Review: the MindValley Way to Ecommerce Success

There are a lot of books and resources available aimed at the would-be online entrepreneur. If you really are just starting out, though, how do you know you’re not going to be taken for a ride? You could do worse than to take a look at this e-book offering from MindValley Labs.

It’s not often that I get the opportunity to review a book valued at $297. Being something of a traditionalist, I was a little less than thrilled with the fact that it’s an e-book rather than a good old-fashioned page-turner. But there are some compelling reasons for this format. For one thing, it covers the topic of ecommerce, including search engine optimization. I don’t have to tell any of you how quickly that field changes. By creating an e-book, MindValley Labs (http://www.mindvalleylabs.com) can update weekly, keeping the content fresh.

There’s another good reason to put “The MindValley Way to Ecommerce Success” in the form of an e-book. Each chapter (or “tactic,” as the company prefers to call them) includes a number of links to click on that take you to appropriate related resources. For example, one of the early tactics explains how to price your products, and links to a spreadsheet that helps you do the math. In the section on pay-per-click advertising, there’s a wealth of clickable resources to help you create a PPC campaign.

The authors of this e-book certainly have experience in ecommerce. Michael P. Reining worked at eBay, where he served as Senior Manager of New Venture Strategy. It was Reining who conceived of the idea to purchase Skype, a bold move (though admittedly one that has yet to pay off in the eyes of many). Vishen M. Lakhiani was the Director fo Sales for San Francisco-based Legal Match, and headed their New York expansion. Anita Patwardhan has marketing experience with Google, Applied Materials, and CASEMaker, with a strong background in optimizing pay-per-click campaigns.

This e-book is not exclusively about search engine optimization or search engine marketing. But it does cover that topic in a fair amount of detail, and it shows how everything in a good online business interconnects (with tactics regularly mentioning something that is covered in more detail in a later or sometimes earlier tactic). It’s likely that you’ll find a great deal of interest here, especially since SEOs and SEMs often handle other aspects of their client’s campaigns (such as email marketing).

The e-book itself is divided into 40 tactics, or eight sections made up of five tactics each. Like a good college course, later tactics build on the ones that come earlier. Since the whole focus of the book is e-commerce, it starts with a section on creating products that sell well online. The ideal product to sell online, it seems, is information – whether that’s learning how to meditate, or play the guitar, or run a successful online business. If you’re not sure whether the product or service you want to offer online will do well, MindValley includes an eight-item checklist in this section to help.

I’d like to point out that if you’re a total beginner – if you’re just beginning to think that you’d like to try an online business – then you don’t want to work just from this e-book. While it does tell you that you need to sell something you can be passionate about, it won’t tell you what that is, of course; you’ll have to figure that out for yourself. Also, if you’ve never attempted to construct a series of lessons to teach something, you won’t get much guidance here. This is a shame, since many of the e-book’s examples and case studies focus on entrepreneurs who sell study courses that can be obtained online.

That caveat out of the way, there’s a lot to like about the information and the way it is delivered. MindValley sticks to the tried-and-true formula of “tell them what you’re going to tell them, then tell them, then tell them what you told them.” In other words, each tactic introduces the topic, goes into detail, then summarizes, usually with checklists to divide the information into manageable chunks, and concrete examples to illustrate the points.

I found it interesting that a number of classic sales tips carry over into ecommerce, perhaps with even more urgency in that setting. MindValley devotes an entire tactic to “designing guarantees that eliminate buyer doubt.” Unless I’m terribly mistaken, designing bold guarantees that reassure your buyers is a technique that dates all the way back to Dale Carnegie.

The section that covers “Setting Up Your Site for Success” will be helpful to anyone creating a website focused on selling. Indeed, focus is a major theme here, with the KISS principle ruling, as it should. Here, too, we see that the e-book’s focus is on ecommerce sites; for example, MindValley advises against using Google’s AdSense on your site if you’re selling a product. The tactic on writing sales copy in this section was very comprehensive and detailed, literally taking you step by step through the process. The tactic covering psychological triggers will probably be familiar to experienced salespeople, but I found it useful to see MindValley’s explanations of how they work in an online context.

MindValley starts discussing SEO heavily in its tenth tactic, “Designing for Search Engine Optimization.” Again, it emphasizes information I have seen before, but that would likely be new to someone who has no experience in the field. This tactic does stress the importance of using keywords that will deliver lots of prospects rather than lots of traffic (useful to keep in mind also when planning a PPC campaign). I was a little surprised to see them talking about the importance of meta tags as if it were a given, since I understand there is some debate as to whether search engines pay attention to meta tags anymore.

They mention some other practices in this tactic that I haven’t heard much about recently, so can’t judge whether they’re good ideas. One is submitting your site to the Yahoo Directory, even though it costs $299 a year (does anybody still use this resource?); another was submitting your site to dmoz.org and then resubmitting it after six weeks (I thought you needed to wait longer than that to resubmit); and the third was putting yourself in Wikipedia if your site has a good resource about something it covers. This may not be as easy to do any longer, given recent stories about the site’s owners trying to make it less easy to indiscriminately edit the online open encyclopedia.

The e-book covers email marketing in the third section. If you handle any of this for your web site, you’ll find some good information about how to legitimately get past spam filters, and how to use newsletters effectively to keep in touch with your customers.

MindValley devotes an entire section (five tactics) to pay-per-click advertising. This makes perfect sense, because getting this wrong will drain the budget of a new business in a real hurry. The first tactic in this section links to a free “crash course” in Google AdWords rather than starting with the absolute basics. Again, I was surprised to see the e-book recommending the use of misspelled words as keywords, since Google has a “Did you mean…?” function that takes care of that little problem, and using misspelled words can look unprofessional.

On the other hand, this section does do a very good job explaining how to target your keyword list for Google – and it doesn’t neglect Yahoo, either. It also stresses the importance of making continuous improvements in your SEM campaign, and the kinds of little changes that can make big differences in your click through rates. I was impressed with the description of how to do split testing of your PPC ads in tactic 17, for instance.

One thing I can say with certainty is that if you really want to take in all the information in this e-book, you won’t be able to just breeze through it in one weekend. I couldn’t. Given the cover price, that’s as it should be. This isn’t just theoretical material, either; if you’re putting together an online business, or have one running already, the step-by-step format and case studies will help you see how to apply everything in the e-book directly to your business.

A number of themes stood out for me that MindValley addressed from several angles. One of them was the importance of automation, and ironically how it lets you give the appearance of greater personalization. If it weren’t for autoresponders, how could we send all those personalized emails? But more specifically, the importance of knowing your audience hit home. That affects everything, from the keywords you choose to the timing of your newsletters.

Another point that struck home was how little changes can make a big difference. For example, in the section covering PPC advertising, MindValley showed how changing one word in an ad significantly raised their click through rate. Naturally, the e-book recommended that you experiment continuously, and measure your results.

I was pleased to see that MindValley is trying to keep the book up to date. In the PPC section, for example, it does discuss Google’s new site-targeted advertising in some detail, and I know that hasn’t been around very long. (It’s very lukewarm about actually using that form of advertising, though, arguing that users who click through from contextual advertising don’t convert as well as users who click through from ads that show up next to search engine results).

Overall, I found this e-book to be a good resource for those interested in starting an online business. It’s rare to see quite so much good, well-organized information collected in one place.

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