Monday, April 30, 2007

Trust, Marketing, eBay and Site Optimization

I read an interesting article this morning about how trust is really what you're after when marketing on the Web.

We talk about this quite a bit in the eBay Marketing book. Everything is moving in this direction. Google and social networking sites are getting smarter. It will be more and more difficult to game them in the future.

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Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Check Your eBay Description Copy and Outshine the Competition - Fast & Easy Writing Quality Checklist

Whether you like it or not, selling on eBay requires writing. Some of us are better at this than others. One thing is clear, though. Those who use persuasive, clear communication get more $$$ in their PayPal account. That's the bottom line.

The following is a checklist I use to polish finished descriptions, flyers, direct email, direct mail, and all other kinds of customer-directed marketing copy. Whether your description is one paragraph or 20, this list will help you sell more, faster, and at a higher profit margin.

Post-Writing Quality Control Checklist

* Set the thing aside and let it sit for least an hour
* Read it again and flag stumbling spots
* Break up paragraphs to increase pace (variety is the spice of life). Go with short graphs first, then vary the amount of lines from 3-5. Sprinkle in some one line paragraphs, if possible.
* Break long sentences into two simple, shorter ones
* Eliminate extra words
* Eliminate “thats"
* Eliminate words with “tion” “sion” “ance” “ate” “able” “ment”
* Eliminate excessive adjectives
* Eliminate passive voice (this includes “is” “are” “can” etc.)
* Eliminate cliches
* Make cannot and is not into contractions for conversational tone
* Pay particular attention to commas, making sure they’re right (right for the particular customer, too)
* Make sure bullet lists start with either a “How to” phrase or a number or a powerful verb or…
* Write rhetorical questions into your copy that can be answered in the affirmative (YES!)
* Make sure you have some numbers for impact (specific numbers are better than generalized ones). Keep the % and the numbers themselves. Don’t spell out.
* Proof read on paper and mark it up
* Read it aloud

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Monday, April 23, 2007

How 'Keeping It Real' Improves eBay Sales

When writing for the Web, for eBay, or for brochures and advertising copy, there are traps you can fall into. For example, your copy can begin to feel and sound *salesy.* This can be bad, because most of us - as consumers - have a built in aversion to overt sales-sounding pitches, attitudes and smarm.

Let me clarify something here. I don't think that there's anything wrong with "sales." This is one of the time-honored traditions in our culture that just so happens to make a lot of people wealthy. Look around you, and you'll see that the best doctors, lawyers, landscapers, babysitters, hair dressers and.. yes.. automobile purveyors are the best salespeople. It's about communication, relationships, confidence and competence, really.

It's also about being genuine. For small businesses, genuine-ness is fairly easy to capture because just a few people are running the show. Goals, strategies and capabilities are fairly clear. It's a little tougher for bigger organizations, where departments and "too-many-cooks" scenarios drive marketing communications.

Pushy, sales nuance -- the kind that we cringe at as consumers -- creeps into copy for a variety of reasons. As sellers (on eBay or anywhere else), we read all kinds of articles and blogs on how to be persuasive and infuse copy with energy and passion. Somewhere along the line the passion train goes off the tracks, though. Preposterous adjectives creep in, outrageous claims invade the pitch, and customers start to imagine diamond pinky rings on used car salesmen and the buddy-buddy demeanor of the time-share "service representative."

What's the trick to avoiding this scenario? Get real. Eliminate excessive adjectives from your copy (some copywriters say eliminate them all!). Find your genuine voice. Picture the prospect in front of you and be totally honest. Sometimes writing allows us to hide behind the words and say things we wouldn't typically. Treat your description as a casual conversation, and imagine a critical consumer in front of you who's just about to say "B.S" to your next claim. Then start writing your pitch/description/title/headline. The more real and factual you are, the more you will sell. That is a fact. And you'll avoid all the negative back-end karma that comes with over-promising and under-delivering.

Warning: Don't write less just because you have to keep it real. Remember, "the more you tell, the more you sell." Just don't over-hype things. If 100 people come to your listing or product page, several will be live, enthusiastic, closable prospects. These people don't want short descriptions and half-assed information. They get pumped up by all the details... so provide them. You'll do a disservice to your product if you don't.

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Thursday, April 19, 2007

16 Rules to Live By - eBay Sellers Take Note - Thanks to Bob Parsons

I have this article bookmarked, because I like the 16 rules. Good stuff that I think applies to entrepreneurs of all kinds and eBay sellers, of course.

Set aside whatever opinions you have of Bob Parsons -- I know he's somewhat controversial, but I dig the 16 rules.

The following article is included with the permission of Bob Parsons and is Copyright © 2005 by Bob Parsons. All rights reserved.


“Robert, they can’t eat you!” My rules for survival.

Over a year ago, I was asked by BizAz Magazine (a local Phoenix magazine) to speak at one of its “Business Beneath The Surface” breakfast meetings. As part of the event, participants have the option of submitting questions to the speakers, which are then answered during the breakfast.

One of the questions directed towards me was, “What advice do you have for someone who is just starting a business?”

I liked Clint Eastwood's rules.
Also at that time, I happened to pick up a copy of Men’s Journal. Clint Eastwood was on the cover and an article featured 10 items called “Clint’s rules.” I found his rules to be interesting. They were things like, “You are what you drive,” “avoid extreme makeovers,” and things like that. As Clint Eastwood is a pretty easy guy to respect, I thought the whole rule thing was pretty cool. And the more I thought about it, I realized that over the years I had accumulated a number of principles (or rules) that I tried very hard to adhere to -- and these rules (in many ways) have become the foundation for whatever successes I’ve had.

So, a few weeks before the meeting, I sat down and started typing -- in no particular order -- the rules I try to live by. At the breakfast meeting, I read my rules at the end of my presentation. The response was amazing. I was swamped with requests for copies of the rules. An edited list was published in the Arizona Republic newspaper a few days later. I was even called and interviewed by a local radio station about the list.

Since then, some of the rules have been edited, some consolidated, and a few new ones added. Despite those changes, the list of rules I presented that morning are pretty much what appears at the end of this post.

My rules come from the significant life events I've experienced.
As I write this, I am now 54 years old, and during my life thus far I suspect that I’ve encountered more significant life events than most people ever dream about. Here’s some information about me:

I grew up in a lower middle class family in Baltimore’s inner city. We were always broke. I’ve earned everything I ever received. Very little was ever given to me.

I’ve been working as long as I can remember. Whether it was delivering or selling newspapers, pumping gas, working in construction or in a factory, I’ve always been making my own money.

Not all of the life events were happy ones.
I was stood up to be executed twice during a robbery of a gas station where I was working when I was 16. To my amazement, my would-be executioner could not muster the nerve to pull the trigger. This saved both of us. I lived, and while he went to jail, he did not go there forever. Eventually, in spite of other witnesses of that and other crimes, I was the only one who testified against the two perpetrators. They both received major jail sentences.

I was with a United States Marine Corps rifle company in Viet Nam for a short while in 1969. As a combat rifleman, I learned several key life lessons that resulted in some of the rules I try to live by. I learned first hand how significant a role “luck” or karma can play in our lives. The rifle company I was assigned to, Delta Company of the 1st Batallion, 26th Marines, operated in the rice paddys of Quang Nam province. We operated on the squad level (7 to 10 of us, depending on casualties), and most every night we left our command post and went several kilometers out into the rice paddys and set up in ambush. While there are many who saw significantly more combat action than me, I did see my share. After 5 or 6 weeks, I was wounded and medevaced to Japan. I returned to Viet Nam several times after that, but came back as a courier of classified documents. Although I requested (at least twice) to return to my old rifle company, the transfer was never approved.

After the Marine Corps, I used the G.I. Bill to attend college, and graduated from the University of Baltimore with a degree in accounting. I attended college mostly at night. After college, I took and passed the CPA exam. I worked only a few years as an accountant. The lion’s share of my career has been spent as an entrepreneur.

I've been very lucky when it comes to business.
I started a successful business division for a company called LeaseAmerica. During the four years I was involved with this business, it grew to 84 employees and wrote over $150 million dollars in small office equipment leases. Its success helped redefine how business in that industry is now conducted.

Not long after I started the division for LeaseAmerica, I started a software company in the basement of my house. I started it with the little bit of money I had, and named it Parsons Technology. I owned this business for 10 years, grew it to about 1,000 employees and just shy of $100 million a year in sales. Eventually, we sold Parsons Technology to a company named Intuit. Because my then-wife and I were the only investors, and the company had no debt, we received the entire purchase price.

Shortly after selling Parsons Technology, my wife and I decided to go our separate ways and did the customary “divide everything by two.” I then moved to Arizona and retired for a year. This was a requirement of my deal with Intuit.

Retirement was not for me.
Retirement wasn’t for me, so after the mandatory year passed, and using the money I had from the sale of Parsons Technology, I started a new business. This business eventually became The Go Daddy Group. I started this business from scratch, did it without acquisitions, and developed our own products. In the process, I came spooky close to losing everything I had, and actually made the decision to “lose it all” rather than close Go Daddy. Today, Go Daddy is the world leader in new domain name registrations, and has been cash flow positive since October 2001 (not bad for a dot com). As of this writing, I continue to be the only investor in Go Daddy.

Throughout all of these life events, I came to accumulate a number of rules that I look to in various situations. Some of them I learned the hard way. Others I learned from the study of history. I know they work because I have applied them in both my business and personal life.

And one more thing.
I’ve read many times that original ideas are rare indeed. This is particularly true when it comes to the rules herein. I can’t imagine that any of my rules represent new ideas.

My contribution is that I’ve assembled these ideas, put them to work in my life, and can attest -- that more often than not -- they hold true.

While I put my 16 rules together in response to a business question, I've been told by others that they can be applied to almost any pursuit.

Here are the 16 rules I try to live by:

1. Get and stay out of your comfort zone. I believe that not much happens of any significance when we’re in our comfort zone. I hear people say, “But I’m concerned about security.” My response to that is simple: “Security is for cadavers.”

2. Never give up. Almost nothing works the first time it’s attempted. Just because what you’re doing does not seem to be working, doesn’t mean it won’t work. It just means that it might not work the way you’re doing it. If it was easy, everyone would be doing it, and you wouldn’t have an opportunity.

3. When you’re ready to quit, you’re closer than you think. There’s an old Chinese saying that I just love, and I believe it is so true. It goes like this: “The temptation to quit will be greatest just before you are about to succeed.”

4. With regard to whatever worries you, not only accept the worst thing that could happen, but make it a point to quantify what the worst thing could be. Very seldom will the worst consequence be anywhere near as bad as a cloud of “undefined consequences.” My father would tell me early on, when I was struggling and losing my shirt trying to get Parsons Technology going, “Well, Robert, if it doesn’t work, they can’t eat you.”

5. Focus on what you want to have happen. Remember that old saying, “As you think, so shall you be.”

6. Take things a day at a time. No matter how difficult your situation is, you can get through it if you don’t look too far into the future, and focus on the present moment. You can get through anything one day at a time.

7. Always be moving forward. Never stop investing. Never stop improving. Never stop doing something new. The moment you stop improving your organization, it starts to die. Make it your goal to be better each and every day, in some small way. Remember the Japanese concept of Kaizen. Small daily improvements eventually result in huge advantages.

8. Be quick to decide. Remember what the Union Civil War general, Tecumseh Sherman said: “A good plan violently executed today is far and away better than a perfect plan tomorrow.”

9. Measure everything of significance. I swear this is true. Anything that is measured and watched, improves.

10. Anything that is not managed will deteriorate. If you want to uncover problems you don’t know about, take a few moments and look closely at the areas you haven’t examined for a while. I guarantee you problems will be there.

11. Pay attention to your competitors, but pay more attention to what you’re doing. When you look at your competitors, remember that everything looks perfect at a distance. Even the planet Earth, if you get far enough into space, looks like a peaceful place.

12. Never let anybody push you around. In our society, with our laws and even playing field, you have just as much right to what you’re doing as anyone else, provided that what you’re doing is legal.

13. Never expect life to be fair. Life isn’t fair. You make your own breaks. You’ll be doing good if the only meaning fair has to you, is something that you pay when you get on a bus (i.e., fare).

14. Solve your own problems. You’ll find that by coming up with your own solutions, you’ll develop a competitive edge. Masura Ibuka, the co-founder of SONY, said it best: “You never succeed in technology, business, or anything by following the others.” There's also an old Asian saying that I remind myself of frequently. It goes like this: "A wise man keeps his own counsel."

15. Don’t take yourself too seriously. Lighten up. Often, at least half of what we accomplish is due to luck. None of us are in control as much as we like to think we are.

16. There’s always a reason to smile. Find it. After all, you’re really lucky just to be alive. Life is short. More and more, I agree with my little brother. He always reminds me: “We’re not here for a long time; we’re here for a good time.”

A special word of thanks.
I owe a special thanks to Brian Dunn. When I first wrote these rules down and was thinking about compiling them into a book -- that book, like most books I suppose, has been half-done for a while :); -- Brian read them and suggested a title. His suggestion was, “They Can’t Eat You.” I like Brian’s suggestion for two reasons: 1. It reminds me of my Dad. I sure miss him; and 2. It’s true. No matter how difficult things get, you're going to be OK. It's very important to realize that. Thanks, Brian.

eBay Design and Listing Comprehension - Another Marketing and Layout Tip

When you sell on eBay, the text should be designed to communicate.

Pretty obvious, right?

Well, some people make choices that work in the opposite direction. They choose fonts, colors and layout designs that hinder rather than enhance communication.

I'm going to touch on just a few tips here relating to background colors and font color. There have been a number of studies that back up the information that follows. If you’d like more detailed background info, I highly recommend reading “Type & Layout: Are You Communicating or Just Making Pretty Shapes” by Colin Wheildon.

1) Black text set on shades of grey makes for difficult reading.
2) Dark text on color tints makes for difficult reading.
3) Brightly colored text on light color tints is “the enemy of comprehension.”
4) Don’t use reverse – white or light text on a black or dark background. Especially with bigger chunks of text. People just can’t comprehend and retain the information very well.
5) Contrary to some “old school” assertions about black text on white background, it’s ok to put black text on light color tints. The light color can attract attention, in fact. Just don’t let the tint get too heavy. The darker the tint gets, the more reader comprehension suffers.

From “Type & Layout”:

“It is impossible to avoid the fact that comprehensibility of colored text increases as the color gets closer to black.”

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Mark Twain Knew the eBay Spirit of Fun, Risk, Adventure

One of the things I love about eBay sellers is their pioneering spirit. When you go to events like eBay Live (in Boston this year - June 14-16) or the Professional eBay Sellers Alliance (PESA) (in Chicago - next week April 24-26), you meet all kinds of original, enthusiastic, ambitious folks that are selling the darndest things and having so much fun.

We talk a lot about business planning, strategy and positioning here (and in the 7 Steps eBay Marketing book), but some of the most important ingredients to eBay success are adventurousness and attitude. You need to like what you do, of course, and you need to take some risks, explore new product lines and continue to learn. Those who have their eyes and minds open to new opportunities and unique products that complement their wares inevitably prosper with their sales.

Keep this in mind as you're slogging through shipping chores and balancing the books.

"Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn't do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover." -- Mark Twain

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

The Universe Wants eBay Sellers to Develop a Niche

"The Universe" (some call this Google) wants you to develop a niche market. We discuss this concept at length in The 7 Essential Steps to Successful eBay Marketing. I come across it every day, however, in one form or another.

Basically, the sooner you narrow your selling focus to a particular product line, a particular service delivery model, or a particular mode of selling, the sooner you'll start differentiating your business and finding your market. You'll start finding the people and customers that are meant for you. The fact is that you're not going to hit home runs in the "Wall Mart" game where you sell everything under the sun or anything that comes across your desk.

Niche helps you focus your expertise and zero in on customers like a laser. It also helps you climb the Google rankings (for ecommerce sites, Google Base listings, Froogle position, and linked eBay listings).

The sooner you develop your niche, the sooner you start making recurring dough. Think about it.


Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Constant eBay Marketing Connectivity with Free Wireless/Wi-Fi Resources

A successful eBay business requires constant connectivity. You need to answer emails, post items for sale, and manage marketing activities like cross promotitions, blogging and customer service.

So.. you need to have Web access everywhere. Here's a great resource for free Wi-Fi hotspots in California.

I used it out in Palm Desert last week, and it was great. I quickly found a nifty little spot called Buzz Cafe. Their Wi-Fi was superb, with great throughput and reliability connectivity. I even worked before they were open out in their parking lot at 5:30AM. Pretty sweet. Great Chai Tea, too.

If you have any other resources, be sure to post them here.

Generally, I know that Panera and some Diedrich's coffee shops have free Wi-Fi, too. Caribou Coffee, as well.


7 Web Copy Disasters - eBay or Otherwise

This post features a unattributed list of Web copywriting sins. I don’t know where I found this, but I like it, so I thought I should pass it along. If you know where it comes from, please let me know. I’d like to give it proper attribution and congratulate the author on their insights.

Also, if you know anyone else who could use this kind of weekly marketing tune up, please send them here or have them sign up for the weekly newsletter at Thanks.

Enjoy! - Phil


Words on the web are a different animal than words in print. As a copywriter, I watch the trends. And YOU need to be aware of online behavior too. That is IF you want potential clients to read what's on your website. Studies show a full 79% of Internet users SCAN the page rather than read word for word. What does that mean to you? It means whatever they DO read had better be GOOD. Here are 7 web copy mistakes you need to avoid.


Open with a bang, but not with Flash. If you don't know, Flash is a program by Macromedia that shows mini movies. Graphic artists LOVE Flash animation. They think it's pretty and high tech. Internet cruisers hate it. They can't wait to find the "Skip Intro" link. That's because Flash stands in between them and the information they're hunting for. See, studies show when folks are online they have a need to feel "active." There are millions of pages of information out there. And they aren't so sure yours is the best use of their time. Flash slows them down. So trash the Flash. And go with stronger copy instead. [note from Phil: I use an Anti-Flash plug-in for Firefox, so when flash is on a page I don't see anything but a play button. I think this is gaining popularity -- and causing more problems for designers that rely on Flash.]


In print, eyes go to the picture first. Not so online. Research shows the first thing web users see is a headline. Now, remember what I said about scanning? Eyes drift down the page looking for easy-to-pick-up words. Well, the headline and subheads should effectively tell scanners what's on the page without having to dig into the real copy... like a quick summary of the entire page! Headlines get the attention. The first subhead identifies the problem of your target audience. The next wows them with the solution - YOU! This way scanners can gloss over the content and get the whole story with the headlines and subheads. Once they're hooked, they can go back and really read your copy.


You're wasting valuable real estate if this is your first phrase. It may be the first and last thing a site visitor reads. Don't forget why web users visit you in the first place. It's all about THEM. Not you. Something THEY need got them to your site. Figure out what it is. Identify the benefits, or emotional buttons in your copy. People WANT to know they're in good hands. OR that they made a smart purchase. Do them a favor. Convince them with benefit-laden copy.


Quick lesson. Keywords and phrases are what Internet surfers type in to a search engine, like Google. The search engine comes back with a list of related sites. Surfers tend to click over to sites at the top of the list. Search engines put the sites with relevant keywords HIGHER on the list. They find those sites by reading the copy on your web pages. Get it? So figure out what words your target market would type in to find you. Those are your keywords. Now build them into your copy.


You can guide the eye where you want it to go... if you have a path. Don't clutter up the page with too many confusing options. Or slow-loading graphics. Use strategic white space to pull your reader through your copy from start to finish. Remember, reading on a computer screen is tiring on the eyes. In fact, online reading is 25% slower than reading print. So make it easier. Break up your information into bite-sized pieces. Use short, snappy sentences. Paragraphs with one thought and one thought only. And use bullets liberally. You never know which is the magic one to turn a reader into a customer. Make your copy scan-able.


Your message has a heck of a lot of competition. People don't have to read your copy unless they want to. YOUR job is to keep them engaged. Let me let you in on a little secret I learned from marketing genius, Joseph Sugarman - the purpose of copy is to get you to read the first sentence. Then that sentence should get you to read the NEXT sentence. And so on. And so on. And so on.

Ever hear of the "Bucket Brigade?" This term comes from the times before fire departments got organized. If there was a fire, villagers lined up down the streets. One end of the line started at the water source. The other end was at the blaze. To put out the fire quickly, they passed buckets of water down the line. Briskly. Without letting up. Without slowing. Imagine that pace when you're writing your copy. Each sentence leading you into the next.


Copy describes what you do and persuades the reader to take some action. But what really makes copy invaluable is its ability to build a lasting relationship with your reader. Whether you're there or not. 24/7. Good copy is friendly. Informative. Establishes rapport. Grows trust and loyalty. It deepens the connection between you and your audience. Once you have that bond, you don't have to bother convincing them how great your product or service is. They're READY to sign up!

Monday, April 02, 2007

eBay Marketing, Twitter and Woot - Building Social Networks, Mircro-Blogging, Sourcing Product

What on earth is twitter and why is everyone talking about it?

Ok - let's define first. To me, twitter is a mini-blog social network. You create an account, make posts about what you're doing in 144 words or less, and follow friends who do the same. It's yet another place to follow those you know and trust and maybe add some others that you're not sure about yet. You can do it via Web, cell phone or any other IP connected device. Some of the post can be inane time-wasters, but like all things Web, people are being creative and making good use of it. Here's the WikiPedia definition of Twitter.

So what's the eBay relevance? A guy I follow on twitter wrote a blog post about applying twitter to Woot and eBay. Essentially, you can use twitter as a sale broadcasting medium, much the same way use MySpace to do the same thing. The key is that the information needs to be "newsworthy." There has to be some timliness to it. It can't just say, here's my eBay store. Something like, "I'm uploading five new hammocks to my eBay Store -- scored em cheap" is more appropriate. Like anything else marketing, you need an audience. You'll need to build a twitter friends list and cross promote your twitter page in your other marketing materials, in emails, on your web sites, and in your eBay listings and Store.

Here's a good quote to put it all into perspective. It's from Patsi Krakoff's Next Level Tips Blog: "I rephrase this concept found on several wise sites: technologies don’t drive anything. Rather, they enable people to do things they have always done, only better, faster, or cheaper. The most effective and successful social networks are addressing universal human needs using an improved technology component.

It’s not important that you familiarize yourself with all the latest social media tools, neither should you be on the leading edge of all the cool trends.

However, it is important that you and your business connect with people, both your internal and external customers. It is still and always will be about relationships, credibility and trust.

Now there are new ways to create those relationships."

Now, how about sourcing... As I was reading the article on twitter and Woot, I couldn't help but think about sourcing. A place like woot could be a great resource eBay product. The prices look good, and with these twitter updates, you could swoop up a bargain and flip it on eBay quite easily.

Any thoughts? Does anyone have experience with any of these ideas? Please share here. Thanks.