Business Week Top 25 Under 25

BusinessWeek.com is highlighting 25 of the best young entrepreneurs in the country on its web site this week.

One of the nominees is Utah’s own Cammon Randle of Copperrain Productions. The company does “promotions, training videos, and creative shorts “. He is 25 and is a member of the Provo Labs Academy, along with his wife Lorri.

You can vote for Cammon online and help him get even more national exposure.

Congrats Cammon and Lorri!

Training: Web Site Design, Landing Page Optimization and Conversion Rate

Yesterday we held a Provo Labs Academy training session on landing page optimization. I played about 15 minutes of excerpts from the May 23rd MarketingExperiements.com conference call recording. They described how they increased the conversion rate of a hypnosis product landing page by 40% by improving the layout and design slightly.

They also offer some excellent guidelines for landing page design at the end of their report.

We also reviewed the landing page design guidelines listed in the free 30-page report from Enquiro.com (Inside the Mind of the Searcher) from 2004. (Registration is required.) Here is the list they provide:

What Purchasers looked for on a Landing Page

(in order of importance)

* Query Keywords – In a heading or other prominent location
* Product Picture
* Offers – Value added offers, i.e. free shipping
* Prices – Don’t make them ask for it
* Features — Find out more about the product
* Clean Professional Layout – Is this a trusted site
* Clear Conversion Path – Is it easy to buy or ask for more information
* Selection – Ability to see different products in one place. Should have trusted brands featured
* Comparison – Direct comparison between models
* Clear Navigation – Is it easy to move around and continue researching

It is incredible how many PPC campaigns take you to the home page of a company’s web site or to a page that doesn’t match at all what the person was searching for.

Your landing page should contain the keywords your visitor was searching for and if they are searching for a product, it should have a picture of the product. Otherwise, in the few seconds that they spend scanning your page, they won’t immediately see what they were looking for and they will leave. Your bounce-off rate will be extremely high.

We also discussed the MarketingSherpa Landing Page Design Handbook, which sells for $247.

The editor of this handbook Stefan Tornquist shared 5 ways to increase landing page conversion rates with TechWeb last year.

Some powerful tools for optimizing landing page conversion rates include Optimost and Offermatica. The new Google website optimizer tool is in beta and we don’t know anyone who has been accepted into the beta yet.

One of our Academy members has 20 years experience in direct marketing. He said long format direct mail pieces traditionally pulled better than short format, but in today’s world of information overload, he has been finding more instances where short format pulls better.

In 2004 MarketingExperiments showed that most of the time long copy still pulls better than short copy, but a recent example (see test #2 on this page) had different results.

Internet companies and merchant account limits

If you run an internet business with the potential for rapid growth, and you use a merchant account for processing credit card transactions, please check your merchant account monthly limit before you encounter the problem that we experienced over the weekend.

Wikipedia has a decent article on Merchant Accounts, but until I edited it today it said nothing about monthly transaction limits.

The merchant account limit bit one of our Provo Labs companies this weekend. Here’s what happened:

WorldVitalRecords.com started selling subscriptions to its web site on October 4th. We had some initial subscribers from blogs and news releases, but we didn’t turn on our online marketing efforts until last Friday. Our first email campaign went out to 80,000 genealogists. We invited them to get 2 years access to our databases and online courses for the price of 1 year. Our expiration date on this offer is today, October 31st. (MarketingExperiments.com has demonstrated how important it is to have special offers that include urgency.)

The email campaign brought us a large number of new subscribers. Our team had a contest to see who could guess how many subscribers we would get in the first 24 hours. I won the contest–my guess was within 4 of the actual number.

The large numbers of signups continued into Saturday, but then came to an almost complete stop. On Sunday, our numbers were tiny.

Upon investigation yesterday, our team discovered, much to our dismay, that we had reached our monthly transaction limit on our merchant account. Between Saturday and Sunday 113 credit cards were declined, costing us more than $5,000 in revenue.

Yesterday, when our bank helped us get the limit increased temporarily, we saw the subscription numbers soar once again. Hopefully, we can recover the lost revenue from the denied cards. But more importantly, we hope to get an increase to our limit so we won’t have this problem again.

I remember many internet companies had problems with merchant account limits years ago. A 2002 story about profitable internet companies in Southern California describes the trouble that one internet startup had with their merchant account:

The toughest part, they agree, was establishing credit as a totally Internet business. The first weekend they received $10,000 in orders. “Our merchant account (for payments by credit card) would take 12 days to clear our money,” Livdahl says. “Suppliers wouldn’t ship because we hadn’t paid. We just had to wait. It was terrible.”

InternetRetailer.com sells a report that lists 500 retail ecommerce companies that had 2005 revenues of more than $3 million. Many of these companies are fast growing. I wonder how many of them have run into the merchant account limit problem at some point in their history? I bet this is a pretty common thing.

Does anyone have insights into this problem or first-hand experiences with it? What can be done to avoid it? (It’s actually a nice problem to have, in comparison with other problems that many startups have, like not having enough customers.)

P.S.

Interesting thing from Google Trends when you look at the cities where people are searching for “merchant account” or “credit card processing.” Apex, NC has far more queries than any other US city. Does anyone know why?

And Pakistan has far more searches on “merchant account” than any other country. Pakistan is listed by MSNBC as one of the top 5 countries involved in credit card fraud.

Find the Fastest Growing Companies in Your Own Back Yard, Then Network!

Today in our training at the Provo Labs Academy for Entrepreneurs (yes, I know, we probably should think of a more creative name for it) we discussed how important it is to become familiar with the fastest growing companies in your own local area. In Utah, there are a lot of lists that make this quite easy.

The Utah Valley Entrepreneurial Forum selects the Top 25 Under 5 every summer. These are companies that are less than five years old that are growing fast. They are companies to watch. (Here are last year’s winners.)

Yesterday, the annual Utah 100 was announced by the Mountain West Capital Network (MWCN). The web site hasn’t been updated with this year’s winners yet, but you can see the last few years of winners there. These companies are at least 5 years old, but they also have an emerging category.

Next, we looked at the Inc. 500 winners in Utah for the past 3 years. They are also at least 5 years old and are judged based on percent revenue growth. Here is the list:

Inc. 500 Companies from Utah, 2006
Eleven Utah companies are on the 25th annual Inc. 500 ranking of the fastest-growing private companies in the country.

  • Logoworks of Lindon was the top-ranked Utah company, coming in 66th.
  • Omniture, Orem, 67.
  • Atlas Marketing Group, Provo, 143.
  • Backcountry.com, Park City, 165.
  • Summit Energy, Park City, 236
  • Universal Accounting Center, Salt Lake City, 313.
  • Edge Products, Ogden, 328.
  • Spring Communications, Salt Lake City, 349.
  • MaxStream, Lindon, 391.
  • Diamond Wireless, Salt Lake City, 419.
  • VitalSmarts, Provo, 491.
  • Inc. 500 Companies from Utah, 2005

    Virginia ranked first in the highest number of Inc. 500 companies per capita with 4.5 companies per million residents. Massachusetts ranked second at 4, and Utah ranked third at 3.7. Companies included in the rankings posted an average three-year sales growth of 769 percent. Utah companies on this year’s list, and their rankings, are:

  • Die Cuts With a View, Provo, 70.
  • Edge Products, Ogden, 89.
  • MaxStream, Lindon, 92.
  • Arena Communications, Salt Lake City, 123.
  • iBahn, South Jordan, 253.
  • Omniture, Orem, 259.
  • Summit Energy, Park City, 291.
  • VitalSmarts, Provo, 293.
  • Back to Basics, Bluffdale, 389.
  • Inc. 500 Companies from Utah, 2004

    Utah has 16 companies ranked in the 23rd annual Inc. 500 list of the nation’s fastest-growing private companies. . . As was the case last year, Utah led the states with the highest number of Inc. 500 companies per capita, with 6.8 per million residents. Virginia was a distant second with 3.9 per million residents. California had the most Inc. 500 companies, with 67.

    Other Utah companies on the list are:

  • Edge Products, Ogden, 30th, with $9.6 million in sales, average annual growth of 734 percent.
  • Hobbytron.com, Orem, 45th, $7.9 million, 532 percent.
  • iBoats Inc., Draper, 48th, $8.6 million, 515 percent.
  • USA Lending Group, Salt Lake City, 70th, $4.8 million, 380 percent.
  • Backcountry.com, Heber, 93rd, $14.9 million, 306 percent.
  • Summit Energy LLC, Park City, 96th, $61.1 million, 292 percent.
  • Ibahn (STSN Inc.), Midvale, 104th, $60.6 million, 276 percent.
  • Ikano Communications, Salt Lake City, 132nd, $27.7 million, 231 percent.
  • FatPipe Networks Inc., Salt Lake City, 189th, $3.1 million, 182 percent.
  • Pro Look Sports Corp., Provo, 199th, $2.7 million, 177 percent.
  • DieCuts with a View , Provo, 228th, $7.3 million, 162 percent.
  • Back to Basics Inc., Bluffdale, 250th, $68.3 million, 145 percent.
  • Cafe Rio Inc., Provo, 368th, $16.9 million, 99 percent.
  • ChartLogic Inc., Salt Lake City, 445th, $5.5 million, 84 percent.
  • Studeo, Salt Lake City, 474th, $41.8 million, 77 percent.
  • Today we also reviewed the Internet Retailer Top 500 list, which includes 7 or 8 Utah companies this year. There were 6 Utah companies in the first edition, the Top 300 list that was published last year.

    I didn’t review the Deloitte 500 list, but I know Omniture is on that last and probably some other Utah companies are as well. I just checked–there are 5.

    So what’s the point of getting to know who all the fastest growing companies are in your area?

    There is so much to learn from each of these startup companies. The founders’ stories are probably remarkable and inspiring. Most startup companies almost hit the wall before turning the corner and finding success. Most founders are also pretty open about what it took, and what the keys to success were.

    You’ll find people from these companies speaking at business schools or at other local forums. You’ll find them being interviewed by local journalists and telling their story. Or, if that isn’t happening, create a forum and invite them to speak to you and all your entrepreneurial friends. Create an opportunity to learn from them.

    Use LinkedIn.com to see how closely connected you are to people in these companies. Find a way to meet them. Don’t be shy. If you need a few new ideas about how to meet people, check out “Never Eat Alone,” a book that Tim Sanders recommended and I liked.

    After Josh Coates (Mozy.com founder) moved from Silicon Valley to Utah, he used his networking skills, and within a few months had met just about everyone he needed to know to get his company funded, staffed, and off and running. It can be done. (If you aren’t using the free Mozy.com service to back up all your most important files already, then go sign up today. It is a no-brainer. Their beta version won the PC Magazine Editor’s Choice for this service.)

    Phil Burn’s Dev Utah Geek Dinners and Phil Windley’s CTO Breakfasts are excellent examples of creating networking opportunities that will help you meet great people. Invite the people that you are dying to meet.

    With the lists that are published and the social networking tools and networking opportunities that are available today, you could know someone from each of the fastest growing companies in your area within a few months. And knowing these people will change your business life forever.

    MySpace, YouTube, Wikipedia and Free Downloads

    Okay, I’m just keyword stuffing my blog post, to see how many visitors I get by using these keywords in my title. These are all very hot keywords according to Google Trends.

    Here are the trends for MySpace, YouTube, and Wikipedia.

    But the title wouldn’t be complete without including “free” and “download.” I can’t seem to find any search terms on Google Trends that get more searches than they do. I compare “free” and “download” to “yahoo”, “google”, and “myspace.” Interesting results.

    Anyone searching on Technorati, Feedster, Ice Rocket, or Google Blog Search for any of these keywords will find this post, at least for the next few minutes until others post entries that also have these keywords in them. I wonder if I’ll see a spike in traffic.

    I don’t believe in keyword stuffing. I’m doing this just to make a point. (I did blog about an effect press release that I saw the other day that used keyword stuffing to drive traffic to its site.)

    But I do believe in careful keyword selection. Every time you post a blog entry, write a news article, or create a title for a web page, you really ought to make sure that your title does make sense, both to readers and to searchers.

    Make sure that the keywords you are choosing are actually popular keywords. They should also actually match the content of your post, unlike my poor example here.

    I really do check Google Trends most of the time before posting. For example, yesterday I wondered if “online marketing” or “internet marketing” would make a better title.

    Clearly, internet marketing won easily.

    My title was “Next 3 days: free online conference on internet marketing

    I checked “3” vs “three” and “online conference” vs several other options.

    So, with a 1-2 minute check of Google Trends, I’m guessing that I increased the odds that anyone using a blog search engine would find that post by about 50-100%.

    My traffic has been going up lately, but I can’t tell if it is because I’m posting more frequently or if my post titles are better. But I’m going to keep using Google Trends to do this, because I think it will make a really big difference long term on my site traffic.

    When the bloggers in our world history blogger network all start taking an extra minute or two before each post to check their keyword selection, I believe that the traffic there will increase dramatically.

    I actually hope someone will create a WordPress plug-in that will access Google Trends within the interface. Maybe it could grade my headline while I’m writing my article, and then return some alternatives (by checking a thesaurus in the background as well as querying Google Trends) and then let me know the best ones before I finalize my post.

    What do you think about keyword stuffing and careful keyword selection? Do you know any journalists or newspapers or online publishers that train their writers to do this? And if so, are their tools out there that get into the daily workflow?

    My new Google Co-Op search engine

    This week Google introduced a stunningly simple and powerful new service: anyone can now create their own custom search engine for personal or public use.

    Each of us can choose the sites that we want to include in our own person Google search engine, and we can share in the advertising revenue that will come if other people use our engine.

    Information Week article.

    “Marissa Mayer, vice-president of search products and user experience, said it was the most significant launch that Google would announce in the final months of this year. By letting companies and individuals build their own specialised search engines, it will also create competition for the many new “vertical” search products that have recently been launched on the web, she added.” — Financial Times.

    So here is my first version that I spent 10 minutes creating:






    You can select all the sites that you want to include in your search or you can invite others to collaborate with you in selecting the sites.

    When Google made AdSense available to publishers, it made it possible for many thousands of content web sites to generate advertising revenue in a very efficient way, without hiring a sales force. Now, these same web site publishers will have the ability to create customized search engines for their customers. This is a great move by Google. It will be another boon to publishers and entrepreneurs who take advantage of it.

    Internet stock investors: Bambi on Google

    If I were an active investor in internet stocks, I would read everything that Bambi Francisco has to say, especially about the large internet companies. She has amazing prescience. I’ve been reading her for columns for years. Today she has an excellent post at AlwaysOn.

    She has so many connections and so often has the inside story; but it’s her analysis that I like the most. Something she can do because she has been covering the industry for so long. She’s the Mary Meeker of internet journalism. If Mary blogged, I’d read her religiously too. (Mary was the #1 rated investment banking analyst of internet stocks for several years running. She wrote a report two weeks ago about the future of online advertising and how Google will benefit from the purchase of YouTube.) On Oct. 13th, the Wall Street Journal said Meeker values Google at $500 per share.

    So back to Bambi. In her post today, Bambi explains how revenue follows eyeballs–even now, even years after the bubble burst.

    Audiences and ad dollars always meet. I recall years ago, when search was considered a commodity.

    Companies like Inktomi moved into the caching business, while others — Yahoo (YHOO), Lycos, Excite, AltaVista, etc. –quickly morphed into portals or were buried in other entities. The ad dollars would flow abundantly to portals, and transaction fees to online retailers, so most believed. Back in 2000, nearly $3.8 billion went into display ads vs. $109 million in paid search in the U.S., according to eMarketer.

    Last week Google’s stock went on a tear. It hit a 52-week high this week. The market cap today is $145 billion. Compare that with Yahoo’s $33 billion and eBay’s $44 billion.

    Bambi told 8,000 investors last Wednesday that she had turned bullish on Google only after it bought YouTube, because now it would be a leader in the social networking and video space, which has huge traffic share online but a very small percentage of advertising revenue so far. Like search back in 2000.

    Social networks are estimated to attract $280 million in ad dollars this year, according to eMarketer. Online video-sharing sites are estimated to attract about $385 million. EMarketer estimates that $15.9 billion will be spent in online advertisements in the U.S. this year. That means social networks and video-sharing sites only attract about 1.8% to 2.5% of total online ad spending.

    Investors who paid attention to Mary Meeker’s report two weeks ago or Bambi Francisco’s comments last Wednesday might have gotten into Google before the recent run.

    But more importantly, since I’m a firm believer in the Warren Buffett, Charlie Munger approach to investing (make only a few bets in your entire life after reading and studying all you can and getting to know the company as if you were its owner, and then stick with those bets over a long period of time), I would keep an eye on Google for the next 5-10 years. I believe it will be worth more than Microsoft within a few more years.

    In May 2004 I predicted Google would be worth more than Microsoft within 10-15 years.

    In February 2005 I updated my forecast and listed 7 reasons why it wouldn’t even take 10 years.

    Today I would guess that it will take less than 5 years and perhaps even only 2-3 years before Google is worth more than Microsoft. Acquisitions may play a role; but more importantly, each project that Google has launched (and has often been criticized for because they don’t become #1 overnight with them) is maturing. The pace of innovation at Google still exceeds all the other internet companies combined.

    For the last decade, PC owners have found hardware prices plummeting but the cost of Windows and Office staying rather steady. It isn’t uncommon to pay as much or more for software than for hardware when you purchase a new PC.

    But with Google’s recent moves in the spreadsheet and word processing space (when are they going to offer a free Powerpoint killer?), it won’t be long before we can buy a $300-500 PC without any Microsoft software on it and be as productive or more productive than ever before.

    I’m not necessarily down on Microsoft. It will reinvent itself. Think about it. IBM is still worth $137 billion. It’s just a totally different business than it was 20 years ago. Microsoft will find its place in the post-Windows world, but it just won’t be making all the rules like it has for the last 10-20 years.

    How many of you can live without Microsoft products today? And how many can see the time coming soon when Google will provide the OS as well as the free software applications that you and your team need to succeed? (And it will all be monetized through their most-efficient advertising engine.)

    What do you think? And does it matter or not?

    Since I write primarily to entrepreneurs, I’m especially eager to hear what Google’s strategy and success means to you as you make investment and business plan decisions.

    Next 3 days: free online conference on internet marketing

    If you can afford to stop working for part or all of the next three days, you can hear from dozens of the most successful online marketers in the industry–for free and from the convenience of your own home or office.

    (Or you can sign up for $99.95 and get access to more than 175 online presentations–that’s one a day for the next 6 months.)

    ecomXpo starts today (Oct. 24th), with free sessions over the next 3 days from key employees at Google, Yahoo, eBay, Microsoft AdCenter, LinkShare, Searchfeed, iHispanic, Performics, and MarketingSherpa, and many others.

    Utah affiliate guru Jeremy Palmer (Quityourdayjob.com) will also be presenting, as will one of my favorite authors, John Battelle, who wrote “The Search” (how Google changed the search industry.) His SearchBlog is the best coverage of the search engine industry.

    I highly recommend that you budget time every day to stay sharp in internet marketing. My own personal knowledge plan has included reading MarketingSherpa every week and all the daily newsletters that come from MarketingVOX. After learning about eComXpo from Brad Pace, internet marketing specialist at Provo Labs, I’m now planning to subscribe to ecomXpo University so that I can hear these presentations over the next several months.

    Apple PC market sharing growing fast

    Sales of Apple’s Macintosh computers over the past twelve month’s have grown faster than any other major PC manufacturer, boosting the company’s share of the U.S. PC market to 6.1 percent, according to data released by Gartner on Wednesday …

    Full story

    Every day I see more and more signs that Apple is gaining momentum with its PC sales. The iPod is giving Apple momentum and I think leading to more PC sales. And Mac lovers are coming out in the open and boldly telling the rest of us to get a clue.

    Even software developers might start thinking once again about producing Mac versions. Yesterday, a good friend who develops recipe software said that if he gets enough pre-orders (he is shooting for 1,000) then he will go ahead and develop a Mac version. He hasn’t updated his Mac application since 1999.

    I wonder how many other software developers will start thinking that the market share for Macs will continue to grow and grow and grow. With amazing dominance in the iPod space, Apple will have a huge mp3 customer base to market PCs to.

    I’m listening to “The Second Coming of Steve Jobs” on my iPod at the gym these days. What an amazing comeback story.

    I’ve been in the Microsoft/Intel/Windows camp for almost 20 years, but even I’m thinking that my next PC should probably be a Mac. I don’t think I could ever switch completely, but for so many applications, Macs just seem better.

    What do you think?