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Understanding, Defining, Owning – Blog Evolution

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Change Is Never Simple – Evolve

Agent Genius underwent a major site overhaul this past week, and I’ve had many many offline and online conversations since about the changes and what we’re attempting to accomplish. So now that I have some time, I thought I would dive into them because I think they’re important even in your own business.

I had a conversation yesterday with someone who acknowledges that from a blogger’s perspective, they just didn’t understand the layout, but was interested to know what I was telegraphing with a change away from forward facing content.

It’s Pretty Simple

Someone finding our content via longtail in relation to blogging have probably already been exposed to a blog, they’ll land on a blog page they’ll understand. But what about those folks who have never seen or used a blog, have no idea what it is, nor what they would be searching for in the first place? What about those folks in your office who ask about blogging, learning more, who are maybe not that savvy about internet things? What type of front facing content might they be most comfortable with?

You can essentially narrow this thought down to your own market. If you’re in the Midwest, chances are, a consumer locating your answer via longtail looking for homes, and landing on a content (blog) faced website, may be lost, take the information, and continue to skim google until they find a site face (probably static) they’re more accustomed to.

The same thing rings true for Agent Genius. You as a blog consumer already understand a blog’s basic fundamentals, but if our intent is to grow the audience, teach those that have no fundamentals, then obviously, a Ferrari may not be the best road test for a noob.

So What Have We Accomplished?

A landing page that a curious 1.0 agent has a fighting chance of navigating. It’s straight forward, it answers directly to the skimmer, it forces the author (including myself) to follow our own advice of a great title, a great lead in paragraph, and if those two things fail to grab the skimmers interest, it entices the reader with related imagery, and it also forces us to remember context and to build the story for newcomers. To discount any of these things when presenting material for some moral reason is simply a disregard for marketing philosophies, that to be honest, may be over the head of a few critics- as smart as they are.

Navigation

Much of the content at Ag is timeless, it is within context of the overall conversation when it comes to coaching, training, agent tools, and discussions about some of what I just mentioned. This created a need to better present navigation options to those that are use to traditional websites. It was a shame when a great post turned the page on Ag, and this layout provides an opportunity for that content to become new once again.

The Sidebar

Moving the traditional sidebar inside the content also serves this need, it allows a deeper access to content, authors, and current articles that might be of personal interest. It also frees up the sidebar for some very cool things upcoming in the near future- it’s a lot of real estate that can be better harnessed, sideblogs are very cool and straight forward, and can make visible content that is just too valuable to hide. You’ll begin seeing new things appear there over the next week or so.

Color & Imagery

Someone somewhere said something the other day about us being pretty, but it was more sarcastic than anything else. I’m going to take that as a compliment, but not for the reasons this person intended (as it was not their intention), but more because the purpose of presentation goes without argument, and if you’re arguing it, it’s not Ag with the problem.

The Amount of Content

In addressing the issues of content turning the page, with this layout, we’ve essentially doubled the amount of content we’re able to display in a single page load.  Twice the articles, twice the <h1> tags, and twice the keywords.  Add to that the sideblog forthcoming and you begin to finally see how this format adds to the audiences ability to consume content, or direction, and do it in a way that is not overwhelming, or slow page load which was a real issue in the previous format.

Some Overalls

The site looks alive to the untrained eye. It’s stimulating, vibrant, and it looks open for business even at 3am. One of the basic issues I’ve always had with walls of text is that if you’ve read every article on the front page, then there’s nothing new to it. But if you really study, I mean really study the AG front page, you can understand how you find more and more things to get into. It isn’t busy, but it is alive, even if there hasn’t been a post in an hour or two. We want that, you want that in your own website!

Getting Started With Evolution

I’ve been making the case for some time now with folks to delve into their own demographics and it’s about time you start doing it. It you’re looking at conversion as a means to get business, then you must look at every page turn as it’s own conversion.

Constantly Evolve With These Questions:

  • Is my website ahead of my market?
  • Is my website behind my market?
  • Does each page ask a consumer to do something?
  • Am I enticing them to actually do it?
  • Am I speaking over the head of someone with a simple question?
  • Am I defining context in my content or speaking as if they’ve read for years?
  • Will my content have context in a year?
  • What is the point of the content I’m producing?
  • Is my content answering to that same point?
  • Can I make my site more mainstream, but keep my 2.0 philosophies?
  • Am I discussing politics where I eat?
  • Am I limiting my own audience by doing so?
  • Am I willing to do anything about it?

The bottom line is that we’ll continue to experiment with wordpress as a CMS, take advantage of new strides and studies in content management, adapt to new ideals in design, develop new ideals based on the success of others outside of real estate, and blend as many as we can.  We’ve not gotten to where we are in one year because we sat still in someone else’s definition, we got here by constantly asking ourselves more and more questions- and then setting out to find the answer.

I hope that some if not all of this helps you in your own journey with your own sites, and heck it may just reaffirm your own belief in your own techniques.  I know of some very very successful local sites with forward-facing content, but never let that fool you.  Those same folks succeeded by their own trial and error experiments- watching them may give you some insight, but I’ve warned in the past of imitating your competition.  Follow the ball, not the player, and your likely end result will be success if you remember to ask questions of your audience but also watching what they do, and then repeating that success even if you may not look like everyone else.

We’re very excited about the future in our space, and at the prospect of bringing new faces into the conversation, and just this week we’ve approved a few handfuls of new commenters, and we’re seeing action on older material as we expected- we welcome all of the new faces and thank all of our regular ones. 

If you find any kinks, feel free to click Submit Tip in the top nav and drop me a note.

Benn Rosales is the Founder and CEO of The American Genius (AG), national news network for tech and entrepreneurs, proudly celebrating 10 years in publishing, recently ranked as the #5 startup in Austin. Before founding AG, he founded one of the first digital media strategy firms in the nation and also acquired several other firms. His resume prior includes roles at Apple and Kroger Foods, specializing in marketing, communications, and technology integration. He is a recipient of the Statesman Texas Social Media Award and is an Inman Innovator Award winner. He has consulted for numerous startups (both early- and late-stage), has built partnerships and bridges between tech recruiters and the best tech talent in the industry, and is well known for organizing the digital community through popular monthly networking events. Benn does not venture into the spotlight often, rather believes his biggest accomplishments are the talent he recruits, develops, and gives all credit to those he's empowered.

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12 Comments

12 Comments

  1. Missy Caulk

    November 3, 2008 at 9:49 am

    Benn, thanks for the explanation. I’m all for driving more readers to the blog. I remember Lani saying in a post the traffic had gone up since the new change. You’re right most of the posts are timeless.

  2. Ken Brand

    November 3, 2008 at 9:51 am

    Thanks. Money quote: Follow the ball not the player.
    Go long, I’ll heave it as hard as I can, you catch and run like Boltz. Thanks, Rock on Benn

  3. Benn Rosales

    November 3, 2008 at 9:57 am

    Missy, even more, avg time on site has gone from 7 to 9 minutes avg which is amazing.

    Ken, gracias, partner!

  4. Laura Cannon

    November 3, 2008 at 11:00 am

    “Can I make my site more mainstream, but keep my 2.0 philosophies?” –this line really struck me.

    I’ve been thinking about this issue for some time, but I haven’t acted on it. I think AG has effectively responded to this dilemma with the new site. The new site is more readable, easier to navigate, and yet it is also seems more sophisticated, i.e., more cutting edge. I had sort of decided that this couldn’t be done or more accurately that I couldn’t do it. Clearly it can be done! And, AG has done it extraordinarily well!

    It will be interesting to see how blogs will be changed by this. I am already thinking about how I can tweak my blog to better respond to mainstream readers. I didn’t know where to start, AG has provided some grounding.

  5. Daniel Rothamel, The Real Estate Zebra

    November 3, 2008 at 1:56 pm

    Benn,

    This is a great explanation. I totally get where you’re going with this, and I applaud you for doing it. You’ve got a plan and a vision, just execute.

    I know you’ve gotten some flack for the change, but I also know you’re smart enough to know which criticisms matter.

    Keep up the good work.

  6. Ricardo Bueno

    November 3, 2008 at 5:50 pm

    All in all, I’m really diggin’ the new redesign! It took some getting used to at first but I love it now. It’s easy to navigate and catches your attention (it’s not overwhelming; at least in my opinion).

    Redesign = Success!

  7. Ryan Hartman

    November 3, 2008 at 6:53 pm

    Yay to WordPress as cms. I also spent the last year evolving PhiladelphiaRealEstateHub.Com into a similarly styled “magazine” type monster blog that feels more like a modern news type site.
    It’s pretty exciting to see others going through the same process, exciting enough that I’m actually checking out the design on a real computer and commenting (as you’ve been instructing me to do on my iphone feed reader for months 🙂

    If I may…Our last theme switch, one that was similar to what you’ve done here, did real wonders for our overall page views. I wonder, do you have any plans to add a similar/related posts plugin? Also, –(maybe you’ve already done this?)–are there any plans to vary the sidebar as you switch to different sections within the site? We found that doing both also did wonders for our stickiness and overall seo effort….[Sorry for the long comment, just excited to talk a little about this stuff 🙂

    [Oh, yeah…is the page nav at the bottom of your pages some kind of plugin?…thx]

  8. Benn Rosales

    November 4, 2008 at 9:06 am

    Hi Ryan, thanks for the comment.

    the navigation plugin we use is wp-pagenavi, we’ve always had it, it’s just restyled for our site. As for sidebars, you’ll just have to wait and see, and same with related.

    We’re still tweaking where we are now and will add as our list shrinks. Overall, we expect another full week.

  9. Paula Henry

    November 5, 2008 at 7:58 am

    Benn – I love it! Since we have spoken about this very thing, it is exciting to see it in action.

    Looking forward to the enhancements and tweaks!

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Deepfakes can destroy any reputation, company, or country

(MEDIA) Deepfakes have been around for a few years now, but they’re being crafted for nefarious purposes beyond the original porn and humor uses.

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Deepfakes — a technology originally used by Reddit perverts who wanted to superimpose their favorite actresses’ faces onto the bodies of porn stars – have come a long way since the original Reddit group was banned.

Deepfakes use artificial intelligence (AI) to create bogus videos by analyzing facial expressions to replace one person’s face and/or voice with another’s.

Using computer technology to synthesize videos isn’t exactly new.

Remember in Forrest Gump, how Tom Hanks kept popping up in the background of footage of important historical events, and got a laugh from President Kennedy? It wasn’t created using AI, but the end result is the same. In other cases, such technology has been used to complete a film when an actor dies during production.

The difference between these examples and that latest deepfake technology is a question of ease and access.

Historically, these altered videos have required a lot of money, patience, and skill. But as computer intelligence has advanced, so too has deepfake technology.

Now the computer does the work instead of the human, making it relatively fast and easy to create a deepfake video. In fact, Stanford created a technology using a standard PC and web cam, as I reported in 2016.

Nowadays, your average Joe can access open source deepfake apps for free. All you need is some images or video of your victim.

While the technology has mostly been used for fun – such as superimposing Nicolas Cage into classic films – deepfakes could and have been used for nefarious purposes.

There is growing concern that deepfakes could be used for political disruption, for example, to smear a politician’s reputation or influence elections.

Legislators in the House and Senate have requested that intelligence agencies report on the issue. The Department of Defense has already commissioned researchers to teach computers to detect deepfakes.

One promising technology developed at the University of Albany analyzes blinking to detect deep fakes, as subjects in the faked videos usually do not blink as often as real humans do. Ironically, in order to teach computers how to detect them, researchers must first create many deepfake videos. It seems that deepfake creators and detectors are locked in a sort of technological arms race.

The falsified videos have the potential to exacerbate the information wars, either by producing false videos, or by calling into question real ones. People are already all too eager to believe conspiracy theories and fake news as it is, and the insurgence of these faked videos could be created to back up these bogus theories.

Others worry that the existence of deepfake videos could cast doubt on actual, factual videos. Thomas Rid, a professor of strategic studies at Johns Hopkins University says that deepfakes could lead to “deep denials” – in other words, “the ability to dispute previously uncontested evidence.”

While there have not yet been any publicly documented cases of attempts to influence politics with deepfake videos, people have already been harmed by the faked videos.

Women have been specifically targeted. Celebrities and civilians alike have reported that their likeness has been used to create fake sex videos.

Deepfakes prove that just because you can achieve an impressive technological feat doesn’t always mean you should.

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Can you legally monitor your employees’ online activities? Kinda

(SOCIAL MEDIA) Are they ways you are monitoring your employees online even legal? Did you know there are illegal methods? Yep.

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Edward Snowden’s infamous info leak in 2013 brought to light the scope of surveillance measures, raising questions about legality of monitoring tactics. However, the breach also opened up broader discussion on best practices for protecting sensitive data.

No company wants to end up with a data breach situation on their hands, but businesses need to be careful when implementing monitoring systems to prevent data loss.

Monitoring your employee’s activity online can be a crucial part of safeguarding proprietary data. However, many legal risks are present when implementing data loss prevention (DLP) methods.

DLP tools like keystroke logging, natural language processing, and network traffic monitoring are all subject to federal and state privacy laws. Before putting any DLP solutions in place, companies need to assess privacy impact and legal risks.

First, identify your monitoring needs. Different laws apply to tracking data in transit versus data at rest. Data in transit is any data moving through a network, like sending an email. The Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA) requires consent for tracking any data in transit.

Data at rest is anything relatively immobile, like information stored in a database or archives. Collecting data at rest can fall under the Stored Communications Act (SCA), which typically prohibits unauthorized access or disclosure of electronic communications.

While the SCA does not usually prevent employers from accessing their own systems, monitoring things like Gmail accounts could get messy without proper authorization.

Who you’re tracking matters as well regarding consent and prior notification. If you’re just monitoring your own employees, you may run into disclosure issues. Some states, like Delaware and Connecticut, prohibit employee monitoring without prior notice.

The ECPA also generally prohibits tracking electronic communication, but exceptions are granted for legitimate business purposes so long as consent is obtained.

Monitoring third party communications can get tricky with wiretapping laws. In California and Illinois, all parties must be notified of any tracking. This can involve disclosures on email signatures from outbound employee emails, or a broad notification on the company’s site.

Implied consent comes from third parties continuing communication even with disclaimers present.

If you’re wanting to install DLP software on personal devices used for work, like a company cellphone, you could face a series of fines for not gaining authorization. Incorrect implementation may fall under spyware and computer crime laws.

With any DLP tools and data monitoring, notification and consent are crucial. When planning monitoring, first assess what your privacy needs are, then identify potential risks of implementing any tracking programs.

Define who, where, and why DLP software will apply, and make sure every employee understands the need for tracking. Include consent in employee onboarding, and keep employees updated with changes to your monitoring tactics.

Protecting your company’s data is important, but make sure you’re not unintentionally bending privacy laws with your data loss prevention methods. Regularly check up on your approaches to make sure everything is in compliance with monitoring laws.

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How to spot if your SEO, PPC, social media marketing service provider is a con-artist

(BUSINESS) When hiring a professional, did you know there are actual questions you can ask to spot a con-artist? Too often, we trust our guts and go with the gregarious person, but too much is on the line to keep doing that with your business.

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In this day and age the cult of positive thinking and “the law of attraction” are still very much alive and well in the business services industry. Here are a few simple questions that you can ask prospective business service providers to help you gauge if they are the real deal or just caught up in the fad of “say yes to everything,” or “outsource everything” being populated online by countless “thought leaders” and cult gurus.

Lots of people will ask, “What’s the harm of people trying to make something of themselves?”

Well, I’m here to tell you there is a huge harm in taking risks with a client’s money and manipulating people into trusting their “expertise” when they have none.

Business owners: Due diligence is more important than ever these days.

There are whole communities of people helping to prop each-other up as experts in fields they know nothing about while outsourcing their tasks with little or no oversight into the actual work being done on your behalf.

It is nearly impossible for you to tell if this is even going on. Don’t worry. I am here to help you avoid a con-artist.

How? By showing you how to weed out the bad actors by asking really simple questions.

This set of questions is perfect for people who need to distinguish if the expert they are talking is really just an expert in bullshit with a likeable personality.

Why do these questions work? Because people who are into this kind of stuff are rarely hesitant to talk about it when you ask them direct questions. They believe that what they are doing is a good thing and so they are more open to sharing this information with you because they think by you by asking that you are also into similar things.

It is a fun little trick I picked up while learning to do consumer polling and political surveying.

The Questions:

  • Who influences you professionally?
  • Do you follow any “thought leaders” “gurus” or coaches? If so, who?
  • What “school” of thought do you ascribe to in your profession, and where do you learn what you know?
  • Are there any industry standards you do not agree with?
  • How do you apply the services you offer to your own company?
  • Can you please tell me the background of your support staff and can I see their CV’s?
  • Do you outsource or white label any of the work your company does?
  • May we audit your process before buying your services?
  • May we discuss your proposed strategies with others in your industry to ensure quality?
  • Would you be open to speaking with an independent consultant that is knowledgeable about your industry about your proposals?
  • Can you show me examples of your past successful jobs?
  • Do you have any industry accepted certifications and how many hours of study do you do in a year to keep your knowledge up-to-date and current?
  • How many clients have you had in the past?
  • How many clients do you have currently?
  • How many clients are you able to handle at one time?
  • How many other clients do you have that are in the same industry as my company?
  • How long is your onboarding process before we start getting down to actually making changes to help solve the issues my company is facing?
  • Can you explain to me the steps you will take to identify my company’s needs?
  • Have you ever taken a course in NLP or any other similar course of study?
  • Have you ever been a part of a Multi-Level Marketing company?
  • Fun. Right? Well, we aren’t done.

    It is not just enough to ask these questions… you have to pay attention to the answers, as well as the WAY they are answering questions.

    And you also have to RESEARCH the company after you get your answers to make sure they ring true.

    You cannot keep accepting people at face value, not when the risk is to your business, employees, and clients. There is little to no risk for a person who is being dishonest about their capabilities and skill sets. They will walk away with your money, ready to go find another target for a chance meeting that seems amazingly perfect.

    Do not leave your business decisions to chance encounters at networking events. Research before saying yes.

    No matter how likeable or appealing the person you are speaking with is.

    How do you research? Easy. THE INTERNET. Look at the website of the company you are considering working with.

    • Does it look professional? (do not use your website as a standard for professional unless you have had it done by a professional)
    • Can you see a list of their past clients?
    • Do they effectively tell their story as a company or are they just selling?
    • What do their social media profiles look like? Do they have many followers? Are they updated regularly?
    • Do they have any positive reviews on social sites? (Yelp, Facebook, Linkedin, etc)

    You can also do some simple things like running SEO Website Checkers on their websites. There are tons of these online for free and they will give you a pretty good indicator of if they are using best practices on their websites – you can even do this research on their clients’ websites.

    Also, if you know anything about SpyFu, you can run their website through that to see how they are doing their own online marketing (the same can be said for their clients if they are selling this service).

    Facebook also has a cool section that shows you ads that a Page is running. You can find this info connected to their business Page as well as the Pages they manage for their clients as well. None of these things automatically disqualify a potential service provider, but their answers the question of “why” things are the way there are might be very illuminating to you as a business owner.

    This may seem like a lot of work, and it can be if you do not do these things regularly and have them down to a system, but the cost of not doing these things is way too high. A con-artist is born every day, thanks to the internet.

    You have a right as a business owner considering services from a vendor to ask these questions.

    They also have the responsibility as a service provider to answer these questions in a professional manner. Sometimes the way in which they answer the questions is far more important than the actual answer.

    If all of this seems too overwhelming for you to handle, that is okay.

    • You can ask one of your staff in your company to take on this role and responsibility.
    • You can hire someone to come in and help you with these decisions (and you can ask them all the same questions as above before taking their services).
    • You can reach out to other business owners in your network to see if they have recommendations for someone who could help you with things.
    • Heck, you can even call up companies that look like they are doing as well as you want to be doing online and ask them who they are using for their services. Try successful companies in other industries as your competitor won’t likely be interested in sharing their secrets with you…

    What is important is that you are asking questions, researching, and ultimately making sure that you are doing as much as possible to ensure making the best decision for your company.

    Final thoughts:

    “But, Jay, what’s wrong with taking a risk on an up-and-comer?”

    The answer to that is NOTHING. There is nothing wrong with taking a chance on someone. Someone being green doesn’t make them a con-artist.

    The issue I am raising is in the honest portrayal of businesses and their capabilities. It is about honesty.

    I am a huge fan of working with people who are new and passionate about an industry. But I only work with people who are honest with me about who they are, what they can do, and how their processes work.

    I have worked with tons of people who are still learning on the job. It can be quite educational for a business owner as well.

    Just make sure they are being honest about everything up front. You are no obligated to give anyone a chance when it comes to your businesses success, and it’s not right that someone might manipulate you into doing so.

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