Wednesday, October 28, 2009

What Is All the Fuss About Free and Why Anyone Who Is Online Should Pay Attention

If you are doing anything involving the web, most of the really good stuff is free, from basic office and business services like Gmail and Google Docs, to entertainment options like YouTube to iTunes, most of the really good stuff is free, and most of the rest of the stuff that costs money has free options that are very, very capable.

Have all the online business types lost their minds? Is this the beginning of the end of capitalism and the final triumph of socialism? Hardly.

It may be a bit hard to believe, but offering content, services, and knowledge for free has been the path to the growth of businesses associated with the Internet, and to the creation of revolutionary changes in communication, publishing, and a host of other areas.

Chris Anderson, the editor of Wired magazine and the author of The Long Tail, laid out the basic reality of this free economy in his recent book Free: The Future of a Radical Price makes the following general argument:

- The economics of the Internet allows a near zero marginal cost for distribution, so all content is getting cheaper over time.

- The concept of "There's no such thing as a free lunch" is giving way to the idea that a free lunch is not a gimmick to get you to buy something.

- If the good and useful stuff is free, you can't win on price, you have to focus on quality and relevance.

- The challenge for anyone or any business that is online is to create an audience or potential customer base with free services, content, or information, and then work to get something of value from them. While the exchange can be for money, it can also be for intangible things like reputation.

For a more detailed background on the concept of free, check out this Wired article from February 2008, Free! Why $0.00 Is the Future of Business.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

How to Download Your Google Docs Even If You Have a Lot of Them

If you are serious about working online, that means keeping all of your key working documents, or at least copies of those documents, online. One convenient way to do that is to use Google Docs for your text, spreadsheet, presentation, and PDF files.

If you like Google Docs, and the files start piling up. It makes sense to download them and back them up. While you can do it one file at a time, if you have 20 or even 200 files, it can be a big hassle. However, it looks like those hassles are all in the past.

According to the unofficial Google blog Google Operating System, now you can export all your documents, spreadsheets, presentations and PDFs from Google Docs in a zip file.

If you have a bunch of Google Doc files, you should download them somewhere offline to back them up. If you haven't used Google Docs yet, check it out. Log into Gmail and click on the 'Documents' link in the upper left corner. If you don't even have Gmail, then get an account and start messing around with it. All this stuff I mentioned is free, so you don't have much of an excuse not to try it.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Text to Speech Functions as a Podcasting Tool

Text to speech software has been evolving for decades, though there has been substantial progress in recent years. For those of you who have purchased a Mac computer in recent years, the compute comes with a text to speech system that can be used to read text.

I've run a podcast for several years at my airline safety site, and last week I decided to run a test to see how well the audience would accept a computer voice instead of a human narrator. I combined that with the online form I talked about in the last post to do two things: try out the text to speech software as a narrator and evaluate the audience's reaction to it.

Early results show that the podcast, which was just under five minutes long and was about two airline safety incidents from late October 2009, was generally well received. Most of those who responded listened to the entire podcast, and also felt that they could stand to hear the voice for short episodes. Surprisingly, most said they would listen to shows of any length.

One of the options for this text to speech system is to supplement regular interviews. There are dozens of comments and emails that come in during the typical month, and some would be appropriate for some podcasts. Also, those who wanted to submit guest commentaries but who did not have recording capability could write their response, and the software could read it.

For the aviation safety podcasts, the ultimate goal of using text to speech software isn't to avoid recording regular voice conversations, but to provide a way for the portions of the audience without podcasting equipment to contribute to the ongoing conversation.

Listen to the Podcast Episode
Northwest Airlines A320 Overflight Event and the Delta 767 Landing Incident

Friday, October 23, 2009

How Quickly Should You Try Out a New Tool or Resource? - Do It Immediately

There are many good resources out there for getting ideas about how to improve your ongoing online marketing efforts. One of my favorites is the podcast Marketing Over Coffee, whose hosts discuss several new or ongoing topics, usually related to search engine marketing, web analytics, or social media. A few weeks ago, their discussion about Gigadail led me to write an article about the virtual online podcast directory I made.

In this week's show they did it again. They casually mentioned that Google Docs allows you to create an online form that you can use on a site or a blog. While I was listening to the podcast, I went to check it out, and created a form by the time the show was over. I then put it in the blog, and let Twitter and my mailing list contact my audience.

I've been using Google Docs for a while, and this capability was always right there under my nose, but I didn't notice it until I heard it in the Marketing Over Coffee podcast. This is another example of just how rich the online environment is when it comes to having free and useful resources all around us. The least you can do is try them out whenever you come across one that looks interesting. You can start by taking the survey.

Trying combinations of new services
Sometimes using a single new tool may not be enough. One example was given in the where it described how Gmail, Google Reader, Google Alerts, and Delicious to keep up with news and events on a particular topic, while at the same time saving bookmarks, files, and other information on services that could be accessed from anywhere online.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Blackouts, Twitter, and Social Media

If you are involved with search engine optimization, or you actively use social media for online marketing, then you are constantly getting exposed to new and different online resources, or trying to figure out different ways to use them to make money or to keep your business moving forward. Sometimes it takes a dramatic event to show us just how useful these tools can be in a totally different situation.

A few weeks ago, the dramatic event for me was a blackout. I was at home late on a weekend night, and the lights suddenly went out. I looked out the window and saw a nearby neighborhood was lit up, so I figured it was a localized blackout. I also figured it wasn't going to be a big local news story, so listening to the radio probably wouldn't give me much information.

The TV and computer were out, but my phone, which had Internet access, was up and running. I suddenly had a wild thought about how to get information on my neighborhood blackout. I'd used Twitter, specifically the search function in Twitter at, and did a search on my neighborhood's name.

What I found surprised me. There were quite a few people who were using their Blackberrys and iPhones to send Twitter messages to their friends. It was surprising because the area affected by the blackout had about 10,000 residents, but most would not have even had access to the Internet, and only some of them would have had both Twitter accounts and a desire to send out messages.

The number of people using Twitter in my neighborhood was surprising, but the content of the messages were not so surprising. Most of the messages were not very useful, with things like jokes, rumor mongering, and wild speculation about the blackout. In spite of the useless noise, I did find several useful pieces of information, things like links to the power company's web site and Twitter account. Links to the Twitter accounts of local television news organizations, and updates on what blocks were getting back their lights.

So what should you take away from this little story? First, if someone in your family is using Twitter, don't get in their way. If you are thinking about using Twitter, go ahead and check it out. You may actually like it. The service may come in handy one day in ways you can't imagine. Whether you use it or not, check out Search it like you would a search engine and look for things that interest you. I've found it very useful for breaking news items. For details, check out a post of mine from another blog that describes how I use Twitter to support my web site

Because of this experience, I found out several things I didn't know, such as the fact that local news organizations use Twitter, as does the local electric utility. Next time there's a problem with my electricity, I'll know where to go.

For even more insights into the kinds of social media resources are out there for you to use, check out my list of 10 free social media tools you should try.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

You Can Now Record Your Comments and Questions to Online with Google Voice provides a number of ways for the audience to keep in touch with and to suggest topics for the News. Now, with the help of Google Voice, you can record your comments and questions online or by phone.

To check it out, you can click on the icon below, or you can visit the feedback page at

Your thoughts may inspire new material for, or it may end up in a future episode of the Conversation at If the icon doesn't work for you, or if you are calling from outside the US, please call directly at 408.905.6259.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Easy to Use Encoder That Allows You to Properly Format Source Code For Inclusion in a Web Site or Blog

Sometimes using the right search terms can uncover the right tool at the right time. The other day, I was writing a post for another blog and I needed to put raw source code in the post. Blogger will try to execute the code no matter what kind of formatting tags I put around it. I wanted readers to be able to easily copy and paste the code, so making it into a graphic wasn't a good choice.

After about 30 seconds searching for an answer of how to put raw code into a blog without it getting executed, I ran into an online converter that did the job for me. It did things that would have been very time consuming if I had to do it by hand, things like changing '<' to '<. and similar conversions for '>', '&', and '"'.

For this and other links to search engine optimization and web site development tools, visit AirSafe Media's Delicious links at

Friday, October 9, 2009

Website Grader is a Free SEO That Gives You Immediate Feedback on the Marketing Effectiveness of Your Site

When it comes to online marketing tools, I have three basic criteria:

1. It has to be free

2. It has to be easy to use

3. I has to give me immediate and useful feedback.

Website Grader meets all those criteria in a big way. It is a free SEO tool that measures the marketing effectiveness of a website. It provides a score that incorporates things like website traffic, SEO, social popularity and other technical factors. It also provides some basic advice on how the website can be improved from a marketing perspective.

I tried it on my oldest website,, which has been around for over 13 years and has for several years has consistently been been a top ten result in Google for searches on key terms like 'airline safety.'

I put in the URL, and within a minute, I got back a detailed report on how well the site worked when it came to on-page SEO like the quality of the metadata and readability level, and off-page SEO like Google PageRank, Alexa rank, and whether the site was on key directories. You can even include competing web sites in your analysis to see how they compare to yours.

The report was well organized, giving clear suggestions on how to improve the site. I was so impressed by it that I immediately updated the site to deal with the minor issues it uncovered, oversights like having images without alternative text.

It also has several convenience factors like the ability to email the results. The service even provides online access to your report. For an example of how it works, visit a recent report page for

Don't take my word for it. Try it for yourself, and tell me what you think.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Ten Free Social Media Resources You Can Use That Can Benefit You, Your Family, or Your Business

Two of the biggest excuses organizations and individuals have when it comes to using social media applications is that it takes too much time to figure out how to use them and takes too many resources once your start using them. True, some social media applications may take a bit of time to learn, but if you have figured out how to use email and do basic things on the web like find things with a search engine. If you can do that,figuring out most social media applications should be easy.

Cost is not an issue because once you can get online much of the really good stuff is free. At most you need only a personal computer and access to the Internet, and often all you need is online access.

The following ten social media resources are not only free, but should be useful to you in some way, especially if you are trying to make yourself or your organization more visible online. Also listed are the services used to support the AirSafe Media associated site,

1. Blogging
Think of a blog as a web site where just about all the work is done for you. You sign in, write something, hit a button, and it is online. If you've thought about starting a web site but have no idea what it takes to do it, a blog is the easiest way to get that experience. Also, if you already have a web site, a blog is an easy way to try quickly try new ideas that may later put on the site. Two of the biggest blog services are Blogger and WordPress. Both of them can get you from login to published blog in less time than a lunch break.'s Choice: Blogger

2. Micoblogging
This is a stripped down version of a blog, basically little more than a couple of sentences and maybe a link to something online. Examples include Yammer and the much more widely known Twitter. This blogging method that may work best for sending short messages to portable devices like an iPhone or Blackberry, or in conjunction with other resources such as a web site, mailing list, or full sized blog.'s Choice: Twitter

3. Online File Storage
If you need to share files with one or more colleagues, or you need to access key files from several different computers, and don't want the hassle carrying around a laptop or thumb drive, or emailing files, you can use one of these services to manage your files in a password protected environment.'s Choice: Airset

4. Photo Sharing and Storage
If you are interested in sharing photos, services like Flickr and Picasa allow you to store photos online, and even giving you the option of allowing others to access them or download them.'s Choice: Flickr

5. Intelligence Gathering
If you need to find or track some information online, for example monitoring a developing news story or keeping current on a competitor or industry, Google has a service called Google Alerts that will keep track of them for you and send regular email updates when it finds something.'s Choice: Google Alerts

6. Video Sharing
Some of the millions of user generated videos are published every day may actually be of interest to you. While you may be able to find them using general search engines like Google or Bing, you may have better luck by searching within video sharing sites like YouTube, Metacafe, and LiveLeak. YouTube is by far the biggest, with the greatest variety of content. Also, if have videos that you want to share, you can follow the example and create a home page withing the site to showcase your videos.'s Choice: YouTube

7. Social Networking
Facebook and Myspace may be the most well known social networking sites, but a site like LinkedIn is more relevant to working professionals, providing a kind of online resume and biography, and allowing others to see you out and contact you.'s Choice: LinkedIn

8. Subscribing to Podcasts
There are millions of audio and video podcasts out there that cover a huge range of topics, including a few that would be of interest to you. Both Apple (iTunes) and Microsoft (Zune) distribute free software that allows you to easily manage subscriptons to audio of and video podcasts of every description. The iTunes software also has extensive links to online audio stream of radio stations from around the world.'s Choice: iTunes

9. Free Phone Calls
Wouldn't it be great if you could use the Internet to call someone long distance, even internationally, without spending any extra money? You can download a program like Skype or Googletalk and talk for free with anyone else who has both a connection to the Internet and who has downloaded the same software.'s Choice: Skype

10. Social Bookmarking
All web browsers allow you to bookmark favorite pages, but if you use several computers, or even several browsers on the same computer, keeping track of your bookmarkes can be next to impossible. Bookmark sharing resources like Delicious, Digg, and StumbleUpon allow you to create an online account where you can store and manage your bookmarks, and then either make them private and password protected, or make them public and available to anyone.'s Choice: Delicious

Selected Social Media Applications Used by
Podcast (main page)
Podcast (subscription)
Mailing List (online press releases)
Bird Strike Blog
Crash Video Blog

Next Steps
If you are using none of these services, go ahead and try one of them to see if it can help you out in some way. If you are using one or more of them, leave a comment on this blog post and share your experiences, positive or negative, with using these services.

How to Use Twitterfeed to Automatically Send a Link Your Blog with Twitter

If you have read some of the previous posts on this site, you've seen how I've used Twitter with my site, and you may have even seen my article on how I associated my mailing list with Twitter so that both the mailing list audience and Twitter audience could be notified of a new blog post or news item at the same time.

This second solution didn't deal with the situation where I wanted the Twitter audience to get notified immediately and the mailing list audience to be notified later. It also didn't help me in a situation where a blog did not have a mailing list associated with it. I could have used my mailing list service create a new list that had no members, but could be used to send a post to Twitter, but that seemed to be a bit of overkill.

Fortunately, the service Twitterfeed solved both problems. Once you set it up, you can tell it to update your Twitter account any time your feed gets updated. If you use services like Feedburner, you can create specific feed for blogs, podcasts, or many other kinds of content. Once you log into Twitter feed, you can associate a feed with a specific Twitter account.

If you set things up right, updating your content, adding a blog posting for example, automatically updates the feed, and Twitterfeed automatically posts a message and a link back to that blog post.

To make it work smoothly takes a bit of practice. Twitter allows messages only 140 characters long, and the URL takes up about 25 spaces, so I make sure my title on the blog post is less than 115 spaces. I treat the title like a newspaper headline in that it explains the content of the post well enough so that someone can decide if it is worth reading.

For more background about Twitterfeed and their recently added features, check out the Twitterfeed blog.

Monday, October 5, 2009

New FTC Rules for Sponsored Blog Posts

The US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has recently approved changes to the guidance it gives to advertisers on how to keep their endorsement and testimonial ads in line with FTC regulations. Anyone involved in online advertising that involves testimonials or reviews, for example paid blog posts, should pay attention to these changes.

Under the old guidelines, an advertiser could feature unusual or atypical results in a testimonial ("I lost 300 pounds eating nothing but bacon bits and Jell-O!) so long as there was some kind of disclaimer in the ad.

Even more important to the online advertising world is that under the new guidelines an advertiser that has to disclose any “material connections” (for example, payments or free products) between endorser and the advertiser. To be more specific, if a blogger takes money or some other kind of consideration to review a product or service, that post would be considered an endorsement.

What Does This Mean for Bloggers and Site Owners?
It isn't clear what this may mean for the average blogger or site owner. If you own a single site or blog, and just have a few paid blog posts, the FTC probably won't even pay attention to you. However, if you have any kind of common sense when it comes to accepting advertising, you'll avoid any advertising that is promoting anything that is illegal, or that appears to be fraudulent or misleading.

When it comes to disclosing whether your site or blog takes advertising, it would probably be a good idea to do so somewhere on the site, or even in an individual blog post. It isn't clear what would be acceptable and what would not be acceptable, since the new guidelines don't go into effect until December.

While the FTC only has jurisdiction in the US, what happens in the US will likely become the norm around the world. If you are involved in online advertising, you should pay attention to any major changes in the US advertising market.

For more details on the changes, check out the FTC's press release from October 5, 2009.traditional ads, such as on talk shows or in social media.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

What Is a Good Advertising Agreement?

If you offer advertising to web site owners, either as an advertiser or as some kind of broker or advertising representative, you have to have some kind of agreement with the site owner. Often that agreement is unspoken, or only mentioned informally in a phone call or email. Whether you have formal written contracts or just a verbal or handshake agreement, you have to have some rules about what you will or won't do, or what you expect from advertisers or site owners.

Below are a few suggestions for what you should look for from your advertising partners, or from your own organization. Even if you don't use a formal contract, you would be wise to have some ground rules written out ahead of time so that you can refer to them if someone asks or if you come across a problem with site owners or advertisers.

Please note that these are guidelines, and not a legal contract. If you need something that will stand up in court, please find the appropriate professional assistance.

Definition of Roles
Be clear about what you do and what you expect of the others involved in the agreement. For example, if you are an advertiser, say so. If you are acting as an advertising broker, don't hide that fact.

Advertising Type
The typical kinds of advertising types are plain text links or some kind of graphic or banner that has an embedded link. Most advertising is static in that they don't change over time, or they could be a type that changes over time or that is animated.

Advertising Location
Typical locations are on a particular page on a web site, in a particular post in a blog, or visible on all pages of a site or posts on a blog.

Duration of a Placement
Usually, an advertisement is in place for a fixed amount of time (month, year, etc.), or until some other specific event occurs.

Payout Rules
Typically, a site owner is either paid up front or paid after the fact. Pay may either be a flat rate, or based on performance like the number of times a link is clicked or based on sales of goods or services. Whatever the system is, make it clear to the site owner.

Change Rules
Most advertisers will expect a reasonable number of changes to the ad during its placement period. How many is reasonable is usually up to the site owner. For example, for a month-to-month placement, one or two changes per month should be expected. If a site owner insists on zero changes, it may make the site much less attractive to advertisers.

Advertising Visibility by People and Search Engines
Site owners should not do anything to undermine the ability of the ad to be useful. The typical advertiser will insist that the ad be visible to people visiting the site or blog. Most, but not all, advertisers will insist that the link within an ad be visible to search engines. This means things like no redirects or nofollow attributes, and use of plain HTML links. Both the advertiser and the site owner should be clear on what is allowed and what is not allowed.

No Abuse of Insider Information
If you have an agreement with an advertising broker, and you find out sensitive business information such as what advertisers that broker is using or what other sites that advertiser is working with, you should not approach those other businesses unless you first clear it with that broker.

Full Disclosure to Site Owners
In the online advertising universe, site owners often have the least information about what is going on. Advertisers and brokers are usually much more savvy about how the game is played. If a site owner, wants to know what's going on, tell that owner everything you can within reason. For example, if they want to know what percentage of the advertising dollar that they get, there is no reason to hide. If they want to know if you are the advertiser or the agent of an advertiser, just say so.

Things You Won't Do
Typically, this would include the kinds of advertising your wont' deal with, or what you would do if an advertiser did something underhanded like change the page behind a link to inappropriate content.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Drug Companies Have Sharp Reduction in Text Link Advertising

According to an October 1st media release by the online marketing company comScore, one of their recent studies showed a significant change in search engine marketing by the pharmaceutical industry, specifically a greater than 50% drop in the use of sponsored links for related terms like prescription drug treatment, as a result warning letters distributed by the US Food and Drug Administration in March 2009. The FDA warning letters were issued to pharmaceutical manufacturers concerning the exclusion of fair balance language in sponsored link advertising.

According to comScore, there were 11.9 million sponsored link exposures in March 2009, but only 3.2 million the following month, dropping to 1.9 million in June 2009.

AirSafe Media encourage any site owner who chooses to accept advertising to do so wisely. You can find AirSafe Media's general guidelines for advertising in the February 2009 post "Choosing and Rejecting Text Link Advertising Offers."