Archive for the ‘301’ Category

Why Ghost Blogging Is Wrong

A few months ago, following a presentation I gave on ethics at Centennial College, I wrote a post on the ethics of ghost-writing in social media.

This past Sunday I decided, on a whim, to present a very similar session at PodCamp Toronto. At that session, Leesa Barnes, a fairly well-known person in the Canadian social media scene, started a heated conversation when she revealed that her blog is ghost-written. She gave a couple of reasons (I’m paraphrasing here; hopefully I’m doing them justice):

  1. She “hates” writing, so outsources that which she hates;
  2. As her business grows, she needs to free-up time for other tasks;
  3. Writing blog posts isn’t a part of the relationship-building process – that comes from replying to the comments (note: Leesa says she does this)
  4. She uses other tactics, such as video and audio, herself.

First-up, I want to thank Leesa for saying what she did. It sparked a dynamic conversation that continued throughout Sunday and into Monday, and I want to acknowledge that. It would have been a much less interesting session without her contribution.

I had a very interesting conversation with Leesa, Danny Brown and Lindsey Patten (and others along the way) about this on Sunday night (viewable here – taken from this search - the posts I saw; read from bottom to top).

Writing is part of blog relationship building

With that said, I think that having someone ghost-blog for you is misleading and wrong. I do think that writing the posts is a part of the relationship building process and, to quote a recent post from Leesa (entitled Why You Should Never Outsource Your Social Media Tasks & What You Should Delegate Instead):

Huh? When did outsourcing your relationships become okay?

Now, there’s a nuance here. I have no problem with multi-authored blogs where different authors are listed. I’m fine with guest posts (though I suggest not over-doing it). I have no ethical problems with delegating the writing when that is clearly and plainly disclosed (though I would argue the blog’s effectiveness would drop so it’s not a good approach). My problem is with undisclosed ghost-blogging.

Why undisclosed ghost blogging is wrong

Here are the reasons I think ghost blogging is a very, very bad idea. From my perspective:

  • People reading a blog expect the person listed as the author to be the one writing the post. This expectation is critical, and is a key difference between new and old media (where, for many people, this kind of practice long ago eroded the credibility of many tactics);
  • The danger of damage to your credibility and reputation if you get found out easily outweighs the benefits you get from hiding the true author;
  • The CEO doesn’t need to be the face of a company online. If your company has grown and the CEO needs to focus elsewhere, someone else could write, or you could set up a group blog;
  • There are plenty of other social media (and other online) tools out there. If authentic, transparent blogging doesn’t work for you, use a different tool;
  • Social media is built on trust. By misleading people as to the author, you lose the trust when that deception is revealed, especially if you’re an “expert” in this area. In another quote from the aforementioned post:

“Well, you know the old adage which is people do business with those they like and trust, right?”

Alternatives

So, what options do you have if you really don’t want to write but realize that you shouldn’t have a blog ghost-written?

  • Multi-author: Have multiple people in your organization (or a group of friends, if it’s a personal site) write – under their own names. This way you can reduce the workload
  • Different blogger: Do you have to be the face of your company online, or is this an ego issue? If you don’t have to be that face, perhaps someone else could write it under their own name.
  • Disclosure: Include a note on each blog page that someone else writes the post, e.g. “I don’t write these posts, but I do read them and I stand behind them.” I think it’s sub-optimal as some authenticity is lost, but it’s feasible.
  • Use different media: Do you really have to have a blog? How about using video, or micro-blogging, or any other social or “traditional” digital tactics? Blogs are just one tool.

If you’re thinking of having your blog ghost-written, reconsider. The risks outweigh the benefits.

Your take

I’m well aware that there’s plenty of debate on this issue, so I posted a quick poll online for people to take. At time of writing, with 78 responses only 19 per cent (15 people) thought undisclosed ghost blogging was ok.

What do you think? Take the poll, leave a comment and let’s debate this.

Twitter As A Business Continuity Tool?

Twitter logo My ex-colleague Lara Torvi sent me a Government Technology article yesterday entitled “Twitter is a Continuity of Operations Tool, State Agency Discovers.”

The gist of the article is that the Washington State Department of Transportation, alongside using its Twitter account for mundane things like traffic alerts, is using Twitter to ensure continuity of operations in an emergency.

“”In an emergency, people will come to our Web site, [www.wsdot.wa.gov] en masse to the point that it overwhelms our servers — we’ve had that happen during snowstorms and other major weather events,” [spokesperson Lloyd] Brown said. Because the Web site is a popular source of traffic updates, sometimes it can’t handle a sudden spike in page hits, he said. During an emergency, WSDOT is considering the option of posting a “neutered,” bare-bones version of its Web site that contains a Web link to the Twitter feed.”

Government? Twitter…?!

Before I get into any more detail, I have to say it’s great that Washington State is looking at tools like Twitter. So hats-off to them for pushing the boat here.

I’ve never made a secret of the fact that I’m a big fan of Twitter. I’m frustrated beyond belief by ongoing technical and customer service issues, but I’m still a fan of Twitter and its potential. I’m far from a sceptic here.

With all that said (even setting aside the dreadful case study of governors’ offices pumping out news releases, cited at the beginning of the article), I have some concerns about the department’s using Twitter as a business continuity tool.

Twitter is no bastion of reliability

Happily, Twitter seems to have overcome the constant reliability problems that plagued it a few months ago. However, services are still regularly compromised or disabled.

Would you put your business continuity plan for your website in the hands of a site with those problems?

It’s not clear whether Twitter is the only part of the site left up in an emergency situation, or if the state is using it as a way to get quick updates up as a small part of the site. Regardless, I’m not sure you can rely on it… yet… in an emergency.

Twitter has a 140-character limit

A year ago, I advocated using Twitter as an emergency management tool, but alongside other online tools – not replacing them.

Twitter’s 140-character limit makes it unsuitable for communicating effectively as your primary tool in an emergency. Emergency news, information and instructions doesn’t always boil down to 140-character snippets.

Twitter could make a fantastic addition to your emergency communications plan, but it’s an inferior replacement for your other tools.

Twitter has no revenue model… yet

Why should we care that Twitter has no revenue? Because that means it has no cash flow. That means that, eventually, it will run out of money, even given its $15 million cash infusion earlier this year.

Hopefully the time when they run out of money will never come. Still, do you want your business continuity model to rely on a tool that could go under any day?

Why not build your own version?

With the release of the open source Laconica application, it became relatively easy for organizations to produce their own in-house version of Twitter.

The department could, conceivably, solve the reliability, longevity and character limit problems of Twitter by producing their own application.

Of course, that system would suffer from not having the ongoing base of subscribers that the deparment’s Twitter account possesses and, along with it, the ability to reach those subscribers via SMS. However, with just 149 subscribers right now, that’s not a big loss.

Why not keep the other information there?

This one is based on the assumption that the Twitter feed is pretty much the only thing left up when traffic goes through the roof. Without knowing more, I can’t be sure that’s the case, hence this point is last in my list.

Bottom line: There are plenty of other websites out there that maintain their websites in a stripped-down version in case of emergency.

The San Diego Union Tribune, for example, has become a hub for information during Californian wildfires. They keep their site up by stripping the images out when traffic is high.

If the state’s website is reduced to essentially a Twitter feed, that’s a mistake. There’s almost certainly essential information there that you need to have available during an emergency.

Static text takes up very little bandwidth.

Credit for creativity

I’m coming across as pretty harsh right now, because I’m not sure how wise the department’s move is, however pure their motives.

With that said, though, I do applaud their willingness to think creatively, push the staid government approaches to emergency management out of the way and try new ways of keeping their systems going under pressure.

Twitter does have some useful features for this kind of use. The ability to push messages out via SMS (and eventually instant messenger) in an emergency is one example. Its simplicity is another.

As I said earlier, I’m not usually a big sceptic. I like to think that I’m not drunk on the kool aid – that I take a pragmatic approach in assessing these new tools, which results in me dismissing many of them – but I’m definitely open to new things.

In this case, though, I just worry that the department has chosen a risky way of approaching continuity. It just takes one ill-timed series of fail whales to render the whole experiment a failure.

What do you think?

Twitter As A Hyper-Local Emergency Information Tool?

Twitter has many features that give it potential as an information provider. Information is real-time, it’s available through multiple devices and Twitter can make that information scale to large audiences easily.

Twitter logoHowever, very few services are taking advantage of the potential of these features right now. That’s understandable – Twitter has a history of instability (although it’s much improved recently) and, despite a fair amount of mainstream media coverage, it’s still far from mainstream.

However, let’s consider a potential use of Twitter for a moment.

Emergency Service Twittering

Toronto’s Police Service and Toronto Fire Service are both on Twitter@TorontoPolice and @TOFire (the police account isn’t official – it’s not clear whether the fire one is or not – but they’re both represented).

Both of these feeds currently churn out automated updates. The police one is fed from the news releases on the Toronto Police Service website, while the fire account comes from the service’s Computer Aided Dispatch system’s feed.

Right now there’s little reason to subscribe to these feeds. Little of the information is going to be relevant to me – it’s generic and unfiltered. I don’t want to see every incident in Toronto – they usually have little relevance to me. Other people seem to agree – the @TorontoPolice account currently has just eight followers while the @TOFire account has 22.

That got me thinking.

Hyper-Local Twitter Accounts?

However, what if the emergency services start official accounts and focus them on individual neighbourhoods?

If I could subscribe to a feed of incidents in the immediate vicinity of my house, I would. No question. I care if a house in my neighbourhood is on fire, or if someone is attacked around the corner from my house, or if a kid goes missing nearby.

The Toronto Police Service could, for example, have different feeds for general news, downtown core incidents, and for each neighbourhood, with stories automatically filtered into the relevant feeds. Simple, useful and cheap to set up. It’s information that’s already available too, so it’s not mission-critical if Twitter goes down. The only real difference would be that the information would be categorized differently.

As an added benefit, Twitter would push out the updates in real-time (very useful if your house is on fire). What’s more, the smaller number of alerts in each feed as a result of the location filters would mean I’d have no issue pumping them through to my cellphone via SMS.

That’s the difference between what’s (unofficially) on Twitter now and what could be there. One is generic and largely useless; the other is specific and useful.


What do you think? Would you be interested if your emergency services provided location-specific feeds for your neighbourhood?

BackType Plugs A Hole In Online Monitoring Systems

backtype BackType, a new service by Canadians Christopher Golda and Michael Montano, finds and aggregates comments from across the web.

One of BackType’s most obvious features is the ability to create an account and "claim" your comments to provide a complete picture of your commenting activity across the web. Once you’ve done that, you can "follow" other people’s comments, Twitter-style (I’m davefleet on BackType, as I am on most services).

Plenty of websites like TechCrunch, Lifehacker, Louis Gray and Mark Evans have focused on this side of the service. To be honest I don’t have much to add to their commentary on this aspect.

The value in comments

Reader comments are often just as interesting as the posts themselves. By reading through the comments on a thought-provoking post, you can often learn more than from the original piece. Given that, tracking someone’s comments can be enlightening.

Personally, I only have the bandwidth to follow a few people that I specifically want to learn from and who I know write useful, well thought-out comments — I’m not sure I want to all comments from a large number of people — but that’s just me.

Adding a layer to online monitoring

"Twitter for comments" aside, a different aspect of BackType got my creative communications juices flowing: the ability to search comments by keyword, and to set up a persistent search on that keyword.

I wrote a little while back about how to set up a simple online monitoring system. One thing that system missed, though, was responses to blog posts. You could see original posts as they appeared in near real-time, but after that it was up to you to go back and check on them.

By using BackType in conjunction with sites like Technorati (or not), Google Blogsearch or Blogpulse, you can capture ongoing discussions alongside original posts in two simple steps:

  1. Search for your keywords from the BackType homepage  (for example: http://is.gd/2bRD) or do an advanced search at http://www.backtype.com/search
  2. Subscribe to the RSS feed for those results (http://is.gd/2bRJ) and plug it into your system along with your other searches.

Problem solved.

As Louis Gray says, "I think BackType has the potential to be as relevant as Technorati (in a good way), Google Blog Search or Summize. It’s one to watch for sure."

The folks over at BackType seem to have realized this potential, shown by their response to a question over on Mark Evans’ blog:

In addition to searching comments by author, searching by topic has shown to be very valuable as well so we plan on doing a lot more with that. We see a lot of opportunity in comments; what you see on BackType.com is what we’ve started with.

Have you tried BackType? If so, have you found it useful?

AideRSS Google Reader Extension – Filter Your Reading, Easily

aideRSS_logo AideRSS, the excellent free RSS filtering service, just made their service even more accessible with a new Google Reader Firefox extension. This is the first application to be based on AideRSS’ newly-released Postrank API.

The AideRSS Google Reader extension makes it easy to separate the wheat from the chaff in your RSS subscriptions by integrating AideRSS’ PostRank™ system within Google Reader.

AideRSS ranks posts based on measures of engagement including traffic, comments, trackbacks, saves to social bookmarking sites, and discussion on micro-blogging sites like Twitter. With the extension, you can filter your feeds, from within Google Reader, based on that ranking.

filter

I’ve used the extension for a few days now. I’ve found it very helpful when I don’t have much time and need to try to absorb the best of my subscriptions quickly- by setting the filter level to “Great” or “Best” you can pick off the best of the crop and leave the rest for when you have more time.

I really like this extension (and AideRSS in general) as a way to help filter my massive backlog of posts. However, there are a few issues:

  • It takes time for AideRSS’ measures to kick in – comments, trackbacks etc don’t come immediately. If you read all the latest posts in your feeds throughout the day, the extension is largely meaningless.
    • This isn’t just a problem with the extension – I also found this problem when using AideRSS as part of my simple blog monitoring solution a little while back. If you’re looking for time-sensitive results, it’s not for you. I don’t see a way around this – AideRSS just isn’t built for this kind of application.
  • The extension slows Google Reader down considerably as it re-calculates the ranking for each post whenever you switch between feeds.
  • This kind of filtering, while valuable, lowers the chance that you’ll stumble upon that ‘hidden nugget’ that other people haven’t found.
  • Apparently, my ‘Advertising and PR’ feeds, with way over 1000 unread posts at time of writing, doesn’t have any posts that are worthy of the “Best” category.

It my seem like I’m tearing into this extension, but I’m not. I like it. However, you should be aware of the limitations if you start to use the service so you can adjust your use appropriately.

A few recommendations for how to use the AideRSS extension effectively:

  • Don’t bother filtering the feeds you stay on top of throughout the day.
  • Use the filter when you just have a few minutes to spare and want to pick out the best of your backlog of feeds. However, leave your favourite feeds unfiltered.
  • If you want to apply more persistent and flexible filtering on your feeds (just subscribing to a site’s best posts, for example), use AideRSS’ full service through its website (Side note: I would love it if the extension remembered how I like to filter each feeds and apply that filter by default on those posts .Clarification: The extension does remember your settings for each post – see the comments below – I’d love for it to remember the settings for each feed and apply them when you roll-up to the aggregate view).

Have you used this extension? What did you think? If you use another service to filter your RSS feeds, what do you think of it?

For information on how to install and use the AideRSS Google Reader extension, check out this video:

14 Plugins To Improve Your WordPress Blog

Plug WordPress is one of, if not the, leading blogging platform at the moment. It’s also an Open Source project. This means that anyone can contribute to its development. There are thousands of WordPress plugins available, to do almost anything you can imagine. However, this can get a little daunting.

Here are 14 plugins I currently use on DaveFleet.com and why you might want to consider using them.

Akismet

Akismet is the standard for preventing comment spam on WordPress blogs. There are other spam plugins available, but I’ve found Akismet to be more than up to the job.

Akismet comes packaged with your WordPress installation and it’s 100% worth the minimal effort required to activate it.

All in One SEO Pack

The All in One SEO Pack gives you a whole bunch of ways to easily improve the search engine optimization for your blog.

This plugin lets you quickly add meta data for your title, description and keyword fields, modify page titles and so on for your entire site, all from one place. It also lets you dig down and edit the meta data for each individual post. Another simple but useful plugin.

FeedBurner FeedSmith

If you’re not already using FeedBurner, I highly recommend you investigate it. It gives you easy access to some useful stats about your readers, while also providing some great tools for promoting your content.

FeedBurner FeedSmith automatically detects all the ways to access your site’s RSS feed and redirects them to your FeedBurner feed instead. It also offers an option to forward your comments feed, too. If you’re not sure about the quality of the plugin, FeedBurner recommends it.

Google XML Sitemaps

The Google XML Sitemaps plugin generates a “XML-compliant sitemap of your WordPress blog.” The major search engines all support this way of feeding them the pages you want to include in their indexes. Another useful tool; it has the additional benefit of stopping Google Webmaster Tools from whining at me about the lack of a sitemap whenever I click through its reports.

Login Lockdown

Login Lockdown adds some extra security to WordPress by restricting the rate at which failed logins can be re-attempted from a given IP range. Gives me a little extra peace of mind, which I appreciate.

Recent Posts

The Recent Posts plugin displays a highly configurable list of your most recent posts for your sidebar. Simple and effective.

This plugin comes packaged with a Recent Comments plugin. Both require the (simple) installation of the Post-Plugin Library in order to work.

Redirection

Redirection lets you easily manage 301 redirects, 404 errors and a whole bunch of other things without needing to mess around with your .htaccess file. Great for non-technically-minded people. Me? I just like its simplicity.

Subscribe to Comments

The Subscribe to Comments plugin allows your readers to receive notifications of new comments that are posted to an entry. I love this feature on other sites as I rarely check back once I’ve commented normally. I was thrilled to find an easy way to implement this on my site.

Twitter Tools

Ok, fine, I’m lazy. I don’t want to type in the one line of text to let my Twitter followers know I’ve published a new post. The Twitter Tools plugin does it for me. It also lets you post directly to Twitter yourself if you like (not that I ever have) and pull your “tweets” (Twitter messages) into your blog.

This one is a love-it-or-hate it plugin. Some people detest the idea of this; others appreciate it. One warning – be careful when you’re re-categorizing posts – Twitter Tools will post notifications of those posts as if they’re new. If you’re doing any work around page names, tags or re-categorizing posts, be sure to de-activate this plugin first.

WordPress.com Stats

The WordPress.com Stats plugin is one of the most useful tools I’ve found. Alongside Google Analytics, this lets me dig down and see what’s going on on my site. It tracks total views, post/page views, referrers (very useful) and clicks. I love it.

WordPress PDA & iPhone

WordPress PDA & iPhone is a wonderfully simple plugin. It takes the long, unwieldy and user-unfriendly homepage people would normally view on a mobile device and re-formats it to show post summaries instead. With a very simple installation process, this is a great way to optimize your site for people on the go.

WordPress Reports

I discovered the WordPress Reports plugin very recently.

WordPress Report complements the WordPress.com Stats plugin nicely, pulling data from FeedBurner and Google Analytics and formatting it clearly so you can easily see what’s going on on your site. While WordPress.com Stats focuses on today and yesterday, WordPress Reports gives you a seven-day trend on key information including “rising” and “falling” posts, popular content, pages per visit and so on.

WP-Print

WP-Print helps you link to a printable version of your posts. Alongside fitting them neatly onto the page, this plugin also creates a list of the URLs you’ve linked at the bottom of the post so hard-copy readers, who would otherwise miss out on them, can benefit from those pages too. Just install the plugin, paste one line of code into your template and you’re up and running.

Zemanta

Zemanta lets WordPress help you write your posts. It examines the content of your posts and suggests pictures, links and tags for you to add. I just discovered this one recently and haven’t had a chance to test-drive it fully yet but I’ve noticed a few other people, Jason Falls for example, using it already.


There you have it – 14 plugins that I use and which might help to make your blogging life easier.

Do you use any of these? If you do, what do you think of them? What are your favourite plugins?

(hat tip to Chris Brogan for sparking the idea for this post. Photo credit: ChrisB in SEA)

Update: For some reason I’ve been getting an obscene number of spam comments to this post, so I’ve closed the post comments.

HubSpot’s Press Release Grader – Rate Your Press Release

Press Release Grader HubSpot’s Press Release Grader is a free tool that aims to help you improve your press releases.

You may remember HubSpot from their Website Grader tool, which I reviewed back in April (I was late to that one – it’s been around for months).

Press Release Grader is a simple, free tool that analyzes your press releases and gives you some ideas on how to improve them. It’s easy to use – just copy & paste your press release into a text box, enter your company name and website URL, give your email address and you’re on your way.

Analyzing Your Press Release

Press Release Grader looks at a bunch of areas of your release:

  • Overall Score – out of 100
  • General Statistics – word count, link count and readability (by grade level)
  • Content Suggestions – contact information (phone/email), whether you include an ‘about’ section for your company and a link to the company website, an “end of content” marker, gobbledygook words
  • Link Analysis - how far down the page each link occurs, the target page title and how your anchor text matches up with that, whether you include links featuring relevant keyword text
  • Word Cloud - showing how frequently you use key words

Is It Useful?

I used Press Release Grader to analyze four releases that I’ve written, resulting in scores from 71 to 87. I also plugged-in one other random release, which got a 21 (ouch!). I did consistently get some error messages with that release, but it didn’t seem to hinder the results for that release and the others all worked fine.

A few particularly useful things from my perspective:

  • The gobbledygook checker is a nifty little tool for making sure that no jargon slips through (I’m happy to say there were none in my releases)
  • The link analysis is useful for making sure you use relevant text in your anchor text – something that may slip through the cracks sometimes
  • The word cloud helps to ensure that you focus on the right things throughout your release – if your release is about fishing, you’d better be sure that “fishing” appears prominently in your word cloud.

Suggestions For Improvement

I was a little perturbed by one thing – the format of the end of content marker isn’t limited to three pound signs (###). Canadian Press style is for “-30-”. Of course, that’s not a problem unless the final score really matters to you, but it might be nice to have other marker formats included.

One other quibble – it’s a little search engine optimization-heavy. Much of the page is taken up with pointers on positioning and setting-up your links. For me, it would be much more useful to take a closer look at the grammar, sentence structure, etc, of the release. Something like a percentage of sentences that are way too long, with links to each of those sentences, would be more useful for me.

Still, it’s important to remember that this is just one way of looking at your press release. As the tutorial video (below) says, “…remember, Press Release Grader is a piece of software, not a human being, so it might not always give a perfect evaluation of your press release.”

Press Release Grader isn’t a silver bullet solution. That’s fine. It is, however, a useful tool to kick-start a little thinking around improving your press release.

Note: Press Release Grader is currently in beta, and the company is looking for feedback on the tool.

Five Tools To Base Your Online Life Around

I’ve written before about my social media life and the tools I use, but which of those are the most useful, and why?

Here are the five tools I base my online presence around, and why I think you should too.

Google Reader

ToolsI “subscribe” to several hundred blogs. Every day I go to one site – Google Reader – to read the new articles on those sites. It saves me hours It means I can read way more every day than I could by manually checking sites. That means I can learn more. I can even organize and prioritize the sites I subscribe to, so if I’m busy I know I’m likely to read the most relevant articles.

I probably spend more time using Google Reader than any other online tool.

Google Reader is an RSS reader. What Is RSS? Matt Mcdonald has a neat definition – RSS is “like an email subscription that goes to your reader instead of your email account.” I wrote a post giving an introduction to RSS a while back. Check it out if you want to learn more about RSS.

As Mitch Joel put it:

We used to have to go out and find stuff – news, sites, etc… RSS lets the web come to you.

Twitter

Twitter is my online water cooler. It’s the centre of my social media community. It’s a resource, a meeting place, a networking hub and more. It’s also the first thing I check in the morning. Before I even turn on my computer, I’ve usually had several conversations using Twitter via my blackberry.

How powerful is Twitter for me? When someone I know wanted to know the leading blogs in a certain area today, I asked my Twitter friends. Moments later, I had three blog names and one of my contacts had pointed me to someone who knew more.

A month or two ago when I heard, at 4:30pm on a Friday, that we needed a graphic designer for some last-minute work, I asked my Twitter friends if they knew anyone who might be able to help. A few minutes later I had three names, and a local PR agency contacted my by phone and email that evening to offer their services.

I could go on and on about the value I get from Twitter. I’m still figuring out how it can be used best by businesses but for me personally, it’s incredibly valuable. I also track mentions of me in Twitter using Tweetscan (I subscribe to them in Google Reader).

del.icio.us

If you haven’t come across del.icio.us before, here’s another great description from Matt Mcdonald:

[delicious] let’s (sic) you attach keywords called “tags” to sites. Like putting post-its in a magazine.

I recently wrote about six ways to make life easier with del.icio.us:

  • Let other people do your surfing for you (by subscribing – in Google Reader – to see what your contacts save)
  • Queue up blog topics
  • Use it as a search engine
  • Track coverage of you/your organization/your clients (again, in Google Reader)
  • Track topics (guess where)
  • Provide a resource for others

Of course, that’s on top of using it as a place to save articles for future reference.

If I find an article interesting, it gets saved here.

iGoogle

iGoogle is my base; the hub for my online presence. iGoogle lets you customize your Google homepage to include whatever you want. I choose to have it link me into the most important of my Google services, and to see them at a glance:

It puts all of these services at my fingertips, and lets me see them all at a glance. In my workplace we’re limited to an old version of Internet Explorer; iGoogle is my alternative to Firefox‘s tabbed interface. I don’t use this tool as much as I used to, as I find ways to work around my technology limitations at work, but it’s still an important one for me.

Blog search engines

Blog search engines let me keep tabs on what people are writing about my organization, its programs, its leaders and our stakeholders. It keeps me on top of what’s going on outside the three-and-a-half walls of my cubicle. It also lets me know when someone mentions me or something I’ve written.

This is the only entry I’ve left as a category of tools, rather than a specific one. Why? Because I don’t think there’s a standout tool for this any more.

Technorati used to be the standout tool, but not any more. I use it in combination with Google Blog Search and BlogPulse to make sure I don’t miss anything.

What about you?

These are by no means the only tools I use, but these are central ones for me… well, those and Google search. What about you? Which tools do you find the most valuable?

(photo credit: tashland)

Website Grader: One-Stop Search Engine Optimization Analysis

Website Grader is a free search engine optimization tool that measures the marketing effectiveness of your website.

Provided by Hubspot, the service looks at over 50 factors and provides you with a score that ranks your site alongside all of the other sites it has assessed.

Website GraderJust input your website’s address and (optionally) a few keywords for your site and/or competitors’ web addresses, and the site spits churns out a report packed with useful tips for improving the marketing of your site.

Analyzing Your Site

Website Grader looks at six broad areas:

  1. On-page SEO - metadata, keywords, images, readability, interior pages
  2. Off-page SEO – inbound links, Google PageRank, domain info, traffic, relevant directory services, indexed pages
  3. Blogosphere - whether you have a blog, how it ranks on Technorati, recent blog posts
  4. Social Mediasphere - limited to del.icio.us and digg
  5. Converting visitors to leads - do you have an RSS feed and conversion form?
  6. Competitive intelligence - how well you rank and how you shape up compared to your competitors

How This Site Measures Up

I ran the report twice, three weeks apart, to compare the results. I was pleased to see that my score rose from 85% to 92% over that time, meaning this site ranks higher than 92% of the sites Website Grader has looked at.

I still have a bit of work to do:

  • I need to insert meta keywords into my template
  • I need to remember to use alt tags on all my images
  • My domain name registration will expire in six months; renewing it would be a good idea
  • My Google PageRank could use a boot up the rear end
  • The site isn’t listed on any third-party directories.

Conclusion

Website Grader is a very useful tool. It’s not comprehensive by any means (the social media section in particular is far from complete) but it provides an excellent top-level analysis of your site that, combined with other tools, can help you to improve your site’s visibility.

Of course, none of this is any use if you don’t provide good content for your visitors.

How does your site measure up? What could you tweak to make your content more visible?

First Impressions of PRX Builder Social Media Release Plugin

There’s lots of interesting stuff going on with social media releases right now. First, we have the news from last week that IABC is sponsoring development of standards for this new format. Business Wire and PR Web have already jumped on-board.

Today, on a different scale, we have a new tool to help practitioners implement social media releases.

Shannon Whitley, a member of the existing social media release working group, today released a WordPress plugin to embed PRX Builder into your WordPress blog.

I’ve only had a short time to play around with this tool, but my first impressions are good.

(Note: this post is a little more down-in-the-reeds than most of my posts. If you aren’t familiar with the social media release, you may want to read The “Social Media Press Release” Debuts, Elements of the Social Media Release, and scan the Social Media Training Wiki page on social media releases)

The Basics

If you haven’t encountered it before, PRX Builder is a tool for creating social media releases. With their interactive multimedia content, social media releases can be daunting. PRX Builder takes that complication away and makes creating social media releases as simple as filling in a form (the only thing it doesn’t do for you is write the content – I’m afraid you still have to do that).

For all the simplicity of creating the actual release, PRX Builder is still intimidating when it comes to the original set-up. The homepage is full of enough talk of APIs and PHP to dissuade non-technical users. There was some integration with MS Office and with WordPress already, but it was somewhat confusing.

Good news: The new plugin removes even that barrier.

Setting up the plugin is no different to installing any other plugin in WordPress.

Using The Plugin

Once you’ve installed the plugin and set up an account (no personal information required), the plugin walks you through nine steps to creating your release.

Isn’t nine a lot? No, because each of those steps is broken down to its basics, making them easy to complete if you’ve done your preparation work for the release. What’s more, you can save and come back to the release at any point.

The icing on the cake: PRX Builder plugin lets you modify

The nine steps:

  1. Start – set up the basic details for the release
  2. Contact – input the contact details for your spokespeople
  3. Text – enter the core content for your release
  4. Categories – optimize the release for search engines (the plugin links to some useful articles) and select categories for it
  5. Links – create links for the “Related Links” section of your release. Again very easy – you can event import them from del.icio.us
  6. Multimedia – link to multimedia content that will be integrated into the release. You can easily import from YouTube and Flickr, but you can use other media forms too
  7. Quotes – attributable quotes for the release
  8. Boilerplate – standard text for the end of the release
  9. Finish – select your release’s template, set a few last options and choose how to distribute your release (PRX Builder integrates with PR Newswire if you want to go that route)

With those nine steps done, you’re done! And you didn’t need to do anything except fill in text fields. Easy, huh?

Screenshots (click to zoom)

Start screen Text screen
Links screen Multimedia screen
Finish screen

A Few Tweaks

I did notice a couple of things that could be tweaked to make the tool more accessible:

  • Plain language - in general the plugin explains things well, but there are a couple of places that it does fall short, notably the ‘Finish’ screen. The text assumes that users know exactly what’s going on in terms of technical details, which may not be the case. The experience could be improved somewhat by explaining some of the terms, options and processes better.
  • Support - this plugin is way more complex to use than most of the others I’ve encountered. This is fine, as it’s a complex process and the tool does an admirable job of simplifying it to the point it’s at. Still, more comprehensive support documentation would be useful throughout.
  • Other wire services - this is as much a call to the wire services as to Shannon Whitley. At present, PR Newswire (along with PRX Builder’s own distribution service) is the only wire service that works with PRX Builder. It would be great to see services like Marketwire and CNW get on board with this.

As I said at the beginning, I haven’t had a chance to play around too much with this tool yet, but it has great potential and I plan to use it more fully at my next opportunity. I’ll report back in at that point.

Have you explored this plugin, PRX Builder? What did you think? What do you think of social media releases in general?