So many critics

“Whatever you do, you need courage. Whatever course you decide upon, there is always someone to tell you that you are wrong. There are always difficulties arising that tempt you to believe your critics are right. To map out a course of action and follow it to an end requires some of the same courage that a soldier needs. Peace has its victories, but it takes brave men and women to win them.”

- Ralph Waldo Emerson

I was at a dingy and somewhat depressing hipster dive here in Asheville, NC, sitting with a uber-hip group of local musicians.

One of them said, “Did you hear that Flea from Chili Peppers is working with Thom Yorke on a new project? What the fuck is up with that? Flea? With Thom Yorke? Ugh!

For the unaware, Thom Yorke is viewed as the nonpareil, visionary musician to the hipper than hip, and Flea is, well, not (according to “them”). This unholy alliance does not meet their approval.

Never mind that Flea and Yorke got together over a shared love of Afrobeat. Never mind they are both accomplished songwriters, musicians, performers, and straight up bad asses. Hell, never mind that I’m not really a Flea fan either.

Generally, the critics like to punish for stepping outside their preconceived box of notions, punishing makers for wanting to see what happens when those of disparate backgrounds get together to see what happens.

There are so many critics when you start making something – whether it’s art, literature, even legislation. It’s as if there is some stage cue which causes them to come out of the woodwork as soon as a maker pops their head up and says, “Look what I made!”

The critics don’t care. They need a box to put you in to shake around with their cartoonish metaphors and worst case scenarios. Don’t fall for it. You’re not making your thing for them.

The day makers create things based on what a critic thinks is the day the terrorists win.  ;-)

I Never Got His Name, But I Think Of Him Often

A couple of years ago I was working a stressful job as a Project Manager in Asheville, North Carolina.

I was fairly depressed about a lot of things at the time. The stress and constant travel of the job affected many relationships in a bad way, and I was constantly grouchy. This particular morning I had called a 5am cab for a ride to the airport.

It was pouring down rain. I couldn’t wait to get checked in and on the plane to sleep. I put out the cats, hid the key so my neighbor could feed them, and dashed through the rain with my luggage and tools.

The driver cracked his window. “I’m a little early. I hope that’s okay.”

“No problem,” I slid my luggage onto the back seat, walked around the car and got in, silently cursing the odd smell of stale rain and cab.

Did I also smell weed?

“Some rain, huh?” said the cab driver. “Last night I had the cover off the pool, and it was in the upper 70’s. Now it’s cold and rainy. Did you lose power last night?”

I thought for a second, “Actually, no. None of my clocks were blinking this morning.”

All I wanted was for him to leave me alone to stare at the rain in silence.

“Sorry if it smells bad in here,” he said, “I just took a girl home and I think she had some weed on her.”

I lied, “Really? I can’t smell it.”

“Yeah she was all paranoid. She kept laughing and singing ‘Someoooone gave me a giiiiift!’ Then she got nervous and quiet. Either way, I could smell it. I tried to air out the car, but I think it still smells like weed.”

I forced a laugh.

The driver kept on, “The airport, huh? Where you headed? Anywhere exciting?”

“Colorado Springs,” I said.

“Oh yeah? That sounds nice. Never been to Colorado myself. I hear it’s really nice.”

I nodded, “It is pretty.”

“Is that where you are from?”

More talking? I sighed, “No, I’m going there for work. I was there last week too.”

“Lots of skiing out there. It’s a ski state, right?”

“That’s what I hear.”

Maybe if I stared harder out the window he would stop talking. He didn’t.

“I could never get into skiing that much. My friend Ronnie took me to Wolf Laurel. You know where that is?”

“I’ve heard of it. Never been there myself,” I said.

“Yeah, I would come barreling down the hill and clear out all the skiers at the bottom,” he chuckled, “I couldn’t stop!”

“Oh yeah?” I forced a laugh once more, so it sounded like I was paying attention.

“Yeah, I never really tried it again after that,” and in the same breath he changed topic, “I hear the airports do full body scans now?”

“That’s true,” I said, knowing what he was going to say next, “They do have full body scans. I had to go through one just last week.”

“So they could get a pretty woman in line and see everything under her clothes?”

“I guess so.”

For a brief moment I was thankful for the rain and darkness of the drive, so he couldn’t see my eye roll as continued:

“My girlfriend and I went to Hawaii. She smoked weed a lot. I told her, ‘don’t bring any of that weed with you because you’re going to get in trouble.’ So she went and got a pack of cigarettes, except she doesn’t smoke. She took a few of the cigarettes out and replaced them with some joints and threw it in her bag.

“When we landed in Hawaii, we were sitting outside with a bunch of other people. Sure enough, a dog comes through and starts sniffing everyone’s things. The lady next to us had a large suitcase, and the dog stopped at her bag and sniffed, then laid down right on her bag! The police came over and made her open her bag and she had some fruit in there. Well, you’re not supposed to bring outside fruit to Hawaii, because of the pests they can carry that could infect fruit in Hawaii. So they hauled her off. Can you believe that? My girlfriend just shrugged and smiled.”

I could see the driver smirk, shaking his head slowly as, one by one, streetlights briefly illuminated his face. He was back in Hawaii, reliving the moment.

“She got lucky,” I said.

He laughed, “She did! She used to do stuff like that all the time. Scared the shit out of me — but in a good way now that I think about it.”

The driver’s voice trailed off . I could tell he was thinking about her, and by his tone their relationship didn’t end well. Was there a bad break up? Did somebody cheat?

“I lost her last July 20th. Brain aneurysm.”

I blinked hard, twice. Suddenly I was present, in the car with him for the first time. I shook my head and quickly turned away from the streaks of rain.

“Oh my! That’s terrible. I’m sorry to hear that, man.”

The driver was nodding his head up and down gently, and his eyes went from the road to looking up at the sky — then back to the road again as if he hoped she was up there listening to him talk about her.

“We were together over 20 years. I worked at a lumber company here in town for 23 years and she worked in the office. We were together ever since. After the lumber company she got a job working for a NASCAR team as their accountant. We traveled all over the world. I would have never got out of Buncombe County probably if it wasn’t for her. We went to the Grand Canyon, Las Vegas, Canada, Cayman Islands. Lots of places. We went to a lot of races – Talladega, Daytona, Bristol, even Las Vegas!”

“It sounds like she was a lot of fun.”

“Oh she was,” his voice softened noticeably, “Losing her changed me. Changed the way I treat people you know.”

I shifted in my seat.

The driver pulled his wallet from his back pocket, opened it, and handed it to me. It was a girl, probably in her early 30’s, with sandy brown hair, a smirk, and wild playful eyes.

“She’s pretty,” I said.

“Her passing changed me, I used to be kind of an asshole. Not anymore. If I had lost her to cancer or something, at least I would have had a chance to say goodbye. But with that aneurysm, I lost her in like a minute and a half. She was just gone.”

I shifted in my seat some more.

He continued, “Man, if I could just get her back, I’d never bitch about cleaning the house or anything ever again. I just want her back.”

The driver trailed off once more as we stopped at my airline gate. Now it was his turn to snap back to the present, “You’re gonna be kind of early. Hope that’s alright?”

“It’s fine,” I said, “I prefer being early, than scrambling to make my flights on time. No complaints here. Thanks for the ride.”

I bummed a smoke off a TSA agent, stood under an awning with my bags, and looked up at the rainy sky. When I was done, I shook it off and headed inside to board my plane.

Using Google Analytics Intelligence Alerts To Motivate

Google Analytics Intelligence Alerts are great because they can notify you when really great or really bad things happen on your website.

Like most people, I use them to keep track of huge gains or huge drops in traffic, events, and goals.

But I also use them to motivate me to keep moving the needle forward every day on my pet projects.

On one website, I use it to notify me when I’ve received 500 Unique Visitors in one day. When it does, Analytics sends me an email.

The way I use this to motivate me, is, I try to get the Alert sent to me earlier and earlier in the day.

For instance, when I first set up the alert, it would be late in the evening when I would get notified of 500 Uniques. As I kept working, building out content, and linking back to it from my outposts, the alert would start showing up earlier and earlier in the evening. Then, it started showing up in the late afternoon. Then, it started showing up between noon and 1pm.

Now, I’ve upped it to 1000 Uniques per day, and the Alerts are now showing up late in the evening again. So my goal, again, is to reach 1000 Uniques earlier and earlier in the day, just like I did with the 500.

I’ve been doing that since the site had NO TRAFFIC back in August 2014. I set it up, originally, for 25 Uniques. Then 50. Then 100. Then 200. 300, and so forth.

good-no-great

There’s more you can do with Intelligence Alerts, and I would suggest, if you already use Google Analytics, to give Intelligence Alerts a serious try. Plus, if you have no idea what they are, that article explains it well.

You can do it! Even if …

Even if you’ve let tremendous opportunities pass you by out of sheer laziness.

So what? You can stop being lazy and grab onto the next one when it comes along. It’s okay. The trick is to stop being lazy RIGHT NOW.

(Congrats!)

Chances are you rely on thrilling heroics. You’re probably that person who brags about the all-nighters you pull to meet a deadline after sloughing off for weeks.

Stop that, and focus on small incremental changes. Just try to move the needle forward a little bit each day.

“Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.” – Thomas A. Edison

Even if you’re getting up there in years.

Don’t worry. With at least a few decades behind you, you just might learn most of the “old people” myths are not true at all. You’re okay.

“You are never too old to set another goal or to dream a new dream.”
-C. S. Lewis

Even if you’ve failed more times than you can count.

So what? Many people are scared to death of failure. But you’ve done it like a dozen times now. And you’re okay!

“I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”
-Thomas A. Edison

Even if you’ve kind of had a breakdown.

Yeah, so maybe you did. But you lived. It didn’t kill you. I mean, you’re reading this, right?

“One of the symptoms of an approaching nervous breakdown is the belief that one’s work is terribly important.”
-Bertrand Russell

Even if you’ve been disowned by your own family.

Maybe so, but you’ve also finally accepted they are mean, terrible people. Trying to get their approval does nothing but give them power. It hurt for a bit. Okay, it really hurt – to a debilitating degree. But you now realize the benefits of cutting them loose far outweighs the illusion of acceptance.

“But then I would rather be
stuck up in a tree
Than be tied to it”
– Brett Dennen, There Is So Much More

Even if you’ve alienated all your friends.

Yeah, this is a tough one. Some genuine gratitude and attention to those important to you can reverse this self-imposed misfortune. In fact, it can sometimes go so well it’s almost like your shitty ingratitude didn’t happen. It has to be genuine though.

“Feeling gratitude and not expressing it is like wrapping a present and not giving it.”
-William Arthur Ward

Even if others tell you you can’t because (1) you haven’t done anything or (2) the stuff you did actually kind of sucked.

Do great work. Did you do your best? Did you? Really?

“If you try to do your best there is no failure.”
-Mike Farrell

People have lost faith in you.

Yeah, probably for one of the many reasons above. Go through the list and get better. Own up to it. Owning up to mistakes is a big deal, and will go a long way, because so many people rarely do.

“It is never too late to regain our credibility around the world.”
-Marty Meehan

Lastly, you can do it – even if you’ve told yourself over and over again you can’t.

Stop blaming everyone else. You know that’s exactly what you’re doing. When you finally realize it’s been you holding you back all along, great things can happen.

“Life is not a matter of holding good cards, but sometimes, playing a poor hand well.”
– Jack London

Is it me or does this job totally suck?

A friend of mine recently emailed me about creeping dissatisfaction at his web marketing and analytics job, wondering if perhaps he had unrealistic expectations.

I replied:

Based on my experience, this is what I would suggest:

  • If the first day on the job they introduce you to a punch clock, leave. Nothing encourages “do just enough to get by” culture like a punch clock.
  • If you catch wind from others your manager is intentionally keeping you out of the loop because he’s afraid you’ll take his job, leave. Unless you crave shitty office politics, you’ll never win that battle. You don’t even like the job anyways. It’s a serious cultural problem.
  • If your “web manager” tells you to never use the terms “blogging” or “social media” in front of your bosses, run for the hills. That is pretty much the most clueless advice ever from a guy that should not be a manager of a web marketing department. That’s next-level idiocy.
  • If you see no change in their behavior, and they continue hiring clueless people. Leave. At one job I had they hired a marketing manager (at an e-commerce company!) that had no web experience, and had never even heard of Google Analytics. For reals. Pathetic.

In general, if your job comes down to jumping through hoops, navigating shitty office politics for approval from clueless higher ups, get the fuck out.

But what if you need that job?

Then you have some hard choices to make, don’t you?

Maybe it’s time to build that thing you’ve been talking about?

Are you scared?

The Lazy Affiliate Marketer

[This is a semi-technical article. It might (and probably should) bore the hell out of you if you don’t care about this shite.]

There was a time only a few years ago when Firefox was the dominate browser.

Google had a big part in that. Firefox had Google as the default search engine, Google funded Firefox.

Google also mobilized it’s legion of webmasters, letting people like me promote Firefox. In exchange, every time someone downloaded and installed Firefox, I would get $1.

One day I added a link to download Firefox to my personal website, right before I left my day job. When I returned in the morning I had received over $100 in commissions.

This was weird, as I didn’t really get a lot of traffic to that site.

I logged in and realized that I had misspelled “Firefox” as “Firfox”. Since most other webmasters could actually spell (har har), my website with the misspelled link had instantly jumped to the top of the search engines. People were clicking through, downloading Firfox, and installing it on their computers.

So, seeing a loophole, I quickly registered the domain name “firfox-download.com“, put up a blog, and started tracking Firefox news. Until Google finally cancelled the program, I made an insane amount of money off people’s misspellings.

On a much larger scale, this is the unfortunate state of affiliate marketing in many places today. It still has the perception of being a bit shady, tricky, and generally reviled by Internet users globally. Don’t believe me? Try adding a link on a Reddit comment tagged with your affiliate ID and watch the users pile on, right before you get banned.

Type in something like “discount pizza coupons” and you will see a large number of shitty affiliate and (another awful scene) AdSense sites.

The biggest problem is all the smart affiliate marketers really come up with legitimate, sound solutions. The Wirecutter – as well as it’s sister site, The Sweethome – do something really unique. They are completely above board about the revenue model, and the writers and founders are right there on each page with links to their personal profiles. On the “About” page, they have also clarified, in great detail, what they mean by the best.

Yet, here come the lazy affiliate marketers now labeling every product as the best, which now makes the term meaningless when the first three pages of Google all start with the best guitar or the best camera.

Now they’re even going a step further:

Google is really bad at current information. Because of this, most searchers will now append the year onto the end of their search, like: “best laptop bag 2015“.

So now the lazy affiliate marketers are appending 2015 to every one of their title tags. They’ll even do this to a website that hasn’t been updated in five years. I would link to some I’ve found but I don’t want to give them any Google karma. :-)

Thankfully, there have been great strides made in the way search engines can detect duplicate content and, at the very least, not reward those sites with great SERP positioning.

But here come the lazy affiliate marketers again.

The lazy affiliate marketers also do stuff like grab a competitor’s article and rewrite every word. This way, the same content and keywords are mostly there, and it won’t be detected by duplicate content detectors.

So when everything is “the best”, and when everything is “2015” (or whatever year it is in which you’re reading this) it’s actually neither.

It’s a tough spot for those who want to supplement their website income with affiliate commissions.  Because we (including me) want people to feel like, when they visit my website, the information is current (2015) and “the best” information they can find on the subject matter.

How do we fix it?

One technique which works well for me, is that I try not to chase clicks. Sure, I want visitors to the site so my site description, search engine excerpt, and so forth need to be informative and instill trust. But I’ve been going a step further, using a trick I borrowed from The Wirecutter – I say right up front what the best thing really means.

The other thing I wish Google and other search engines would do is, in the instances they detect affiliate links, let sites bubble up to the top of the SERPS that are totally above board (a’la The Wirecutter). Most of these thin affiliate sites with regurgitated vague copy are almost completely anonymous. There’s no “About Me/Us” page. The domain names are registered privately. The legit affiliate sites should bubble up to the top and the shitty sites should be buried, nowhere near the top 100.

That probably won’t happen though. Many of these affiliate sites are scientifically built to meet all the requirements of a “good” site in Google’s eyes. These anonymous affiliate marketers don’t really care if they make a lot of money off ONE site. They’ll automate a build of hundreds of websites in hundreds of niches, and if they make $5/day off each one, they’re still making hundreds – even thousands – of dollars a day. They can take one or two days of that money and pay overseas workers for months to create (and steal) content for their websites.

And the kicker? If they are driving traffic and sales to the advertiser and the advertiser is actually selling products from those referrals, advertisers don’t really care either.

 Harumph!

Obligatory Welcome

Welcome to Makovision. Again.

I won’t say a lot about what my plans are for the site, but I will say that I’m looking forward to writing a lot more.

Since August, I’ve been working on a new project. It’s been a lot of fun and here in another month or so I will be actively promoting it around the web, my social profiles, and such.

I’ve been blogging since 1999. I started a website … at this very address! It was “Handpicked News For Web Developers”. In addition to curating the best web development news (as opposed to press release styled stuff) we interviewed web developers and basically just had fun. I ran the site for about five years, and then shut it down.

After that I started a songwriting website called Blogging Muses. I ended up forming a really cool partnership with BMI, who introduced me to songwriters, studio owners, who contributed articles to the site.

Both sites were very difficult to monetize, in the sense that I could make a living doing it. But I learned a lot. During this time I was working as a web developer by day, and a blogger and local musician by night.

Blogging Muses lasted for about five years and I shut it down.

What I was able to monetize of those sites was usually done through a mix of affiliate marketing, AdSense, and direct ad sales. It was a good run. If you’ve ever tried to make a living from blogging, you probably know there are a lot of moving parts. And while you’re able to work on your own schedule, most blogs take up more time than people realize. So unless you stumble across a hot niche and people are throwing money at you, it’s gonna be a slow grind.

My new project is also a content project, however it’s not a blog. Instead of playing the “publish hourly/daily” game like so many other websites, we’re doing something a little different.

I’ve been “journaling” the project privately as I’ve been working on it. I was reading through them the other day and I think a lot of the stuff is worth sharing. Often, we focus on the wrong things when building out stuff like this.

If someone wants to “build their thing” and make a living doing it, I think some of these posts could help. Maybe not. In fact, there have been some people over the last year that have helped me tremendously and hopefully I can share their stories as well.

See you at the top!

HIking

This is a title with giraffes and frogs

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How About Trying It The Other Way, Maybe?

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