New Webinar, Training and Roundtable Dates Announced

We just posted a bunch of dates for webinars we have coming up in the next four to six weeks.

Training – Free One hour group training on how to use the software. Great for new clients or those users that haven’t had a great deal of time to invest in using the software.

SEO Crash Course – SEO is a word a lot of people throw around a lot and sometimes it can be a bit intimidating. If you’re looking to learn about the basics of SEO and how to implement them into your directory site, this is a great introductory session.

How to Steer Your Site to Success - Strategies on selecting a path for your directory, where to focus your attention in the beginning and how to leverage partnerships to make your site a success in the long run

SEO Roundtable Discussion – Existing eDirectory clients can fill out a registration questionnaire to have their site evaluated live on this demo. We’ll walk through common things site owners forget when optimizing their site, as well as offer strategies on how to improve the SEO of their website.

Sign up today!

News Aggregation: Why You Should be Doing it

Whether it’s through email, on a webinar or at a tradeshow, the most common question I get from clients is:

“What can I do to keep bringing visitors back to my site”?

For any site owner, let alone a directory site owner, it’s not an easy task to keep getting new traffic to your site. Most of the people come to a directory site to find specific information about a business, browse through the listings and find all the details they need to make an informed decision. This is largely what brings people to your site. The ‘long tail search terms’ that are either geared toward business categories or specific businesses. For instance, if I’m running a local search site, search terms are probably going to look something like this:

“Annandale Virginia Restaurants”
“Annandale Restaurants”
“Evergreen restaurant Annandale”
“Korean restaurant in Annandale”

These folks come in, find the restaurant they’re looking for and they’re off your site. With static data like listings, what can you do to bring people back? What content can you offer that promises to be different from one visit to the next? Start with aggregating news in your industry or area. In any town there are at least 4-5 news sources covering the area, each of which are largely reporting on the same stories. By aggregating the stories across multiple media outlets, you provide your visitor with tight, consolidated news headlines. Reddit, Digg, and other sites are run on this concept and it can work at the hyper local level, too.

Two Examples:
1.) A hockey blog that aggregates league wide news: http://blogs.sites.post-gazette.com/index.php/sports/empty-netters/30066-empty-netter-assists-10-02-11

2.) An online news aggregator for different verticals/industries:
http://www.marketingdive.com/

Let’s say, for instance, I want to aggregate news in Fairfax:

A reward is being offered for anyone with information on farm animals that were recently slayed in the Herndon area. [Fairfax Times]

Two people were killed in a car crash on Lee Highway last night. [Fairfax City Patch]

The airport board has backed down on their union preference for the Metro silver line. [Fairfax News]

Winery at Bull Run will be opening in Centreville. [Washington Post]

By aggregating the best news stories in your area, you offer a valuable, convenient resource to visitor, produces fresh, new content on your blog and will help increase search traffic and returning visitors to your site.

“Your software isn’t cheap..”

Having been at eDirectory for several years now, we’ve run into our fair share of competitors. We’re confident that out of most of the solutions on there on the market, there isn’t a more powerful solution for the price. With a steady growth in the market, we know we’re not outpricing ourselves, but many people come to us and say that our software is over priced, too expensive or outright not affordable.

A few things to consider:

Script Vs. Software One thing that makes me cringe is when people refer to eDirectory as a script. It’s not that a script has a bad notation necessarily. It’s just to me, a script is something you buy for $25-$200, are sent an automated email with a link to download the script, which you have to install yourself. Support is limited or non existent and you’re likely ONLY getting a program that runs business listings.

What are you getting for the price? eDirectory, a software solution, provides our clients with near 24/5 support from a global software organization. Additionally, our software has many features that simply aren’t included in most others, which include, but aren’t limited to:
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  • Daily Deals
  • Classifieds
  • Events
  • Banner Advertising
  • Automated billing
  • Click to Call
  • Send SMS to Phone
  • Advertising Package Builder
  • Multi-site feature
  • Android & iPhone Apps
  • And many, many more…

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This is what distinguishes us from the $75 script you’re looking at. Enterprise features, elite support and a product dev team pumping out new releases every quarter.

Build Vs. Buy A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to speak with a client of ours at a non profit organization, the American Ceramic Society. They have a directory of businesses in the ceramic industry and use it to not only engage more with their members and those in their community, but to also increase their visibility. For them, eDirectory was their ‘charm’ as they had first tried building the system in house and then tried going with one of our lower end competitors. While this may have been an interesting case because he had tried both an in-house solution and a competitor, I would confidently say that 30% of our clients have at some point come to us and purchased eDirectory after trying to build the solution in house. For every time one of our sales executives is told ‘We’re going to build it in house’ by a prospective client, I tell them to make sure to follow up with that prospective client in 3 months and see if they’re still as committed to developing it on their own. It’s simply not cost effective.

The average PHP developer will cost about $55 dollars an hour. So after you lay out a project proposal and spend time defining your requirements, let’s say you’ve already put in 4 hours explaining to a developer what exactly it is and how it’s supposed to work. You’re already down $220.

Our software costs $1799. So at this point, are you still confident in thinking that this developer can finish the project for less than $1579? If you are, this means your developer is capable of building something in 28 hours what has taken us 7 years and a team of 10 basecode developers to come up with.

Could you do it yourself ? Sure. Would it take 750+ hours. Yes. But why reinvent the wheel? Even if your site needs customization, at least bring the already-invented-wheel to a developer of your choice and have him customize the foundation, which has already been built.

$1799 to invest in a business? With so much developing with the growth in online directories, dining portals and local search sites, and so much advertising opportunity accordingly, is $1799 a cost prohibitive price point to developing a successful online publication? People come to us and share great ideas about how they envision leveraging our software to create unique and information packed websites. It’s like their eyes glow just thinking about the possibility. From experience, $1799 rarely stands between a person or business with vision and ambition from developing a successful online business. If it does, maybe there’s more to consider about that venture before continuing to pursue it.

Feel free to give me or one of my sales reps a call to talk about your directory.

Jared Elder
Marketing Manager
jared at e directory dot com

Top 10 most valuable items to a local search site

  1. An ambitious site owner – If you don’t truly have a stake in the community your local search site is covering, chances are good all the rest are pretty hard to follow. It’s tough to update, write about or maintain a site that has subject matter you’re really not interested in. Think about it.
  2. A well balanced focused – Not too geographically large (a local search site for the entire state of California) but not too geographically small (a local search site for a town of 400 people).
  3. Events – Keep up to date with what’s going on in the community. Whether these are paid event listings or free, a local search site should keep their events up to date and accurate.
  4. A good hook – What makes you better than the next online site that covers your area, or for that matter, Yelp, a local newspaper or other going out guide?
  5. An editorial voice – Your site should provide some type of editorial content where necessary. Whether that’s an academic article, a blog post or human interest story, it’s important to have a focus and voice.
  6. Fresh Content – Google loves fresh content. Search engines in general like to see that you’re updating the website and producing content of some kind on a consistent basis.
  7. Blog – Similar to #5, a blog is likely what’s going to keep your finger on the pluse of a community. Whether you’re reviewing a restaurant, interviewing a business owner or aggregating local news, it’s important to keep the content flowing.
  8. Unique Content – Aggregating news and posting events isn’t enough. You should be doing your own feature stories, interviews or reviews and coming up with editorial and information content that is going to keep people coming back.
  9. Otherwise un-aggregated content – List out specials, sales, happy hours, nightlife, drink specials, lunch specials or dinner specials, things that visitors would otherwise have to go to each business’s website to find.
  10. Data/Listings – A large reason why people came to your site in the first place is to find information about a local business. Whether that’s a telephone number, hours, reviews or menu, it’s vital to keep all of your listings up to date.

Blogging: A Voice to your Online Directory

From time to time, eDirectory runs promotions that provide free sales and marketing consultation for our clients. The idea is, having seen hundreds of our customers create online directories, we’ve grown to see some of the basic approaches to creating a successful site. We’ve documented most of these in “Marketing a Directory,” “Selling A Directory,” and “Manning a Sales Team.” One question that comes up most in these 30 minute or hour long consultations is ‘What can I do to have people keep coming back to my site.” While we don’t have a magic formula to creating a dedicated visitor base, there are a few ways to use a blog as a hook to keep visitors loyal to your site.

A blog can act as the voice of your directory and set a tone to your site. This tone can often be what keeps readers coming back for more. Think about it — almost everyone today has a ‘round’ of websites they visit in the morning as they sip on coffee and dig through the inbox. What are those sites to you? What keeps YOU going back to them everyday? Here are some ideas to think about:

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  • Local Search – If you’re developing a local search site, you want your site to be the destination for all of the restaurant menus, drink specials, nightlife, local businesses and events in your region. If you are to be trusted as the go-to destination for everything that’s happening in your area, it’s good to go above and beyond cookie cutter listings on your site. Talk about what’s going on in your community. Local search sites should keep their finger on the pulse of the community, and that is one huge advantage true local search sites have over Yelp, and it’s something site owners can’t afford NOT to leverage. Yelp doesn’t list all the events in Kearney Nebraska, it doesn’t feed breaking news stories in Kearney either, so it’s something readers would appreciate having access to. Interviewing local Chef’s about their cuisine and suggested entrees, local business owners on their company and concentration of work, aggregating local news in your area – all great additions to your site that can be easily funneled through a blog.
  • Buyers’ Guides, Business Directories, Product Directories – What is going on in your respective industries? If you’re developing a business directory, or buyers’ guide that focuses on a particular industry, it’s assumed you have a certain depth of knowledge to the subject at hand, as you should. What is going on in that industry? What things are happening that would affect the way people buy a certain product? What new products are hitting the market? If you want people to come to your site regularly, it’s vitally important that you update your site constantly and a Blog is a great way to do just that.

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Some tips to consider when it comes to executing your blog effectively:
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  • Keep focused. It’s easy to blog about things you find interesting and want to write about, but does it fall in line with the scope of your directory? If you’re keeping your readers up to date on a new restaurant opening in Kearney one week, and going on a political rant the next, you’re likely going to lose readers along the way. Readers have expectations on what they’re going to get when going to your site and that’s why they will go there on a regular basis. If the scope of your blog is constantly changing, your readers will likely lose interest in being a loyal visitor. Make sure that you’re writing to keep your users informed , not for the sake of hearing yourself talk (or reading your own words, so to speak).
  • Check Facts. One way to lose credibility and respect pretty quickly is to post erroneous stories or ones with inaccurate facts. Read up on what you’re about to write, make sure it’s accurate and go out of your way to cite the sources you’re pulling information from.
  • Keeps a six inch voice. Just as you were told in school, it’s important to maintain a proper voice level in the world of blogging. When writing about a story, make your voice heard, but don’t try talking over people. If you’re posting industry news, breaking stories or perhaps tackling a big event, try to keep your commentary limited as you get started and get a feel for both your style and tone. Short, precise commentaries often compliment what you’re covering best.
  • Everything in moderation. Similar to the previous bullet point, it’s not only what you’re saying that is important, it’s also how often you’re saying it. Some directory sites may struggle to push 1 or 2 entries a day, and that’s sometimes all you need to keep an engaged reader. If the topic of your directory is more broad or general, you may have to consider dozens of stories to comment on. Pick the gold nuggets and always consider blogging the stories that may not get coverage elsewhere.
  • Write Responsibly. Remember everything you publish is for the world to see. If you’re writing about industry news, businesses, local events, be sure to do it with style. Remember, blogging doesn’t take accountability out of the picture, write with proper style and etiquette before you hit the publish button. For a few tips, check out: http://blogoscoped.com/archive/2006-10-11-n47.html

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Blogging is a great addition to any directory site, as it puts a voice, a face and sometimes an attitude behind a site full of hundreds or thousands of listings. It’s another way to engage with your site visitors and show them the investment you’ve made into the directory you’re developed. Reviews, Interviews, Feature Stories, Event coverage — all great elements to cover via the blog that are likely to get re-posted by others, but more importantly, it’s going out of your way to show site visitors your conviction to the subject matter.

Technology doesn’t care about us

“There is a trillion, not a billion, a trillion dollars in ad revenue that is going to leak down to all the hyper,local super nichey-niche-niche opportunities.”

For a little over a year, I had the opportunity to work for an Online B2B Publishing company. One of the most significant things I took away from my time there was the ongoing battle of print vs online media. Now to be fair, it’s not so much a battle as much as a transition at this point.  If you haven’t read some of the whitepapers in the resources sections such as “Selling a Directory” and  “Online Directories:  The Next Big Media Vehicle for Advertising Agencies,” both address the print and online media battle, but nothing quite as blunt, direct, but insightful as Gary Varnerchuk did in this video:

$70,000 blogging and reviewing 6 blocks worth of street food?  I briefly discussed the importance and value of developing an online directory with a niche focus, but midtownlunch.com has taken this to a whole new level.  As great as it was to hear about the success Zach Brooks has had with a directory-esque site such as this, Gary brings great insight into the opportunities that are arising, and will arise in online media with the departure of print publications.  If you’re interested in further discussing this, or other ideas you may have for a similar directory, don’t hesitate to call me.

What is Customer Service?

Simple Question RIGHT?

Wikipedia defines customer service as:
“Customer service is a series of activities designed to enhance the level of customer satisfaction – that is, the feeling that a product or service has met the customer expectation.”

In the marketplace today it seems that more and more companies are abandoning the idea of good old fashioned customer service. I will try and related a couple of personal stories that will contrast the two ways I see service.

Bad Customer Services: (true story)

Recently a co-worker and I went to a major fast food chain with a local advert that was sent to me in the mail. Upon arriving we placed our order and things went horribly wrong. To keep the story short, it took over 10 minutes to PLACE the order. During this time the manager berated her employees in front of us, and made zero attempts to make the situation right for me the customer that had been standing here for over 10 minutes trying to order food, and pay them. We left quite upset over the lack of any customer service.

I then went the extra mile to help the company and reported the incident to the head office. This proved to only show the reason that their was no customer service in the local stores. I was bounced around on the corporate phone system, and when I got a person who said they would help, they took my story and said she will tell someone. Never once did she offer to make the problem whole with me the client. Furthermore she never even asked for my contact details so she could try and followup.

Good Customer Service: (true story)

Just this past sunday, my wife and I were at our local mega pet store picking up some more cat supplies (food, litter, catnip etc). Now, I am a pet person, and so I would love to have a dog, but the apartment we live in only allows 2 pets and our two cats.  Well I was explaining to my wife my love of my previous fish tanks, and so now we are shopping for tanks.

While at the local store, I was looking at my options, and started talking to the local sales guy about the options etc they offered. He turned out to be a big fish guy, and even suggested that a sale at his store might not be the best option. He explained that there are a couple of local shops that would be able to offer me more of a selection and maybe a better price.

When we went to checkout, he was also there helping out on the registers as the lines got backed up, and it was a pleasure to see him going the extra mile for clients. He stopped the lines to go and get a client checking out a product that she forgot to pick up.

So we come back around to the question of the day “What is Customer Service”. If we go purely off the definition, then our first company did not perform any actions to enhance the level of customer satisfaction, where as the second went above and beyond and clearly met my expectations.

Here at eDirectory (ArcaSolutions), we strive to be the second and work hard to avoid the first of our examples. This is seen in our sales process with live chat, phone and email sales assistance. To our support team providing on/off hour support via email, phone, ticketing system. To our custom dev teams, where we assign a personal project manager to your project so you do not have to explain your customization to the next guy each time you call. We clearly are focused on the area of “enhancing the level of customer satisfaction” for each and every customer as part of our DNA.

Now the question comes back around to you as a business owner or even shopper (online/offline). What is customer service to you? Do you really care when you are shopping for your ipod warmer that you may never talk to the store, and their website is kind of sparse with information, or do you need more. What is your customer service experience level needs, and what do you do when you feel your expectations are not met. I welcome you all to head over to our forums, and share your experiences either with your eDirectory product, or with some other company positive or negative. I am very interested about your stories.

How Expensive Is Good Customer Service?

Ok, so I would like to relate a story that happened to me just this past week. But before I do, I would like to post a simple question. Be thinking about this question as you read this post (rant).

Q. How much is customer service worth to your organization?

This a true story: (company names changed to protect the innocent)

Today 2/3/09 I went to store #11814 to use a 2 for $5.00 (sourdough bacon-cheesburger) coupon that I had gotten in a flyer in the mail. I will say that the experience was one of the worst, most unproffesional experiences that is POSSIBLE at a fast food location. The worst part was the follow-up with your corporate center by contacting Consumer Relations department at 555-1212

So here is the story.
At 1:43pm (actually started at 1:36pm) my friend and I entered the store and started the process of ringing up a simple order for a sandwich and fries (nothing more). I presented the coupon to the attendant (manager called him Mohamed, but I did not read his tag), and asked for that with a Large Fry. The coupon was for two sourgough bacon cheeseburgers for $5.00. This is where everything went downhill.

The attendant tried to charge me $10.01 for the order (most expensive fries I would have had). I told him it was wrong, so then he voided my order and tried to get the managers attention. She was irratated that she had to help him. She gave him her manager pass to override anything that he wanted with no oversight at all (that cannot be right). Next he attempted to try again, and even with the managers key he could not figure it out. He again voided a transaction, and this engraged the manager who made the statement “You need to know what your doing, you keep voiding this and that…. Talk to your brother”. I felt bad for the person at the register and he clearly was hurt by this public degration.

So, now the manager comes over and makes an attempt to try and get the order to work. She fails, and starts muttering to herself (including explicit words). She continues to bash the person that started to take my order as she let our her frustration with the computer system. Both of them continued to blame the computers for having bad data, and such. This should not be any of my concern, or should you be telling me the consumer that your computers are untrustworthy and yet you still want my CC if that is how I am paying.

Let me remind you now, that we have had 3 people (mohamed, his brother and the manager) try and ring this order up. I have been holding the line up for over 5 minutes as I stood and watched this comedy show and just praying that my order comes out right.

Finally the manager figures out how to make a special order, and charges me $7.51 for the sandwich and fries (at this point I would have paid the $10.01 just to get out of the store). I pay cash, get my change and wait for food.

As this all going on, the client in front of my had STILL not gotten his food, as there were 3 people trying to ring up my order and he says something about it. The manager, tells the client “Sir, I know you do not have all day, but I am working on something over here” and proceeds to ignore the client for a short period, but finally gets him his food.

So, finally I get my food, and am out the door. I will not recount the ordeal my friend went thorugh behind me (repeat) as he had a coupon for two whopping burgers for $5.00.

So, fast forward 15 minutes when I am back at the office and start to eat my burgers only to found that I got two sourdough hamburgers (no cheese or bacon). So that was the last straw. I decided to call the consumer relations line and report the worst experience in my life at a Burger Place. This is where the story gets even more fun.

I ring the line, press option #3, then #1 (of course I have to hit a button to continue in english).   This nice (indifferent) lady gets on the phone and I explain the situation to her. She asks me if I would like to leave a name, and I do. She tells me she will email the district manager about the problem…. Thats it!

As you can see from my story not ONCE did anyone offer to make things right. Not once did they even ask what they can do to try and help keep me as a customer. Not once did anyone even care that this horrible experience happened, let alone shared by more then one person. I can say with ease that I am tossing out the remaining coupons and going to McBurger Place, Pigtail Girl Burgers or any other place that actually cares.

The biggest kicker is that I start to recall this story to my co-workers (the Burger Place is 6 blocks from our office) and one of my co-workers says thatshe will ONLY go there for Coffee now as they screw up the orders so much it is impossible for them to mess that up. That is such a telling statement I do not know what is.

As you can see from the post not only did they loose a client, but they lost 3 (me, my co-worker). So how expensive is that?

Lets run some simple math. If you assume the average cost of eating out at a fast food place is $6.00, and many people in the office world eat out 3X a week, that is $18.00 a per person per week or $54.00 a week in our little example (3 people). That is $216.00 a month, and $2592.00 a year for those three people.

This simple math is not taking into effect that each of those people will on a average tell 10 other people about the bad experience and those people will tell 3 others. So each person is equal really to 14 peoples says lost. That is $294.00 a week, $1176.00 a month and $14,112.00 per year per person in our equation ($42.336.00 a year for our three people in the office.) Lets not even take into effect the blog effect that happens everyday when things like this happen.

That is an EXPENSIVE mistake in my opinion.

So, we go back to the simple question that I asked earlier: How much is customer service worth to your organization? Would you be willing to give a single client $5.00 to make them happy (in our fast food scenario) or do as we saw and let them go (remember the math!).