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Friday, December 22, 2017

Put on a Tie. We're going E-shopping

Boy have I learned a lot from e-shopping this year.  Most of it is what sites shouldn't do.

We've dealt with this in the past but they're out there in force this season and I'm having a tough time understanding that so many destinations are so poorly structured.  Makes you think they have sales prevention departments.

Where to start:
If you haven't properly mapped your site for search engines , you're cutting your possible purchases by as much as 90 percent.  That's ninety, OK.  Howzatt?  If I'm searching for a coffee pot and the best your site can deliver to search engines is a link to "appliances." 

Visitors won't stick around to rummage through dishwashers, clothes dryers, televisions and ultrasonic ring cleaners to find a coffee pot.  But if you're comfortable with having that link, check your bounce rate.  How many people are referred by a search engine and don't go past that referral page.  Hellooooo. McFlyyyyy.  Those are lost sales.  You didn't even get a chance to show your wares.  You have to take advantage of SEO elements including page titles, metadata, site maps and dynamic linking to really be a competitive sales organization.  If someone's searching Duck Duck Go for magnetic wallpaper and you sell magnetic wallpaper, find a way to give them that page.

Page organization...are you paying attention to the layout?  Really?  Can a visitor see a picture of the item above the fold?  Is it large enough to make out the item?  You may want to go with annoying them by providing an automatic blow up on mouseover, or launching a video with sound up full.  More level-headed thinking would tell you that if you were referred to by a search engine, the closer you can come to showing the referred visitor that you have what they're looking for and what it will cost them - on that first click from the search engine - the better chance you have of closing a sale. 

Wait! Are you one of those sites that makes me put the item in my cart to see the price?  You know that that's like passing a football, right? Two out of the three things that happen next are bad.  The first is the shopper (me, for sure) moves on to the next site.  No time for that stuff.  The second is that the price isn't to the shopper's liking or he/she's seen lower prices elsewhere.  In that case, you've cast yourself as a loser site for good.  In case you've forgotten, it's easy to lose consumer confidence and very hard to get it back.  So, go ahead, hide the price.  But when you get intercepted by the competition and they run it back for their own sale, it's your fault.

Here's another great one:  Long running scripts.  When I get one of these warnings, I don't waste any time.  I'm off to another site.  While I'm doing so, I'm usually also thinking, "What in the world are they trying to database here?"  I know you want to compare whatever you can glean from the current session with what's in the databases that carry info on me but, man, you're costing yourself a sale. 

If I walked up to the counter at a camera store (wait, do they have those any more?) and said I wanted a Canon 5D Mark III, and the sales person greeted me with, "Hi.  What kind of car do you drive?" or, "You married?" you can bet I'd turn on my heels and walk out.  So cut that out.  Yeah, yeah, yeah...if you know that, then it can gin up what you present me in next topic, the "You might also like..." or the "Others who bought this also bought..."  Nothing wrong with that.  Especially if the thing only runs with a 10.8 volt 10ah battery that doesn't come with the product.  But when you let it crowd out the prospective purchase, you run the risk of confusing people.

Speaking of confusing.  Two areas where a lot of sites fall apart are shipping and tax.  Right off the bat let me ask that you tell me about the tax.  Tell me you charge it for my state.  C'mon.  Let me factor that in.  You still may have a reasonable price that, combined with your reputation, makes me want to buy from you. 
And then, with respect due Jerry Yester, along comes shipping.  And it never gives me kicks.  Instead, it just makes me crazy(ier) as I try to shift through the options.  Let's see.  It's Thursday so if I insert the code DiPstick between 7 and 9PM and my order is over $112, I can get free 30 day shipping.  Oh wait.  Only if my order is under 47.6 ounces.  Well rats.  What's second day air?  $150?  How about priority mail.  They haven't broken anything of mine recently...

Guys:  just spell it out.  Cut some of the attached strings and make it simple enough to understand that free shipping is: (your free shipping here)

OK.  Almost checked out.  Well, rat fink.  Typo in my address.  Let me edit that.  Good deal.  And save.  That's right now.  (Expletive.)  The lousy site just wiped out most of the info I entered on the page.  Oh sure.  I'll come back here again.

This year online sales will soar once again.  For some companies.  They're the ones who have optimized their sites to deliver you information on the products you want with as few clicks as possible then provide a convenient and up-front checkout.  It ain't rocket surgery.

If your site's sales didn't climb, you might want to look at the site, not the products it's supposed to be selling.

Whatever you celebrate, celebrate hard with my best wishes.

Thursday, November 2, 2017

Captain Hook and his Pirate Radio Buddies

“What are you doing there…with all that electronic gear on your boat?”

“Ayyyyy, Matey.  I’m runnin’ a pirate radio station.”

“You bet your lime barrel.  We are transmittin’ on 103.9 FM.  Look above the topsail.  You’ll see two bays of antenna peekin’ atcha.  We’re transmittin’ away.  Go back to your car, landlubber and tune us in.”
“Well, I’m afraid I can’t do that.  Seems you’re using the wrong verb tense.”
“What’s that ya’ say, Matey?”
“Wrong tense.  You’re not transmitting.  You were transmitting.  You’re shut down.  Now.  I’m from the enforcement bureau of the FCC and you were operating a pirate station.  Now you’re not.  See – look over there.  One of our staff just literally pulled the plug on 103.9 FM.”
“Go ahead.  Try.  I’ll be back on in a day.”
“Maybe, but that’ll make the fine that much bigger.  Hey!  Your parrot just ate my badge.”
I envision a conversation something like that.  Well, actually, nothing like that.  There are a few pirate stations on boats but those usually try to stay in international waters.  Most of them are on land – and around us.  [As an aside, if you have a chance to see Pirate Radio, do it.  Fun film.]
Some are relatively benign.  Those are the ones that operate on vacant channels, not really interfering with licensed stations but siphoning listeners from them.  Then there are the dirty birds, willfully and/or maliciously interfering with licensed signals or transmitting profane or indecent language and music at all hours.
It’s the FCC Rules and Regulations, a subset of the Code of Federal Regulations that permits stations to broadcast on allocated frequencies for which they are licensed.  Unless you’re operating under what’s called “Part 15” at extremely low power, you can’t flick the ON switch on a transmitter without a license.
For some time, the commission has been relatively, well, for want of a better term, “relaxed” in their enforcement of anti-piracy.  Part of that is the political clime but it’s more a function of reduced budgets and small field staffs. 
That said, it doesn’t mean they’re asleep at the switch.  This page shows the number of enforcement actions by state since 2003.  It’s not really clear what that means.  The action could be a “ticket” (violation), Notice of Apparent Liability (NAL otherwise spelled f-i-n-e), property seizure or even stronger action.  So, they’re out there.  Not tuning and listening like they used to (anyone remember the Allegan, Michigan monitoring station?) but certainly, if they get a call or two, they’ll do some level of investigating.
Well, a couple of folks complained awhile back1and a couple of weeks ago, the commission announced a fine of $144,344 against an alleged pirate in North Miami, FL.  You can read the release here but, bottom-lining, these guys had been around the pirating block more than once.  So how many warnings before the camel’s back breaks? 
The question from a lot of people is, “What’s the big deal?”  After all, everyone should be allowed to voice his/her own opinions, play his/her music over the airwaves.  A great argument in the 1950’s but, today, specious at best. “80/90,” which vastly increased the number of FM stations across the country gave more and arguably varied voices.  Low Power FM (LPFM) added yet another level of stations, most of which really are operating in, as the Commission says, the Public Interest, Convenience and Necessity.
Also consider that, as you would guess, pirates don’t employ EAS equipment so if the nukes come, you won’t get the warning.
Despite all of this, the pirates are there.  Maybe it’s the thrill of evading the law.  Doubtful it’s monetary – while there are pirates out there selling advertising time on their ersatz station, it really can’t be much.2
However, if the commission is charged with protecting the airwaves for the public and that protection is extended to willful and harmful interference and impact on legal station listenership and revenue, then it’s time to enforce the law.  We could change the law but if you want to see anarchy in action, just change that one.  Since there’s no longer a rule that you must have a construction permit before buying a transmitter3, they’ll be on every corner.  Heck, they’re almost there now.
Federal Communications Commissioner Michael O’Rielly had a great summary in a 2015 FCC blog.  Basically, he said pirate radio is not innocuous, It’s not innocent and it’s not even multicultural.  It’s a violation of law.
There may be some angry emails coming my way but, seriously, the rules/laws are there.   If you want to do your Part 15 partying, go ahead.  But beyond that 100 milliwatts, turn it off.  Oh, and, please – disconnect that lousy mini-FM transmitter you’re using to feed your smartphone audio to your car radio.  I hear you at every intersection.
1The complaints actually started in 2012 but the activity began years before!
2I checked Ad Age.  They don’t track pirate radio revenue
3Just go to and search for FM transmitter.  And while you’re perusing, keep in mind that a high percentage of these do not comply with US emissions rules so not only are they causing interference on their tuned frequency but at numerous other frequencies, too.  Then call to mind the frequency assignments just above the FM band:  air traffic control.  Just sayin’.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Nits and Brickbats

Here’s a little collection of those tiny things that just bother me.  In the big picture, all is well.  I’m having fun.  But, again, sometimes you just get frustrated by the little things – the toothpaste caps in your life.

Help desks.  Phone “help desk” service that makes you enter your account and other relevant information to get to a live person only to have them ask for your account number and other relevant information.

Lower-third promos that never disappear and ruin a low-key scene.  As Kelly rolls on the bed with her new spouse, whispering sweet nothings and a confession to a murder in a barely visible scene, I really don't want to see a "Kong vs Zork" promo flying around in the lower third at full brightness.

Ads that take control of my device.  Site hosts and app makers:  You're on notice.  I'm fed up with a page that takes over my tablet and does not allow control of it until the ad has played completely.  That is just plain wrong.  Sure.  Play the ad.  But when I "X" it out or tap the "Back" icon or the "Home" icon, my device should be able to head there instantly.  Yeah.  You gotta make money...but it's MY machine.  I'm allowing you in. 

If I open my front door and invite you into my home, would you go raid the refrigerator without asking?  You know what, I bet you would.  But while you had the door open, if I told you to stop, would you at least do that?  If my good ole "TV" wouldn't allow me to change channels until a commercial had played, it'd have a 10½D right through it.  So...cut it out.  Oh, and when I "X" out a screen, it should close out right then and there.  And it shouldn't launch another page with another X; it should just close out.

Professionalism on the air.  I've had a long-running bet with myself.  Just seeing how long it will be before a radio newscaster makes it through an entire newscast without an error...even a 5 minute one (which is about two-and-a-half without commercials)  Since I entered into this self-wager a few months ago, I've listened to scores of newscasts on at least 20 different stations.  I've heard blundered words, wrong pronunciations, wrong actualities and the terms, "make that," "rather," "that should be," and "let me try that again" a multitude of times.  Not one has made it through without a mistake. 

All I can figure is the good ones left for the mountains to look for John Galt.  Note to the rest of you: c'mon.  No on-the-fly (we used to call it rip and read) casts. For the short length of most newscasts, you can read the thing at five-of and play it out straight up.  And if you flub, then go live.  Wait.  Are you already doing that?  Then you need to be in another business.

Long running scripts.  It's kind of funny.  With early computers, RAM and storage were at a premium.  Coders wrote tight, compact code.  You can make a lot happen with a few lines.  Then everything began growing - processing power and speed, available RAM and memory storage.  Along with that came demand for more features.  That took more coders.  But look at the landscape - more coders, like more MLB teams means the average coder (player) isn't as good as the average coder of earlier years.  Combine that with cheaper RAM and storage and you get bloated code. 

Same thing happened to smartphones.  Apps of 9 or 10k back in the buggy whip days.  Now a 50MB app is no big deal.    And what's that have to do with long running scripts?  Well, the same thing happened with bandwidth.  Sorta like widening a road.  Make the trip twice as fast and people will move twice as far away.  With broad bandwidth, page scripters (or their marketing bosses) feel it's OK to stuff everything down the Internet pipe that will fit, and then some.  So a JavaScript or other piece of bloatware gets sent down with the page request.  And, if that's not bad enough, the page won't finish loading till they deliver that wondrous piece of commercial information, whatever it is.  Cut it out.

The CALM  Act.   Note to Congress, the commission, the private corporations and stations involved in passage of - and enforcement of - the CALM act.  Do you think you've made things better?  The problem is still there.  So is it A.) Faulty algorithms, B.) Improper deployment and operation of the audio management hardware and software, C.) A bad idea because, once again, laws of physics don't take into account the human mind where, in this case, psychoacoustics plays games.  Regardless, I’m still cranking audio levels up and down.  More on the CALM Act here.

Another political thought:

Donald Trump is taking a lot of heat from the media while, at the same time, delighting many of his followers.  It's shaping up as a real mess for the 2020 election.  However, there is one thing that he could do to ensure his re-election:


Good morning, ladies, gentlemen, other.  I'll make this short. 

This morning at four AM, the FBI, under the direction of the Justice Department arrested Heather and Rachael from Credit Card Services. 

They have been transported to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba where they are being held without bail, charged with 450 million counts of violation of the do-not-call regulations and the same number of attempts to defraud

Followup, 08/04/17:  The FCC is on the move.  They haven't found Heather or Rachael but this particular fine may wake some people up.

Friday, June 30, 2017

Facebook®: It’s Not a Website

Over the past few weeks, I worked on developing a web contest.  The client had asked for something that would drive visitor returns and would address some specific prospects he was trying to sell as advertisers.

We built the pages, incorporating the ads submitted by the advertisers who had bought in to the contest.  I called the local ad manager and asked for the links, where each ad needed to point.  When I got it back, I called again and said that I needed the actual website URLs, not the advertisers’ Facebook pages.

“Those where I put Facebook addresses don’t have websites.  They just use Facebook.”

I had heard of this but no one I’ve been doing work for exists with Facebook as their door to the world.  So all of you who have companies or businesses relying on Facebook, stop it!  I can’t be more clear than that.  Just stop it.

The Internet does provide a door to your business.  It’s a great one.  It’s one that should
  • Be welcoming to prospects
  • Tell visitors what you do or what you make
  • Allow you to offer multiple screens of information, promotion and user feedback
Bottom line is that you want to invite people in, show them around, tell them what you do and show them how you and your products can help them.  Your business is unique so you want to have the freedom and flexibility to tell your story your way.
Facebook isn’t the place for that.
  • You’re stuffed into their format.  The layout is the same for everyone, you have little control of placement on or design of a page
  • You have no real branding – Facebook is their brand.  Proof?  “Your” URL will end in
  • Load times can be unforgiveable on Facebook
  • Feedback is great but it shouldn’t be the focal point of your site.  Hateful consumers can post some pretty nasty comments.  I’m a proponent of entertaining those comments and dealing with them on line but to put them front and center defeats the purpose of your site.
  • Adding a back room for sales is difficult.  Yet just about any web developer has an ecommerce bolt-on that would work with a website.
  • You are at their mercy regarding actual content
  • Linking to other pages or other sites is almost as difficult as the sales bolt-on.  What if you have 5 products.  You want to develop pages or arenas around each product where people can link from your home/front page to whichever one they want to find out more about.  Not gonna happen in Facebook.
  • Visitors will be distracted by Facebook items including the “People Also Like” where competitors’ messages can appear.  C’mon!  If that doesn’t convince you, what will?  Maybe the text ad that runs right below that promoting competitive stores?
So you have the opportunity to stand at your virtual front door and greet prospects as they approach.  You can decide what you’re wearing, what’s in the window, what offers might be posted, and where the shopper can go once he or she has entered.  And you want to turn that over to a third party?  One who could not care less about your business?  

The Internet does provide a door to your business.  Facebook ain’t it.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Check your Updates! You may be getting scammed – or watched.

Howdy.  I’m here from the American Paranoia Foundation.  My job today is to make you worry about the updates to all those apps on your phone or tablet. 
If you’re a younger reader (oxymoron) you’ve probably set your phone or tablet to automatically update all apps.  Maybe you set the options so they only update on wifi or during certain hours, but you’re letting it happen automatically.  Why not.  Saves a lot of tapping.
For starters, it means you don’t get to see the access any given app is asking for…the access you’re giving it without question.  To be fair, some phones will pop up a warning but many don’t.  If you told it to update automatically it goes right ahead. 
Depending on the app, it may “need” access to read and write capabilities, in-app purchases, photos, music, files, device ID and information, device history, wifi information, and the biggies, your location and identity.  A new photo-posting app definitely needs access to your media and maybe your camera.  An audio player surely needs access to your music.  Of course, “friend finders” need your location.1

Now, think about it.  I know I’ve mentioned it before, but this is serious.  If you’re trying to protect your privacy, well, forget that.  Ordinary – otherwise benign – apps can find out all about you.  They can capture your emails and texts and send them back to the app designer.  Ever deposit a check with your phone?  Might as well call all those apps to make sure they got the data.

And think about passwords.  If you keep any of them on your phone, you gave those apps access to them.  Ah, smarter than that, are you.  You don’t keep any passwords on your phone.  You keep them in your noggin.  Fine.  But if you’ve used any passwords on line (checked your bank balance?) it’s out there.

Update (6/19/17):  A good friend sent a note pointing out another huge issue.  Your contacts.  If the app has access to your contacts, it can find out everything about them in addition to you.  So if you keep meta information about friends on your phone, maybe address, private email info, other "secret" info, well, in addition to leaving yourself vulnerable, you're giving away their information, too.  That's pretty nasty and irresponsible.  End of update.

I tried to check out a few, sending emails to app developers requiring access that, to me, they didn’t need.   Seriously, why does a chess game need to know my identity?  Or my phone’s history?  I sent emails to those that I could, eight in total.  Got one response and that referenced only my question about location.  "In order to efficiently deliver ads...", they needed to know my location.  Also told me that I could avoid that by paying for the ad-free version.  I didn’t but I want to buy it and see if it still asks for location.  Bet it does.

If you’re an Eric Schmidt fan, you’re also a believer in “…if you have done nothing wrong, you have nothing to hide…” as he said in defense of Google policies.  Go ahead.  Let it all hang out there. 
However, if you’re more like I am, shut down the apps or add identity, location, and IP blockers.2  Better still, just dump those apps.  But know this:  some apps leave breadcrumbs.  They may be orphaned files but they also could be operational elements, left there to keep a lookout on your wellbeing.  There are other apps that will remove these files – but they require access to your identity, location, wifi, history, and device.  I’m just sayin’.
1 If you’re using a “friend finder” paint a big bullseye on your back.  Seriously.  If they’re your friend, call them up.  Text them.  Send a telegram, try smoke signals or a Cessna towing a sign.  But axe the friend finders.
2 I downloaded an app that purported to encrypt texts.  99¢ to find out that it wanted my location and identity.  It didn’t get installed.  Told you I was from the American Paranoia Foundation.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

They Thought They Had Us By The Antenna

Seriously, squatters…now you want to sell? You bought a bunch of URL’s.  Now you want to sell them.

It was a dark and stormy night sometime in 1995.  My entry into the Internet world was thanks to a terrific VP of Marketing for a major pharmaceutical company.  We had given a presentation to her on pay-per-view and video on demand as we placed them in a test with one of the then baby-Bells.  After the meeting she asked, “Guys, do you think this Internet thing will ever amount to anything commercially?”

On the flight home (no angry passengers, no TSA, no service ponies) the guys I was with decided we needed to get some religion.  We studied a number of areas – designing, distributing, monitoring, including “naming.”  Network Solutions was the only game in town managing URLs…they tied site names ( to actual DNSs.  In other words, when someone went looking for a web page using a URL like, Network Solutions managed the relationship list that told Mae East and Mae West and all their friends, “Oh, looking for that?  Well, go to (Yes, it’s an intentionally impossible address.  But then, go dial 555 1212).

A few folks got a bright idea – register a bunch of URLs using companies' names then squat on them.  When the companies come knocking, bump that $70 registration fee up to a few – or many – thousand dollars.  You got it, they want it, supply and demand, eh?

Well, the law caught up with these squatters.  In effect, it said that the .com extension really was to be applied to commercial entities and declared that unless you had a reasonable right to use a URL, you had to give it up.  Said another way, McDonald’s Excavating could have registered and kept but others, with no connection to the name could not.

Seemed pretty simple.  You can breathe now, the backstory is over.

It got complicated for broadcasters.  Smart squatters registered hundreds of call letters – letters which, by and large, are gibberish and would be available to anyone and, therefore, not totally protected by UPC rules.  And they sat on them while they called or snail mailed stations offering to sell at anywhere from 10 to one thousand times the registration cost.

A few stations paid.  Most balked and went another direction…and it was the best thing they could have done.  The squatters forced stations to look for other names and in doing so, they incorporated (OMG) branding into their URLs.  So we saw,,,, or   The URLs actually clued prospective visitors in about the site and bolstered the stations’ brands.

So the Internet grew, more stations jumped aboard, started streaming and were able to cross promote between the web and over the air.  And stations succeeded because in their URLs, they had a catch phrase – mnemonic, if you will , in most cases – that would resonate with their audiences.

I think just about everyone I know listens to streams of broadcast stations.  And of them, I’d wager that most, if not all, know the URL of the station.  Some have set bookmarks and don’t remember.  Others rely on recognizing the station logo in the iHeartRadio listings or on and its derivatives.
Well the payoff to this rambling story is that about a week ago I got an email from a company acknowledging that I was the website manager (not webmaster…big difference) for a number of stations. 

They went on to say that they had recently acquired the URLs for the stations’ call letters.  It was quite well laid out and correctly listed the stations and their owners.

And after that, they laid out the sales pitch and why these stations needed their call letter URLs – just the plain 3 or 4 letter URLs.  They also said that it would be good marketing for the station as we could promote multiple URLs.  Oh, and that the offer included wouldn’t last long.  That offer, by the way, varied by market size so they did do some homework..

If you know me, you know that I jumped at the chance – No, no!  I was polite.  I simply laid out history and offered my condolences for their having purchased a pig in a poke.  It was fun.

Sadly, someone spent their (or worse, someone else’s) money to buy those URL’s.  Sitting at lunch, a couple of beers and they start talking and realize – falsely – that if they can get their hands on these dormant URLs, they can score big.

There was an episode of Twilight Zone (yes the original) where some guys stole a bunch of gold.  They put themselves into suspended animation for a number of years so that when they emerged, the robbery would be long forgotten and they would be rich beyond belief.  When they did actually awaken, scientists had discovered how to create gold artificially and their haul was worthless.  Not an exact parallel but close enough. 

Guys, enjoy your URLs.  You own ‘em.