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Here’s One Of The Few Nice Pics I’ve Taken With My dSLR.

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Two Years In…

…and here’s what I’ve learned.

  1. Someone will always know more than you. Sometimes, they actually do. Often, they don’t. Listen to the ones who have actually been there and done that, and then put it into action. The ones who haven’t? Listen to them too. You’ll still probably learn something, but it’s probably not what they’re trying to teach you.
  2. Help people. No matter what your skill set is, someone could use your help. If they can’t afford you, help them anyhow. It doesn’t always mean working for free. Maybe it’s a introduction to someone who is in their price range. Perhaps it’s just a “try this instead of that” tip. Don’t expect payment, but expect for it to pay off.
  3. Go big(ger). Sure, you can get work by being the cheapest, but unless you’re just stepping foot into the industry, you don’t always want whatever you can get. Be choosey about who you work with. Turn down jobs that aren’t quite a good fit. Bid for jobs that are bigger than you’ve ever done. Charge more than the other guy, but deliver an excellent product that’s worth paying more for. Someone will take a chance on you, and then you’ve successfully bumped yourself up the food chain of perceived value.
  4. Don’t spend money on “stuff”. Spend it on growth. You don’t need the newest MacBook Air. You do, however, have to keep up with your competition. Whether it’s a conference, workshop, online training, or whatever; if it’ll help you directly bring more revenue and retain better clients, spend the cash on it.
  5. Don’t be everything to everybody. It seems obvious, but it’s easy to be oblivious. Don’t try to do it all. Partner with other people who do the things you need well, and stick with what you know. It works out better for everyone that way.
  6. Take care of yourself. Get plenty of sleep. Don’t eat crappy food. Take a walk. It helps you stay productive, focused, and healthy. If you ignore this, your work will be affected.

I learned most of these the hard way. You’ve just learned them the easy way.

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C2 Creative’s New Co-Working Space

Houston, if you don’t know, has one of the best job markets in the country right now. We’re a town rich with industries in the high-tech, medical, and petrochemical/energy fields. Something that’s a great byproduct of this is a strong and prosperous entrepreneurial community. Whether it’s a new-idea-incubation startup, or a creative/tech service like what I do, right now is simply this best possible time and climate to start a business.

Through knowing great folks at places like CulturePilot, Primer Grey, and Ecclesia Church, I’ve come to become connected to a great non-profit organization called C2 Creative. C2 is launching a new creative co-working space in the Montrose area of Houston (just west of Downtown). Ecclesia is proving a great facility for not only a top-notch co-working space, but a great performance/presentation venue, art gallery, and some of the best coffee in Houston.

Take just a moment to learn more about what C2 Creative is doing, and if you’re so inclined, donate. I know it sounds cliche, but every dollar certainly helps!

If you’re an entrepreneur and you’re looking for an environment that will help you grow (both mentally and in your business), I’d suggest you check out the memberships. They’re extremely affordable no matter what level of resources you might require.

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Three SEO Metrics You Should Monitor, or, “PageRank Is Still Mostly Useless”

It’s been pretty commonly agreed for quite a while that PageRank (in the form that’s publically viewable) is a number that just doesn’t match up to the real authority of a particular site. The latest post from the Webmaster Tools blog solidifies that fact that this just isn’t something to base your success metrics on.

The key phrase of the article?

…PageRank comes in a number. Relevance doesn’t.

Anybody with any marked SEM experience would agree that conversions are the ultimate goal. Beyond the obvious (conversion rates, bounce rate, number of conversions), there are a few numerical metrics that I like to keep tabs on.

Domain Authority and Page Authority

Domain Authority is a pretty good indicator of how you’re doing when it comes to building your link profile. Yes, it’s a number, just like PageRank, however, there’s a clear definition of what’s being figured into that number. Inside of Domain Authority, you’ll notice that MozRank, MozTrust, number of linking domains, among others. Page Authority is a similar score, but limited to the single page. The domain’s Domain Authority score is a site-wide average of the Page Authority metrics.

Visit-To-Goal Conversion Rate Trending

You can have all the #1 organic rankings in the world, but if you can’t convert, you may as well just not have a website, right? Far too often, clients are so focused on achieving first place organic rankings that they lose site of why they’re spending money on internet marketing in the first place; to make a sale, a contact, or a lead. Thorough documentation of SEO efforts (dates included) will help you determine with pretty close accuracy as to what is working and what isn’t when it comes to your conversion rate metrics. People tend to overlook high-converting, low competition, long tail keywords because they normally don’t bring an appreciable amount of traffic. However, these quick and easy wins can make the difference between an okay month and a great month of conversions.

Top 100 Keyword Metrics

I like to individually monitor the top 100 keywords that are sending traffic to the site. This could even trickle down to single digit visits, but that’s okay. The goal here is two-fold; we want to make sure that we’re attracting the right traffic by watching the entrance keywords, and then look for areas that we’re not optimizing for that would be yet another easy win. Just so we’re clear, this list is going to naturally morph over time.

Additionally, 100 isn’t a hard limit. Your particular list could be much larger, or even smaller depending on the site. The methods and reasoning is still the same: getting the correct, targeted traffic to the site with the least amount of hassle.

While there are many more metrics that you can and should be monitoring, these three are certainly very (if not the most) important things you should be keeping a close eye on. If you do well in these metrics, you’ll be pleased with your site’s performance (and hopefully, your client will be also).

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Facebook’s Video Chat Will Kill And Save Skype

Facebook’s announcement today included information about the much talked-about video chat. Now, video chat is nothing new or particularly special. It’s been consumer available since the mid- to late 90′s (CU-SeeMe, anyone?). However, it’s always been something that hasn’t been accessible to many folks, especially the less tech savvy among us.

Think about it for a second. Not only do you have to purchase the hardware (easy), you have to find a suitable chat program (less easy), set up and successfully connect your camera (not easy or impossible depending on driver support), and then convince your chat partner to do the same (nearly impossible). Unless one was very determined, the average user would rarely get over the hump of setting up a workable video chat on both ends.

Nowadays, most laptops (and all-in-one desktops) come with built in cameras. Even many of our phones have multiple cameras, along with iPads, some Android tablets, etc. So, we’ve solved the hardware issue mostly. Facebook has come along and solved the rest of the equation by providing a mostly ubiquitous solution to the chat program fragmentation issue.

Facebook’s fastest growing audience is the 40+ demographic. They’re more likely to have children and grandchildren that are tech-proficient, and in an attempt to connect with them, have joined Facebook (and other social networks) en masse. Many times, this is driven by physical distance between relatives. Considering all that, I believe that we’ll see a surge of Facebook video chat use by this demographic.

This surge of use is exactly what will keep Skype in business. Microsoft made a smart move to acquire this property in light of their current partnership with Facebook (the rumors of video chat had to come from somewhere). Otherwise, the prospect of a Facebook-built chat within their infrastructure and application would have spelled Skype’s doom. Although it is certainly one of the easier video calling applications out there, that extra step required to use it is what will make the majority of users choose Facebook’s solution over the official Skype application.

I predict that Skype will get out of the standalone video chat game within the next 3 years. Although Google+ is making a solid run at whittling away the nerdier social media users, integrating some of Skype’s advanced video chat features will eventually phase out Skype application users, and turn them into Facebook video chat users. There are very few (if any?) Skype video chat users that wouldn’t at least be familiar with using Facebook’s version.

If they can also launch this feature for businesses via the Page application, that would solve many of the privacy concerns that some people would have with switching from Skype to Facebook. The framework is there (via the “Use Facebook as ABC Company” feature). You’d switch your session to login as the business, and then be able to chat as ABC Company to someone who has Liked the business. There is a huge potential for businesses using this by the ability to broadcast to your Page (much like uStream).

I believe that Skype made the right move. While they could likely still keep a small portion of video-only users on their service, I think that handing that over to Facebook will be a wise choice for them in the long run. It’s a real life example of “if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em“.

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UPS: Please help.

This is an email I sent to UPS today (to the referenced Twitter and Facebook account emails in hopes of getting an ongoing issue fixed).

Tracking number: -redacted-

This is at least the fifth time I’ve been in this identical situation. It has happened EVERY time I have a package being delivered to UPS. I have previously worked in fulfillment and delivery, and have used every possible method known to me to HELP UPS fix this situation, but ultimately, the issue remains in that the driver and/or Stafford, TX distribution center demonstrate that they do not care about the way they represent your company.

I ordered an item from Amazon to be delivered on Friday (Overnight Shipping). I am in internet marketing (SEO and social media), and work from home, so getting packages has never been an issue for me. I checked the tracking number around 4:30 Friday (yesterday) afternoon, as it had never showed up. I was home all day (as were the two other people who live here). No one ever actually attempted delivery to my door. I call the 800 number, and am offered no answer or explanation other than “they couldn’t deliver because of no access” and “it will be delivered on Monday or you can drive to the Stafford location and pick it up before 8PM”. Neither of these are acceptable solutions, as I paid for OVERNIGHT shipping, not 4 day shipping. Additionally, Stafford is a 30 minute (each way) drive from my residence. I paid for the item to be delivered to my RESIDENCE. Not Stafford.

After several minutes of the person not offering to even explore any other option, I finally got him to put a supervisor on the phone. The supervisor essentially told the same story. Not “let me see what I can do to remedy this situation”. He finally conferenced in a person from the Stafford location.

The person from the Stafford location said that the driver told him that the gated complex is “never open”. I’ve repeatedly given our access code (which has not changed in well over a year), and they always say that they will have it for the future. Obviously, this is not true, or I wouldn’t be sending this email in an attempt to help YOUR COMPANY fix this frustrating and ongoing issue.

I was told by the person at the Stafford distribution center the same old tired explanation about how I could spend an hour driving to Stafford to get my package (and who knows how long waiting; I’ve bothered to do this ONCE and had to wait nearly 30 minutes to get my package once I got there), or that it would be delivered on Monday. I continued to get chance after chance for someone..ANYONE the chance to help UPS save a little face by making ANY sort of concession and help me get my package easier and quicker…even though they’ve already failed. It really seems to me at this point that the mantra is “if you fail, don’t bother trying to fix it”. Finally, after nearly 30 minutes on the phone with 3 different people, the person in Stafford said he would “try to get it delivered tomorrow, but it’s different shifts and they might not”. Is the internal communication that bad that they can’t communicate simple instructions to someone on another shift?

Imagine my lack of surprise today when I checked the tracking around 12:30 and saw another failed attempt. I immediately called the 800 number and again was met with a half-hearted attempt just to get me off the phone. I once again asked for a supervisor, and after nearly 10 minutes on hold, I heard someone pick up, and then hang up the line. I immediately called back, and asked for a supervisor again. After several more minutes of being on hold, the line was picked up with someone identifying herself as a supervisor (Veronica), and very curtly (bordering on outright rude) explained that this is my fault because UPS apparently doesn’t “have codes in the system” for my apartment complex (irregardless of the fact that these have been given NUMEROUS times). She proceeded to interrupt and talk over me when I tried to reiterate the situation to her, and finally said she would call the Stafford location herself to find out what was going on. I (once again) gave her the access code (which, if you remember, has been given EVERY time I call about a package and hasn’t changed in over a year).

I’m currently awaiting a call back from SOMEONE about this package. I spent 30:37 on the phone yesterday, and so far, 31:45 on the phone today. So far, UPS has cost me (in lost time) more than double what the actual item is worth, and I don’t even have it yet.

I’m sending this message in an attempt to reach ANYONE at UPS that would like to step up and save a little face with someone who used to be an avid proponent of your shipping service. Unfortunately in the last year, every time I order something online…I’m scared it will get shipped UPS.

Sincerely,

Chris Smith

UPS used to be a good shipping service. They’re a very distasteful joke now.

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Funemployment

As of 9AM this morning, I officially joined the ranks of the unemployed freelance community.

I’ve been keeping a radio silence this weekend to mull over and discuss the situation with a few trusted friends/advisors, and making sure I have everything in order. While TopSpot Internet Marketing has been nothing short of an excellent place to work and learn, my first love has always been my freelance gigs.

To the TopSpot friends I’ve made in my time there: Keep #winning. I’ve learned a lot from everyone there (and hey, maybe I taught someone a thing here and there). I couldn’t have asked for a better company to spend my time with. If you ever need anything, you know how to reach me.

There are two areas that I am specifically passionate about: WordPress and Search Engine Optimization. I like to think that I’m extremely talented in both areas. So, that is how I’ll be (and am) making my income, through providing WordPress-specific consulting and programming, and search engine optimization services.

I’ve got a great network of people that have inspired, helped, and pushed me to go for this goal, whether it’s been through an active interaction, or simply letting me observe them in their natural habitat. I won’t name names here, but thanks for letting me be a part of what you’re doing.

While there is absolutely nothing wrong with working for someone else, for the things that I want to do, a “normal job” certainly isn’t in line with those things. Other than working, I’ve set goals to do a few things: travel to a foreign country (I’ve never been outside of the US), be on a panel or a presenter at SXSW, help build the best WordPress Meetup Group ever, and get in better shape than I’ve probably ever been in. There are plenty of other goals, but these are certainly near the top of the list.

Questions? Feel free to ask me in the comments below.

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Jessica Lea Mayfield @ American Songwriter Showcase, SXSW 2011

Shot a few cellphone photos at the Billy Reid American Songwriter Showcase.

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WordPress at SXSW 2011

I just thought it was fitting that I jot down a short post while sitting in the WordPress/Automattic Lounge area. I met the very knowledgeable Ian Stewart (he is on the theme team for WordPress.com). He gave some good insight on transferring a .com theme to a regular hosted installation (I’ll cover this in more detail at some other point).

Additionally, he alluded to something very interesting around the concept of local WordPress meet up groups, much like the one I’m a part of here in Houston. Hopefully, with enough input from the folks on the ground (us), and the network and reach of the WordPress entity, we’ll start to see a more unified and cohesive message between the user groups.

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Top 3 WordPress SEO Tips For 2011

WordPress is an excellent CMS for building easily edited and updated websites. It also has a well-structured architecture that performs reasonably well and is mostly well-optimized for search engines. However, depending on your use of WordPress, there are a few tips to keep in mind when building your WordPress website.

Well Written Content

Without decent content on a page, getting a page to rank organically is an extremely tough and often fruitless endeavor. Simply stuffing keywords has been proven countless times to cause a page to perform very poorly, and provides no real value to a human who finds your page. The best rule of thumb is to write for people first, and fill their need before considering any SEO implications.

Use An SEO-Optimized Theme

The core of WordPress is pretty good by itself when it comes to structuring content for SEO considerations. However, the bulk of the work falls upon the theme (also called a “template”). Many of the more common frameworks (like Genesis and Thesis) are very well constructed and perform very well in respect to SEO. Some even have configurable settings dedicated to common parameters that may need to be tweaked for optimization purposes.

Use An SEO Plugin

While the optimization of many of the popular theme frameworks is fairly well thought out, there are many important details that the theme simply cannot control. Robots.txt files, .htaccess editing, and XML sitemap files are all important for proper crawling and indexation. Most of the better SEO plugins for WordPress (Yoast’s WordPress SEO, SEO Ultimate, and Platinum SEO) can control these natively. If you prefer another SEO plugin that cannot access these settings, there are tons of standalone plugins for each of these functions.

There are thousands of SEO tools and plugins available, but keeping these three simple tips will be a great start to optimizing your WordPress blog or website for SEO.