Friday, April 23, 2010

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times!

Lately I have been working on ERP and CRM applications on cloud computing platform. At GST we already have developed an ERP system on Microsoft technologies. So far we have been selling the application as a product but looking at the current direction the market is taking, we decided to club it with a CRM and provide it as a hosted solution kinda like what NetSuite has been doing so far. So you can subscribe to either the ERP suite as a whole along with the CRM but also can opt to subscribe to only the modules that you want as standalones.

It seems you can sell anything these days as long as it is user friendly. Just the other day I was looking at an online accounting application. The UI was quite user friendly and with quite a cool dashboard with drag/drop frames like iGoogle. But talking in terms of functionality, the system was quite basic and lacked advanced functionalities like Contracts Ledger and credit card reconciliation. But they still do reasonable good business.

This kept me thinking...are users ready to compromise on functionality for a good user experience???

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

SEO Companies: Spot the liars

Search Engine Optimization is not only about getting potential customers to your site but also about building a quality website full of great content. It involves using keywords appropriately and getting links "naturally" because people truly appreciate your site content. SEO companies can provide services like keyword analysis, keyword research, technical advice and also management of online business marketing campaigns. They can also help with content development, article writing & marketing and article submission to business directories. Although it's not Rocket Science, the process is laborious and usually requires a lot of thought and real work.

There are SEO firms that promise instant results and naturally when someone claims to do so, your interest is piqued because time is money right? Maybe in the short run you might make something out of it but stand to lose much much more in the near future. They could get your website ranked lower or even banned. When you're looking to hire an SEO firm, here are some things to take into account.

Be wary Of SEO Firms promising to get "Thousands Of Links" To Your Site.

It is not the quantity that makes the difference - it's the quality of the sites. When firms promise huge numbers of links, or say that you will become part of their "network of sites", it usually means a link farm is involved. A link farm is any group of websites that all hyperlink to each other in the group. Search engines detest this and it can lead to your site getting banned. Instead, the
best way to go is with reciprocal linking & one way linking with genuine and related websites.

Be Wary Of SEO Firms That Guarantee A High Ranking On Google.

No one can guarantee a high ranking on Google. Some SEO companies offer a guarantee to improve ranking which is fine. But the moment they promise to do that in an incredibly short period of time, about turn and march away. When these unrealistic results fail to materialize, the company will offer you other services instead or you suddenly see that they have started becoming unresponsive.

Be Cautious Of SEO Firms That reach you through "Spam" Emails.

These emails are unsolicited and usually begin with "We've noticed that you are not listed in some search engines..." You should be searching for a high-ranking SEO company; they will not be searching for you. Spam means scam. You don't buy your medications from spammers (or do you??) so why buy SEO services this way?

Always ensure you get a good outline of the process going to be followed.

Most reputable SEO firms are upfront with their clients and like to share their knowledge. They are confident that even if their clients understand their process, they won't leave them. If the SEO firm claims it's too complicated for you to understand, or if they say they have trade secrets and proprietary technology, it's a sign that they may not be implementing ethical SEO techniques.

Choose Your SEO Company And Services Carefully.

If you were to hire a full time nanny for your kids, you would call and do a reference-check right? Why not do so when hiring an SEO company? Ask them to send you actual references that you can speak with.

Remember that by implementing ethical SEO strategies, you will be moving your site up Step-by-Step. Not in a day, not in a week but actually months. If you are not careful at the initial buying stage, a lot of things can go wrong. So wrong, that you may end up spending big bucks just to do a rollback to the previous ranking status, let alone increase the current status.

Be careful, do a lot of analysis, ask probing and intelligent questions.

Last but not the least, its natural wanting to save money but in the process,
don't be too cheap. After all, quality always comes at a price.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Head to the clouds

Quite recently, one of my Belgian clients came down to Calcutta to supervise the "kick-off" of a new project named Swapmee. Its an interesting concept and the project is going to be initially in French and English and subsequently, several other European Languages. Michel my client, was in Calcutta for about a week and then we planned to make a short trip to the mountains of North Bengal. In the weekend, we did all the planning required and I did need a breather, away from all the work and pressure.

The trip lasted a bit longer than what we had planned, thanks to the incessant rain and landslides at Darjeeling. Nevertheless, the trip was a welcome change of pace from the hustle and bustle of Cal. The mountain air did both of us a world of good though we were unable to move around too much due to lack of transport and visibility. We were two different people from different countries and cultural background, but as we spoke and shared our interests and lives, we found an uncanny similarity that bonded a friendship between us. It was quite interesting to talk about normal things for a change and quite frankly I was happy not having to do too much with my Laptop for a whole week.

We finally managed to rent a car from Darjeeling to Siliguri where we parted ways. I took a bus to Cal and Michel took a train to Varanasi where he planned to stay a couple of days before going to Delhi. Though I am more of a "beach" person, I could not help but be mesmerised by the scenery at Sikkim and Darjeeling. I miss sitting at the hotel balconey and sipping red wine while taking in a view of the cloud covered peaks and enjoying the cold weather.

Au Revoir Darjeeling!!!

Monday, May 4, 2009

Crazy little thing called luck?

I have been watching closely the technology trends and the market demand for such as far as websites and small to medium web applications are concerned. To be more precise, Microsoft Technologies vs Opensource.

The answer clearly is Opensource Technologies. Its easy to code, its easy to deploy AND more importantly affordable. Traditionalists may argue that developing an application on lets say ASP.NET makes its much more robust, secure and scalable and all of this, thanks to the .Net framework. True! But has someone told them that you can accomplish all of this with oh lets say, CakePHP and Ruby On Rails? Yes old guys! Don't be so shocked!

The bottomline is, small to medium projects on .Net are fast dissappearing and Opensource projects going through the roof. Yes, the high-end application market is still ruled by MS Technologies but not for long. GONE ARE THE DAYS of the big bullys at Microsoft Technologies.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

How to avoid the downturn?

The Indian IT scenario has been looking very bleak for the past few months. New projects have virtually dried up for many companies with more and more projects getting canceled or delayed. The way to survive the heat of downturn is to join forces with other companies in the same domain. For example, if you have a School Management System, tie up with a company that provides lets say e-learning solutions. You have received inquires non-related to your product and have had to turn them down. So by partnering up, you don't need to lose a lead even if it is not related. Instead all you need to do is refer the lead to a company who does provide the solution and your company can ask for a commission for it. So this way you are making easy money without any hassle. The idea is to survive right?

Look for companies who can pass on any leads to you similarly. How do you do that? Try out B2B trade shows.

Another way to survive is to focus more on profitability from volume of business rather than profitability from individual projects. Lower the usual hourly rate and your profit margin so that you can provide an edge while competing with other companies.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

End of Outsourcing?

Does the rise of Obama signal the fall of the outsourcing industry? Nyaaaahh!!! I don't think so! Ask yourself this simple question. How often to you go to eat at a fancy restaurant (Don't bother if you have a nocturnal lifestyle)? Common Answer: Sometimes!! But ultimately most of the days you end up having dinner at home. Why? It may not be too fancy but its good for your health and reasonable on the pocket.

Thats what outsourcing is! No matter how much the US tries to retain their business within their economy, it won't last. If you set up a business, you would do so for profit so that you can feed yourself and your family. Therefore you would look for solutions that are reasonable and effective at the same time. Hence Outsourcing!

Therefore these simple answers are may be the reason why most businesses would turn towards the home cooked meal which is outsourcing.

My prediction?

There may be a temporary decline, but nothing long term to affect the industry overall.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Common SEO mistakes Part 3

5. Trying to get by with a "Brochure" Site.

If your site to be the top ranking site in your Business Domain, then you have to deserve it. The best way to deserve this status is to offer a good amount of relevant quality content, easy navigability and a pleasing look. You cannot get by with just putting a few pages with general descriptions about your company and service offerings and be done with it. For example, if you are selling perfumes, then back up your offering with reviews and helpful information for the consumers. In case of Electronics Items, information about after-sales support always helps. This will make your site a valuable resource. Lastly, try to have a web form. This makes a handy lead generation tool for you and at the same time makes it convenient for users to contact you. Human visitors, and search engines alike, will soon recognize you as an authoritative source of information in your field.

6. Redesigning an Existing Site and Neglecting the Old URLs.

Your old website may have been unimpressive lookwise, but maybe it had traffic flow and search engines may have cached those pages and people are finding those pages based on the information that the search engine bots compiled from them. If you redesign your site, and completely toss out the old urls, without compensating for it, then you are tossing away all the traffic you had built up earlier, because search engines will be sending people to pages that no longer exist.

There is a way to avoid this. If it is possible, stick to the same structure that your old site had and retain the same urls for the new pages. If this is not possible then make sure you adopt URL redirection. For this you will have to make a .htaccess file (a text file with instructions on the functioning of the site). This file will tell search engines to permanently redirect traffic from an old url to a new url. When this file is in place, anyone typing the old url will lead to the relevant page on the new site. Makes sense?

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Common SEO Mistakes Part 2

3. Not Putting Title And Description Tags on Pages.

Have you ever visited a web page that showed the words "new page" or "Untitled Page" at the top of the browser tab? The website owner forgot to put a title tag on the page. The title tag, which is in the head section of the document is treated by search engines as one of the most important indicators about the content of a webpage. If you leave out the title tag or don't pay much importance to what you put up there, then you are wasting a good opportunity for optimization , as well as showing a sloppy kind of site construction.

Similarly, the description tag is often shown in search engine results pages (SERPS) as the description of your site. If you make a compelling description, it helps people to click through to your site. Ideally you want your site to be well ranked, but a high ranking is not enough. You need people to click through once they see your site's listing, and a good description can help you out.

4. Putting the Same Title and Description Tags on all the Pages.

Each of your pages is unique and has a special function, and you should let search engines and users know about this by changing the title and description tags to match the content on that particular page. It is not possible to optimize one single page for many different search terms, but it is possible to optimize each of the pages of your site for one or two important search phrases. If you take the time to make unique title and description tags for each of your pages, you can take advantage of this possibility and rank well for several search terms.

Friday, May 9, 2008

Common SEO Mistakes Part 1

Before you know what should be done to optimize your website and increase the usability factor, it is important to learn what you should NOT do.This list is not in any order of importance as all the points mentioned here should be taken seriously.

1. Using a "Splash Page".

During your endless voyage through the Internet you must have come across sites where you go to the main page and all you see is a beautiful picture with the two words of text saying "enter here." The picture is beautiful (maybe), but this is a disaster when it comes to search engine optimization. Search bots are looking out for texts, but generally there is no text on a "splash page." The main page of any website is the most important page, and it has the best chance of being optimized. If you clutter it up with images instead of spiderable text, you are messing up your chance of optimizing the site. Search engines don't appreciate splash pages, and many human users too are annoyed by having to click (again) to finally view the content. Avoid splash pages altogether if you can (unless your site offers Adult Entertainment for horny individuals who visit your site without ever having the intention of signing up for the paid services).

2. Putting Important Text, or even all Text as an Image.

I have seen moronic (or lazy) web designers produce a beautiful web page that has images and text combined to give the look and feel of a normal web page. However if you try to put your cursor over the text and select it, you can't do it because there is no text. The whole page has been rendered as a jpg or gif image. It looks good to the viewer, but the search engine robot can’t find any searchable text. Be careful if you are using some automated web design tool which turns text into images. Also while it is quite extreme to turn an entire page into an image, you should also avoid changing your important headlines into gif images. If you have a flash website, try not to make the content area in Flash. In other words, avoid a 100% Flash website at all costs (unless you have a signature URL like or Its costly, takes time to develop and extremely difficult to optimize. However, if you are loaded with mucho moolah, then people are not going to question you. Instead they will simple term your stupid and weird behavior as “eccentric”.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Web Usability and SEO Friendliness Part 2

Okay here goes, the second installment!

Design Site Pages W/Visual "Roadmaps":

a. Include points of high contrast to attract the attention.

b. Use different font sizes (i.e. larger fonts for headings).
c. Underlined or highlighted links.
d. White space - surround text, images and clickable links w/white space.
e. Use images for color contrast.
f. Use captions on Images.
g. Use motion (Use flash or video, but not too much).

Be Consistent:

a. Alignment - Use alignment to separate different information from different source areas (i.e. Headers separated w/larger font and white space).

b. Navigation - That is, same nav on each page.
c. Same visual anchors on each page.
d. Same use of white space on each page.
e. Same use of headers and small text "chunks" - easy for visitors to spot and read.
f. DON'T mix with too many font styles. Starting a site design or re-design project for your company's website can be overwhelming with all the details you must decide on and consider. In doing so, the issue of SEO and web usability is quickly forgotten or placed low on the priority list. Whether an e-commerce or business-to-business lead generating site, it is critical to the long-term performance of the site to implement not only the SEO factors in a site design, but to consider all elements of website usability in the equation.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Web Usability and SEO Friendliness Part 1

Starting a new website design or re-design project can be overwhelming with all the details you have to decide on and consider. In the process, the issue of SEO and web usability is quickly misplaced or categorized as a Want rather than a Need.

Whether it is an e-commerce or B2B site generating leads, it is critical to the long-term performance of the site to implement not only the SEO factors in a site design, but to consider all elements of web usability in the equation.
Following are some helpful tips for SEO, web usability and higher traffic conversion ratio:

Site design: Minimum clicks, maximum information. This strategy always wins out.

  • Visitors like info in small packages.
  • Form and Factor should be consistent.
  • A well structured layout leads to less eye movement thus increasing the likeness for the site.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Project Closure

The Final Step: Project Closure

This is the grand finale, the big daddy of the steps and the most sensitive stage of the sales cycle. Every word that you say might have an impact on the client's decision thus it is very important to weigh your words. You have to be very tactful here. A lot of clients try to push in a lot of extra features or functionalities beyond the original scope of work you have discussed, while promising to award the project to you. The first thought that comes to mind is that they are trying to play dirty pool and you maybe right. But then again its general human psychology to ask for more than their money's worth. So what do you do? You are in horns of dilemma whether to increase the project pricing and make the smile on your boss' face wider or agree to deliver the additions without increasing the project pricing to ensure closure. And this is the time when you start wondering why you chose marketing and sales as your career in the first place. Decisions! Decisions!

Another type will try to negotiate with you over the pricing after everything has been settled! In this case, find out if you can afford to give a discount. If not, inform the client clearly but in a subtle way that you cannot reduce the price further.

If you have reached thus far, the client is quite likely to go with you. If you increase the project pricing, the client is likely to tell you that he is already stretching his budget with the current pricing but still have decided to go with you since you seem like a good company and have been very professional in your approach. These are words that most sales person longs to hear and why not? You deserve to close the project after all the hard work you've put in. Loads o' Francis Ford Crapolla!! The client is trying to pull a fast one on you and you know that! Inform the client very clearly what your standing is. Take a top down approach and inform the client what the possible deliverables are within the current pricing. If the additional functionalities are very important then they have to compromise on some other functionality. Either that or tell the client to bugger off!! No just joking!!

Talk to the client and try to find a middle ground. Most folks respond well to reason. If this still doesn't work, take up the the work but outsource it to a smaller company or get a freelancer to do that work. You may have to compromise on your profit just a little bit but its better than working at a loss or losing the project altogether.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Proposal Review

Step Three: Proposal Review with the client

Hi All! Have been away for sometime. In my last 2 posts we have discussed Needs Analysis and how to create Effective Proposals. In this article we will discuss the next step which is proposal review.

It is very important to be on the same page as the client. This is a very important step during which you should discuss all the elements of the proposal and figure out the final scope of work. Discuss with the client what you will do through a step by step approach and what would be the roles and responsibilities of both parties. This is also the time when you should clarify all billing and pricing related details. The idea is to clarify any doubts that either parties might have and also to ensure transparency at all levels. If you have missed out on including any point or the client has added to the scope of work, make sure that you send a revised proposal. If you see that there has been a lot of change in the scope of work its always prudent to conduct second of round of discussion with the client.

Few years back I came to know about an excellent web conferencing software called GotoMeeting by Citrix, though it had its limitation on the MAC platform. This application has really helped me in the past to explain things to my clients and also to give demos or presentations. Moreover, it lets you record the presentations which can be reviewed later on for self analysis or to show your team how to hold effective discussions with clients (if your presentation was really good). Webex is another great tool though a tad bit expensive. If you are negotiating with a client who is based locally, it is always an effective measure to have a face to face meeting.

In my next post I'll discuss the final points which if done correctly should ultimately lead to project closure.

Cheers everybody!!!

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

An Effective Proposal

Step Two: Creating effective Proposals.

An effective proposal decreases the incidences of misunderstanding (and instances where sentences begin with with "I was under the impression....") between you and the clients when the project is under way and acts as a basis for a formal contract. When competing for web design and development or marketing contracts; a professionally presented proposal more often than not decides, whether you win or lose the business. Not to mentions, it also shows your professionalism. Do not forget that you are representing your company. The first golden rule of marketing as you know is....Sell yourself before you sell the product! Please don't take that literally!! If your client is impressed with your approach, chances are that they will buy from you (having a good offer on plate also helps ;-)).

When putting together a basic web site proposal, you should include the following elements:

Your Information: Include an overview of your company and the area of expertise. In other words enough reason as to why someone should buy from you.

Project Overview: The business you are submitting the proposal for, your understanding of their products and services, the target market, the goals of the web site.

Scope of Work: A description of the site you are proposing to develop. Include elements from the client's current branding you will utilize or new elements that you will develop.

Special Considerations: such as language, security or other issues pertaining to the business, site or target market that will need to be or should be addressed.

Web site flow chart or Site Map: Include a diagram showing the different pages of the proposed site and the navigational structure.

Flowchart Description: A detailed description of each web page, how it fits in with the overall web site theme and the project element it addresses defining the flow of logic.

Delivery Timeline: This is calculated after consolidating the effort estimation provider by a developer and designer. This should be a description of each stage of the web projects' development, the estimated completion date and notes regarding client consultation and supply of information/feedback from the client. If possible, you can also mention that the delivery timeline does not include the time taken into consideration for client feedback.

Project Costing: You would need to include a descriptive breakdown of costs and the Project Total, including an end date after which the price might need to be re-calculated. This will include/exclude items such as domain name registration, hosting fees and outsourcing sections of the site you will not be able to develop yourself. This may also include milestone payments for involved projects and/or site promotion activities. If the project amount does not include some or any of these elements, please do mention it. Make it clear that traffic takes time to build up after implementation and promotion should only be done after the site has been tested thoroughly. Improper implementation can cost months of traffic and a great deal of lost business. Ensure that you take into account business related items including travelling time, electricity, telephone and consumables (In other words, certain elements of overhead cost) and factors in the cost of the development of the business proposal as well. Lastly, always try to provide a separate proposal for maintenance if your company is going to take care of post deployment maintenance.

A good proposal will take hours of your time and you should be compensated for that. In your eagerness to gain the contract, you may lose money if you quote too close to the bone. Bear in mind that things rarely go according to plan in web development and delays can be expected. Time is money fellas!

Terms and conditions: Expectations and commitments. It is not unusual for web projects to be delayed due to clients not supplying feedback or content necessary to complete sections. It is just as important to be clear in what you expect from your clients as well as explaining your commitment to them. Conflict resolution issues and feedback mechanisms should be described. Not to mention change requests mid-way of the project. For instance, you can let you client know that Design changes after HTMLization, will either cost extra and/or will lead to an increase in the delivery timeline.

Your clients will need to know what will occur if they do not supply information when requested, or request changes mid-stream and the action that you will take if you are running behind in the project yourself. You need to be clear on payment details and consequences of failure to pay for the services that you provide.

Mock-ups (samples): Be careful not to give too much away, just enough to give the client a good idea of what the site will look like. Ensure copyright notices and intellectual property statements are in place. Also, be sure to ask the design to put a watermark over the logo and/or the template. Keep the opacity between 15 and 20%

Web site maintenance: Summarize an offer of ongoing site maintenance or the implications of the client deciding to update or maintain the site themselves after it has been established.

The above points are usually sufficient to put together a professional web design proposal for a small to medium project. If you are drafting a business proposal based on criteria given to you by the prospective client; be sure to address all the points.

If the client suggests the proposal documentation be a certain format, respect that. In the culling process, the first proposals to be trashed will be the ones that do not address all the criteria the client has laid down.

Bear in mind that not all the web design proposals you submit will be accepted. You should be prepared to do the necessary revisions to satisfy your clients and to find a middle ground where both feel comfortable. A prospective client asking for revisions is a good sign - they are genuinely interested and have gone through the proposal. Thus, it is quite natural to be excited about it. Having said that, do not over-commit in the eagerness to close the project.

Also remember that some companies will ask you for proposals purely to use as a comparison against another company that they are interested in utilizing; so try and limit the amount of time you spend on the draft until the client gives indication of serious interest.

Hope this works for now!


Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Needs Analysis

Step One: Find out what the client wants.

This is what I call the Needs Analysis stage. Though it sounds very basic, trust me a lot things can go wrong here. It is very important to capture the correct requirements from the client. Based on this information, the next steps will follow. First and foremost, it is very important to realize that not all clients are tech-savvy. Thus what they are looking for in the first place is consultancy. It is very important to make a distinction between needs and wants. For Phase 1, ask them to prioritize the needs. I go through a series of questions that helps me to determine:

  • What the client's business does
  • Why customers buy from them
  • Who their competitors are
  • What their objectives are for their site
  • When their deadline is
  • How often they will update the site and how they will do it
  • What style of design do they like

Once you've found out exactly what it is that your clients want, you're ready to begin writing your proposal. And because you've used a simple question and answer process during the Needs Analysis step, the task becomes so much easier.