Friday, March 31, 2006

Striking a Genealogical Balance

Image obtained from iStockPhoto.comAs 2005 came to an end, I thought about possible resolutions for 2006. One of the things that has bothered me lately are the emails I get complaining that Genealogy Today is just another paid site.

It always strikes me as odd, when the site (launched in 1999) didn’t have any subscription databases until the end of 2003. But when visitors voice their impressions, I do listen.

While I am not a Buddhist, I do put a lot of credence into the philosophy that everything should be in balance. I follow this in my personal life all the time through the holistic therapies and remedies I use for any ailments. So, why shouldn’t I apply it to my business.It made me think back to June 2000, when acquired RootsWeb. The announcement said, “the acquisition will provide the site the financial backing to expand its focus on preserving, sharing, and exchanging family history research. The site will expand with additional technology tools, increased family research content and a greater range of genealogical resources.” Did RootsWeb really need to be supported? Or were there higher powers at work trying to put MyFamily back into balance?

Well, this was unlikely a holistic action to balance their growing collection of subscription information, but it did give me the idea for my resolution. Well, at first, it just made me wonder what the ratio of subscription versus free data was.

I’d always had plenty of free content, both organic and through acquisitions, but never thought to monitor the quantity of free versus paid names. So, I added a feature to an administrative page that I have to show me the exact counts of all paid a free databases. And, I was pleasantly surprised to see that the site was not too far out of balance at 56% paid.

So, since then I have been resolved to getting (and maintaining) the site’s data collection at a more exact balancing point. And I am pleased to share that since February this goal has been achieved and the ratijavascript:void(0)o has stayed at 50% (+/- 0.75%) ever since.

Whether it’s the free vs. paid issue, or original content vs. affiliate links, you should always try to maintain a reasonable balance. Have you looked at your own site lately? How balanced is it?

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Acadian-Cajun Roots

Sample image of Acadian CD-RomToday we announced the online release of The Acadian-Cajun Family, a database of more than 1.2 million records developed by Yvon Cyr over the past ten years. Yvon is a remarkable person who, after enduring a lifetime of incredible challenges, remains committed to his heritage and helping others trace their Acadian ancestors. Being able to collaborate on an online offering of this information was a wonderful opportunity.

Read our press release, “Tracing Acadian-Cajun Roots for Genealogists“.

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Did You See What I Published Today?

Images obtained from iStockPhoto.comI read an interesting blog post today on a Geek Blog by Phil Burns. He said his company instituted the following doctrine for it’s employees: “If the customer didn’t see it, you didn’t do it.” What a great creed for publishers (webmasters and bloggers ARE publishers, by the way).

For a long time I have given myself the goal of posting something of value to genealogists every weekday on Genealogy Today. But reading this doctrine made me wonder if those countless efforts had ever been seen by anybody, and thus according to Phil, had I actually done them?

I have no way of measuring my net accomplishments, but I can share with you the steps I took to make sure that, at a minimum, the things that I published could be seen.
  1. Did I put appropriate keywords in the META tag?
  2. Does it appear in the site search?
  3. Can I find it on my site map?
  4. Does it deserve a home page link?
  5. Is it newsworthy? (then it goes on my news page)
  6. Is it pressworthy? (then I write a press release)
  7. Is it buzzworthy? (then I’ll post it to some lists)
  8. Is it linkworthy? (then I’ll message a few webmasters)
  9. Should I add it to my site history page?
  10. Did I mention it in my weekly newsletter?
  11. Should I blog about it on my corporate blog?
That’s right, I go through this list at the end of every day to make sure that whatever I’ve published can be found by my visitors. (#11 is a new addition to the list)

In looking at this list, however, I noticed that I don’t have a “what’s new” page. I’d like to get some comments on whether or not genealogists find “what’s new” pages useful when visiting sites.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Being a Smart Affiliate Partner

Image obtained from iStockPhoto.comIn the online world there are several ways to generate revenue; you can sell things, you can seek paid advertising or you can join an affiliate program and earn money for referrals.

When you sell things, you are always thinking of better ways to present your products or services. You try different ways to draw in visitors and analyze your page layout to make sure the purchase process is simple and efficient (otherwise visitors won’t make it all the way through).

When you add banner or text advertising to your pages, you usually plop them in the highest trafficked and/or visible places. Since most webmasters settle for CPM advertising relationships, impression volume is all that matters.

So, why do many affiliates treat affiliate relationships like advertising? Yes, it is true that with any affiliate program, shear volume should yield sales. But, why waste all that traffic?

As an affiliate partner, you’re an extension of the partner company’s sales and marketing department. You’re effectively selling (or pre-selling) their products or services.

While you still want to focus some attention on placing creative that yields a solid clickthru rate, you also should consider whether the landing page for each creative produces the best sales per click.

The partner may offer two search boxes that have comparable clickthru rates, but one may yield more sales. Commission Junction offers EPC (Average Earnings Per One Hundred Clicks) calculations with all the creative. This is a helpful calculation for comparing similar creative.

Remember, however, that all web pages are not alike, and so the program-wide statistics you see may be distorted. For example, a US Census creative might show a high EPC, but there may be sites in the program that are census-oriented and draw in traffic looking for census data. These kind of sites will probably achieve a higher EPC for a census creative than your site if it is less focus on the topic.

My own web site, Genealogy Today, is a pretty generic site and with a specialized piece of creative like a US Census banner I would never see the EPC that say a census-centric site like would. So, pick creative that best matches the needs of your own unique visitors.

That’s not to say that you should avoid creative that doesn’t match your site’s focus. It’s always good to have some in the mix as your visitors may actually check our you site and not find what they’re looking for. Just recognize the performance of these creatives may not match the EPC listed.

One of the most important factors in selling things on a site is to make sure you clearly state what the product or service offers. For products, it’s key to layout all of the attributes down to size, weight and a clear, readable picture is essential. For services, it’s important to spell out the terms, benefits and any deliverables.

You’re pre-selling a partner company’s product or service, so you should do some of the same things you would if you were selling it yourself. Look at the creative you’re using and ask yourself if the visitors know what they’re getting when they click on it.

Think about your own objective. You want visitors to click on the creative and do something — preferably make a purchase. You can send blindly send 1,000 visitors and hope to make a few sales. Or, you can selectively send fewer, more qualified visitors.

A “red flag” goes up in my head whenever I look at a performance report and I see clicks increase without a relative increase in sales. That red flag usually indicates that I’m not doing my job in pre-selling. (Yes, it could also mean the affiliate partner landing page is lame, but I rarely can control that. It could also be that the partner changed the landing page)

I find the following tactics to be the most effective at whittling away unproductive clicks:
  1. Make sure partner company name is clearly displayed,
  2. Make sure it is clear MONEY is involved (nothing is free),
  3. Provide an alternative, more direct click.
Let me explain #3. Visitors like options. Many like shortcuts. Say, for example, you’re displaying a search box that (after clicking) shows the visitor some results and asks them to signup. The “action” button may be somewhere on the page that the affiliate partner feels is the best place, and you’re not likely to change it. So, give your visitors a shortcut before they get there and lose interest.

There’s one last suggestion I want to make, and its one I am just beginning to explore. There’s a feature on Google that I’ve rarely used, but I now see the relevance and think it could be applied to affiliate marketing.

I’ve often thought about the situation where I’m promoting an affiliate (let’s call it “A”) and the visitor is already an “A” customer. They either pass by the creative, or generate an unproductive click. My thought is why not offer something akin to Google’s “Similar pages” feature. This way, if the visitor already knows what “A” offers, you can share with them related sites (that are also affiliate partners).

So, to do a quick recap:
  1. Monitor clickthru rates. Replace low-clickthru creative placed in high traffic areas.
  2. Compare EPC values of similar creative.
  3. Match creative to your own visitors, but mix in some unrelated stuff also.
  4. Make sure partner identity is clear on creative, or add it yourself with text or modify graphic (if program rules allow).
  5. Clearly show where $$$ are involved.
  6. Provide shortcuts to action pages.
  7. Try offering related alternatives.
There are plenty of “tricks” and slightly-deceptive ways to drive clicks to affiliates, but if you give me 1,000 visitors, I’d rather send each of them to a place where they are most likely going to act, rather than rely on “chance” that some of them will.

Monday, March 20, 2006

Movin’ On Up…

We recently relocated our offsite storage, and it has made our lives so much better. The former 100 sq. ft. location has been replaced with a 300 sq. ft. space complete with shelving and two workspaces.

Running a small business, you’re always looking to cut corners. But what price can you put on efficiency? Time is a critical asset for a business owner, so anytime you can streamline a process, you should do it. It can free you up to work on other aspects of the business, which can generate more revenue.

The mail order business of Genealogy Today has been growing, and I finally realized that too much (unneccessary) time was being spent everyday fulfilling the orders. In the old space, everything was in boxes and if my memory lapsed even a little bit, I could waste upwards of an hour trying to locate a product. Plus, when there was a recent trade show, some of the inventory would still be crated up and in another location. And newly purchased inventory often would still be in my house waiting to be carted off to the storage space.

With this new setup, orders are fulfilled quicker and with less effort (and frustration). Customers are happier because they get their goodies sooner, and I’m spending less time away from my office — thus, I have more time to spend expanding our databases.

Don’t underestimate the ROI of expanding your company’s space. Factor in the time-savings involved with better organization, easier access and more clearly defined operational procedures.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

BYU’s 2006 Computerized Genealogy Conference

click to enlarge The BYU Computerized Genealogy Conference was held from March 10-11 in Provo, Utah, and Genealogy Today attended (Room 2277, Booth #23) for the first time. This conference is designed to be a how-to guide for everyone, including beginning, intermediate, and advanced researchers. Pictured to the right is our booth (click on it to see an enlarged version of the photo).

Betty Lindsay (editor of GenWeekly) handled the Genealogy Today booth and gave the following report: “They have a pretty good-sized group at the conference. The parking lot has been completely full, and they have five simultaneous sessions going on at any given time. We had a good crowd on the first day. We went through almost three bags of the letter openers [giveaways]. The people coming to the table were quite interested to know who we were and what we had to offer.”

“Not many students coming through, although one of the vendors in our room is from the BYU computer science department (check out I’ve also seen a few presenters, some of whom may be faculty. But mostly what I’m seeing is the average conference-goer, and quite a few Family History Center managers/directors, asking when we will have a library subscription option. We are also in the room with a new company, Acentra, and”

The featured presenters for this conference were Curt B. Witcher and Alan Mann. Mr. Witcher is the department manager for the Historical Genealogy Department of the Allen County Public Library in Fort Wayne, Indiana. And Mr. Mann is a manager of the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, Utah.

BYU also hosts a Genealogy and Family History Conference in August. This year’s theme is Strengthening Ties That Bind Families Together Forever.

Sold to the Highest Bidder!

Old Feed Mill Auction CenterThis week I attended (and participated in) my first LIVE auction. Wow! What an unbelievable 3 1/2 hour rush!

It took place at the Old Feed Mill Auction Center in Boonton, NJ [map]. Jack Wootton and his family have run these for years, and you could see that there were quite a few “regulars” in the audience. They do both antique and paper auctions.

I arrived at 3:00pm for the preview, and had already reviewed the catalog of the 1,999 lots to be auctioned that night. During the preview you can check out any of the items that you are interested in.

Then at 5:30pm, everyone takes their seat and the fun begins. They explain the basics, but there were a few things that I didn’t know, but quickly learned. For example, when they call a lot, if noone bids on it, then it gets added to the next lot. Well, I was quite surprised to find out that after winning the first item I bid on (a box of art books), I had actually won 10 other boxes of books!

By the time we reached the final lot, I was exhausted. Aside from the excitement of bidding on items, you also have to keep carrying the stuff out to your car since there’s not a lot of room where you’re sitting. I can see now why some people brought a friend along.

So, while I expected to drive home with 6 or 7 items (mostly club and society rosters and some yearbooks), the truck was fully loaded with crates and boxes of old stuff.

eBay certainly offers a lot of content acquisition opportunities, but none of the excitement of being at a live auction. And while I do enjoy attending book shows, flea markets, estate sales and the occasional garage sale, live auctions now rank #1 for ephemera-seeking thrills.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Library Discards — End of the Line? Or not?

Images obtained from iStockPhoto.comAs genealogists, we cherish historical information about our ancestors — especially when they’re not politicians, celebrities or otherwise renowned. Several years ago I began harvesting books and ephemera that contain lists of people associated with groups and activities. Along the way, I’ve found that some of these great resources have actually been library discards. So why did these books get discarded?
Most libraries need to get rid of, or “cull”, books at the same rate that they acquire them; otherwise, they would run out of space. They usually sell these books to the public, or in lots to dealer, to raise funds for additional acquisitions and library services. The librarian must face a difficult task — which old books to discard to make space for the new ones?

I would love to see more (non-dealer) outlets for libraries to have for discarding books of a historical nature. With a quick look online, I did find Better World Books, an organization that helps libraries sell off their discards. Unfortunately, included in their listing of “What type of books/materials does Better World Books not accept”, are telephone books, tax documents, government documents, directories OR any damaged books/materials not suitable for sale.

The State of Rhode Island web site has a page about “Selling library discards and donations on eBay,” so I guess it is possible to purchase these discarded items directly, although I don’t believe any of the books I’ve obtained via auctions have been from libraries. (As an aside, they mention a cool website to help determine what to charge for a book:

I will probably post something to the Librarians Serving Genealogists mailing list to see if they have any ideas on how to best channel discarded historical items. It’s a great list, by the way, for understanding the issues and challenges reference librarians face.

For any librarians reading this post, Genealogy Today will gladly reimburse you for the costs involved with packing and mailing discarded books to us. We’re looking for books with lists of names. Examples include masonic rosters, club and society member lists, church directories and school yearbooks or catalogues. Our mailing address is P.O. Box 911, New Providence, NJ 07974. Please address the packages to “Genealogy Today, Dept. LD” and include a note stating your packing costs. PLUS, if the book does not meet our needs and I am able to auction it off, you’ll get 100% of the sale price (less ebay/Paypal fees).

Monday, March 13, 2006

Get Inspired to Retire — Super Ideas!

Get Inspired to Retire: Over 150 Ideas to Help Find Your Retirement We received a letter on March 13, 2006, from Kaplan Publishing informing us that Genealogy Today was THE family history web site featured under the topic “Dig for Your Roots” (page 40) in a new book entitled, Get Inspired to Retire: Over 150 Ideas to Help Find Your Retirement. Authors David Saylor and Greg Heffington wrote, “Tracing a family genealogy is a legacy for your children, grandchildren, and great-granchildren. No matter how insignificant something sounds to you today, it may be invaluable to future generations.” Great advice! The ideas in this colorful guide will help you plan for and make the most out of your retirement.