100 Tips for Improving Web Site Conversion Rate

David Lifferth, the President of World Vital Records, has studied the book “Call to Action” by the conversion rate marketing gurus Bryan and Jeffrey Eisenberg and Lisa Davis. I gave him my copy recently and asked him to find every tip in the book, and then teach my Academy members about it.

So Tuesday, January 23rd, at 12:30 pm at the Provo Labs Academy, David will be sharing with us more than 100 tips for improving web site conversion rates. He wants to blog all these tips as well. I told him to contact the Eisenbergs and see what they will allow him to share. Check out David Lifferth’s blog.

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Web Analytics Resources

One of the pillars of a successful internet company is access to advanced web analytics and the ability to use them.

I encourage or require all of my portfolio companies to use Omniture SiteCatalyst, which is truly an amazing analytics platform. (I noticed Omniture bought a European analytics company this week; and recently Josh James was listed as one of the youngest CEOs of a publicly traded company in the U.S. by Business Week magazine–very cool. He was one of the very youngest.)

Jimmy Zimmerman has an excellent post about Web Analytics Resources.

WorldVitalRecords.com uses Omniture. We’ve found that we have visitors from 117 countries already. Our unique visitor count is growing rapidly. Our conversion rate looks decent. And we can make changes to the site and add new features and databases to see how these things affect our visitor counts and conversion rates.

As The Game of Work points out, a lot of the fun in business is being able to measure your results, set goals, and achieve higher and higher levels of success.

Thanks, Omniture, for making online business so much fun.

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Creating a family tree of the whole world

Two people have notified me about the new company Geni, founded by former PayPal Executive David Sacks, that plans to “create a family tree of the whole world.”

TechCrunch has a post about Geni today and there are already 17 comments on it, including from some pretty smart readers.

Other efforts to do this have been underway for many years, including Ancestry.com’s OneWorldTree, the LDS Church, and OneGreatFamily.com. To have a Silicon Valley based company jump into this “family tree” space will be really interesting to watch.

BTW, I really like the new Ancestry.com logo. It’s much better than the old one.

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Changing my blog topic

In an effort to focus my time and attention on one company for the next few years, I have decided to change the title of my blog from Paul Allen: Internet Entrepreneur to Paul Allen: Internet Genealogy.

I have been blogging for more than 3 years. I think I have made about 750 posts during that time, many of them about internet marketing, entrepreneurship, angel investing, the success of Google and other popular web sites, and other such topics.

Someday I’ll probably write a book for entrepreneurs. And someday I’ll probably change the focus of my blog back to entrepreneurship.

But if all my readers will forgive me, the primary topic of my future blog posts will be online genealogy.

I’m feeling wonderfully about my decision to focus on one thing, especially because it’s the thing I love the most.

When I attended CES this week (Monday to Wednesday), everything I saw, heard, or read, was processed through the filter of “how does this relate to family history,” or “how does this fit into our vision of connecting families?”

I had this same experience from 1996-2002 when I started Ancestry.com and MyFamily.com with my friend Dan Taggart. During those bubble years I had extraordinary amounts of energy, I didn’t want to sleep, I was driven like never before. I know my friend Dan Lynch had a similar experience when he joined MyFamily.com. There was something truly special about this company and this company’s mission.

But things changed, and all of our founding team left the company over the years. I left in February 2002, and out of respect to all my friends and investors there, didn’t do anything in family history for the next few years. But enough time has passed, and the time is right to refocus all my energy and resources on this wonderful mission: of connecting families.

I think the simplest way to describe the mission of WorldVitalRecords.com is “to bless all the families of the earth.” (See Genesis 12:3 if you are interested in a biblical reference where Abraham was given a promise that he and his seed would provide such a blessing.)

I’m certainly not claiming any inheritance of this promise, although as an amateur genealogist and as one who loved math in my early years, I’m pretty confident that the vast majority of people on earth today are descendants of Abraham.

Modern civilization and technology has tended to break down families and disconnect the generations. We have become so industrialized, so mobile, so independent.

My hope is that WVR can enable families to use technology to connect, communicate, share, preserve, and grow closer together. I’ve never been involved in a more fulfilling cause than when we pursued this same mission at MyFamily.com, and now we’re starting over. At the same time, The Generations Network (the new name of MyFamily.com) is doing wonderful things, and I’ll be cheering them on as they continue to help families around the world.

As far as mission goes, I see WVR as being on the same team as TGN. They have 800+ employees that are trying to help families connect and share. And we have 8.

I think that will change as we grow. We may be 1% of their size right now, and have 1% of the amount of data they have on their site today. But I think the time will come when we will be 10% their size and have 10% as much data. And who knows where it will go from there?

Competition will be good for this industry, and will spur more innovation and wider adoption. More families of the earth will be blessed if more companies focus on providing content, tools, and services that help them.

I want to apologize to hundreds of entrepreneurs in advance who will not appreciate my change of blog topic and will continue to email me and ask me for advice or guidance as they start their ventures. I’m going to have to turn down most of these requests for help, until World Vital Records is executing on all cylinders and I can take a breath.

But I want to welcome all my new readers who love genealogy and family history.

I invite you to comment freely on this blog and email me with your ideas and advice. Let’s create something really significant together. It feels great to be back with you. Thanks for the notes of encouragement and the ideas you’ve been sending me and the team already.

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New Genealogy Affiliate Program Launches

World Vital Records officially launched its affiliate program this week with the most generous commissions in the genealogy industry.

I believe we are the first genealogy company to offer recurring revenue for affiliates when a subscriber renews their subscription. I know that many genealogy affiliates have wanted this for a long time.

Here are the details from Brad Pace, who manages our new genealogy affiliate program.

Program details:

* Earn a 30% commission on every membership plan
* Send more than 25 members a month and your commissions go up to 40% for every membership plan
* Earn a 10% commission on ALL recurring membership plans for any member you refer!
* 60 day cookie duration
* Commission checks paid very next month after commission is received
* Easily link to any page or search result on our site
* Affiliate API to add functionality to your site (COMING SOON)
* Tons of great articles and content to add to your site (COMING SOON)
* World class affiliate tracking through MyAffiliateProgram

SPECIAL LAUNCH OFFER! Help us launch our program. All affiliate sales in January 2007 will receive 50% commission! So got to http://www.worldvitalrecords.com/affiliates/default.aspx and signup today.

Brad would love to personally speak with you. Please feel free to call him with any questions at 801-653-5977, starting on Tuesday. (He is taking today — January 12th — off and Monday is a holiday.) You can also email him at brad “AT” worldvitalrecords.com.

Do you need something to promote WVR on your site? He will build any custom images and will attempt to get you any content you may need. Just let him know what you need.

There are tens of thousands of genealogy sites that belong to affiliate programs. We hope that many of them will give us a try. We will do our very best to be a great partner for them.

In 1998 when I learned about affiliate marketing and decided to create the first affiliate program in the genealogy industry at Ancestry.com, our affiliate managers recruited affiliates simply by doing searches on popular search engines, finding genealogy sites that came up, and trying to contact the owners. It was a tedious process.

I remember how much the affiliates loved Amy Roberts, our first affiliate manager. She recruited 9 of the top 10 affiliates that we had at Ancestry.com. (I haven’t worked there since February 2002). Many of them were able to quit their full-time jobs and live on the income that they generated from their web site–which, by the way, they all started as a labor of love and not as a way to make money.

Today, you can use a crawler to visit thousands of web sites very easily, and scan the pages looking for code that indicates someone is already an affiliate for another genealogy company. Knowing the domain, you can do an automatic who-is lookup or crawl the site looking for “Contact Us” type info. Then a personal email contact or phone call can let them know about the new opportunity.

It’s so much easier to build a successful affiliate program today than it was 8 years ago. And the most recent statistics I’ve seen are that most successful ecommerce sites generate between 10-20% of their revenue from their affiliate marketing program.

While I was at 10x Marketing, we crawled the top 10,000 web sites in the U.S. and determined if they had ever joined an affiliate network, and if so, whether they belonged to the Be Free, LinkShare, or Commission Junction Network. (Be Free is now part of Commission Junction.)

When we launched affiliate programs for our clients, we could easily contact the largest potential super affiliates for them. We didn’t want to waste our time with high-traffic sites who sold ads or sponsorships and who had not yet embraced affiliate marketing.

Richard Stauffer, who is our lead engineer at World Vital Records, was our engineer at 10x Marketing who wrote all the crawling tools for our affiliate recruiting effort. So we hope that within a few weeks, we’ll have thousands of active genealogy affiliates. They will be valued partners as we try to build an international genealogy company that meets the needs of millions of family historians around the world.

In the MarketingSherpa 2006 ECommerce Benchmark Study Anne Holland reports that there has been a lot of tension over the past two years between merchants and their affiliates. I’ve seen this tension in the industry for years, because for some reason, companies resent paying affiliates for generating revenue (even though they pay only straight commission) because the companies think they could generate those same sales on their own and pay less to do it.

So many companies limit their affiliates ability to use search engine marketing and email marketing. According to MarketingSherpa, many affiliates have migrated out of ecommerce to more lucrative lead generation opportunities in different industries.

I hope our World Vital Records program is the kind of program that affiliates will want to join. As Brad indicated in his email, we will provide creative and content to help our affiliates succeed. We respect our affiliates as full partners in bringing more family history researchers to our content and we are happy to pay them for finding new customers for us.

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Goal for 2007 — focus on one thing!

After some wonderful time off with my family, I regretfully went back to work yesterday with one of those feelings of being completely overwhelmed — there are so many hundreds of things on my to-do list and so many dozens of things to blog about. I know I’ll never catch up so I won’t even try.

One of my main New Year’s Resolutions is to not get behind on email. Last year I ended the year with about 1,700 "unread" messages in my inbox. The problem is that I had read many (maybe even most) of them on my Blackberry, but they didn’t show up in gmail as having been read.

It is frustrating to occasionally use my Desktop email only and to see so many unread messages that you know you can’t even make a dent in them. And trying to remember which ones you’ve already read is also frustrating.

So a couple weeks ago I downloaded a bunch of Google software onto my blackberry, so instead of using the Blackberry email interface (which is actually far better than gmail) I am now using the Gmail interface which gives me one huge advantage–all the messages I read on my blackberry show up as read in my inbox. Plus, I can easily archive any messages or star the ones that I need to do something about.

And I archived all of last year’s emails so I’m starting the year fresh. It feels good to be caught up!

Now, if I can just find a way to have fewer people emailing me ….

Does anyone have any ideas? How have you reduced the number of incoming emails and voice mail messages?

I know one CEO of a huge company that has an auto-responder that says, "due to the high volume of email that I receive, don’t expect a reply…" or something to that effect. Another CEO says he doesn’t even try to respond to all his messages.

I would welcome any suggestions.

Okay, so now for today’s topic: Goals for 2007.

Last year on January 3rd I blogged about my 2006 goals. At the time I thought I was being overly ambitious and I admitted that. It turns out that I had way too many goals and not enough bandwidth to achieve them all.

While last year I worked on the Book of Mormon in Russian, this year one of my spiritual goals is to study the Koran and to try to understand the beliefs of Islam, with an estimated 1.4 billion adherents. (See Wikipedia article on Islam.) I have great respect for the Muslims whom I have personally met and I believe that understanding the religious beliefs of others can lead to more respect and peaceful co-existence. In fact, I have been wishing that the leaders of our nation would use the "bully pulpit" to encourage all Americans to learn foreign languages (whether it be Arabic, Mandarin, or Spanish) and to study cultures and countries in a determined effort to gain more respect and admiration for other peoples. I think the "ugly American" image could be overturned if we made a concerted national effort to do so.

2007 will be a very different year for me. I’ve made the big decision to focus on a single company this year.

During 2006 I ran the Provo Labs incubator and seed fund. We invested in nearly a dozen startup companies. Some of the companies are doing well and will continue to prosper. They will only need occasional help from me. Some of the companies are borderline; perhaps a few will not survive at all. But in a portfolio theory, as I have been reassured by other experienced investors, all of this is okay. It really only takes 1 big hit to provide a positive return to our investors.

During the last few months one company has emerged from the pack as the one that I want to spend almost all of my time on during the coming year. It happens to be in a field that I love; we are creating a vision that is big and bold. We have a desire to have a positive impact on millions of people in the coming year.

The company I’m going to focus on this year is World Vital Records, our next generation family history company.

I have told people for years that I would have stayed with MyFamily.com for the rest of my life if that company had stayed true to the vision that we created for it in the early years.

But I left nearly five years ago because I felt the company had no room for my ideas and was no longer favorable towards innovation. It has been painful for me to watch as Web 2.0 has swept the world with its emphasis on user generated content and social networks, and to continually wonder what MyFamily.com could have been. In fact, I blogged in 2005 about what MyFamily.com might have been.

With a reported $150 million in revenue this year, the company formerly called MyFamily.com and now known as The Generations Network, is a formidable and very dominating company in the genealogy industry.

I am favorably impressed with what the company is doing in many respects, including customer service. I often get emails from people who think I’m still involved with the company. The number of complaints has dropped dramatically. I think the company’s policies are kinder and gentler than they used to be. I’m excited about all the data the company is putting online and it’s greater use of PR this past year. I’m looking forward to the upcoming "relaunch" of MyFamily.com. I know the company was advertising on HotJobs for Web 2.0 developers and savvy internet marketers up in Seattle where the MyFamily business unit is located. I can’t tell you how exciting this is for me, to see a new commitment to private web sites for families.

(Note: I am not involved in the company, except as a minor shareholder.)

But our new company, currently called World Vital Records, and soon to be renamed when we launch our flagship genealogy web site, definitely has a place in the world.

We will soon have 5,000 paying subscribers. (We launched our paid service in October.) Our traffic is growing, our Alexa ranking is increasing and our momentum is building. We exceeded our Q4 forecast by 33%.

We have subscribers from all 50 states and 8 countries, and we have already had visitors to our web site from 117 different countries. And this is just the beginning.

Our team is incredible. We have the original search engine developer at Ancestry.com, Richard Stauffer, and the lead data engineeer, John Ivie, who prepped the first 3 billion records that Ancestry.com put on its web site. Our President, David Lifferth, was also a data engineer at MyFamily.com, but he is learning web analytics, marketing, and is an excellent manager. He was part of the team that helped Infobases (my first company) launch its first genealogy CD ROM product back in 1995. So he has a lot of experience in this field. We also have Brad Pace, who was the lead developer of the MyFamily.com web site when it launched back in 1998. In fact, our team probably knows more about the early days of Ancestry.com/MyFamily.com than all the employees at The Generations Network combined, since almost none of the original folks are left there.

We also have a great content acquisition team and advisory board members are helping us license and create databases from all over the world. We’ll have some great announcements in the coming months.

We know we can build tools and provide content that will appeal to millions of people who are interested in their family history. And we can co-exist with The Generations Network and dozens of other companies with important family history web sites. In fact, we will send our members to all other web sites, including Ancestry.com, Genealogy.com, and Rootsweb.com, if that is where the answers exist that they are looking for. Our mission is to help our customers find the answers they are seeking.

This year, since I want to focus on one thing (and all my advisors and mentors have been telling me this for months!) I want to publicly blog about my 2007 goals for World Vital Records.

1. We want to end this year with at least 30,000 paying members.

2. We hope to have 3 million registered users on our soon-to-be-launched flagship web site. It will be much more mainstream than Worldvitalrecords.com.

3. We intend to have search engines built and data available in dozens of countries and several languages. We are working on our Poland genealogy search engine, for example.

It is exciting to focus again on an industry that I love. The people in the genealogy industry are among the best people I have ever met. They are so dedicated and passionate to finding and preserving family stories. They are smart and kind and willing to share.

I truly hope that our team can provide value for millions of family historians. As we talk with family historians every day and learn more about their unmet needs, you will see a continual stream of new content and features on our web sites.

We are small, but we have big dreams for this company.

I’ve been telling people that I’m going to focus on one thing this year, and people who know me are highly skeptical. I’ve been doing so many different things in the past 3 years they don’t think I really can focus.

And they are mostly right. I won’t give 100% to anything, because I am involved in many things. But I think I can give 80% of my time and effort to one thing.

I will continue to lecture weekly at the Provo Labs Academy and bring guests in regularly to provide excellent training to the entrepreneurs who are members there. I will continue to do this because it helps me stay sharp on what’s going on in internet marketing and it also gives me a great opportunity to bring employees from my portfolio companies together for training. I’ve been requiring their attendance at many events. And I love the energy and insights that all the PLA members bring to the meetings.

Yesterday Brock Blake from FundingUniverse.com gave a great lecture about what entrepreneurs need to know about angel investors.

Today I’m lecturing on Search Engine Optimization and the Google Algorithm. With many employees from my own companies attending, I can meet their training needs all at once. And when all our portfolio companies are generating a great deal of traffic from natural search engine traffic and are using web analytics, pay-per-click and email marketing effectively, then this ongoing commitment to internet marketing training will really pay off.

Our Provo Labs Academy members pay $200 to be able to attend up to 4 lectures and networking events per week and to get some access to our office space, library and conference rooms in Provo. Call Pat Sheranian at 801-373-6565 if you are interested in learning more.

I wish all of you a Happy New Year!

I hope that you don’t hold it against me if you are one of the hundreds of people whose emails and voice mails I didn’t return last year. I assure you, those messages are safely in my archive. 🙂

As you know, I plan to do better this year.

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A couple thoughts on college football

I can’t believe I haven’t posted since Dec. 21st, when I left Provo for the Las Vegas Bowl. BYU dominated Oregon and ended the season 11-2 with a 10-game winning streak. I’ve blogged that I think this BYU team is the best ever, but Gordon Monson makes some pretty good arguments in favor of Steve Young’s 1983 BYU squad.

Last night I watched the phenomenal 4th quarter and OT of the Boise State – Oklahoma bowl game with my family. This was the most enjoyable non-BYU bowl game I’ve ever seen. What incredible play calling and execution by Boise State to pull out a remarkable win.

Three calls by Boise State in the last few minutes were truly remarkable. On 4th and 18 they had an amazing pass and pitch back which led to a touchdown. In overtime, after Oklahoma scored on the first play (a 25-yard run), Boise State’s running back threw a touchdown pass to the tight end. And then, to top it all off, they went for a 2-point conversion in overtime and ran the old Statute of Liberty play, which I don’t believe I’ver ever seen before. Check out this Google video of the overtime period.

I believe it is inevitable — manifest destiny if you will — that there will eventually be some kind of national playoff and legitimate national championship game in Division I college football. We can’t continue to pretend forever that the BCS bowl series is legitimate or fair. I don’t think it will last too many more years.

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