Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Six Ways to Produce Quality Online Video on a Small Scale Budget

Online video is hot. (Yeah, and people gamble in casinos, I know; what a profound observation of the blatantly obvious.) According to Compete.com, YouTube had nearly 86 million unique visitors and more than half a billion site visits last month. Business-friendly video sites like Vimeo, Viddler and Blip.tv are also seeing impressive traffic growth.

Video-CameraBut small businesses who want to take advantage of online video can be caught in a quandary. Shooting a basic home-video style piece with a Flip Mino or Samsung SMX-F34 (my personal favorite YouTube-friendly camcorder) may not project sufficient sophistication, while a professionally-produced video costing $8,000-$10,000 or more is simply not in the budget.

Here are six options for producing reasonably high-quality online videos, or at least something beyond standard home video camera fare, at a modest cost.

Convert PowerPoint to Flash

While Flash programming is a challenging and specialized skill few business people probably want to master, almost everyone can use PowerPoint. There are several tools available for converting manual or self-running animated PowerPoint presentations to Flash, with or without narration. Robin Good reviews three tools: E.M. PowerPoint Video Converter ($46), Lecturnity ($215), and iSpring PRESENTER. Other options include PresentationPro's PowerCONVERTER ($149) and PowerFlashPoint ($199). Your best bet is take advantage of the free trials offered by most vendors to find out which product works best for you.

Capture Screen Action with Camtasia or Captivate

Both Camtasia Studio ($299 from TechSmith) and Captivate ($799 from Adobe) enable you to capture any on-screen action (e.g. a software demo, PowerPoint presentation, online video) along with narration, edit the production, and output the final result to a variety of common file formats including Flash. Captivate offers greater options for interactivity, but also a significantly higher price tag. Either will work for basic screen-to-video production.

Jing

JingFor really limited budgets—and simple needs—Jing Pro provides the ability to capture any on-screen action (including web video), add commentary, and upload it to YouTube with one button. The negligible $14.95 annual fee even includes a free 2GB Screencast account. Editing capabilities are limited, but the price makes it worth checking out for straightforward needs.

Faculte

faculteThough technically more of a video distribution platform than a production tool (similar to Flimp), Faculte does offer some useful video assembly functions, such as the ability to upload video and images; arrange the elements; add narration; and add notes, drawings and annotations to the video mix. Pricing starts at free, which includes full video editing/production features, but is limited to 200 views. The $50/month base plan allows 4,000 views, plus adds advanced viewer tracking, the ability to use a unique URL for the video, and faster load times than the free option.

ArticleVideoRobot

Got the need for speed? ArticleVideoRobot will turn any written article into a narrated video in minutes, no camera needed. The basic package ($47/month) provides basic editing capabilities; one-click distribution to 17+ video sites including YouTube, Metacafe, Break, Vimeo, etc.; and a choice of "human-like" voices to narrate your video. The Pro package ($97/month) offers higher video quality, a Flash output option, and an advanced video editing tool. Since you aren't recording your own narration, the results can be...interesting.

SlideSix

With SlideSix , you can upload a presentation (e.g. from PowerPoint or OpenOffice), record audio and narration, attach external video files, and create a widget to share your SlideSix presentations on your blog. Though editing, distribution and formatting options are more limited than with other tools, SlideSix is free. Here is an overview of how to use SlideSix, enjoy!

With the explosive proliferation of online video, the key to making your video stand out is creativity. To maximize the impact of your video production, think beyond conventional ideas both in terms of your content and your video production options.

*****


Contact Mike Bannan: Mike@digitalrdm.com Structured Data Template for Blog Postings:

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Monday, December 21, 2009

SEO Tool Review: Take your Efforts to the Next Level with SEMRush

SEMRush offers a powerful suite of SEO and search marketing tools, particularly for those who've already done the basic SEO work and perhaps have an AdWords program running, but want to take efforts to the next level.

The suite includes tools for:
  • Google Keywords (shows what terms a site shows up for on Google, along with search position, search volume, AdWords CPC cost for those terms and other stats)
  • AdWords Keywords (for sites already running SEM campaigns)
  • Competitors in Google (helpful for finding potential link partners and online advertising opportunities)
  • Competitors in AdWords
  • Potential Ad Buyers (for sites that sell advertising space)
  • Potential Ad Sellers
One particularly helpful report for SEO purposes is the Google Keywords report. In this example (with only identifying information removed), notice that this particular site is showing up on page two of Google for a number of key terms. It's great to be able to identify such terms; with a bit more onsite optimization and link-building, the site could be moved up to the first page on Google and get a significant traffic bump.

SEO-Google-Keywords-Report
In another example of the same report, this site shows up very well for a number of key phrases, though again there are page two opportunities identified. Identifying all of the page one terms can also spark ideas for additional key words and phrases to target with SEO and SEM efforts.

SEO-Google-Keywords-Report
The tool also provides a "related keyword report." So, if you have one particular key phrase that is central to your website, business service management in this case, SEMRush will supply data on similar terms to prioritize for targeting.

SEO-Google-Keywords-Report
The companion SEOPivot tool identifies additional potential high-traffic keywords for a domain, along with the current Google position of the site, average search volume and expected traffic.

SEO-Google-Keywords-Report
All reports can be exported to Excel for further sorting and analysis.

The SEMRush tools provide value for almost any website that gets 1,000+ visits per month (lower-traffic sites may not be in the tool's database). For consultants or agencies managing multiple sites, the cost is easy to justify by spreading it over several clients.

The free version of the tool has extremely limited functionality, but at the very least it gives webmasters an idea of the depth of data the tool will be able to provide for their website(s). For the fee-based versions, pricing ranges from about $200 per year for the light (organic search data only) to $500 for the Pro (includes AdWords information) offering.

Bottom line: the SEMRush suite is a valuable toolkit to help SEOs and search marketers identify new keywords, advertising and optimization opportunities they may not otherwise discover.

FTC Disclosure Notice: The SEMRush tools were provided free of charge for 60 days to facilitate this analysis and review. There was no other exchange of value.

*****


Contact Mike Bannan: Mike@digitalrdm.com

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Thursday, December 10, 2009

Twin Cities Top 10 Titans in Social Media Announced

Judy Grundstrom at the Just JudyJudyJudy blog yesterday announced the Twin Cities Top Ten Titans In Social Media 2009, chosen by a distinguished group of judges.

It's a very interesting list. The winners come from a variety of backgrounds, including politics (Dusty Trice), broadcast media (Jason Matheson and Alexis Thompson of FM 107.1, Jason DeRusha of WCCO TV), the arts (Kate Iverson), corporate marketing (Kelly Groehler of Best Buy), and PR agencies (Blois Olson and David Erickson from Tunheim, the brilliant Jennifer Kane, and, um...me), among others.

You can find details of the top five and 6-10 winners on Judy's blog. It's quite an honor to be named to this list, and it helped me pick up a bunch of cool new local Twitter friends (I still don't like the term "followers," sounds too Kool-Aid-drinking cultish) like Aimee Cheek, Allison Janney, Tara Olson and Morsekode.

Judy also discussed some of the winners on the December 9 Jason & Alexis show on FM 107.1.

If you live in the Minneapolis - St. Paul area, want to make some connections here, or just want to keep up through social media on what's happening here in frozen tundra, the Top 10 Titans list is a great place to start. Thanks Judy!

*****


Contact Tom Pick: tomATwebmarketcentralDOTcom

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Monday, December 07, 2009

137 Twitter Marketing Tips for Small Business Trying To Go Big

In case you missed it (as I did), Anita Campbell a few months ago published 137 Twitter Tips: How Small Businesses Get the Most from Twitter, based on input from the readers of Small Business Trends.

This report provides a treasure trove of guidance for marketers who seek to increase their brand awareness, credibility and business results using Twitter. The tips are categorized into six sections. Among the recommendations provided, by section:

Getting Started
  • Matt McGee provides tools (such as Tweepz) and other methods for finding local Tweeters to follow, and getting them to follow back.
  • Joseph Manna notes the importance of commitment, and recommends spending at least a half hour per day discovering and Tweeting.
  • John Joyce and Becky McCray offer guidance on useful tools (e.g., Twitter search and Twellow) for finding local or industry-relevant people to follow.
  • Staci J. Shelton advises following people who retweet your content in order to build relationships with people who value what you share.
Smart Marketing
  • Travis Campbell recommends finding a valuable blog post referenced on Twitter, leaving a comment on the blog, then retweeting it. "This further endears you to the author, while making a more meaningful connection with your followers."
  • Joel Libava suggests tweeting one of your recent press releases or blog posts daily, mixed in with other links to useful and relevant articles and blog postings.
  • Rick L'Amie helpfully advises creating a strategy before jumping into Twitter. What do you want to accomplish? Who do you want to reach? Lack of a strategy is one factor leading to high abandonment on Twitter; you'll never achieve your goals if you haven't defined what they are.
  • Another contributor notes the value of participating in #followfriday, but explaining why each person you recommend is worth following rather than just listing other Tweeters.
Observing Etiquette
  • I couldn't agree more with this one from Robert Brady: "Automated DMs aren't worth sending. If you won't invest a few seconds to compose a 140-character message, I don't want to invest 5 seconds reading it."
  • Tim Milburn has a clever formula for crafting a worthwhile T.W.E.E.T: "Timely, Worth reading, Educational, Entertaining, and Tweople-connecting."
  • Jonathan Bacon of The Betty Factor advises trying to create real conversations, and remembering that everything you do on Twitter represents your brand.
Spreading Your Message
  • Vicky of Remarkable Parents writes that when asking for a retweet, leave at least 15 characters free so others can RT your message without having to shorten it.
  • Anita Cohen-Williams and others note that best way to get retweeted is to post content that has value, such as useful blog post.
  • Maria Marsala suggests putting "Pls RT" at the end of tweets, asking others explicitly for what you want. Interestingly, Anita Cohen-Williams advises specifically against doing this—if your tweets are interesting, others will retweet on their own. Who's right? Every group of Twitter followers is different, so TEST this with your followers to see what works best for you.
Time Management
  • Twitter can be a big time sink. To avoid spending too much time with it, Lisa Picarille recommends checking Twitter first thing in the morning, then spending about 10 minutes on it at two hour intervals to keep up with the most important tweets.
  • Echoing Lisa's advice, Sharon Trombly suggests tweeting periodically throughout the day, such as with your morning coffee, at lunch, at the end of the work day, and in the evening.
Advanced Strategies
  • TJ McCue recommends using TwitterBar, a tool that allows you to tweet directly from the address bar in your browser.
  • Michael Hartzell suggests creating a unique landing page to link to from your Twitter profile with a greeting and introduction that is a "secret page" only for your Twitter followers.
  • Gil Yehuda advises setting up several free listening services to determine who is talking about you and where so you can participate in the conversations. Among the tools he cites are Tweetbeep, Techrigy SM2, and BackTweets, which is great for finding links to your blog or website that don't include your name.
  • Desiree Scales and several other contributors recommend using HootSuite, which allows you to manage multiple Twitter profiles through a single interface and provides metrics showing the results of activities in Twitter.
There's lots more. This guide is not only an invaluable resource to those just getting started with Twitter, but will inspire new ideas for experienced Tweeters as well.

*****

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Monday, November 30, 2009

Social Media, Cell Phones, Online Shopping and Big Brother

Is Big Brother watching you? Books like George Orwell's classic 1984 and films such as Minority Report and Eagle Eye present a nightmarish vision of an omniscient government watching our every move. The reality is far different story, paranoia about the Patriot Act notwithstanding. As recently as 2004, FBI agents still used laptops with Intel 286 processors.

But is it possible that the government simply doesn't need hidden cameras, high-tech listening devices and secret agents everywhere in order to know the intimate details of our lives—that we're doing it for them?

Consider a few technologies that have become part of daily life:

Cell Phones: these can not only be used to take pictures virtually anywhere—and instantaneously upload them to the Internet—with GPS tracking, they can also be used to record our every move and pinpoint our current location.

Credit Cards: the credit card companies, and services they report data to, know what you buy, when, where, and how much. If government-run healthcare ever becomes a reality here, Washington bureaucrats may be very interested in any "suspect" lifestyle purchases: tobacco, alcohol, fast food, ice cream, scuba lessons, rock climbing gear...

Social Media: This is a treasure trove of information for any Big Brother-ish entity. You're telling the world what you think, where you are, who you know, how well you know them, who they know, and more.

It isn't just overweening or Orwellian government agencies that may take advantage of the increasing amount of voluntary online exposure of personal information of course. Scammers and criminals can take advantage of such data as well. MediaPost recently reported that Facebook is cracking down on ad networks that display misleading advertising or promote scam offers through its site. Facebook can even get a person killed.

Of course, the news isn't always so grim. Facebook can also be used by a crime victim to track down an assailant, and it kept this teen out of jail. How big brotherly.

Our online lives are also of interest to private companies. Social media is now used routinely in the hiring process. That can be good or bad, depending on what recruiters find about you. It isn't just HR professionals, however, who may be monitoring your tweets or other social media use however; Facebook cost one woman her insurance benefits.

And then there's Google. Searchers and consumers love Google for its simple interface and relevant results, and marketers love Google for the traffic it drives to their websites. We'd all best hope that Google never abandons it's "Don't be evil" mantra given the amount of information it has about your online life.

And as the search giant increases its activities in mobile, it knows not just what you're doing online, but where you are and where you've been. Shelly Palmer finds this creepy, and Hillel Fuld worries that with the Chrome OS, cloud computing and other recent developments, "it seems Google is collecting a little too much information on my every move, and it is starting to make me uncomfortable."

So what's a person to do? Shunning new technology and going back to a pre-Internet lifestyle really isn't an option. There is too much convenience, too many new opportunities and capabilities presented by social media and other online tools to adopt a Luddite mindset.

The answer, rather, is just to be smart and sensible about the use of social media and new technologies:
  • By all means, share your professional background and accomplishments online so that those who may hire you, as an employee or consultant, can find it. But be careful about how much and what type of personal information you post.
  • Never disparage anyone by name online. The information will be there forever. There is no profit in burning bridges. If you feel compelled to report a bad experience with a company or product, make the criticism fair, accurate and factual. And if the company addresses your issues, give them credit, in the same venue where you complained.
  • Be careful who you connect with. There's no need to follow everyone on Twitter, friend everyone on Facebook or connect with everyone on LinkedIn who reaches out to you. This doesn't mean you should only interact with people you know personally, of course (social media is about expanding your network after all), but it's best to know something about the person.
  • Never Twitter drunk.
  • Think twice about doing anything online that you wouldn't do if your mother, your boss and a police officer were staring over your shoulder.
  • It's also a good idea to periodically Google yourself to see what information is available about you online, and correct any erroneous data if possible.
Despite the risks, social media, cell phones and other online technologies are a boon to our lives few could have imagined just a couple of decades ago. Just try to apply common sense and wisdom to your use of these new tools—Big Brother, and everyone else, is watching.

*****


Contact Mike Bannan: mike@digitalrdm.com

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Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Which is Better for Capturing B2B Blog Traffic - Twitter or LinkedIn?

I recently did a little test to determine whether Twitter or LinkedIn was more effective at driving traffic to a few specific posts on this blog. While the results aren't scientific by any means, they are enlightening.

Various posts were promoted on Twitter (with retweeting encouraged) and to three relevant and popular LinkedIn Groups focused on social media, PR and b2b lead generation.

The results? For a minimally retweeted post, Twitter drove about twice the traffic of LinkedIn. For a heavily retweeted post, Twitter provided six times the traffic of the LinkedIn groups. More specifically, on the day this article was posted, Twitter accounted for 60% of the total blog traffic, LinkedIn about 10% (the remaining 30% was mostly Google search plus a few miscellaneous referring sites).

Of course, your mileage may vary based on factors such as the specific LinkedIn groups utilized, the number of Twitter followers you have, and the influence of those retweeting the post. Still, the magnitude of the differences in this test seem to indicate that while both of these social networking tools can be helpful in driving blog traffic, Twitter produces higher volume.

*****


Contact Mike Bannan: mike@digitalrdm.com

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Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Mastering SEO for Product Pages That Produce Profit

It seems like so much of what is written about search engine optimization (SEO) assumes that you're writing a blog post, or a news story, or the next great "how to" article that's going to be syndicated far and wide on article marketing sites.

Sometimes that is what you're doing, but often writing for the web—and SEO—involves less glamorous pages like product or service descriptions. Of course, such pages are critical: no one will buy anything from you if they don't understand what you offer. It's just that, no matter how creatively written and carefully optimized, your "About Our Widgets" page is never going to make it to the first page of Digg. It simply can't compete with the latest Britney-Spears-abducted-by-a-three-armed-alien type story.

So how do you add life, and SEO value, to a product page? Here are four complementary techniques:

1) Use the words your prospects use. It doesn't matter if your product is technically more of a thingamabob than a whatchamacallit, if your prospects are searching for whatchamacallits, and that's the competitive set they place your product in, that had better be the term you're using. Use a keyword research tool to help identify which terms to use.

2) Tell a story. Incorporate the keywords you just identified into a compelling story that helps your prospective customers quickly understand how their life will be better once they buy your widgets. Be as specific as possible, and link to case studies to support specific claims.

3) Write detailed product descriptions, again incorporating keywords. The more detailed and vivid the description, the more appealing it will be to both human prospects and search engine bots.

4) Use pictures if at all possible, and optimize the alt tags associated with the images, again using the keywords identified above. Photos and diagrams add interest and aid in understanding for your human prospects, while the alt tags communicate the value of the images to search engines. Also use keywords in the file names of your images.

As prospects work their way through the research process, from general how-is-this-problem-being-solved-today research to specific types of products or services, make sure that your content fits their needs—and that the search engines can find it.

*****


Contact Mike Bannan: mike@digitalrdm.com

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