Startup Voodoo: Turning Users into Evangelists

If you can pitch a user and convert them in under an hour, you’ve got a great product. If you listen to your users recruit other users without prompting, you’ve got a kick-ass company.

Last year at Gnomedex, I discovered Lijit for the first time and the concept behind trust-based search clicked in my mind as very valuable and necessary in an increasingly crowded web space. Little did I know that less that a year later, I would begin doing business development for the company that, more than any other, had me sold on first blush.

About two months ago, I sent an email to Jeremy Schoemaker about the Lijit tool. I was unsure what the outcome would be and was pleased to get an email within an hour thanking me for the email and informing me that he had signed up and installed since my initial email. Quick win, and thanks, Jeremy!

A few days later, he wrote a post about the widget and he became the referral for a large number of installs. To this day, he ranks near the top.

A few days ago at Blog World Expo, I sat in the New Media Lounge with Drew Olanoff from Strands and Jessica Smith. I was not pushing Lijit but instead, plunking away on Twitter while Drew and Jessica chatted. At some point, the conversation spun around to Lijit and I listened with a smile as Drew sold Jessica on our tool, without me getting involved.

Drew is a passionate user who has been converted into an evangelist.

There is no greater testimony to any company, not just Lijit, than to have their users do the selling. End of the day, your brand is controlled by your users (as I’ve said repeatedly for years) and though you might feel like you have to protect or have ownership of your brand, it is really the intangible effect of the loyalty of your users.

If your users don’t have faith, confidence and loyalty in your brand, your brand is essentially worthless. If, however, you can turn them into passionate users (Kathy Sierra’s message, actually), you will have evangelists for life and your brand has value.

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Findability is a Legitimate Concern for Bloggers

On Saturday, I posted a review of my session at WordCamp on Search and Findability. It was hard to gauge at that time how effective the session was at the time I wrote that. Beside my normal annual attendance at WordCamp as a subject matter expert, and several sessions at different WordCamps around the country over the past few years, I was there on behalf of Lijit.

In fact, when I pitched the session on search to Matt (as a core interest of Lijit), I was firmly instructed (as I suspected I would be) that hard pitching the company was off limits. From my perspective as a member of the WordPress community, I wouldn’t have it any other way. It was the same approach that we took at b5media. The company was represented. The company was known as a WordPress shop. We shared war stories with other WordPress shops. But no one on stage at any point pitched b5. It’s non-standard, I think, for any company to pitch their wares at any *Camp.

Instead, my session was about findability. Findability is the concept that content can be “found” by readers. This is a common problem that many bloggers wrestle with, and many have tried a wide variety of techniques to make their blogs more findable. This is not the same as SEO, though. SEO is a subset of findability. It’s findability for machines. Findability is as much about the data structure as the content or theme structure or the device compatibility (is it mobile compatible, for instance?)

Our product at Lijit tries to address a lot of the issues of findability. Re-search provides relevant search data to readers coming from the search engines (think landing pages). It makes all the bloggers content findable by indexing not just the site, but all the other related content associated with the user.

What I found interesting, and that I did not know when I wrote my post, was that the rest of the day would reinforce the core principles of my session. Tantek Çelik expounded on Microformats. There was an SEO session. Numerous bloggers talked to me throughout the day explaining solutions that they have come up with for making a blog more findable. Solutions ranged from content practices, to theme structures to custom homegrown plugins that do various things. It was fascinating.

I realize now what I thought I realized then, but didn’t really realize until now. All bloggers are faced with the same core challenges. The challenges manifest themselves in different ways, but at the end of the day findability is on the forefront of everyones minds.

  1. All bloggers want to drive traffic. Whether the traffic is internal, a key interest of those in the SEO/SEM/Ad space, or within their sphere of influence, an interest of bloggers looking to build their personal brand.
  2. All bloggers want to provide value to readers. No blogger wants search engine traffic to go away. Everyone wants to find a way to keep that traffic and convert it into value, whether ad-driven or otherwise, for their blog
  3. Bloggers are grappling with ways to break apart from the pack. 99.999% of blogs (a totally random number) really look the same at the end of the day. I don’t mean the user interface, but I do mean the theme structure. Structures are built in expected way, and modules/widgets are expected to behave similar ways, regardless of the blog
  4. WordPress cannot solve all the problems of all the blogs. Keep in mind that WordPress is a tool, not a lifestyle. (And I’d say the same thing to social media aficionados). WordPress is evolving into something, but much of the value that bloggers can add, allowing themselves to be different or drive more traffic (see point 1 or 2), are created by smart people trying to bring a solution to a problem.
  5. At the end of the day, every bloggers wants a kickass community of readers and commenters that reinforce their worth in the world. Kathy Sierra talks about creating passionate users, and she’s talking about principles of an engaged community. Findability helps the community engage.

Doing a 9am session is hard. Everyone is still sleepy, and/or hung over, jetlagged, etc. At the end of my session, I felt like I said what I needed to say. However, by the end of the weekend, I realized that much of WordCamp reinforced exactly the concerns that I brought up to kick off the opening session. That’s encouraging to me as a WordPress user and as someone who tries to understand the dynamics of the greater community. Of course, it encourages me as a Lijit guy as I see that our product can directly address many of the challenges that I heard repeated throughout the weekend.

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Search and Findability

I’m at WordCamp San Francisco 2008 today and had the distinct pleasure of giving a talk on Search and Findability. Distinct pleasure because it was the first session of the day at 9am. And if any of you know me, then you know that I don’t do mornings well. :-)

My session was about Search and Findability. There seemed to be a lot of misunderstandings about what the session would be about. Findability is not SEO. SEO is an aspect of Findability. SEO makes a blog findable for search engines.

Really, Findability is all about the right data being available to the reader, whether that reader is human or a machine (search engines). To that end, theme structure is a major area of concerns. Theme developers can setup their themes to have related posts or popular posts functionality, as well as attention to search implementation. I suggested theme authors should provide search results in full format, and not simply excerpts.

Secondly, findability is all about metadata and descriptive data. Microformats provide a human semantic understanding to machine-oriented descriptive data. Examples are

1
rel="nofollow"

,

1
rel="tag"

as well as WordPress built in XFN. Human understanding of machine data.

Multimedia content should take advantage of descriptive content. This means image tagging, show notes for podcasts and caption text for videos. Of course, and understanding of tags and categories is helpful.

Thirdly, I touched briefly on Ambient Findability, a concept introduced by Peter Morville in the O’Reilly publication with the same name. Ambient Findability suggests that no matter what, where or how, content should be easily findable. At b5media the mantra was “the right content, at the right time, to the right person on the right device”. Morville asks three questions:

  1. Can people find your blog?
  2. Can people find their way around your blog?
  3. Can people find your content, products and services despite your blog?

Finally, I suggested four plugins/features that can enhance the findability of a site:

  1. Possibly Related Posts – Only available for WordPress.com users.
  2. Search Everything – makes all areas of WordPress content available for the default search
  3. Microformats plugins – adds additional Microformats support to WordPress: Micro Anywhere, Blog Summary and Save Microformats
  4. Lijit for WordPress – our new plugin that allows registration and configuration from inside of the WordPress admin. Also, it makes it possible to hijack the theme search form.

The slide deck from the session is available below. It is Creative Commons Attribution Non-commercial licensed. In other words, use the idea, use the concepts, use the deck in it’s entirety as long as you attrbiute me. I’m Aaaron Brazell from Technosailor.com in case you didn’t know. Oh, and if you make money, I expect a cut. ;-)

Findability Abwc2008
View SlideShare presentation or Upload your own.

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