Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Tag - You're It! NOVA Beer Meme

In our never-ending hunt to discover who's online around Loudoun County and Northern Virginia, it's time for a Meme - basically a Blog Tag game. It goes like this:

1 - you've been "tagged" (how do you know? I or someone told you, or you read it in my blog)

2 - create a blog entry on your site, regarding the topic suggested, and copy this entire post into it (including intstructions, and the code "NOVAMEME20070425")

3 - "tag" 3-5 other blogger sites you like, read and/or respect, by including a link to them in your post (copy the link list below, and add to it!)

We all might discover, once the Meme gets around and Google starts indexing, some new and great blogs/bloggers!

Topic: Best Beer for Virginians.

My Answer: Without a doubt, it's Old Dominion's Hop Pocket Ale - absolutely tasty, with a strong hopped character, sold in most local grocery stores, and locally brewed to boot.

You're it! -

Loudoun Talk
Leadership for Loudoun
Living in Loudoun County
Too Conservative
Notaviva Vineyards (drink beer, you say?)
Gateway to Loudoun County

Friday, April 20, 2007

Your Political Website is Invisible

We’ve seen (two SEO/SEM specialists) quite an uptick in the news and coverage of national campaigns engaging in Politics 2.0 – leveraging Web 2.0 "user-driven" techniques and tools to attract delegates, contributions and generally create noise. Things like establishing Facebook or Myspace pages (and convincing others to do so), letting loose viral videos on YouTube, fostering like-minded blogrolls and carnivals, and conducting Pay-Per-Click (PPC) campaigns for their names, messages and even on the competition (i.e. you search for "Clinton", you get an ad for "Obama"). Can this be effective for State or local races?

We think it certainly can, mostly because it’s really not being done at all right now (anybody moving fast on this right now should see immediate results). The circumstances, for example in Northern Virginia (which prides itself on technical competence and awareness), are such that most Senate, House and Local election candidates are doing nearly nothing to enhance their online profile for the benefit of the online community, the casual surfers and the search engines. That’s right, search engines and aggregators like MSN, Google, Dogpile, Surfwax...they want timely and relevant information about the campaigns just as much as human constituents. It helps attract activity, clicks, newsletter sign-ups and ultimately advertising revenue.

The more established or Internet-savvy politicians certainly are taking tactical steps known to most reasonable people, like setting up a website, perhaps starting a blog, even paying for a banner advertisement or two on a popular newspaper site or political blog. Well, that’s nice, but how many constituents actually end up seeing this information, or knowing where to look? Probably only the delegates on the email list, and the small handful of political junkies blogging incessantly about the campaign news extremes (either really positive or negative). Basically, without good "Search Engine Optimization and Marketing" (SEO/SEM) actions and planning, your political site is invisible to nearly all your local Internet users.

Strategic steps to maximize a candidate’s online presence and exposure of positive messages (or remediation of negative messages) to even the most casual Internet users must start early, and be managed on nearly a daily basis. Starting early, because most online venues for local race information have very low page rankings, and it can take weeks to months to improve visibility. Managing from a daily basis means the website(s) and messages can’t simply be "tweaked" once – the competition can quickly overcome and negate your visibility, and search engines aren’t really interested in static content that’s never refreshed, syndicated, copied or discussed. Plus constituent interests and observations tend to change very quickly, influenced by the news around them.

So, how does one go about improving a time-sensitive political profile online, targeted to local constituents? Well, it starts with an "as-is" assessment, based on a variety of SEO/SEM factors relevant to the local and regional web-o-sphere. The assessment looks at things like the placement of links on local directories, relevant content and discussion in local forums and blogs with good page ranking, and the features of the candidate’s website in particular that make it attractive (or not) to the 'bots….the army of software agents employed by the hundreds of search engines crawling the web (if you’re just starting, just worry about Google and Yahoo). The assessment is not all science, there’s a lot of art to understanding whether online presence, in certain contexts, is a good thing or a bad thing – and for local races, it’s best usually to work with SEO/SEM professionals who know the area, the people and the issues.

We did a preliminary assessment on the Virginia Senate District 33 race, with John Andrews, Patricia Phillips and Mark Herring (incumbent). We looked a bit at this about 2 months ago; at that time, Herring had the typical incumbent’s online, government and news-infused presence, though with little support from the search engines. John Andrews had literally no online presence, and Patricia Phillips had a decent website started, a few news mentions and actually a YouTube video. Casual surfers and queries on Google, Yahoo and MSN, for the candidates and the issues, usually didn’t turn up much at all. (John Andrews had the extra hurdle of a Colorado Senator with the same name).

Turn up the heat a bit today with the June Primary coming up, and we see a bit more activity offline from the candidates (Andrews is on a major paperchase), but hardly any change online. This isn’t good for the candidates, given how long it usually takes to establish free (i.e. organic) visibility; to kickstart the online advertising money in a short timeframe, money will need to be spent (just look at all the money the "Campaign for Loudoun’s Future" folks are spending on Google PPC). Here’s a brief summary of our proprietary evaluation, which ranks and weights the presence of keywords/key phrases important to the candidates, their positions, the area and the election event, among the various available and recommended (by us) local, regional and event national content distributors (i.e. websites and blogs).

Scale – 0 to 10 for the local/regional online context; 0 is no presence other than a random mention somewhere, 10 is the level of popularity you’d find searching on the term “Loudoun”.

4 - Herring’s online presence has improved linearly, with the benefits of being in office – even has a Wikipedia entry; other than that, no major upticks driven by his campaign or supporters – except for some negative publicity generated via the blogosphere and by his competition (Andrews) regarding the recent General Assembly Transportation vote.

2 - Phillips’ web presence has improved reasonably, due mainly to a website with some well-placed content (but no SEO), a few good press releases and material that’s been out and about for several months now (time on the web is a major factor is search engine rankings).

1 - Andrews now has basic web presence, if you know his name and candidacy info (i.e. Virginia vs. Colorado), aside from a very well targeted online press release and the first online regional political advertisement for this race on Dulles South Online.

So, what does this mean? We’ll only really know after the Primary and the Election – but given the rapidly growing and localizing number of Internet users participating in community dialogue, the national news on this topic among the Presidential candidates, and given the fact that local elections are typically very under-attended (so every vote counts), a little SEO/SEM should go a long, long way towards bringing home the votes.

Contact us at KME Web Design for more information or help. Next up, we’ll evaluate the local BOS race.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Don't think our schools are overcrowded?

Today was the first day for Kindergarten registration in Loudoun County - you would've thought it was signup for U.VA. In previous years (and we've been there 3 times already) it was a smooth walk-in walk-out signup, with minimal paperwork (birth certificate and driver's license). Today, complete and utter pandemonium. Lines out the door, around the school, at Little River and Hutchinson (South Riding), and elsewhere. Also, new requirements this year included display of a mortgage statement or property deed.

Evidently, the "scare" was on that children might not get into the schools, and get bused elsewhere...and there probably will be many children that don't get registered on time, or late, and therefore get turned away. Stories abound about those in various communities who live right across from the school, and decide to register late....then there's no space, and the kid gets sent out to Leesburg.


Monday, April 16, 2007

Virginia-wide pain...

...regardless of whether you're a Hokie, Cavalier or otherwise. Hug your children.

New Retail in Dulles South - Rt. 50 Corridor

It's really tough to find out, in one place, what new retail's coming to this fast-growing area of Loudoun County - so we've gone ahead and started a compilation Here, from Dulles South Online; it's bits and pieces from various online sources - let us know if we forgot something, or an entry is wrong. Or just change it yourself! (It's a Wiki).

Friday, April 13, 2007

Full funding for Gum Spring Library!

The Loudoun County BOS approved funding for all 40,000 sq. ft. of proposed new library space for the Dulles South region - see Dulles South Online News for more...

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Looks like we need a Section 527 for Chapter 527

Yesterday's Dulles South Business Alliance monthly meeting was chock full of good information concerning the impact of the "Chapter 527" Virginia legislation (passed last year) that will be phased in for NOVA beginning July 1st. Essentially, localities will need to submit a traffic impact analysis to VDOT for comment and possible further analysis, for any developments (during CPAM, rezoning or subdivision activities) that meet particular size and impact thresholds, including probable "substantial impact to transportation on state-controlled highways". It seems to basically be a good thing, for VDOT to help localities and developers determine local and regional traffic impact, and for these same to add to VDOT's database of traffic impact metrics and trends for future impact analysis and road improvement planning.

Now, development plans and resultant or proposed traffic impact plans ought not to be created only with near-term goals in mind, but with longer-term, strategic and regional interest considered. "We can't just address yesterday's or today's problems, but we need longer term thinking in our CPAMs, like the very successful CPAM passed in 2004 regarding Countywide Health Care Facilities (which is wisely bringing much-needed healthcare to Dulles South)", said George Barker (candidate for Virginia Senate District 39, southern Fairfax/northern Prince William, and current Chair of Fairfax's Transportation Advisory Commission). However, the transportation legislation currently about to be passed in Virginia lays authority for some of the new regional taxes to be implemented at the door of the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority, a non-elected body of appointees (with apparent veto power in the hands of the Fairfax majority) who evidently haven't demonstrated a consistent track record for producing strategic, local needs-based planning or decisions in the past (according to Barker).

So therefore, to follow this convoluted and ill-formed reasoning, we seem to be faced with the prospect of higher taxes being levied by persons we haven't elected, don't seem to engage in long-term thinking, and which (the basis on which the tax rates are formed) presumably won't match up with the intent or ultimate outcome of the longer-term VDOT traffic impact analysis and planning initiative wrapped up in Chapter 527. As Steve Snow put it, "we'll likely need to go to court on this one"...or, in some opinions, create a new Section 527 PAC to assist Chapter 527's success.

That 527 coincidence was too good to pass up.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Quality of Life Issues

Perhaps the most observant quip among the Loudoun rags this past week (which we read, so you don't have to) actually comes from WAPO, where Corey A. Stewart (Prince William County BOS chairman) said GOP candidates in this year's election "will stay focused on discussing quality-of-life issues, such as traffic and education...instead of things like putting the Ten Commandments in schools". This is precisely what's been missing up to this year in General Assembly attention, but was driven into the limelight via the past 8 months worth of growing, grass-roots constituent blogging, BOS hearing involvement and creation of many citizen-centric groups and consortiums. Most, like this particular blog and its sister site at Dulles South Online focus on quality-of-life topics, in the face of overwhelming growth, transportation and education issues. We're all better off for it, or will be, once funding gets rolling for things like the new $400 Million annual funding for NOVA transportation likely now to be approved by the Governor and General Assembly supporters. Hopefully we all can keep the right input and pressure on this particular funding for Loudoun County and the Dulles South region's particular benefit, although the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority (tasked with approving taxes for new NOVA transportation projects) has only 1 representative focused on this area (unless you count the 2 Manassas representatives), in Scott York (Loudoun County BOS chairman).

Now we can get back to our quality-of-life pursuits, such as the new "cabbage-patch" style kid's addiction called "Webkinz". This is a little stuffed animal sold mostly in Hallmark stores, that comes with a secret code used online to register and then essentially manage and play with your animal as an online avatar. Ask around, you'll find just about every kid wants one, or has one - it's still a bit "underground", but Millions (!) of budding "pet" owners have registered.

For adults, we can look forward to an increased tax rate ($.89 to $.96 per $100 of assessed valuation) to finance our quality-of-life in Loudoun County, driven largely by the increases necessary to fund new school construction and expenses (including storage for all the confiscated Webkinz!). Public Schools spend about 70% of the county's overall budget. One certainly learns quick to "pay to play" - or "pay to live", in this case - and our future voters (i.e. 6 year olds) are living it now with their advertising-infused, $12 Webkins eye-candy. But whether they end up as centrist Democrats or moderate Republicans probably depends on whether the Webkins world can merge with Second Life, and which party establishes themselves quickest in the Internet's virtual world so well-known to most under 20 and over 3.