After many years of dodging the inevitable, I am currently faced with the challenge of getting our new product on a General Services Administration (GSA) Schedule. For those not familiar with the GSA Schedule , it can basically be summed up as a massive list of goods and services vetted by the GSA for purchase by other government agencies. The legalities, such as payment terms, delivery logistics, warranties and license agreements, are evaluated by the GSA and deemed acceptable for the public sector. Additionally, the price of each item or service is pre-negotiated to ensure it is fair and reasonable based on the cost in the general marketplace. In theory (a conversation for another time), government procurement officers face fewer obstacles, and vendors get orders more quickly.
In years past, I relied on our distributors and resellers to handle any schedule participation including the GSA , SEWP , and any number of other state and local contracts often required by our government customers. Our new product, the UIUSD , is only available directly from Big Bang, so I haven’t found a way to wiggle myself out of getting the GSA Schedule done.
Anyone that has completed the process (or aborted the process when asked to discontinue the abuse of office equipment during fits of sub psychotic rage) will have a few tips and tricks to offer. If you are just getting started, these suggestions may help save some time, headaches and service calls for the malfunctioning fax machine sporting an anomalous footprint. (Size 7 stiletto for me, thank you very much.)
One of those tips may be something to which I cannot speak, so I will mention it briefly and move on. For about $3,000 plus travel and three days of your life, you can attend a class offered by one of several private companies that claim to hold your hand through the process. I couldn’t get anyone to sell me on it, so I forged ahead solo.
If you go it alone, as I did, the very first thing the GSA recommends is getting some documents in order. It was great advice, however, I have a few additional recommendations to expedite your experience. The GSA recommends obtaining a DUNS number and registering with the CCR and ORCA prior to moving forward. In addition to a Federal Tax ID and some basic financial statements, these things should already be in place for any organization that has ever done business with the government at any level.
The two things they didn’t recommend at the start have held up my progress more than any of the required training videos, subsequent quizzes, lack of knowledge on my part and red tape all put together. If you are just getting started, and the above is covered, I recommend you drop everything and do these two things now:
Get a Digital Certificate
This is a required digital identity needed to submit your offer, and it takes 1-2 weeks (and about $120) to obtain. There is no reason to wait to do this, aside from a whopping two-year window of validity, so the sooner the better.
Get a Past Performance Evaluation (PPE )
The discovery of this requirement, during the eleventh hour of my mission, nearly caused a violent outburst worthy of evacuating nonessential Big Bang personnel. It is easy to do (assuming you have at least four customers that modestly like you), but it takes 35-45 days to complete (in addition to $190). It is the very last thing I learned I had to obtain before submitting my offer for the Schedule, which itself takes three to six months to process, so my long, hard work currently rests in cyberspace waiting for something I could have easily completed months ago.
This post could be ten times longer. The whole GSA Schedule process is long, it’s frustrating, and it’s the reason not everybody does it. If you are planning to give it a go, I promise that those two things, in addition to the initial GSA recommendations, will save some frustration and perhaps an unsuspecting laptop/printer/monitor/cellular device in your proximity.
Many others have been through this. Help a fellow IT pro out and post your suggestions below.
I admit, it took me about six months longer than I had planned to make the time to create this page.
It had been on my priority list as an essential part of our website. Now it’s here and so I can discuss the reasons why I think building a custom 404 error page should happen as soon as you build your site, and not much later like I did.
1. Missed Traffic
When it comes to site traffic, one of the worst things that can happen after your PPC, ad, or content has compelled someone to click, is that the first thing they see is the nasty default 404 error page. I don’t know about you, but for me, if I’m visiting a site for the first time, it almost doesn’t matter what page I was trying to view, if my first experience is a 404 error, I’m done with that site. I become missed traffic.
2. Missed Call to Action
We all know that it’s hard enough to skillfully direct the right prospect with the right content through right action. So it is absolutely essential that if they are prepared to click on an actual call to action or click the submit button on a form, the last thing we want is for the link to be broken. Missed Calls to action are a killer.
3. Brand Damage
Brand damage is obviously not as easy to define or track as the previous two, but the lasting effect of turning someone off your product needs to be carefully considered. Not having your site well organized and maintained can easily shake the confidence of a prospect. Additionally, the entire goal of a website is to make the buying decision and process as easy as possible. To put your prospect through the inconvenience of a link that doesn’t lead to the content they were seeking as well forcing them to back browse is never a good idea.
As your site gets larger, and the pages and links change, it’s difficult for any marketer to keep track of which links are still floating out there and the pages to which they are linked. For the reasons above, as well as to provide a solid back-up for your prospect to reach valid content in case you missed a broken link, it makes sense to create a custom 404 error page right out of the gates.
Any other benefits you think of for creating a custom 404 error page?
I continue to plead my case for increasing quality content marketing and decreasing, well, almost everything else. But with the increase in content comes a pervasive need to get organized, and quickly.
It was once manageable when all I needed to concern myself with were a few case studies, a version update here and there, and maybe a new product description now and then. But now, with three products instead of one, two blogs, a newsletter, and countless email campaigns, I am starting to feel the chaotic crush of disorganized asset management.
That’s why I am in the process of adjusting my mindset and approach to content management, and have begun to think of it more like a publisher would an editorial calendar. We have been tracking what assets we have and when they were created, but unfortunately haven’t made the leap to not only planning future content across the board, but mapping content on a calendar.
I was most recently inspired to finish this project soon by the fine folks at Duct Tape Marketing
and John Jantsch’s recent blog post Why Your Email Marketing Needs an Editorial Calendar
. It definitely reinforced the need to plan not just my major assets, but particularly my email marketing plans across all channels and for all campaigns.
Our organization contains a monstrous editorial team of two, so the effectiveness of Duct Tape Marketing’s Google Calendar idea may be limited, but I found structuring my calendar based on some of the ideas (particularly 2. Organizing the Calendar) in this Copyblogger post
extremely helpful, and you might as well.
Are you finding yourself struggling to manage your increased content as I am? What does your content calendar look like?
Once upon a time, dozens of search engine algorithms ago, I paid ten cents for the keyword “imaging” in a text ad on Google Adwords.
Today the keyword “imaging” costs us $3.25 to get on the first page.
Even with each ad targeting a specific demographic with keywords silos of 12-15 each, only showing exact, or negative keyword vetted phrase matches, spending $3.25 for a random click just isn’t worth it anymore.
As a result, we dropped our total monthly Adwords spend from over $1100.00 to less than $600 and almost all of that on display ads (this doesn’t include Bing), and decided to focus on organic search and content marketing.
A funny thing happened to the number of visitors we received each month – THEY INCREASED.
Even with custom landing pages for each specific ad, Pardot tracking and lead flow reporting, it has become increasingly more cost effective to work on quality content as the starting point of a quality interaction rather than trying to entice a qualified prospect with limited text ads.
I think that while a well-oiled PPC program can (and still does for us) lead to new visitors to our website, the ROI just isn’t worth as the keyword costs have become so high. I also think that PPC has gone the way of yet another “traditional” advertising revenue source. Consumers have grown tired of PPC just as they did Print advertising, for example. The consumer continues to become increasingly savvy, and has the means at his/her disposal to glean much higher, more in depth content with much greater ease than ever before. Once upon a time, the focus of an online search was basically a glorified digital Phone Book query. As such, PPC text ads with attractive content on the first page did very well and were a pretty decent way to connect to a local business or find more about the product in question. But now with more in depth information easily accessible, the PPC ad continues to lose its appeal all the while its price per quality keyword increases.
In fact, according the research from GroupM in conjunction with Nielsen, PPC activity accounts for less than 6% of all search clicks.
The key for us now, especially with the ease of Social Sharing, is really relevant content made easily accessible. By taking the time and money away from PPC and investing it in targeted SEO and content marketing, we are able to provide much more detailed information to the inquiring prospect immediately, which helps facilitate a considerably higher quality interaction, and thus a more efficient and timely sale.
Have you scaled back on your PPC spend too?
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|About Adam Murphy -
Adam is the President and Owner of Big Bang LLC and espouses a pretty progressive small business philosophy based primarily around hiring the right people and getting the hell out of their way.
|About Nate Bauer -
Nate is the Marketing Director for Big Bang LLC and pretty much spends his days tip-toeing on the pinnacle of how to most effectively implement strategy given the wide open cookie jar of small business marketing possibilities.
|About Kelley Burian - @kelleyburian
Kelley is the Sales Director for Big Bang LLC. Responsible for everything from GSA contracts, resellers and international customers, she has her hands full doing whatever she can to make sure our valued clients are thrilled with our fantastic products.