Brownbook SCRUM hit at ICMA conference

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I spoke at the ICMA Conference (Classifieds EVOLVE or die) in Berlin last week. It all went very well and I was very pleased with the interaction, question and feedback, but when you speak, you never know what people are really thinking… I talked about the way we do development on Brownbook.net, how we use SCRUM / Agile development and then we looked at some issues that the audience had with their development process and how they would be handled with the SCRUM process that we use. So imagine my pleasure when I received this email yesterday:

Dear Marc,

Thank you very much for participating in the speaking programme at the General Meeting in Berlin last week.

I have waded through the delegate feedback forms and your session was rated highest overall of the entire conference, with an overall score of 91%. 93% of the delegates felt the Scrum Methodology workshop was relevant with 91% indicating they learned a great deal.   I am pleased to inform you that you were rated the top speaker of the entire conference with a whopping 94% presenter rating. A few stand out comments from the evaluations forms stated “Excellent project management system.  Presenter was knowledgeable and well spoken. “  and another comment summed it up in one word –  “Articulate.”  Congratulations!

Once again, many thanks for your contribution, and I hope to see you at the ICMA “Next Generation Classifieds” conference taking place 3- 6 November in Vienna, Austria.

Best regards,
Shay Klomp Bueters

Dear Marc,

Thank you very much for participating in the speaking programme at the General Meeting in Berlin last week.

I have waded through the delegate feedback forms and your session was rated highest overall of the entire conference, with an overall score of 91%. 93% of the delegates felt the Scrum Methodology workshop was relevant with 91% indicating they learned a great deal.   I am pleased to inform you that you were rated the top speaker of the entire conference with a whopping 94% presenter rating. A few stand out comments from the evaluations forms stated “Excellent project management system.  Presenter was knowledgeable and well spoken. “  and another comment summed it up in one word –  “Articulate.” Congratulations!

Once again, many thanks for your contribution, and I hope to see you at the ICMA “Next Generation Classifieds” conference taking place 3- 6 November in Vienna, Austria.

Brownbook Optimization Report #4 – May 10, 2010

Hi

Brownbook gives you free resources to promote your business online and get found more in search results. Here are more top tips and simple tricks to optimise your Brownbook Business Page to get found more online.

Today’s tips:
#1 – Are you ‘all a Twitter’?
#2 – How to ‘do’ email marketing
#3 – How to sell online, instantly

#1. Are you ‘all a Twitter’?

Everyone’s getting their feathers ruffled about Twitter, but can ‘tweeting’ really help your business fly? Chris Brogan gives some great examples (http://www.chrisbrogan.com/50-ideas-on-using-twitter-for-business/) of how any business can use Twitter.
You know that search engines like Google favour fresh content, and when you add our twitter widget to your Brownbook Business Page you’re getting additional exposure for your tweets AND automatically updating your business page with relevant and current content without lifting a finger. Go ahead, try it, go to your Brownbook Business Page – be sure you’re logged in – and click ‘Add widgets’ in the box labelled “Customize your business page” near the top right of your page, pick Twitter and enter your twitter username. Job done.

#2. How to ‘do’ email marketing

Brownbook’s always given you great resources to promote your business online, and now we’re pleased to announce two new partnerships with two amazingly valuable tools for businesses everywhere: Benchmark Email, and Shopify. I’ll give you a quick summary of each here…

Let’s look first at Benchmark Email
I don’t need to tell you that keeping in touch with your customers is important. But at some point it becomes unmanageable to send email newsletters using your normal email software. Many ISPs place limitations on your outgoing mail to specifically prevent you from sending out larger mailings (we hit that limit with our ISP when we were trying to send 500 emails in one go, now with over 45,000 members we’d have no chance). So how do you get around this? We tried three alternative solutions and, eventually, chose Benchmark Email (in fact, that’s how you’re receiving this email now). We’re pleased to offer Brownbook members a no-cost no-committment trial of their solution, just by clicking the link on your Brownbook Business Page (see the link under “BOOST your business, try these…”), or you can just click here to find out more

#3. How to sell online, instantly

And how about Shopify… Selling products online was always a complicated business: website creation, shopping carts, merchant accounts, bank charge-backs… the list goes on. We looked around for companies claiming to make it simpler to sell stuff online and Shopify was the one that stood out (we tried it ourselves and created an online store in 2 minutes flat). With Shopify you pick a monthly payment plan (they start from $24/month for up to 100 products), upload your product details, and you’re off (the downside is you have to enter your card details to get the free trial :-(, but it’s just two clicks to cancel the trial if you decide you don’t like it – yes, we tried that too). You’ll see a link to find out more about your free trial on your Brownbook Business Page (under “BOOST your business, try these…”). Or you could just click here

That’s all for now, other than to let you know we’re working on getting some more partnerships in place that’ll let you sample some other useful tools for your business (why not tell us what you’d like, what’s your biggest challenge you need to solve?). Plus of course we’ll have more Brownbook tips and tricks for you next time.

Until then, all the best

Dave & Marc

Brownbook.net
Helps you get found online
www.brownbook.net

PS: You can follow us on Twitter here:
http://twitter.com/daveingram, and http://twitter.com/marc_lyne

A search marketing success story

It’s always great to hear good news and that businesses who take the time to add their details to Brownbook, do so well and get found online. Here is another great example: search on Google for ‘hat shop sussex‘, and top of the results is a Brownbook entry for Jenny’s Hat Hire in Chailey Green, East Sussex.

“I listed Jenny’s Hat Hire in Brownbook on 31st Jan 2010, and within the hour, it was number 1 in Google!” explains user Alex Boden.

Jenny’s Hat Hire doesn’t even have its own website. Great news. We hope the increased online exposure will bring Jenny lots of new business.

Brownbook S23 now live – latest updates

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Brownbook S23 went live yesterday, with a raft of new features designed to help your business get found more online.  Here’s a full run-down of the changes:

ShareThis – We’ve replaced our ‘Tweet this’ link on each Business Page with a more extensive ShareThis link.  The new link lets you share the page through your Twitter feed, plus around 45 other social sites including Facebook, MySpace, Digg, Delicious, StumbleUpon, and more.  Use this to pump up the social capital of your Business Page.

Add Widgets – Yes, its true, we’ve brought back a NEW and IMPROVED ‘Add Widget’ feature for all business owners.  You can read about it right here.

Include customization in ‘Latest Edits’ – Want to get on our home page?  Getting on the home page helps your Business Page get found more in search engines.  We made a minor change so that when you customize your Business Page (add units or edit units) you’ll appear in the ‘Latest Edits’ panel on the home page. Recently updated pages get more relevance in many search engines, so remember to keep your page fresh and current.

‘Edit mode’ after adding a unit – This is a minor change that places you in ‘edit’ mode when you add any unit to your Business Page.  Previously you had to click ‘edit’ after adding a unit, so we just slickened that up a little for you.

Messaging of endorsement events – A few months back we enabled a neat feature to allow you to invite and request endorsements from other business owners, creating valuable trusted links to your Business Page.  We just made a minor change to make it more obvious when you have any pending ‘invites’ or ‘requests’ that you can action.  When you have any pending endorsements you’ll now see an indication of this, just after the ‘My Account’ link right there near the top of the page.  This lets you stay on top of your endorsements and ensures you get all the links you can.

Bugs resolved – Bugs resolved in this release include: zip codes beginning with zero can now be used; the problem with registering on http://m.brownbook.net (missing checkbox) is now resolved, page views and click stats inconsistent between Business Page and Hall of Fame is now resolved.

That’s about it for now, I’ll have some more very exciting news in a few days, so come back soon.

NEW – Add Widgets to your Business Page

I’m excited to reveal the work we’ve been doing on enabling widgets on your business pages. Previously I wrote about how we withdrew the HTML unit pending the reintroduction of it in a better form. Well here it is, let me talk you through it.

Way back when we introduced the the ability for you to add HTML units to your business pages we had the vision that you’d be able to use it to add helpful features to your page, like a Skype button, MSN widget and other weird and wonderful things. The great benefit of the HTML unit was its flexibility, but the drawback was how did you know where to get these cool widgets?

Well, now we’ve helped you out, and you can select widgets directly from a drop down, we do all the configuration for you, its simple.

Here’s a quick summary of each and how they can be used:

Skype, MSN Live Messenger, and Meebo
Consumers and businesses are working more and more in real time. As consumers if we don’t get instant answers we often move on. Adding a Skype button, an MSN Live Messenger chat window, or a Meebo chat window (Meebo supports MSN, Yahoo!, MySpace, AIM, Facebook, Gtalk, ICQ, Jabber, MyYearBook) let visitors contact you in real time, allowing you to respond to sales enquiries, product queries, technical support, booking requests, you name it. You can even show whether you’re ‘online’ at that moment. When people interact with the widget on your Business Page, their enquiries come straight into your Skype, MSN, or Meebo – there’s nothing special you need to do.

Twitter, WordPress blog, Blogger blog
Increasingly businesses are using these channels to connect and converse with customers and prospects. Add any of these widgets if you actively use any of these services. These widgets connect your Business Page to your Twitter, WordPress and Blogger, so that any tweets or blog posts you make in the normal way are also presented on your Business Page, maximizing the reach of any such activity.

Facebook profile, LinkedIn profile
More and more businesses are using Facebook and LinkedIn as marketing channels, developing loyal groups of followers. LinkedIn, particularly, is directed at professionals, whilst Facebook’s amazing social networking features are finding favor with businesses as much as consumers. You’ve already built up your LinkedIn profile or Facebook profile, so adding these widgets connects your Business Page with those profiles, automatically pulling in and displaying your profile information and updating it automatically whenever you update your LinkedIn or Facebook.

Flickr photostream, YouTube channel
Do you have photos or videos about your business on Flickr or YouTube? Maybe you want to display a slideshow of multiple photos or videos? Add one of these widgets to do just that. These widgets connect to your Flickr photostream or YouTube account and display a neat slideshow of your photo or video content. Viewers can scroll though photos and videos, and choose which to play or view. Great for showing product shots, demonstrations, or even customer testimonials.

Google Streetview
Google Street View is busy digitising street-level view images of every major town and city. Add this widget to give people a view of exactly where you’re based, let them see your shop front, or even the view across the street. This widget defaults to your business address, and you can override that to fine tune the location, plus you can change the pitch (though +90 and -90 degrees) and orientation (through 360 degrees).

BookingBug online bookings
BookingBug is a great online service for showing availability and taking bookings right there through your Business Page. You must create an account with BookingBug to use this widget (a link is provided in the widget), and once you’ve done that you can add booking and availability to your Business Page and your own website or blog.

Here’s how to get started…
The best way to understand these is to give them a try, remember its FREE in Brownbook to claim your listing and customize it, including adding widgets, so give it a go now and let me know how you get on.

Brownbook S22 now live – latest updates

 

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Scan this with your mobile phone

Brownbook S22 went live yesterday with a number of front-end and back-end improvements and new features.  Here’s the complete run-down:

 

– Removed IP detection – Last year we introduced a little technology to try to detect from which country you were visiting us (based on your IP address) with the aim to direct you to the correct country home page.  With 240 countries covered that’s quite a job.  Recently we figured we should be a bit more ‘natural’ so we took that out.  This means new users will always hit the ‘global’ home page, and can select their country of choice from that point.  We use a cookie to try to ‘remember’ your country choice for the next time you visit, and you can also change country at any time from the selection in the header (top right of the page)

– Set limit on Tags to 500 characters – We’ve noticed a few Business Profiles Pages getting bloated with sometimes several hundred tags.  I understand why you’d think to do it, but it doesn’t help get your page found, in fact it has the opposite effect.  Keyword stuffing, as the technique has become known (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Keyword_stuffing), is a surefire way to negatively impact your page’s standing in search engine indexes (and at worst get delisted) plus it affects all other pages on the same website by association.  Therefore we’ve henceforth restricted how many tags you can include by capping both Location Tags and Business Tags at 500 characters a piece.  This will mean you’ve gotta get selective about your keywords, which will help you get found more and keep you ranking highly.

– Removed link ‘sculpting’ – We also introduced some link sculpting last year in order to assist search bots in finding the highest value pages – your Business Profile Pages – more quickly, but recently that seems to be having less and less effect.  Our best guess is that spiders have got smarter and no longer need us to do this, and we have a suspicion they actually don’t like it.  So, once again, its a return to a bit more ‘natural’ behaviour – we now just let the searchbots just do their thing.

– Fixed occasional presentation/layout errors on Business Profile Pages – We’d found a few people had customized their business profile pages with additional text like a business description, menus, opening times, etc.  Thats great.  Problem was sometimes when that text was copy/pasted from another source (eg a web page or MS Word) a bunch of hidden formatting code also got copied, and that was screwing up the Business Page.  It’s always best practice when pasting text into web-based systems to do it via something like Notepad to avoid this (paste it to Notepad first, then select all in notepad and Copy it from there to Paste into the web page), but as a failsafe we’ve improved the way we hanbdle text that is Pasted in, hopefully now stripping out any hidden formatting.  Once you’ve pasted your text into the page (via a Text Unit) you can use the formatting controls in the Text Unit to add bold, highlights, undeline, font sizes, etc).

– Removal of HTML Unit for new members – Another more serious presentation problem was being caused by incorrect or incomplete HTML widgets being pasted into HTML Units.  In some cases this broke the Business Profile Page so badly that you couldn’t even delete the faulty HTML Unit and start again. So, we have a two-step solution to this one: first (in this release) we’ve removed the ability to add new HTML Units (existing units will still remain, but you wont be able to edit them, only remove them); second (in the next release, ETA 3 weeks) we’ll re-introduce the feature in a slightly modified form, allowing you to add a number of widgets without messing around with any HTML code.  Stay with us for the update once that is live.

– Improved links on m.brownbook.net – Recentlty we’ve been using Brownbook more on our mobile devices (m.brownbook.net), yet a problem existed whereby if you clicked a link in an email viewed on a mobile device the link always hit the mobile home page (not the intended page).  To fix this we’ve extended the range of mobile devices that get the full website by default, allowing users of smart(er) phones to better user the system.  New platforms that see www. (instead of m.) by default are: Android, iPhone, Symbian, Windows Mobile.

– QR codes on every Business Profile Page – Do you know about QR codes?  (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/QR_Code)  They’re little 2D barcodes that can be scanned – by many new smartphones equipped with cameras – that can contain large amounts of data, for example website addressses, contact details, or company name and address.  To see an example just see any business page on http://www.brownbook.net (eg this one).  You’ll notice a little dot-matrix square beside the basic business details, and you can click it to get a larger version – that is the QR code containing that business’s name, address and contact. Anyone with a suitable handheld/mobile device can simply scan it to get the details.  You can use this code on any other website, or even in print.  We generate the QR code for each business, and you can grab it for use elsewhere; just click the small QR Code to get a larger view, right click on the resultant image and choose ‘save as…’, you’ll be saving the QR code as a graphic that you can reuse anywhere else, for free. Give it a try.  You can find more info on QR codes from that Wikipedia article mentioned above, here it is again (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/QR_Code)

That’s it for now…

How to create your own local directory, for free

http://www.welburn.infowelburnheader.pngWe had an interesting email from Steve Serowka today, showing us how he’s leveraging Brownbook’s free business directory platform to deliver enhanced value on his own local community site.  Here’s how he did it, in his own words…

Dear Marc

I thought you may be interested to know how Brownbook solved my problem of adding a business directory to a small community website.

Although I’m a ‘busy’ professional graphic designer I’m developing this site in my own spare time – doing my bit for the local community you might say. I wanted to include a business directory but I needed a method where by local businesses could add and update their own details. I stumbled across Brownbook and I thought it was a freshingly different approach to the usual dull listing directories of which there are many.

Initially I tried to build some kind of form that would show the results within the page of my new site but I really couldn’t get my head around ‘opensearch’ coding. The simply solution was to create a broad list of business catagories, run a search within the local postcode and use the url from the results page to create an external hyperlink. This works fine but being a very rural area I’m currently adding or updating a few businesses myself for each catagory to hopefully get the ball rolling. I’ve also used my profile to promote the community website and tell local business owners why it’s a good idea to be on Brownbook. There’s also a short article about Brownbook at the bottom of the home page.

See the finished result at: http://www.welburn.info

I congratulate you on an excellent web resource and maybe there’s an idea here to create an easy to install template on community sites that will further the awareness and use of Brownbook.

I do wonder how you guys plan to make revenue from Brownbook now that you’ve made it completely free.

Kind Regards

Steve Serowka
Shoepepper Limited
Welburn Lodge, Castle Howard Station Road, Welburn YORK YO60 7EW  United Kingdom
http://www.shoepepper.com

If you want to email Steve, you can contact him on steve@shoepepper.com

Brownbook is now TOTALLY FREE

Important changes and improvements to Brownbook

Well, we’ve been in near radio-silence for almost four weeks now as we set about making some radical changes to Brownbook.  Two months ago several of our team were in the midst of reading Chris Anderson’s great new book “Free”, and we started to wonder about making Brownbook totally free – not free as in “free offer”, or “Free trial”, but FREE as in totally free, libre, gratis.

Now, many people are naturally wary of ‘free’, given that free normally means ‘free for a while’, or ‘free basic version’, or ‘free trial’, or some other variation of free-now-but-you’ll-pay-later.  But here’s the rub: Brownbook deals in bits and bytes not physical goods, we operate a lean business without many of the overheads of traditional directories or even many IYPs, and we make money in other ways.  Given that our cost of delivering Brownbook is pretty much a fixed cost and it’s low, and especially since our marginal cost of delivering our service to each extra business is so close to zero so as to be not worth measuring, why not just make it free.

So, that’s what we’ve done.

For ANY BUSINESS it’s now TOTALLY FREE to claim and verify your listing AND TOTALLY FREE to create a rich customizable business profile with virtually unlimited extra information, photos, videos, logos, widgets and more.

The other major addition is the ability to now create more links into your business profile, thereby improving its search engine ranking, by inviting other business owners you know to endorse your business.

So what’s an endorsement?

An endorsement in Brownbook is not the same as a review, it’s actually a mutual link created between two businesses that does two things:

  • it says “I trust this business, and they trust mine” giving viewers of your business page greater incentive to call your company ahead of your competitors
  • it creates inbound links to your business page that help search engines to index it AND raise its ranking and importance, helping you benefit from more organic search traffic

If you already have a website, use Brownbook to help draw in more traffic to it – our business pages are well optimized for search engines so you’ve got more chance of getting found in the major search engines and capturing that valuable organic search traffic.

If you don’t have a website, use Brownbook to create a rich landing page for any online advertising you do, and, just like those with web pages, capture some of those organic search results.

Here’s a quick digest of the major changes we just made:

  • FREE to claim and verify your listing – existing payers get to renew FREE (with all the available premium features) when their claim comes up for renewal
  • FREE to create a rich business profile – existing payers get ALL the new business profile features added to their business page instantly and for FREE
  • Faster, simpler claim process
  • Invite endorsements – a means to easily invite other business owners you know to endorse your business to create valuable cross-links to your business profile
  • Request endorsements – a means to request an endorsement from another listed business
  • Manage endorsements – the controls to allow you to see who’s accepted your invitations, to send reminders, and to respond (accept or decline) to incoming requests for endorsements
  • Visual improvements to business profile pages
  • % Complete unit – displays how complete your business profile is, from 10% to 100%, and gives you guidance as to how you can further enrich your business profile
  • Improved layout of your My Account page, giving better information about your claimed listings and greater control to do such things as: invite more endorsements, manage endorsements, renew claims, invite reviews
  • Improved search results page to give greater prominence to claimed & verified businesses, including downgrading the prominence of unclaimed businesses
  • Simplification of member kudos (the stars that appear after your name)
  • Removal of ‘favorites’ (a little-used feature, in the interests of simplicity)
  • Withdrawal of website creator (another little-used feature.  If you use this feature you’ll still have access to it until your current claim expires. We’ve emailed you to tell you how)
  • Withdrawal of the user earnings program (which unfortunately has no relevance now everything’s free. We’ll email and settle with all members that have accrued earnings within the next 2 weeks, stand by for an email if you have accrued user earnings)
  • Withdrawal of the affiliates program (like user earnings it now no longer has any relevance, we’ll settle with all affiliates in the next 2 weeks)
  • Removal of paid ads from all search results pages and business pages

What next?
Well, you could take a look at these three new pages that describe what it’s all about
http://www.brownbook.net/free_listing.html
http://www.brownbook.net/free_claim.html
http://www.brownbook.net/free_profile.html

If you’ve already paid to claim your business listing
Login to your account {http://www.brownbook.net/user/login/} and take a look at your business profile page and try out the new features.

If you’ve not yet claimed your listing
Now is the time to do so.  Claim it to verify the details and lock it down, and complete your business profile. It’s all free, free, free.

Further help
You can view the help pages here, where you’ll find out all about existing and new features
http://help.brownbook.net