28 February 2007

Even more stock photos

Another collection, all based on sites which have their own image databases and clear Terms of Use:


Images may be downloaded for private use and for commercial and non-commercial purposes as a component of "new independent graphic works" or within "an editorial context". Independent graphic works for the above purpose are new works created by the downloader and integrating the subject photograph such as collages, Internet pages, print products and advertising media. Download credits are earned daily (1 per day but expire at day's end), and may be earned by uploading images or by cash payment.


Majestic Imagery has over 450 images in 18 categories. Registered users are welcome to download and use images within graphics projects on a royalty free basis. The sole stipulation is that credit is given to the photographer and the Majestic Images site through a back link.


This is one of the larger private image databases and consists of over 5000 images which relate to a wide range of topics which can be searched by keyword, by geography or by colour. Terms of use include private and commercial uses providing the source is attributed and there is a backlink to the site.

High quality photos, but a relatively small database organised in 5 categories. Usage is free for personal and commercial use providing the photographer is attributed and there is a backlink to the site. There are some excluded categories, but this is one of the simplest licence agreements that I have come across.

A large collection of over 232,000 images organised geographically. Usage is free for personal and commercial use for low resolution images - further rights need to be negotiated with the owner of the image. Several search types are possible including country, city and keyword.

Yotophoto has indexed well over a quarter of a million Creative Commons, Public Domain, GNU FDL, and various other 'copyleft' images. Images are free to use for public and commercial applications. Because of the large range of sources, licence conditions vary and it is important to check the terms of a specific image before use.

Free stock photographs and a premium image area. Free photos may be used in both personal and commercial projects, subject to the Licensing Agreement. No linkback or credits are required, although a link back to the gallery would be appreciated.

A number of free stock photos which are free to use for personal and commercial projects providing you give credit to the photographer: Ernest von Rosen.

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27 February 2007

More stock photos

Continuing from the last post on where to find some royalty free stock photos, here is the next batch:

This site has about 850 free stock photos which are grouped in 21 directories. The key theme is texture. Exploration of the site is free and registration is required to access high quality images.

This site features 12,000 public domain images of the Yellowstone National Park. Terms of use are limited to crediting the source or the photographer.

Free Photos Bank has 9 directories which you can browse as well as a number of other free resources. Terms of use include commercial contracts but preclude the resale of the images.

FreeDigitalPhotos has thousands of royalty free stock photos for commercial and non commercial work - use within a site requires a link back, but not necessarily on the same page. Users should attribute the source and not claim the work as their own. The images are not for resale or download.


Several hundred royalty free photos - some of excellent quality which can be used for non-commercial projects.

1400 photos in the public domain which can be used for any purpose.

Use of the images is restricted to 50 in any publication and use must include attribution of the photographer and Visipix. There are additional exclusions, but they are not onerous.

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24 February 2007

You only have seconds to make a good impression

Today I got some junk mail. It was a reasonably well-constructed sales letter and it was well directed - I was certainly within its target group. It was let down by some very basic failures in the paper and the printing.

I know I'm obsessive about this stuff, but plenty of people notice if a letter is produced which:
  • is printed on 80 grammes paper which looks as if it has been recycled from old cereal boxes
  • is printed by a jet printer where the paper handling is so poor that the area of the letter with the contact address has bounced under the print head producing a quite unacceptable blurring of the print
  • carries a print ghost higher on the paper, presumably produced by stacking the printed output while the ink was still wet
  • has a very low quality logo in the top corner of the letter
It wouldn't matter if I thought the offer was good. Their lack of interest in these details means that they are people that I don't want to work with.

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23 February 2007

Stock photos

In a couple of previous posts I have mentioned Stock xchange and Stock xpert as well as Every Stock Photo and Morguefile. Chris was looking for an image today and couldn't find anything in the normal places that we look. I decided to do a little more research to put together a more comprehensive list. I have excluded picture search engines in favour of sites which have their own photo database since the copyright and terms of use are clearer.

This will probably go over several posts since I will restrict the number of sites to between 6 and 8 per post.

About 7300 photos for personal and non-commercial use. Landscapes, people and a few wild life shots all of which are categorised geographically. Some genuinely stunning images.

Design Packs offer free, high quality image collections that can be used in both personal and commercial web design projects. Each collection features a group of 15 images that share a common theme. They have created a number of collections. New sets are added periodically. Downloads are limited to a whole theme rather than individual photos.

You are permitted to use their photos to design as many projects as you wish, including commercial projects. Resale of the images is not allowed.

Approximately 4400 stock photos categorised in broad groups. Terms of use are for personal and commercial use providing the commercial use does not include resale of the image. There are also a series of additional exclusions.

Photo repository has about 300 royalty free stock photos arranged in 9 albums. Registration is required to download high quality images and attribution is required when using an image as part of a web project but the terms of use are not onerous.

If you want pictures of corrosion or peeling paint, this may be the site for you. All the images are royalty free for personal and non-commercial use, but read the disclaimer and terms of use before you download.

Stock cache has a small stock photo library (about 1000 images) which seems to be organised in 13 directories.

Free for personal use and commercial uses which don't include resale of the images. Directories are organised by colour.

Piotr.Pix is an image database providing free high-quality images. You can freely use pictures in your personal, charity projects or any non-profit project. About 2000 images in the library, arranged in 7 directories.

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22 February 2007

It wasn't just me, then

I mention SEOmoz from time to time. They have a nifty tool which provides an evaluation of page rank and shows the components which they use to drive their overall score. I plugged some of our sites into it today and got some strange results.

To confirm that the tool was not reporting correctly I went to some of the underlying sources and found that our sites hadn't lost their links in Yahoo! or Google. So it isn't a disaster. SEOmoz will no doubt bring the tool back up eventually and I'll keep waiting.

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It's got great distribution

My wife likes to drink tea in the morning at breakfast and when she stays at hotels outside the UK they very often bring hot water to the table and a selection of Lipton's tea bags. She doesn't enjoy it much. Her description of Lipton's tea bags is that they are designed for people who don't enjoy drinking tea.

As a brand though, it's well-known, and it must have great distribution. They claim that their teas are drunk in 180 countries. Hotels obviously buy it because they want their guests to enjoy the authentic flavour of a quality tea in the morning. All that well-meaning effort and they buy Lipton.

What Lipton has done very succesfully is to provide Hotels with a short-cut. They can buy the (admittedly extensive) range as an easy choice. That makes it hard for a new entrant - unless they used a cherry-picking strategy to develop volume and then use the volume to justify the distribution required to deliver greater penetration. That's quite an uphill struggle and not many competitors are going to want to adopt that as a strategy.

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15 February 2007

The squeeze

We had a prospect who had been dithering. Time was moving on and they seemed to be reluctant to get down off the fence and make a decision and live with the consequences. Eventually we used a squeeze to close the business.

I'm not sorry that we used a 'trick' to encourage the decision. It was important that they moved on and stopped wasting time. I think that they have made the right choice but only time will tell. We will do what we can to make their copy sing and if we get it right then we should see the results in their visitor statistics.

In pipeline terms we understood how much they needed our solution and valued our input - where we took a risk was on how much we could influence the outcome.

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First it's gone, now it's come back again

A few weeks ago I made a post about the death of Overture but it continued to limp along, forecasts of its demise proving to be a little premature.

Yesterday I got a clear and unequivocal opinion from someone I respect that it had definitely gone, but today Overture seems to be offering responses from all the tools I have that can access it. Perhaps it is simply that the service is creaking and just runs out of capacity from time to time.

What this indicates is that relying on Overture for something as commercially important as keywords may backfire. It makes sense to take advantage of the service if it is up, but it is probably a good idea to have a series of fall-backs available for those times when you need that analysis in the next hour and Overture seems to have gone for a walk.

At root this is about risk management - and relying on a single source of key statistics can be regarded as higher risk than developing a series of sources. It is rarely the case that anyone needs to compare results from different sources, so the fact that they produce different absolute results is rarely going to be a problem. Keyword analysis is very often a snapshot in time and in a perfect world we want to know what people will be searching for next month, not what they were searching for last week.

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14 February 2007

Make sure that you sell value, from the beginning

  • We have the best product / service
  • Our customer service team is the best
  • Our pricing is the most competitive
  • Our team is the most qualified
  • We are number one in our market
Buyers hear this day after day and they simply stop believing it and start looking for more solid evidence. It's a common habit in sales to present these descriptions as fact when there is no opportunity for the Buyer to test whether the statements are true or not.

As a sales and marketing approach it isn't very effective and it doesn't distinguish the business from any other supplier - it's a 'me too' sales tactic. These approaches are often supported by marketing programs that use a relatively passive communication model which consists of "here it is, this is what we do". Why not try something a little different?

Is it possible for any of your prospects to experience your business value prior to the first meeting with your sales team? If they can, it can be a springboard to the process - it reduces the comparison with competitors, the sales cycle can be shortened and it will be easier to protect gross margins.

Your sales team can spend most its time personalising how they will help the prospect use your product or service as a business tool, instead of spending a disproportionate amount of time in the sales cycle cold calling, and educating prospects.

One way of letting prospects experience the value is give them free business content which encourages them to make a call for a salesperson to visit.

Marketing tools like webinars, teleseminars, newsletters and workshops can be the key to communicating your value first to generate qualified leads. These marketing devices allow your prospects to learn about your value through their own filtering and judgment process and if done correctly, they will call and say "I am interested".

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A different eye

A designer has taken a look at one of our eCommerce sites and has shown us some ideas about how we might change its look and feel. We looked at them together yesterday and we all agreed that visually, he was right - his visual concept is significantly more sophisticated than the one we are using.

The trick is to combine some of those visual concepts with other things we already doing. In some ways we are very pleased with the site - it has great positioning for several good keywords and products already sell from the page - and although it is intended as a classic B2C site, it is developing a steady list of enquiries for larger volumes from businesses who are interested in buying the product.

I'm going to have a word with him today to see if I can get him to adapt his approach a little to see if how can we can get the best of both worlds. None of us claims to be strong in design - but we know what we like - and we get plenty of value in working with designers who approach our problems without our baggage about what the web page has to include.

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12 February 2007

Linkbait works

John Chow's accelerated authority in Technorati continues apace. When he launched his latest link exchange idea towards the end of December, his ranking was 1529. Today it is 500. That's a pretty impressive movement in less than two months.

I like John Chow's blog - he has something to say and is often amusing. But he is demolishing Technorati's primary measure of authority - inbound links - because he has found a way of building them so quickly. Does the Technorati team honestly believe that Chow's blog is better and more authoritative today than it was at the end of December?


How rude can you be to a prospect?

Sometimes, selling business services there is a reluctance to be too candid. You have probably trained yourself not to be rude to the client either about what they have done or what they propose to do. Like any rule, it can be broken - sometimes accidentally, sometimes deliberately.

At one time I was working with a number of prospects and one of them was moving particularly slowly. In fit of frustration, I told them candidly that what they had done was far from perfect and that they needed to sharpen themselves up. Amazingly they read what I had written and decided that it reflected a passion for their business and there is no doubt in my mind that it helped me to close business with them.

A few months later, a copywriting colleague was looking at the collateral put together by one of my prospects and was very scathing about the nature of the offer and how they were promoting their service. Instead of attempting to turn those comments into something more emollient, we took the decision to face the issue head-on. It's always a high risk strategy, and it isn't something that is appropriate for all situations. However, if you feel that the prospect needs to see how strongly you feel about their business and there is a real risk that your normal approach won't be successful then it may be worthwhile taking the risk.

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What's the right price?

Price is a complex topic. The right price is the one which allows the Seller to sell profitably and where they Buyer can see real value in what they have bought. That price is going to be different for different Buyers so some experimentation is called for. Sometimes an offer of a great product or service is let down because the seller doesn't have the nerve to pitch the price high enough - the prospect looks over the offer and dismisses it because "it couldn't be as good as they say at that price!".

As a real life example, a website that I'm aware of has just increased its prices by 20% and Buyers seem to be undeterred. Should they increase prices further? I don't know, but it might be worth more experimentation.

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10 February 2007

Why have they got clay feet?

The latest sales person or sales manager is recruited with the best of intentions, but after 6 months or so it is clear that they haven't turned performance around - they are OK, but they simply aren't setting the world alight.

There could be plenty of reasons for this, and it needn't be because the latest recruit doesn't have the skills that they mentioned on their CV.

Sales is a team game. For the salesperson to be really successful, there are plenty of activities behind them which need to be working well, too. Paying upper quartile salaries to people with good CVs isn't enough. Managers of the business need to make sure that the organisation has positioned itself to help its salespeople be successful.

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09 February 2007

A little preparation might be a good idea

If you are pitching to a big company and you think that you have just one shot then you are probably doomed to fail.

In big companies, people rarely (if ever) decide to change how they're doing things in just one meeting. They need to:
  • involve others in the decision process. Getting management & staff buy-in is often essential for the success of any new initiatives or products
  • compare your potential ROI figures with their own internal analysis
  • make sure it's worth their while. Bringing in new vendors, service providers or consultants is a lot of work and frequently disruptive to their existing schedules
As a seller, you need to realize this from the beginning. It's going to take multiple calls, multiple meetings, multiple contact points. It can go more quickly, but you have to prepare for the long haul. You can't disclose too much at the initial meeting. You have to think about how to spread out what you want to say over time so as to advance the sales process.

Key questions to ask yourself as you get ready for that first meeting are:
  • what is the logical next step? Once you know this, you can evaluate all your other ideas in terms of how they contribute to that outcome
  • what do I need to share with this decision maker to entice him/her to learn more? Which stories and examples will have the strongest resonance with this buyer?
  • what do I need to learn about them to ensure my offering can make a valuable contribution? Selling consultatively means that you need to think through the questions you want to ask before you go on that meeting. Your ability to engage the people that you meet in an intelligent discussion of their business objectives, issues and needs will be crucial to your success

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08 February 2007

That's not selling, that's giving it away

This morning's post brought forth its usual mix of junk mail, most of which could have been classified as a series of 3 month trial offers.

The logic seems to be that once you, dear reader, have used the service for a period you will be so overwhelmed by the value you have been able to uncover that you will happily sign on for a full subscription. More likely, since you need to provide your bank details in order to qualify for the 3 month trial, you will be forgetful enough not to cancel the subscription before your bank pays the subscription on your behalf.

This looks like a very lazy sales technique. If the offer has real value then the 3 month trial shouldn't be necessary, the copy should make it crystal clear to the readers that this offer will satisfy real wants or cravings that they have. Do some research, establish what the value proposition is and develop some proper copy. Selling may not be easy, but giving the service away for 3 months is unimaginative. There wasn't a lot of similarity between the services being promoted in my junk mail pile except the offers that were being used to promote them.

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Money makes the world go around

At the end of December I posted about some difficulties that my wife was experiencing in getting a new tax disc for her car. Those tax discs have never arrived, so if they were sent then they have been delivered into someone else's hands.

Yesterday I realised that my son had bought his car almost two months ago and I didn't recall him getting his copy of the vehicle registration document. I left him a message on his phone. He telephoned the Vehicle Licensing Centre to find that the registered keeper of his car is someone else. The agent at the Vehicle Licensing Centre couldn't / wouldn't reveal the name of the currently registered keeper (the Data Protection Act once again) but gave good advice on how he could get the vehicle properly registered in his own name.

He is being treated as if he has lost the log book - a log book that he has never had. There is a charge for the replacement of the 'lost' log book - although I'm struggling to see how my son is responsible for the charge since he has never had the log book to misplace.


07 February 2007

There's a link here somewhere

Many people know that inbound links to a site are helpful in developing the page rank of a website which in turn has a positive impact on where the site will appear on a search engine page for a particular keyword.

One of the irritations for people measuring the success of their efforts to build the number of inbound links is that Yahoo! and Google reported the figures quite differently. That has changed and Google's webmaster console now reports backlinks reasonably accurately, once you have identified your ownership of a specific site.

Matt Cutts has clarified on his blog that not all links carry the same weight. That's an interesting post in its own right but the concept that not all links are equally valuable has been "understood" for a while. A link from a highly relevant site with a strong page rank and highly relevant anchor text has to be worth more than a link produced from an automated site whose relevance is more questionable.

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I'm confused about organic search again

I have been blogging for about a year and it shows. I have learnt quite a lot but there is still a mountain of stuff that I don't know. What is confusing me at the moment is how blog posts appear in organic search engines and what that means for people following links to the blog.

When an organic search for a keyword term lists a post from the blog it seems to be entirely random whether the listing links to:
  • the home page (which shows the newest post rather than the post that appeared in the search listing) which means that some visitors leave without actually finding the post that they found on the search engine
  • all the posts which contain one of the labels from the post itself (Blogging; Business and so on)
  • the post itself
The confusion arises because I use the same basic process whenever I make a post. I publish it with the appropriate labels and then I link the post to the same labels on Del.icio.us. That's it. If I was doing something radically different each time then perhaps it would be easier to understand. The BUT is that organic search engines are supposed to deliver relevant links irrespective of the workflow that created the content, and what could be more relevant than the original post?

It doesn't matter much at one level - I'm writing this, not searching it - at another level it is an indicator that organic search is behaving unpredictably and while that is the case, we don't honestly know if we are getting to see the most relevant returns to our queries.

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06 February 2007

Make sure the product is ready for launch

I noticed that earlier today, Robert Peston made a post which reported on his week-end lost to Vista - his conclusion: the product simply wasn't ready for retail launch.

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Modifying sales activity

Phil and I sat down yesterday to review what we had been doing for one of our clients. How we had shared the activities; what had worked; what we might do differently. It also gave us a short term plan to share with our client.

It's important to have this kind of review meeting periodically. It gives you an opportunity to stand back from the day-to-day activity and take a more critical look to see whether your investment in individual activities is paying off. In sales it is important to focus on activities that take you forward in your pipeline. The moment that you undertake activity for activities' sake, you are probably wasting your time.

It was a useful session and both of us got a lot out of it. The frequency of account reviews depends to an extent on the nature of the account and the amount of effort that you are putting into it - the higher the investment - the more frequent the reviews. As a minimum, all live accounts should be reviewed once per year. A large account with many contact points might require a review every 6 weeks.

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01 February 2007

Blogger breakdown

An unusual loss of service at Blogger today. Let's hope that this isn't going to be a regular feature of life in New Blogger. I joined the Help community to raise a ticket, but once I was in the forum I could see that it was barely worthwhile raising a comment - several hundred people had already beaten me to it.

My problems related to labels and archives but anyone who had accessed the blog through Del.icio.us had no problem - at least I'm glad that I kept that work-around running. In fact, the Del.icio.us taxonomy is more comprehensive than the labels because I ran it from my first posts. It would take a while to do that for labels which is why I have ignored the problem.


PayPal breakthrough

After being rejected by PayPal, they invited us to re-apply and this time we have been accepted for PayPal Pro.

That's great because it means that we can start offering virtual terminal functionality to cardholders - it should also reduce the number of bale-outs that we get at the shopping cart stage. We plan to use Roman cart for the shopping cart and PayPal Pro for card acceptance.

I'll let you know how it goes.

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What's happened to the disk capacity?

Last night I took a look at the free space on the disk in my laptop. It looked quite a lot smaller than I expected so I booted up a utility and found that there was a 9.4GB file which shouldn't have been there.

The whole process took less than a minute - booting the utility, logging the disk, finding the file, viewing it and deleting it - but the interesting thing is that I didn't use any XP tools to do it. I don't know them well enough and the whole Windows approach of trying to hide things from the user leaves me vaguely uneasy. I'm sure that those tools would have worked, it's just a matter of confidence. My approach means that I have seen the file and been able to take a quick look at it before deleting it.

It's one of the features of growing older - a reliance on doing what you know works.


Thanks for the phone call

We got a phone call from someone last night that we didn't know. He had found a mobile phone and dialled the stored number for 'Home' . After some confusion, we realised that the handset belonged to our elder son who hasn't lived at home for a number of years (but it's nice to think that he still thinks of where we live as home).

Our first thought was to call our son, but like many 20-somethings he uses his mobile as his primary contact, so our initial searches through address books didn't yield anything useful. We called his girl friend instead.

The phone was found in central London, but the guy who found it doesn't live far from where we live (out in the sticks) so we will meet him later today and give him a small reward for his honesty. I'm not sure how you can avoid losing a mobile from time to time, I'm just glad that in this instance it was recovered so quickly.


The email barriers are going up

I hate spammers. Not because I find it tedious to delete all the ads for penny shares or canadian pharmaceuticals. I hate them because they are having an impact on legitimate business.

Talking to someone the other day, he complained that 40% of the people that signed up for email updates to his blog weren't able to verify their subscriptions. I didn't believe him so he checked in real time - the actual figure was 37.5%. Now that probably doesn't mean that he has lost all those people as readers, simply that the basic process of sending an autoresponder confirmation email to an email address and getting a positive response has failed. Perhaps those autoresponder emails are getting caught up in company firewalls or maybe an overactive spam filter has pushed them into an email limbo.

We have the same problem with one of our contact lists - we use an email distribution service which generally works very well, but at one very large organisation, virtually none of the emails distributed by the service reach the inboxes of the people on the list - the exception seems to be a couple of their subsidiaries in Australia which don't seem to be protected quite as diligently as their operations elsewhere. That means that email requires work-arounds if you intend to use it as part of your contact strategy.

In some utopian future, spam won't exist and email will work perfectly, but don't hold your breath.

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