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We recently wrestled with our own official social media policy. What we realized was that it benefits us when our employees and contractors develop their own personal brands in association with our own. Rather than lock our people down with a social media policy, we instead provided them with our own suggested usages for social media.

We believe that the Draconian social media policies implemented by some businesses are based out of fear and ignorance. When organizations attempt to dictate what and how their employees express themselves online, they reveal themselves to be frightened and myopic.

Instead of engaging in information arbitrage, we recommend letting your people speak. You might be pleasantly surprised by what they have to say.

Read more of our comments in Crain's Chicago Business.
Based on three years of research including over 4,500 people, Stanford has produced a list of ten guidelines to improve the credibility of any website. We've distilled that list down to seven aphorisms we know to be true based on our own experience.

  • Show that your business is genuine with photos of your offices. Smiling stock photos hurt more than help.
  • Make it easy to contact you by listing your phone number, physical address, and email address.
  • Look professional by using a professional design that matches your brand's image.
  • Make your site both easy to use and useful to reward visitors. (Forget about flash.)
  • Keep your content fresh to show that you care. (The easiest way is with a Twitter widget.)
  • Avoid having ads on your site as they annoy users. When writing, try to sound sincere instead of promotional.
  • Avoid downtime, typographical errors, and broken links.

Source: Fogg, B.J. (May 2002). "Stanford Guidelines for Web Credibility." A Research Summary from the Stanford Persuasive Technology Lab. Stanford University.
The importance of password security cannot be overstated. Password lists are stolen and sold every day. Right now, there are dozens of phishing emails sitting in my spam mail hoping to steal my passwords.

A secure password should consist of a seemingly random combination of letters (uppercase and lowercase), numbers and special characters. Longer is better, with eight being the acceptable minimum. It's important to choose a different password every time you register at a new site. In the event that a site is compromised, you'll need only to change your password at that one site rather than at dozens of sites.

The best way to create and recall many different passwords is to create a master password mnemonic that can be altered for every site. Let's try an exercise. Think of the chorus of your favorite song. For Michael Jackson's Thriller, the lyrics are "'Cause this is Thriller, Thriller Night." Taking only the first letter of each word (while retaining the case and special characters) we're left with 'CtiT,TN. The result is a seemingly random but easily remembered password.

Since every website we register for will require a unique password, we're going to expand on that original mnemonic by adding a unique identifier. If I were to register on dating site Plenty of Fish, I would use the same first-character methodology and append the password with !PoF resulting in 'CtiT,TN!PoF. Not only is the password unique and easily remembered, I've made it more secure by making it longer and adding another special character.
As businesses realize the importance of SEO marketing, it's become increasingly difficult to rank a small business for their relevant niche keywords. Local SEO is a much less competitive (and therefore more realistic approach) for small businesses to make inroads in to search marketing. A local business should start by optimizing its own website. Including their targeted city's name in the page title is a strong indicator to Google that they're relevant to that city. The site's footer should include the local address and local (not toll free!) phone number. Not only does this let Google know that they're local, it's also convenient for their users.

Creating a Google Places page is critical. In many local searches, Google often shows the top ten businesses with Places pages before any of the search results. When creating a Google Places page, one must be careful to only include strictly relevant information as these listings are carefully moderated by Google. Local directories are important to increasing a business's visibility in local search. These directories are not only geographically-sorted, they're also used by Google as a contributing factor to Google Places called citations. We have a list of ten local directories that we recommend every business consider submitting. It's important to note that with any SEO effort, it can take up to six months before results can be measured. While SEO is an important part of driving sales, it is most successful when used as part of a diverse marketing mix.
When selling a product online, an e-commerce website's primary aesthetic purpose should be to depict that product in a compelling way. There is no better way to do this than with beautiful photography. Being unable to touch, smell, or taste the product, the user is relying on presentation to fill those gaps. Photos make users more confident which improves conversion rates. Sample photos from the EtherCycle studio:
The secret to great photography is to hire a photographer. Lighting is equal parts art and science. It's not just the gear. An expensive camera can just as poor photos as any other camera. If you doubt the importance of professional photos as an stimulus to sales, consider that in television commercials, the last three seconds are usually a still product shot.
Top: FireFox for Mac, Bottom: IE8 on Windows7
A client sent me a screenshot of a web page using @font-face. As Apple fanboys typography-enthusiasts, we reacted with the kind of revulsion that is normally reserved for a vegetarian in a Brazilian steakhouse.
Follow these ten tips, and in one day you will improve your customers' satisfaction with your brand, ultimately increasing your conversions.
  1. Links should have meaningful anchor text. "Click here" is meaningless.
  2. Edit your content, most people won't read more than 350 words of text on a single page.
  3. Use bullet points to summarize content.
  4. A humorous 404 page softens an otherwise annoying experience.
  5. Navigation should be ordered "nouns" then "verbs." "Home" is first, "contact" is last.
  6. Make your phone number easy to find.
  7. Unless you're the Chicago Tribune, your website probably doesn't need a "latest news" page.
  8. Your website has redundant, outdated pages that only you visit. Hide them to make relevant information easier to find.
  9. Redirect outdated or missing pages to their new appropriate counterparts.
  10. Headlines tell people what a page is about. Use them on every page.
Everything you do to make your customers life a little easier earns your brand that much more goodwill.
"If a project manager had a gun to my head and told me to choose between WordPress and Joomla, I would kindly ask that they pull the trigger." -David Jakobik, Lead Developer

Content Management Systems are essentially overgrown blogging platforms bloated beyond reason by feature creep. The best example of this is WordPress which started as an alternative to Blogger in 2003 but has since grown to become the platform of choice for amateur web developers. It is our view that CMS's have become widely overused. Immoral developers use them to inflate proposal prices, and inexperienced developers use them (and a plethora of plug-ins) as crutches. It is the developer's responsibility to determine what is best for the user.

The majority of the internet is comprised of brochure websites with fewer than ten pages that rarely change. For these sites, the disadvantages of a CMS outweigh the advantages.