Web Development

Researching How to Shop for Business Software

I’m looking for feedback/input on this piece about how to shop for business software or enterprise software. I wrote this for my column, but my editor asked me to broaden it. The software directory referenced below represents one potentially useful tool, but what other sources do you turn to when evaluating these products? I’m particularly looking for tools and techniques for those who can’t afford an account with one of the high-end IT research firms like Gartner.

Shopping Around for Business Software
Software Directory CEO Cites ‘Biggest Mistakes,’ Invites Reviews

By David F. Carr

Capterra CEO Michael Ortner sees a few common mistakes with how businesses, particularly small to midsize ones, select enterprise software.

Writing in response to one of my recent columns (A Software Maven Picks Her Tools), he argued people also need to know how not to pick software. Some of the mistakes he cites:

1) Limiting your choices to the first few products you come across. The software industry is insanely competitive and there are usually dozens, if not hundreds, of choices for virtually any kind of software.

2) Deciding upon requirements too quickly. You and your company need to give serious thought to what your needs AND wants are both now AND a year from now. The end users should give the majority of the input for the purchase.

3) Underestimating your software budget. So many people are looking for the absolute cheapest product when they may have a lot to gain in the grand scheme of things by spending just a little bit more up front.

4) Maintaining your same business processes. Now that you are automating through software, there are probably lots of things you are doing that you should either stop doing or do very differently. Every activity should be questioned.

Now, you could say Ortner has a vested interest in getting you to spend more time researching your software options, as he is in the business of providing tools to help you do that research. Although I didn’t realize it when I first spoke with Ortner, Capterra also supplies the data for the software finder on (

“I’m basing my list of user mistakes, #1, on user behavior,” Ortner says. After 10 years in business, he has spent a lot of time studying how many listings visitors to the website click on when they are exploring a product category. The website also allows visitors to submit a request for information with their requirements to multiple software makers in a given category, and since one of the fields on that form is “budget,” he says he has a good idea of how often buyers are “lowballing on price.”

A former management consultant for PricewaterhouseCoopers, Ortner also worked in corporate IT at J.P. Morgan. He came up with the idea for Capterra during a brief stint at the Internet firm Digex, working on software partnerships. “That really opened my eyes to what a huge and fragmented market enterprise software was. Prior to that, I only had experience with the big guys,” he said, referring to the likes of SAP and Oracle. “But I saw that was only the tip of the iceberg.”

The business model is this: Capterra provides free listings to software publishers and makes money by selling enhanced listings – not ads per se, but listings that get top placement with upgrades available for displaying the company logo or a link to a demo page.

The objective editorial content on the site comes in the form of user-generated reviews, so that the site functions as a sort of Angie’s List or Yelp for enterprise software. Or, at least, it could if there were more of those reviews, particularly critical ones.

Ortner says most of the reviews come from the software makers encouraging their customers to post something, and therefore most of the reviews are positive. I imagine some of them are spurred on by a discount at license renewal time or free drinks at the user’s conference, too (although that’s probably also true of published case studies, including some of the ones I’ve reported on). Still, it does show the software can boast some happy customers who are willing to put their name behind a product endorsement.
As for negative reviews, Ortner says he encourages the software companies to take them as an opportunity to show how well they respond to criticism.

“That was a concern for us in the beginning – what if we really alienate our biggest customer? But the way I’ve dealt with it is that no anonymous reviews are allowed – you have to give your name and your company. And if the vendor wants to, they can respond to any review, publicly or privately, to say, ‘You know, that was a valid concern but we’re addressing that’ or ‘That was true a year ago, but not in the latest version.’”

Capterra’s policy is that the only reasons for removing a review Is when it contains slanders or profanity, or where the software maker can demonstrate that the reviewer was never a customer.

“We did have an instance about two months ago where there was a very negative review, and because we thought it contained useful information we wanted to keep it – even though the vendor was shouting for us to take it down. But it did contain some profanity and name calling. So in that case, we reached out to the buyer and said, ‘We’d like to keep this, but you need to clean it up.’ Unfortunately, they refused to do it. They said, ‘These guys are bastards, and this is our review.’ They refused to change it, so we had to remove it. But we actually wanted the review to stay because we believed it was a useful negative review.”

To which I say, let’s take the man at his word. If you’ve had a negative experience with your business software package, do your peers a favor and post a warning to them on this site. Just be polite about it. And put in a good word for the software that’s proven its worth to your business, too.

David F. Carr is Forbes’ columnist on technology for small to midsize businesses. Contact him at

Web Development

Hire Me as Your Web Consultant If …

Truth is, I’m not the right web consultant or webmaster for everyone. But while chatting with a CPA about my business strategy, I reminded myself of some of the advantages I offer that others don’t. For example:

  • Hire me if you want a writer and editor, not just a technician. Because of my background as a Technology Editor for Internet World and current role as a tech columnist for, as well as years of web copywriting and work with clients other marketing materials, I can help you define your message and create compelling copy.
  • Hire me if you want to pursue sustainable search engine optimization. The right way to do it is by creating compelling content that people will want to link to and search engines will want to index. We can bake targeted keywords into the headlines and body copy for the search engines, while still delivering something humans will want to read. But it takes work and patience. Beware of hustlers promising easy riches.
  • Hire me if you want help with web strategy. If you know exactly what you want and how to achieve it, you can hire cheap coders from overseas to accomplish it, and I can’t afford to compete with their rates. But if you want help translating your business goals into a web strategy, hire me.
  • Hire me if you want the option of being independent or self-sufficient. Virtually all my work these days is based on the WordPress web publishing system, which allows me to give my clients a password they can use to post their own blog entries and page edits. Even if you want me to make the updates most of the time, you should have the option of doing yourself if you need something posted (or deleted) quickly and I am unavailable. I strongly recommend against hiring a webmaster who won’t give you that level of access to your own website.
  • Hire me if you want someone who is flexible, adaptable, and multi-talented. If you have a bigger budget, maybe you can afford to hire a whole team of people, each with a specialty in writing, editing, graphics, programming, database, JavaScript, and so on. I can do a little bit of everything, or pull in subcontractors as necessary.
  • Hire me if you want help with email marketing and social media, not just the website. I’ve worked with several systems for distributing email and learned all the hard lessons about spam filters and the varying HTML support of different email clients. I actively work my Facebook and Twitter accounts, and I’m up to 1,400+ professional contacts on LinkedIn.
  • Hire me if what I have to offer matches what your business or organization needs. Contact me at 954-757-5827 or
Web Development

David F. Carr Elevator Pitch

Hello, my name is David Carr. I am a writer, editor, and web consultant.

I write a column on technologies for small to midsize businesses for and also freelance for publications such as CIO Magazine. I’m a former Technology Editor of Internet World Magazine and Baseline Magazine, where I had the opportunity to profile major internet operations like Google, Yahoo!, and MySpace, as well as report in depth case studies on corporate IT.

I also do ghost writing and produce white papers and other marketing materials for corporate clients.

As a consultant, I help small businesses and nonprofits use the web, email, and social networks more effectively to promote themselves and make money. My practical web skills include PHP programming, WordPress customization, and integration web services such as PayPal. I also boost my clients search engine rankings using tools like WordTracker and Google Analytics.

I bring a mix of editorial, analytical, and technical skills to any project I undertake, whether that means writing search optimized headlines for articles I write for publication, polishing the front page copy for a website, or monitoring the feedback to a web or email campaign.

I’m looking to bring those skills to organizations that would value that mix, either on a fulltime or contract basis.

My editors, colleagues, and clients will all tell you what a reliable and resourceful guy I am, and I look forward to proving it to you.

Latest incarnation of my explanation of who I am and what I do, prepared for a career seminar.

Web Development

Experimenting with Custom Post Types for Events

Just an experiment. This should display an events listing, with each entry going to a details page formatted with custom post types in WordPress 3.0.

I’ve written several versions of an events management plugin. This next one will have 2 main advantages:

  • By taking advantage of the built-in WordPress custom post types and URL-mapping, the events listings will take advantage of more native functionality, including the search engine optimization virtues of WordPress.
  • I’ve been working to do a better job of handling events that span multiple days.

This is still a work in progress, need to make it prettier and more functional still.

Web Development

Re-Launching (Again)

A few months after doing a technical refresh on to move it to the WordPress publishing system, I’m back working on a redesign with Rebel’s agency, Gibson Roscoe Advertising. I had worked with her on a few alternate layouts over several years, but this is better than anything I’d come up with on my own. My role was to adapt the mockup they gave me into a WordPress template using HTML, CSS, and JavaScript.

Rebel Cook Home Page
Rebel Cook Home Page

The new design is built around the bright red “For Sale” sign Rebel Cook has posted on commercial properties around South Florida. A friend commented “you really have to like the color red,” and perhaps we’ll eventually tune it down. But I’m really happy with the image carousel at the top of the page that displays featured properties, which is based on the jQuery jCarousel.

Paypal Web Development

PayPal with Pay By Credit Card Option

One of the complaints about PayPal checkout is that you are almost compelled to have or create a PayPal account, and not everyone wants to do that. There actually is always a link like this:

Don’t have a PayPal account?
No problem, continue checkout.

But it’s very discreetly placed, since they’d rather have you sign up for an account.

However, it is possible to get PayPal to display credit card and PayPal payment options side by side as shown below. A lot of PayPal developers probably don’t know how to do this because the the required code tweak is also kind of buried in the developer documentation. I got one of the instructors at a certification seminar to show it to me.

I made a screen shot of it partly because it’s hard to demo for people. Because I already have a PayPal account, the website detects my member cookie and shows the PayPal login screen rather than giving me the credit card option, regardless of the aforementioned code tweak. I had to fire up a different browser to get it to show up this way.

PayPal with Credit Card Option

There’s still a button at the bottom prompting you to “Save your information with PayPal (create an account), but in this mode it’s not compulsory.

For developers, the code tweak is this:


Add these variables to the name-value pair string passed to the PayPal API with your checkout request. The “Sole” type says that a PayPal account is optional, and the “Billing” landing page displays credit card billing options.

Compare cards online to get the best credit card for your needs.
Clips Web Development

Forbes column: Test And Improve Your Website

Here is an excerpt from my latest piece for, this one on the value of website testing.

When you change the layout of a homepage or the design of your “Buy Now!” button, how do you know if sales will go up or down?

Small changes can make a surprisingly big difference. At A Place for Mom, a directory of nursing homes and assisted living facilities, simply changing the color of the text on an inquiry page resulted in a 6% improvement in the number of people who submitted the form.

Some Web owners might have been surprised at the improvement. Not senior product manager Ben Villa. That’s because before making the switch on his entire site, he tested it on a selected fraction of the visitors. By being systematic about this sort of testing, Villa says the website has been able to boost conversions by about 40% overall. (read the rest at

Email Marketing Web Development

MailChimp Makes Email Broadcasts as Easy as Slipping on a Banana

After years of developing and maintaining my own system for managing email broadcasts, I’m in the process of moving most of my clients over to the MailChimp service. I learned a lot by building my own system, but it probably also has something to do with a penchant for doing things the hard way. I liked the fact that my custom system handled things exactly the way I wanted. But MailChimp’s application programming interface (API) is powerful enough that I ought to be able to do all those custom things, while letting a commercial service take care of all the hard parts having to do with handling email bounce errors and spam complaints.

I have a visceral dislike for Constant Contact, which I find very awkward to use. In contrast, MailChimp is a pleasure to work with. Maybe it’s just that the chimp mailman mascot makes me think of Curious George delivering newspapers. I always loved Curious George. Freddie is a little tubbier, probably just different enough to avoid copyright infringement, and he sets a mildly goofy, cheeky tone for the whole user interface and the well-done video tutorials.

The system is affordable, and there’s even a free account you can use for lists of less than 500 addresses, provided you don’t mind a discrete ad banner for the service inserted at the bottom of your messages. Otherwise, pricing starts at $15 for lists of up to 1,000 addresses.

You can see Freddie peeking over the edge of the campaign dashboard that greets you when you log in.

The MailChimp dashboard
The MailChimp dashboard

The service provides a very capable web-based tool for creating and email messages and templates. In particular, I love that they make it easy for you to save your own design as a template or upload your HTML (something Constant Contact seems to go out of its way to prevent you from doing).

Here’s a peek at the built-in designer/editor:

The MailChimp editor
The MailChimp editor

The application does a good job of walking you through the steps of creating an HTML email, generating an alternate text layout, and scheduling broadcasts.

Like other systems of this type, it enforces rules for list quality — alerting you to excessive complaints on any particular broadcast and telling you to clean up your act. I’ve run into some issues with this on political campaigns, where the candidates supporters from his last race don’t necessarily want to keep up with his latest campaign. But it’s better to know about these issues and address them than to have your messages blocked from reaching all users on an important service such as AOL or Yahoo Mail because you’ve generated too many spam complaints.

And even when they’re serving up an error message or confirmation, the service handles it with style.

Banana time
Banana time

Highly recommended.

Web Development

Facebook Ad: We Drive Results

This is a Facebook ad I have scheduled to start running later this week. What do you think? Puns on my last name got kind of old for me back in Elementary School, but maybe I’m old enough to have gotten over it. Bigger question is whether the right people would click on it.

Facebook ad
Facebook ad

Targeting people:

  • who live in the United States
  • who live in Florida
  • age 18 and older
  • who like advertising, business, business owner, entrepreneur or marketing

I’ve been rethinking the whole marketing approach for my practice since re-reading Jay Conrad Levinson’s Guerilla Marketing. Need to keep experimenting to find what works.

Web Development

How to Segment Your Audiences on Facebook

Recently, I’ve been exploring the tools Facebook provides for posting notes and links to only a subset of the people I’m connected with on the service. In particular, I wanted to do a better job of keeping personal and political activities separate – not an easy thing in this crazy, mashed up world.

Although I make no secret of my political activities, it’s not necessarily the first thing I want to broadcast about myself to professional contacts. It’s much easier to maintain a fairly clean separation on LinkedIn, which is all business. But although I am more active about seeking out professional contacts through LinkedIn, some of them have sought me out on Facebook. And there are also a lot of old friends and former colleagues I stay in touch with on Facebook who may or may not care for my politics (I think of myself as a moderate, reasonable guy, but it’s all about your frame of reference).

Also, when I try to promote a local fundraiser or other political event through Facebook, contacts in other parts of the country don’t necessarily need to see those headlines. So just as a courtesy, I’d like to filter the links and messages I publish.

I knew there was supposed to be a way to do it, but it took me a while to figure out how — even as a supposedly tech-savvy guy. So I thought others might find this useful. This could apply just as well to postings on another topic that only a subset of your FB friends care about.

For some time now, I’ve been trying to tag new contacts as belonging to one or more of a few categories — personal, professional or Lyman Hall (those high school folks from Connecticut). You can do this when you add a new contact, like this:

Adding a new contact to a group

I can either choose an existing group or type in the name of a new group I want to create. These groups are just labels for types of Facebook friends within my larger contact list.

I haven’t done this as consistently as I might have, and wasn’t doing it at all when I first joined Facebook. So I also had to go back and do it retroactively by choosing the “Edit Friends” off the Account menu —

Edit Friends
Edit Friends

— and then categorizing individual contacts.

Assigning Friends to Groups
Assigning Friends to Groups

Now, when posting a status update or link, I can click on the lock icon to get options for restricting the item’s distribution. I then select “Customize” off the list.

Restricting to a Custom List
Restricting to a Custom List

Within the customize options you want to restrict to “Specific People”

Share with Specific People
Share with Specific People

At this point, I could type in a list of people’s names. But what I’m going to do instead is use the group keyword for my political friends.

Share with a Group
Share with a Group

Notice that I could make this my default setting. But no, there are plenty of other links I share that are not political. And sometimes I may want to share a political point even with those who might not agree with me (I just want to be able to pick my battles).

Once I click “Save Settings,” I am returned to my home screen, where I can post this my message by clicking the “Share” button. But now, instead of being shared with everyone, the item should only be displayed to the people on my “political” list.