask them their opinion. If they're honest, and not interested in just keeping the email server ticket running, they'll help you out. If they tell you to keep your email server, start thinking about a new IT partner.

Cover Your Assets

Do you know how and where you business domain name (yourcompany.com) is controlled.  Many times the business owner, or their administrative assistants have no idea.

Your domain name is a key business asset and needs to be protected.

In the olden days (five years ago in Internet time), when you wanted to buy your domain name, someone on your behalf would contact a domain registry (such as Network Solutions, GoDaddy, Register.com, etc.) and fill out all the application information for you.  Since it was technical in nature, you passively went along with what they recommended.  Whoever filled out your registration form (typically your web site developer or hosting company) usually became the technical contact and the administrative contact responsible for the management of your web domain.

You Don't Need One Web Site. You Need Five.

Virtually every company today has a presence on the Internet - most have only their primary web site. Very few companies today really understand the Internet, content marketing and social media. Most limit their web presence to a cookie-cutter web site, with a few dozen content pages (which never change), and looks like dozens of other sites. The result basically is a “web billboard” that has no uniqueness or authority. With so many web sites out there, the question begs to be asked: What is your company doing differently on the web to attract new customers?

The Internet has changed the way we communicate and interact with each other. We all turn to Google,  Bing, Yelp, Tripadvisor, etc. as the first step in the purchasing process. It’s the norm for today. The individual does his or her own research for quality, value, cost and has 80% of the shopping decision complete when they make the call.

That’s why it’s critical to the success of your company to have a Web marketing strategy designed for this behavior. You have to be found on the web, and then your story and product and value has to be compelling enough to get the phone call or email.

Is your site visually interesting and does it get your message across quickly enough? Web design is in the midst of a huge change right now. Tied together with responsive (mobile) design requirements, web site design is now moving toward large “in-your-face” graphics, short quick tag lines, contact forms and calls to action. Flash is out, JavaScript “sliders" are in.

At the same time, Google has changed how it ranks site. It’s now all based on trust and authority, which really means “quality content”. So, if your site is being designed for a quick, powerful message and call to action, where do you put the story and all the quality content?

The answer is in your blog and your social media outlets. If you don’t have a blog now, get one. Internal to your site, or external to your site (opinions differ) but in the long run, it really doesn’t matter. You just need a place to tell the world all the smart things your company has done, and how to solve problems your targeted audience may encounter.

So, today, you no longer need one web site. You need five.

You need your primary site to be visually attractive and informative. It needs to be easy to see what your business does better than your competition. And it needs to be easy to get in touch with you.

The other four sites are made up of your YouTube channel, your Facebook page, your LinkedIn company page, and your Twitter presence. These are just the basics. You can add many more social outlets, online document sites, press release sites and industry associations. It takes a lot of time and it requires good quality content with a common message of your value proposition to drive all these pieces.

If you need help, drop us an email at info@cms4i.com.

What's All This Panda and Penguin Stuff?

If you've been interested in better Google rankings, chances are you've heard of Panda and Penguin. You're asking yourself what in the world do these two cute animals have to do with Internet Marketing and Search Engine Optimization.

Well, turns out Panda's and Penguin's have a huge impact on web marketing. Before I explain, let me lay a little foundation.

Google has always used a complex search algorithm to evaluate a web site's relevancy in respect to search terms. In the early days it was easy. Pretty much just the number of key words on a site. But that was too easy to fool, as the spammers soon learned. 

Keep in mind though, Google's product is the "search result". The quality of their search result is very important. If you get nothing but spammy sites returned from a search, you'd soon stop using that search engine. So, in order to provide the highest quality results, Google has always had to manipulate their algorithm to stay ahead of the spammers. As Google got more sophisticated, so did the spammers. New, legitimate SEO companies appeared on the scene to provide "white hat" SEO techniques that were effective and legal (with Google). But soon good SEO companies figured out how to use "proper" SEO techniques to their advantage. The system became gamed.

Are You Really Thinking About Your Brand?

Branding is the process of differentiating your company from all other companies in the industry. Branding takes into account the "look and feel" of your office, you and your staff, your materials, and every other detail that gives your customers clues as to who you are and what you value. The following are strategies that go into building your own solid brand so your existing customers, as as well as prospective ones, are attracted and loyal to you and your brand.

Is your company unique and special? Everyone believes that they are members of a truly unique company or organization, but how do you convey that to your existing customers and to potential new customers?

Branding is an opportunity to create a name, term, symbol, or design that identifies and defines your company and will differentiate your company from all others.

The American Marketing Association defines a brand as a "name, term, sign, symbol or design, or a combination of them intended to identify the goods and services of one seller or group of sellers and to differentiate them from those of other sellers." But branding is actually more than that. It's everything you do to attract and maintain customers. Branding is a way of appealing emotionally to and attracting the type of customer you want, and one who chooses you over your competition. Your brand is who you are, what you do, and your leading attribute in the eyes of your preferred target market.

Branding is more critical than marketing or sales. Branding involves influencing and changing the way people think. Branding appeals to desire and touches emotions. The goal is to emotionally predispose potential customers into entering into a relationship with you because they believe you are the best choice for them.

With more information at their fingertips, today's consumers are too sophisticated and skeptical to be "sold." They want to arrive at their own decision on their own terms. Branding helps them get there. Branding "pre-sells" your expertise, or you, before the customers even meet you.

Just as successful companies have a mission statement that serves as motivation to the staff and a guarantee to the customers, a brand is your opportunity to declare your promise to your customers about the outstanding service that you will provide them.

Here are several tips to think about:
  • Be sure your customers know the things that make you unique, such as advanced engineering support, manufacturing capability or local inventory.
  • Tell your customers what you offer that most of your competitors don't.
  • Do things differently to standout.
  • Clearly convey your uniqueness and differentiation in your marketing tools.
  • Specialize.
  • Be where your prospective customers are by having offices in various parts of the territory or region where your preferred customers are located.
  • Build rapport and trust with every customer.
  • Stay in contact with your customers throughout the year. Send them a company newsletter, new product announcements, press releases, maybe even birthday cards!

Discoverability is the New Marketing

If you have a website, you have probably heard about SEO. Broadly speaking, SEO refers to the way you market yourself or your company on the Internet so that you show up high in search results for either your name, the name of your company, or keywords describing your expertise (e.g., control systems in Baltimore). Most keywords will be picked up from content on your website. In fact, much of SEO strategy centers on content marketing and maximizing the effectiveness of your website.

Establishing an Online Presence Strategy

More than ever before, companies need to focus on their online presence. Today's Internet offers a great many choices for you to become involved in the digital world. But you need to develop a strategy that will guide you in this endeavor. Your goals and objectives should be clear.

Will social media be a component of your online marketing strategy? Are you thinking about it just to gather leads? Do you want to gain broader national or regional exposure? Are you building an online presence to polish your reputation? How much time are you prepared to spend on your online presence? Do you have staff that can help you implement your online marketing strategy? How much are you budgeting for a your online marketing effort?

GCS Partners with CMS4i for Online Presence

Global Chem-Feed Solutions (GCS) designs and fabricates custom; skid mounted Chemical Dosing Systems for a wide variety of applications. CMS4i was selected to redesign their web site to include mobile and a more modern design.

After the job was done, this is what GCS had to say:

"CMS4i has provided GCS reliable design and hosting for years. They have understood our needs, been patient with our process and both prompt and flexible in responses. CMS4i has advised us towards improved services that have made my work simpler and more adaptive to our ongoing needs. It's been a pleasure to work with Steve and his team, right from the start."

Social Media is Not a Passing Fad

What is social media? According to Wikipedia, “social media includes web-based and mobile-based technologies which are used to turn communication into interactive dialogue among organizations, communities, and individuals.”

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines social media as “forms of electronic communication through which users create online communities to share information, ideas, personal messages, and other content.”

Social media consists of websites or mobile apps that facilitate the creation and exchange of user-generated content. Examples include: a picture on Flickr, a video on YouTube, a blog post, or a status update on Facebook or Twitter. Social media’s defining characteristic is that it encourages two-way communication, or in other words, conversation.

ROTEX Controls Chooses CMS4i for New Web Site

ROTEX Controls, the USA sales, service and support arm for an overseas manufacturer of valve actuators, solenoid valves and limit switches has a new, easy to navigate and mobile friendly site thanks to CMS4i.

As a manufacturer of these industrial items, its important this site is design so that finding information is easy and fast. The ROTEX layout and tabbed menuing system assures easy access to all the product information.

Blogs: Your Social Media Hub

Blogs are short for “web logs,” defined by Wikipedia as “a website where entries are writ- ten in chronological order and commonly displayed in reverse chronological order.”

In its simplest form, a blog is an online diary. Blogs are highly personal in nature and design. All of the blogs together with the links connecting them are referred to as the “blogosphere.” Creating a blog gives you a chance to build something that is a unique reflection of you or your company.

Organizations and commercial companies often have a blog associated with their website to highlight new products or services, while individuals tell stories and offer opinions.

Your should blog because you want to share important information with your community. Your have knowledge and expertise and want to be an authoritative voice in the blogosphere. You want to guide your customers to other quality sources of information of products or services in your field. You want to educate and engage customers. You want to be the authoritative voice.

Blogs offer two key advantages over some other types of social media. First, they rank high in search engine result pages. Recently, Google made changes to its search algorithms that have an even more positive effect on blogs. Google’s Panda update looks at the quality of the content and penalizes the exploitation of keywords. So if a marketing consultant has encouraged you to put a large number of keywords on your website without real content to back them up, you may find your site drops in search engine rankings. Google’s Penguin update looks for unnatural links. But if you link to other credible sources, you’ll come out ahead. Now more than ever, a blog allows you to post updated content that appeals to the search engines.

Beacon Facility Group Launches with CMS4i

Beacon Facility Group, a Baltimore/Washington/Philadelphia based property management company selected CMS4i as their Web vendor.

"From vision to concept to implementation, the team at CMS4I was efficient and effective with the design of our web site. Taking the time to fully understand our business and designing the site around the needs of our clients truly distinguished CMS4I from the other companies we interviewed. We are thrilled with the final product and as importantly, the value their team presented to us."

Tips for Effective YouTube Content

  1. Make it relevant. Be sure to stick to issues that you know customers are concerned about or that are instructive about your company.
  2. Don’t use YouTube videos to replace important text but to enhance it. Some people learn best watching a video; others don’t. So if you are communicating important information about your company or want customers to take some action as a result of seeing the video, be sure to include this information as text content somewhere on your website or your companies web page.
  3. Be mindful of length. If the video is a presentation or an in-depth how-to, you can include the entire talk. But if the content is tips for customers on selecting a product, it’s best to keep the video to fewer than three minutes.
  4. Tags should be clear and concise. Remember, people will likely find your videos through a keyword search, so make sure you have used tags that are simply and explicitly related to the content. Use a title that is clear and concise.
  5. Use your editing software to add your companies logo or other brand identity during the opening and closing credits or on every screen.
Video Tips
  1. Beware of any background noise. Examples include air conditioners, loud computer humming, road noise, and walking noises. Close doors if possible to avoid excess noise .
  2. Avoid stripes and other detailed patterns on clothes. Complicated backgrounds are difficult to reproduce on cameras that have fewer pixels per inch.
  3. Make a teleprompter. If you’ve created a script in advance, you can make it a PowerPoint file and use it as a teleprompter (out of sight, of course) during filming.
  4. Talk slowly and speak clearly. People often talk faster on camera. If you are a fast talker anyway, practice speaking more slowly. Thirty seconds of video should contain 65 to 78 words; 60 seconds should have 130 to 155 words.

Control Equipment Company Gets Current with Great New Look and Improved SEO

Control Equipment Company (CEC) is a long time client of CMS4i. Their former site needed an upgrade to benefit from a CSS/XHTML layout and better search engine optimization. They asked CMS4i to provide them with a streamlined development process on an aggressive time-frame.

In a few short weeks CMS4i worked out the design with CEC and then "dropped" it on top of the existing product, vendor and capability database. With a few adjustments here and a few tweaks there, the new site was launched in record time.

Some nice comments by CEC:

"The development of our website was done quickly and professionally. Steve, Greg and their team are a pleasure to work with and will continue to be our web site development resource."

YouTube: Broadcast Your Company

YouTube is the Internet’s leading video streaming service. Millions of videos are hosted on YouTube, with more being added every day; these videos can range from having tens to hundreds of millions of views. Furthermore, YouTube is the number 2 search engine on the Web. More than 800 million users watch more than four billion hours of video each month on YouTube. Traffic from mobile devices tripled in 2011. It is the third most visited website in both the United States and worldwide.

Flow-Tech Knows it Pays to Use the Process Industry's Leading Web Developer

Flow-Tech, a Hunt Valley, MD industrial Rep company selected CMS4i because of their market understanding and experience in process control.

CMS4i won out in a last minute, "Hail Mary", bid for the job because Flow-Tech saw the value a CMS4i site delivers. Most importantly, unlimited pages, having a true content management system at their disposal, and that CMS4i's background would save time and effort in launching the new site.

Check out the testimonial by Flow-Tech's President:

"We originally chose a well-known, local website company, thinking their experience would expedite our new site's development. Turned out they knew little about our industry and we never had the time to educate them. CMS4i approached us mid-project and convinced us to cut our losses and go with them. We did and it was a great move.

With their background in industrial controls and automation, CMS4i knew exactly how things should be organized and presented. In just a few weeks we had a beautifully designed, well-organized and intelligently structured site. Just about everything was in place. All we had to do was review and make a few small changes. Aside from their industry knowledge, the CMS4i team were very cooperative, eager to make us happy and priced very competitively.

I strongly endorse Greg, Steve and their team for any web development job, particularly if you're in the industrial market."

Branding Strategies

Using social media is one of the major ways that physicians can brand themselves. Brands used to be mainly about things—mostly consumer products—or corporations. Branding, according to Entrepeneur.com, can be defined as the marketing practice of creating a name, symbol, or design that identifies and differentiates a product from other products.