Looking for 1 more ticket for tonight’s Las Vegas Bowl

I’m heading down to the Las Vegas Bowl with some tickets to this evening’s BYU vs. Oregon game — but my party is short one ticket.

We may be able to buy 1 ticket from a scalper, but if you know of any available tickets, please email me at PAUL “AT” PROVOLABS.COM sometime today. Please include your phone number so that I can call you and work out the details.

Any help will be greatly appreciated.

Go Cougars!

Seattle SEO firm reveals method for finding sites that should link to you

Thanks to SoloSEO.com, a new web-based search engine marketing project management system, for pointing me to this excellent post from a Seattle SEO firm about how to get more incoming links. I have used some of these ideas before, but this post describes a more comprehensive and useful approach than any internal search strategy my teams have employed to get links. I highly recommend this.

Backlinks are the #1 most important factor in search engine rankings. So everyone needs them. But there are legitimate natural ways to attract links and then there are short-cut ways, which in the long run won’t give you much credit.

For example, many web sites will sell text links for SEO purposes. If your company is considering buying text links from any of the networks that have popped up, you should read this excellent Matt Cutts post from December 2005 that reveals that Google is getting very good at identifying purchased text links. Matt Cutts works at Google with the team that tries to identify and stamp out SEO spam; at the same time he gives wonderful advice about how to legitimately design your web site to be search engine friendly.

The fortune is in the follow up

Chris Loch of whatisyoursecret.com spoke at the Provo Labs Academy recently.

Chris’s main point is that a very important part of internet marketing is capturing email addresses from customers so that you can follow up with them with useful information and offers. He kept saying, “the fortune is in the followup.”

He is an excellent internet marketer who combines traditional marketing with internet marketing in some very novel ways. For example, some of his work has involved using direct mail (postcards) sent to targeted recipients to bring them to a very unique web site that plays an audio file and encourages people to sign up for a series of e-mails that lead them to purchasing a service that they need. Check out his web site and some of the projects that he has done for clients.

Many of his landing pages have only one purpose–to capture an email address from a prospect. One example is www.specialagentqa.com. He likes using auto-playing audio. He has discovered that adding navigational links to these pages actually decreases the conversion rate, so he doesn’t put any other links on the page. The only thing a web visitor can do on these pages is sign up by entering their email address for free information, or exit the site.

When it comes to email marketing, one of the challenges is getting the emails that you send to prospects and customers to actually get to their inbox. Since ISPs and email providers are trying to block spam, many legitimate email messages get blocked by the spam filters for various reasons.

There are blacklists and whitelists that email marketers need to understand.

Some companies instruct their email subscribers to add them to their “whitelist” so that emails from them will make it through. Here is a real estate company that teaches users of AOL, Earthlink, Hotmail, Yahoo, MSN, NetZero and various anti-spam products how to add them to their email whitelist.

Chris said he uses E-filtrate to make sure his legitimate email campaigns won’t create a false positive in spam filters (based on the copy) and get blocked.

One member of the Academy who has done a lot of email marketing has found that many emails get blocked because the domain name and IP address of the sender don’t match in the email header. He does custom php coding for companies to make sure that the domain name and IP address do match. (I’m not totally certain that I’ve captured this correctly. I welcome readers who can clarify the point the Academy member was trying to make.)

Chris showed us audiogenerator.com and instantvideogenerator.com which are sites that enable you to easily add audio or video to your web site with the goal of increasing your conversion rates.

Chris told us that he typically increased the email capture rates by 40% by adding audio to the landing page, and even more when he uses video.

He told us that one way to get people to sign up for your email offer is to use an “ethical bribe,” meaning, give them something valueable and free if they will give you their email address. One example he shared was by offering an email series called “9 steps to weight loss” which people can get for free when they give you their email address. You can find this on 9stepstoweightloss.com

Chris says teleseminars work great for high-ticket items. For example, if you want people to attend an expensive real world seminar, you may want to offer a free teleseminar to generate leads for the actual event. On the teleseminar you can have interviews with the speakers who are going to be giving the actual seminar.

Chris mentioned that Virtual Seminar Week recently had 49 speakers who gave presentations. Each speaker emailed their own lists and told them about the Virtual Seminar Week, which had educational content about dozens of important topics. Pooling lists in this way and combining forces to present a great online educational value is a win-win for the conference organizers and for the individual speakers. The individual speakers who sign up the most subscribers get the majority of the revenue from their own efforts.

(I recently subscribed to eComXpo, so that I can listed to the 175 presentations that have been given by ecommerce experts and internet marketers. I think this model of bringing together experts and selling subscriptions to the archives is an excellent one.)

Chris’s wife runs jenmagazine.com, a fashion and culture site for LDS teens and young adult women. The site traffic and email list is growing fast. By adding a “tell a friend” feature to the site the list started growing 40% faster.

Chris says marketers should try to participate in trade shows and events where you get the entire database of attendees if you are an exhibitor or sponsor. At one major trade show, every exhibitor got the entire database of attendees, but only about 5-10% of the companies even used the list afterwards. He again emphasized that the fortune is in the followup, and that emailing or mailing the trade show attendees after the trade show is over is a gold mine, but many companies overlook that. They come away with whatever sales they made at the show, but don’t do anything afterwards. Chris mentioned one popular entrepreneur speaker who will not agree to speak at a conference unless she gets access to all of the attendees.

Chris says there are many companies who compile mailing lists, and that virtually any type of list can be used in your marketing campaigns. I think traditional direct marketers and list brokers are far more sophisticated in their targeting than internet marketers, partly because there is far more public data available (every US address, credit card data connected to people and households, subscribers to thousands of magazines, etc) to offline marketers than to online marketers. And since it is so much more expensive to use direct mail, marketers have to use more careful selections.

One of his clients offered a space pen with insignias for each branch of the U.S. Military and then mailed an offer to every retired officer. They were able to rent a list of all retired military officers, which branch they served in, and how long they served for.

One publicly traded company that offers an unbelievable rich database of US consumers and businesses is InfoUSA.

You can select any custom list from over 200 million U.S. consumers. The web site lets you design your list before purchasing it. Try the InfoUSA list selection tool right now if you have never done this before.

I also like Melissadata.com, which offers all kinds of data for marketers.

Other sites Chris mentioned:

1shoppingcart.com: he loves this shopping cart, which integrates auto responder and email list management capabilities with its ecommerce transaction services. In other words, you don’t need an ecommerce site plus an email management system like aweber.com or getresponse.com. It all comes with 1shoppingcart.com.

tellafriendking.com: one of my BYU student marketing teams used a trial recently and found that this is effective in generating word of mouth referrals.

Like Chris Loch, I believe strongly in creating an in-house opt-in email database of customers and prospective customers. At MyFamily.com, we were able to build an inhouse database containing millions of names. It was extremely valuable. At 10x Marketing, we once had a client ask us to build them a 1-million name house email list in 90 days, before the launch of their new book title. We contacted some co-registration networks (where you pay a small amount of money for each person who registers for your newsletter). We rolled out our opt-in and double opt-in email signup forms across the co-registration network, and within a few weeks we were collecting 10-15,000 email addresses per day. I was amazed. We would have reached the 1 million name goal, but at a cost of about $0.30 per name, the client decided not to keep spending.

We ended up with about 350,000 or so names. When they launched their book title and many other products, they were able to easily recover the cost of building the list, and as far as I know, they are still monetizing the list to this day.

Remember, these were legitimate opt-in and double opt-in offers that attracted opportunity seekers who were interested in their products.

A question for my readers: what is the best email list building strategy that you have tried or seen? Please share….

Search U.S. Patents with new Google patent search

For nearly 20 years I’ve dreamed of an easy to use search engine that would index all US Patents and make it easy for any inventor or entrepreneur to do sophisticated patent research.

As an employee of Folio Corporation in the late 1980s, my job was to index huge data collections, such as AICPA content, all the IRS publications, and the US Code for our reference publishers who licensed our search engine technology. We looked at patent data several times, but it was never a project that actually got a sponsor.

With its introduction of Patent Search (in beta), Google has taken another large swath of content and made it more accessible and useful than ever before.

This will be a tremendous boon to inventors and entrepreneurs. Patent attorneys will still have to help the lay person understand what they are finding; but like individuals who do online medical research before going to the doctor, the individuals paying the patent attorneys will be more active in the conversation and more intelligent. Patent law will be less of a secret art and more open to all of us. I think this will have significant positive ramifications to business and entrepreneurship.

For information entrepreneurs like me, check another project off my list of things to do. Google is taking over the information world one large step at a time. Earlier this year Provo Labs kicked off a project to index all the SEC documents that are critical for anyone in the stock market to understand. We were able to easily download and index a large number of public filings. We did it because like the USPTO.gov site, the SEC.gov site is horrible, and all the SEC search engine sites that used to be free (during the bubble) have switched over to subscription models. Like my friend John Bresee says, an advertising model could be disruptive to these companies.

Judd Bagley suggested we launch our annual and quarterly reports search engine under the name 10qverymuch.com. So we bought that domain. But like some of our other vertical search engine ideas, we didn’t get very far along with this project. I’m glad we didn’t attempt a patent search engine; and now I’m just wondering when Google will launch it’s own SEC fillings search engine.

The SEC recently awarded $54 million in contracts, primarily to Keane, to update its Edgar database system over the next few years. I’m not sure that was necessary. Why not let one of the Google employees do this on their 20% time?

Okay, the overhaul is probably still needed; but if part of the contract is for a public-facing search engine upgrade on the SEC.gov web site, that would be completely unnecessary because Google will do this sooner or later.

I would hate to be Edgar Online right now, with Google on the prowl to index all the world’s content and make it free. Imagine the hit to the EDGR stock if and when Google unveils its SEC search engine. Ouch.

I would also hate to be 10kwizards.com, a company that I have admired.

I’m glad that Provo Labs didn’t fully fund and develop an SEC search engine, a plan which I blogged about in February, because there is no doubt in my mind that someone at Google is working on this right now.

It’s like trying to be Encyclopedia Britannica with Wikipedia around. What in the world would you do to survive? I just don’t think it’s possible.

Fortunately, for internet entrepreneurs, Google is great at search but not yet so good at community. And that leaves opportunities for information entrepreneurs who empower people to connect with each other as well as with the information they need.

But the window will close quickly. Google’s acquisition spree continues and its two latest purchases, JotSpot and YouTube are squarely in the community space. They join earlier acquisitions Pyra Labs (creator of Blogger.com) and Dodgeball, which gave Google the world’s largest blogging network and a mobile application for social networking.

Clayton Christensen, speaker at the first Open Source Business Conference in San Francisco (I can’t remember if it was 2004 or 2005) said that technology entrepreneurs had to add value to the LAMP stack (Linux, Apache, MySQL and Php) and all the other open source software and web services that are freely available by doing something innovative on top of the stack.

This is really good news for entrepreneurs. Milions of dollars of development work has already been done for us, and we just have to add something new on top of the stack, in order to create value for customers.

With information entrepreneurs, I think we need to accept the fact that Google and other companies will be indexing virtually all the data in the world and providing most of it for free to everyone. As Christensen says, we’ll have to build something valueable on top of this free stack of data. It might be organizing it in a particular way, or building online communities around it, or providing online learning that takes advantage of the free information, or providing tools that help people utilize it and apply information better in their daily work, such as mobile or smart apps that are location aware or sensitive to what you are doing, so they intelligently bring the right information to you at the right time.

I believe there are more opportunities than ever before for entrepreneurs. They’re just a few notches higher on the value stack than they used to be.

Skype revenue: $50 million last quarter

From NY Times article on Skype’s new unlimited calling plan:

Over all, the Internet calling business is booming. Mr. Halpern said that by the end of the third quarter, there were around 8 million subscribers to Internet calling plans in the United States, up from 6.5 million in the previous quarter. That figure did not include users of Skype.

* * *

In the third quarter . . . Skype generated $50 million in revenue, a mere 3 percent of eBay

Skype Out Unlimited for $30 per year ($15 if you sign up soon)

I love subscription business models and I think Skype has a chance to sign up millions of paying subscribers with their new unlimited calling subscription plan. You can call any number in the US or Canada. So do you go Vonage at $24.95 per month for the residential unlimited plan or Skype for $14.95 per year? (Yes, you can buy a Skype-enabled phone that you can carry around the house like a regular phone and make calls via your computer/internet connection.)

Check it out.

(I wonder if spammy marketers will now create bots that will dial every number in the U.S. that is NOT on the do-not-call list and leave a marketing message. I’m guessing this would violate the Skype terms of service…. Or if not, like the FAX blasting marketers of the past, some legal restrictions will probably prohibit this sooner or later.)

Online video ad spend to grow from $410 million in 2006 to $2.9 billion by 2010

From E-Commerce Times:

Spending on online video advertising will soar throughout this decade with sales predicted to break the billion dollar barrier in 2008, according to a report released this month by research aggregator eMarketer.

This year’s outlay for Net-based video ads grew more than 82 percent over 2005, to some US$410 million. The forecast for next year’s growth is even higher: 89 percent, to $775 million, prevised the report, a copy of which was obtained by the E-Commerce Times.

It showed growth peaking in 2007, but sales continuing to climb for the rest of the decade, reaching $2.9 billion by 2010.

Does anyone know if there are any upcoming conferences that will focus on online video advertising, such as how to produce and place ads effectively? Who are the individual experts (speakers, bloggers) that we should be learning from?

FundingUniverse Speedpitching Events: Raise Money for Your Startup

FundingUniverse.com now has about 1,000 angel investors in virtually every state. The company, which I helped found in early 2005, is holding its 5th speedpitching event today in Sandy, Utah. It has held events in 6 or more states and has plans to continue to expand.

I’ve attended several of these events representing the small fund we have at Provo Labs, as a potential investor.

The coaching and practice sessions have been extremely helpful. Imagine trying to get your entire business plan onto a 1-page summary that will be distributed. And then imagine being forced to tell your story in 4 minutes. That’s what all the entrepreneurs learn how to do.

After the 4 minute pitch, the investors get 3 minutes for Q&A. Then you go to the next table and give your pitch again. You do this 5 times before lunch, and then 5 times after lunch.

The goal is a followup meeting. The staff at FundingUniverse say that the vast majority of companies that have attended these meetings have had follow up meetings with the angel investors who heard their initial pitch.

One of my friends who has done two of these events said the most important advice he has is to memorize your pitch word for word. He and his co-presenters did this but the passion for their business still came through loud and clear.

A week after the February 2006 speedpitching event, he gave the pitch again to a strategic investor and raised $4.1 million. He credited going through the process of boiling down the company’s story into its very essence and memorizing it and giving it so many times for helping him close the deal.

I know 3 entrepreneurs who are presenting today, and I wish them all well.

I’m going to invite the staff from FundingUniverse to do some training for the 30+ companies at Provo Labs Academy, since many of them will one day seek funding from angel investors. Hopefully we’ll get that scheduled in the next week or two.

22% of online advertisers also doing mobile marketing

I found this a little hard to believe–both the percentage of companies supposedly doing mobile marketing and also the overall advertising budget for mobile marketing.

From MarketingVOX:

A study this month from JupiterResearch found 22 percent of companies advertising online also are doing mobile marketing. Overall, the study predicted, mobile ad spending would more than double – from an anticipated $1.4 billion this year to $2.9 billion in 2011.

I have no doubt that mobile marketing will be a multi-billion dollar industry, but where is the $1.4 billion being spent this year?

At SES I attended a couple sessions on mobile marketing, and it seems so early, that I can’t imagine where the $1.4 billion is going.

Any thoughts from my readers?