Saturday, December 24, 2011

QR Codes - 5 handy tips to help you

f you are a trendy urban dweller (or even if you just have access to
regular news or magazines), you will have seen the huge growth in the
use of QR Codes recently.

If you haven't used one yet, or if you're unsure of how they can help,
then its probably worth me mentioning a few things that I've found
out:

1. Creating one is easy
You don't need specialist software, there are several sites that let
you create one for free. Personally I use http://qrcode.kaywa.com/
Don't worry, the QR code is not dependent on the site you use to create it.

2. Each QR Codes is unique to a piece of text (typically a URL).
As no 2 QR Codes are the same, there's no real chance of you getting
the wrong web address when scanning one.

3. QR Code scanners typically store the address.
This means that despite hearsay, you CAN put them on adverts destined
for the underground (e.g. In the free papers & magazine), but you are
relying on your user reopening their scanner app at a later stage when
they have a data connection.

4. The shorter the URL, the better
The more text a QR Code has to store, the more complex it becomes.
This may be an issue if the QR code is then badly printed, scanned
from a distance or snapped through think / dirty glass. If you have a
particularly long URL (including any sub-directories, file names,
analytics tracking references, etc) then you can get around this issue
by using a URL shortening service such as tinyurl.com or bitly.com

5. Track as much as possible
In coordination with your website analytics package,make sure you can
identify when visitors to your site come via a QR code (e.g. if you
are using Google Analytics, they you will probably give the Campaign
Source as 'qrcode' in the Google Analytics URL Creator).
Tip: If you have several locations where your QR Code is shown, then
it is possible to identify each unique location. However be careful
that you are not creating codes just for the sake of it.

6. Measure the impact
Although its pretty obvious to mention, ensure you understand the
value you get from creating & promoting QR Codes.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Happy eCommerce Christmas from North Korea

Here's a little bit of online shopping silliness using TV news footage from North Korea:


I hope this isn't your eCommerce experience this Christmas.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Is your brand your domain?

In June there was an announcement by iCann, the global domain name registration authority. And if you are a branding strategist, corporate identity manager or brand positioning and design consultant, then there's something you need to know. Along with .car .sports and .bank there's a new Top Level Domain:

.brand

Applications for new these new TLD's will be accepted from 12 January 2012 to 12 April 2012. However the approval of the .brand (dot brand) top TLD creates both opportunities and issues for brand owners.

ICANN apparently plans to allocate only a maximum of 500 .brand extensions each year, however it is expecting to receive thousands of applications (estimates are anywhere between 1000 and 4000 requests). However expect a bun fight for those names that are used in more than one context. Brands who share names are going to have to to resolve some pretty fundamental differences.



Polo anyone?

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Ealing Tweetup gets political backing

As regular readers will know, I run the Ealing Tweetup. This is a Social Media networking and fun night run in a local pub (hit tip to The Rose & Crown). Back in September we had our biggest event yet, where there were over 200 people in attendance, 2 bands playing (thanks Brace Yourself & The Bible Code Sundays) and we raised a bit of money for the riot fund.

However also supporting the event this time were local politicians, including Ealing Central and Acton MP Angie Bray and even Deputy Mayor of London Richard Barnes .


However since then a couple of months and another smaller but successful Ealing Tweetup has passed. So I was nicely suprised to see this article on the front on the Ealing Conservative newsletter come through my door:












Monday, December 5, 2011

New Site Conversion - a presentation

Earlier this year I posted an article or two on why your new website will not be converting as expected (or promised).

Well..... last Thursday I gave a presentation to attendees at the ECMOD event in Islington, London on this very subject. Below is (a slightly edited, to make it more understandable without my voice-over) version of this presentation:

Friday, December 2, 2011

The physics of Social Media

Newton's laws of motion are three basic rules of physics that govern how forces and things behave when you start to involve movement.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Newton's_laws_of_motion

And strangley, as I observe Social Media being used by a growing number of organisations I meet, this has made me think back to my old physics lessons I had as a boy. I've therefore asked myself if there is any similarity between the laws that Sir Isaac Newton came up with and certain behaviour around the adoption & use of Social Media.

First law:
The velocity of a body remains constant unless the body is acted upon by an external force.
(Or to translate that... you carry on at the same rate unless something pushes you in a different direction)
Now you've probably heard loads of examples where social media allowed disparate individuals to communicate and act, however their velocity is anything but constant. Some trends go as quickly as they come, whilst others linger and develop..... often with no logical reason.
But like Newton's apple, everything in the real world (e.g. not in outer space) is subject to gravity, including some Social Media ideas that quickly bring users down to Earth with a bump.
E.g. the recent "Qantas Luxury" hashtag campaign that spectacularly backfired on them.

Second law:
The acceleration of a body is parallel and directly proportional to the net force and inversely proportional to the mass.
For this I initially thought you could substitute the word "body" for the word "rumour" and the law still stands. A single person can post an opinion on a blog and it is instantly put out into the digital ecosystem (albeit with very little impact or velocity). But get a few people agreeing with this opinion and it becomes amplified and accelerated across the social web.
However mass (aka substance or Klout) does play a role in determining the proportion of the effect Social Media has. For example a 'retweet' of a charitable cause on Twitter by a popular person such as a celebrity will have far more effect that someone with very few followers doing the same.

Third law:
Newton stated in his third law of motion that "To every action there is always an equal and opposite reaction" and this is never more true than when new technologies and processes are involved. You see, for every person who is an adopter and user of social media, there's a person who is only too happy to highlight the risks and negative side.

Regardless of the rules, its clear that Social Media (like my old Physics classmates and I) still has a lot of learning ahead.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Conversion Optimisation makes a difference

I was lucky enough today to quickly get into a seminar at the
Conversion Conference. Thanks to both Paul Rouke
(http://www.paulrouke.co.uk/) and a friendly organiser, I managed to
listen to Paul Francis from Dominoes Pizza give a case study on how
the company improved an already great website.
Note: from the response of those attending on Twitter and what I saw
myself, this event should be a fixture in the diary of all serious
ecommerce managers.

This fascinating 45 minute presentation explained how both moderated
and un-moderated (remote) usability sessions not only proved that a
complete redevelopment of their ecommerce platform was not necessary,
but gave powerful insight that led to a suite of smaller changes. This
in-turn led to a significant financial improvement of the site. For
example just changing a button colour from red to green on their
checkout had a £2.6million uplift!

So next time the boss says there is no value in usability testing or
that once a site is built it is complete..... Tell them this little
story. This is further proof that an ecommerce site is never perfect
and you should always look to improve it by testing with real users
over and over.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Organising a Tweetup

At the beginning of 2011 I was handed the organisation of the Ealing Tweetup by Mark Hillary http://twitter.com/markhillary as he left for Sao Paulo in Brazil.

It wasn’t something I was planning to take on, as I had enough responsibilities already (running a digital consulting business as well as being a husband & father) and to be honest I was enjoying being a participant in London’s biggest ‘social’ Social Media based event….. rather than the person who had to sort it out.

However 10 months on and several Tweetups later, I’m writing this post on the eve of another Ealing Tweetup. According to the site used to pull the attendees together, almost 40 people are likely to turn up at the Rose & Crown in South Ealing tomorrow night (http://twtvite.com/ealingtu11).

So what have I learnt from the experience?
Well…. I’ve met some great people, increased my musical knowledge (a little) and help keep going an event that brings virtual friends together. Its not been easy at times… but I now know that (with the help of some very generous sponsors) this social networking thing can be fun!

Monday, November 28, 2011

Surviving a peak eCommerce Christmas - part 4

For the last few days I've been posting useful things to do on the run-up to peak Christmas online trading and ensuring your website can cope with the demands of your visitors . Here's my final post on the subject (for now):

Speak to the business
Understand the marketing activity planned over the festive period and the dates that they are aiming for most impact. What are their targets compared to last year? Rather than add to your load, they may be able to stagger their campaigns and flatten out demand over a more sustained period.

Have a plan for failure
You may see this as a little defeatist, but I always recommend having something up your sleeve in case the worst does actually happen. This doesn’t necessarily mean you have to put an alternative site in-place within minutes and it may even be the case that you actually turn your site off when it comes under unprecedented demand. However the worst experience to give to your users is a very plain “site offline” message. Nothing says ‘go away and don’t come back’ like a server error page. At the very least make sure this page (probably a customer 500 error page) has some useful information such as your telephone customer service number and a list of your stores.

In summary…. There are still a number of actions you can take to try and de-risk the situation. Keeping your site stable over the peak period will then allow you to focus on the functionality and performance improvements in the new year, so that you’re more prepared for future peaks in demand.

Previous postings are here:
Part 3
Part 2
Part 1

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Surviving a peak eCommerce Christmas - part 3

To help your company get through what is expected to be the businest online Christmas yet, I'm put together some helpful tips.

Set up your own monitoring
Some hosting companies provide a website monitoring service and others may even report on availability as part of a service level agreement. However I would personally have an alternative monitor that is within my control to provide an agnostic perspective. Although it is possible to build your own, there are a number of services out there that can go beyond a simple ‘ping’ of your homepage to confirm it is there and working. Some of the more developed monitoring services can also: check the availability of specific stock, confirm the whole transaction process is working, as well as checking & recording the response time of key pages. Often it is possible to predict problems before they happen. Websites tend to go slow before they break, so getting an email or SMS alert one evening that things are taking a longer than average time to respond… may be an indication that you’re about to lose your site completely.

Try to stress test before the peak comes
I know it is not always possible at the 11th hour to test an eCommerce site to the peak levels expected of the coming Christmas trade. But actually knowing how your site responds under high volumes has huge benefits regardless of the outcome…If it fails, you know when (and hopefully how it fails)… and knowing is always better than not. It may also give you a good indication of other remedial action you need to take. But if it passes and actually stands up to your anticipated load, you have the confidence to keep trading.

Previous posts on this subject are here:
Surviving Christmas Part 2
Surviving Christmas Part 1

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Surviving a peak eCommerce Christmas - part 2

To help you get through peak Christmas trading this year, I'm posting as series of helpful tips.
Here's a couple more:

Optimise your images
eCommerce websites are not just made up of code, they typically include a lot of visual assets as well. Users downloading pages including high quality images and possibly video from your servers at busy times can cripple your hardware and bandwidth, degrading everyone’s experience. Ask yourself “Do I really need that huge photo on the homepage?” and even if the answer is ‘yes’ you should check to see if you can compress it even slightly with no obvious reduction in quality. Remember… compressing images to optimum levels should be part of your regular website publishing process and just because you have a great data connection in the office, don’t always assume your user has one too.

Speak with your hosting company
A lot of website availability issues occur when systems are subjected to unpredicted demand. You should already have some idea what your busiest day and hour figures are and when in the next few weeks this could be (if you also do your analysis right, you should also have a good idea of your peak visitors and transactions – see point 1). If you haven’t already, talk to your hosting company and share this information with them. Ask them what they can do to maintain site availability and what monitoring / alerting they have in place. Also discuss with them the possibility of temporarily boosting your bandwidth to higher levels should you need to.

The previous post is here:
http://press20.blogspot.com/2011/11/surviving-peak-ecommerce-christmas.html

Friday, November 25, 2011

Surviving a peak eCommerce Christmas

So how is your website going to get through Christmas? How can you test things to ensure you can survive this year's busiest periods? Here's some pointers to guide you....

Check your figures
Look back at your website analytics from the same period last year and see what volume of visits (not just unique visitors) and transactions you had back then. Dig down into the detail and record not just your peak daily figures, but your peak hourly or even your minute-by-minute maximums.Then multiply these numbers by the growth you’ve have had over the last year (always rounding up your figures, as it is always better to err on the side of caution). This will give you an idea of the peak figures you can expect in the next few weeks.

Check if you actually have any problems and what they are
If your site actually broke during peak trading last year (rather than just went slow), identify exactly when and how it broke. Speak with your IT Operations team to see if they can provide more detail about what happened and what action they took.Note: If you have hit similar peaks to last Christmas over the last year of online trading, also check to see if you had a reoccurrence at these points. If you haven’t, then you may have less than an issue than you thought.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Twas the month before Christmas...

Imagine the situation.... you've recently moved departments and been put in charge of your eCommerce website. However it is just a couple of weeks until Christmas peak trading. Perhaps you've also been told the site almost broke around this time last year and fear for the worst. Is it too late to do anything?

Don’t worry, there’s always something you can do to help your site survive peak holiday trading. Christmas and sale shopping are both a blessing and a curse for online retailers, as unlike their store counter-parts, website managers don’t have the ability to queue people out of the door and around the block. Instead sites have to be permanently available to deal with visitors, but when they want to arrive….

This is great for the bottom line if you can cater for this demand. But it is bad for business both financially and reputation-wise if you can’t.

Over the next few posts are my list of key things you should do to survive Christmas peak eCommerce trading....

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Some Facebook comments now indexed by Google

It's been widely known that Facebook does not allow search engines such as Google to index its content. It does what it can to stop the Googlebot getting in (and instead Facebook has done a deal with Microsoft for Bing to power its internal search). 

However, If you use your Facebook account to post a comment on a website that uses Facebook Comments, your comment can now be indexed by Google's web spiders. This is because Google has developed its software to be able to run some JavaScript, which Facebook Comments uses.

This means it will now be searchable in Google's index and could help your SEO efforts. 

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Prepare yourself for an eCommerce Christmas

If you run a transactional website you just have 2 weeks to prepare for the busiest online shopping of the year! Get ready...

According to Amazon, Monday December 5 at 9pm will mark the peak of this year’s online Christmas shopping season in the UK. For other retailers the key date is sometime the following week, when people start to focus on the presents they need to get and panic buying sets in.

IMRG calculates Europeans will spend 52 billion euros online this year. This forecast is 20% up on last year, which was higher than anything else before it.

So.... "Will it meet this lofty projection?" I hear you ask. 'Quite possibly' is my view, as eCommerce sites try to market to their potential customers is as many ways as possible. And with newer innovations such as Facebook stores (FCommerce) in the mix, there's now even more ways to transact online.

Are your sites ready?

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Photos from #ishopkent2011

















Here are some photos I took from Friday's #ishopkent2011 eCommerce in Kent event & awards.


Note: these may not be great quality, bit if you attended please use.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

The day that Social Media died

Yesterday I gave a presentation to the eCommerce in Kent (iShopKent) event. The topic I was supposed to talk about was 'Social Media for Retail', however I think I managed to shake things up a bit.

And it wasn't my criticism of Google Plus while Jon Marsh from Google was in the room that raised the most eyebrows.... but this slide:

The whole idea behind this image, besides a bit of shock to the system after the lunchtime recess, was to communicate that if you are a company looking to use channels such as Twitter & Facebook to get your message across... you don't need Social Media, you need Social Business.

So as far as the attendees were concerned, Social Media needed to die and we should have had a minute silence.

Perhaps that's what the attendees would have preferred as well... :-)

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Google’s new AdWords algorithm

Ip

We all should know by that Google makes around 400 changes a year to its search algorithm (yes, that is over 1 change a day), with some such as the recent 'freshness' update being more significant than others.

However last month Google made a change to its AdWords algorithm which is significant in several regards
1. This affects Google's revenue if they get it wrong
2. This affects advertisers (e.g. those with fixed PPC budgets may find they get more or less for their money now)

What actually changed was an update to the 'Quality Score' factor that is given to each advert within Google's pay-per-click system. Quality Score in the past has previously been an arbitrary weighting that was given and that meant more experienced online marketers could mysteriously bid less than their competitors and still get a higher ranking in the search engine results pages (SERP's).

More and more is now gradually known about Quality Score (mainly thanks to Google posting blogs and videos on the subject) and it is now widely accepted that it is a mixture of three things:
a) the historical performance of the advert (what percentage of people actually clicked on it)
b) the relevance of the ad text to the search term (e.g. are you actually advertising for what people are seaching for)
c) the quality of the landing page (how relevant is the page you're actually taking users to?)

Google has now put a greater emphasis on the landing page quality, which to me makea a lot of sense. All too often you get taken from a PPC advert through to a page that has very little to do with the craftily-worded advert.

I just hope they also factor the page speed performance into account as well!

Monday, November 14, 2011

The Great Google PPC scam?

Does your company spend money each month on Google advertising? You know, that small little Pay-per-click campaign you started a couple of years back for a pound per month, that you now have to spend a few hundred quid a week or more on?

Well, according to one train of thought it could be costing you more than it needs to. And the company you have to blame is?.... Google.

Yes, that's right, the 'do no evil' company is possibility affecting your bottom line says Vinay Sahni:

How?

Well, have you attended an Internet exhibition, bought an Internet industry magazine or even just purchased a business publication recently? And did a 'free Google advertising' or similar leaflet fall out of it offering you £50 or £70 of free keyword advertising?
Sahni states that this activity (e.g. giving ad vouchers to those who don't currently use PPC) is not just encouraging more people to use Google's advertising system, it is driving the price up.Yes, his theory is that the online auction of keywords is skewed when you let more people bid on the same terms and giving (potentially less-experienced) users into the system with what really is free money. Like a person who enters into an auction with someone else's wallet, the theory is that everyone else using their own money has to bid that bit more to beat them. So overall the rising tide of cost makes more money for Google at no loss.
Although a good theory, I don't actually buy this. Plus there are several possible flaws in the argument:
1. Google is actually losing money giving away vouchers (Assuming there are other bidders who are prepared to pay but were out-bid by someone with a free voucher)
2. Its not always about paying the highest price for some keywords. Often a more cost-effective campaign can be run by targetting lower positions (although you could argue that these are still more expensive with free bidders loose in the system)
3. The price of keywords will find its automatic level once the free bidders go away again (although its not often I've seen the price of keywords drop over time).
4. Sahni is forgetting Google's Quality Score weighting of PPC adverts (e.g. how well your advertising matches what users are looking for r how relevant your ad is). This secret scoring system is designed to reward PPC advertisers who take the effort to optimise their online advertising. It therefore means that those who know what they are doing don't necessarily have to bid more than those who are using a free voucher.
 
There's no proof that Google does NOT return the price of keywords back to the proper market price over time and indeed this would be a huge reputational and business mistake if it was ever the case.  However the fact remains that you should always monitor your PPC campaigns to ensure you are always getting the best return on your marketing spend.
 

Sunday, November 6, 2011

A Multi-Channel Future - are you in denial?

If you work in retail these days you have to get used to a customer who is increasingly tech-savvy and multi-channel minded.

Gone are the old days where stores would offer a 'price matching guarantee' to anyone who found the same product only in a competing branch nearby or glossy catalogue. Now they have to offer the same deal to any reputable online source too or face some pretty strong criticism (usually on social media networks Luke Twitter or in blogs).

And its not just tightly-clasped black & white printouts that nowadays get shown to store staff to price match. Its now incredibly easy to take a picture with your smartphone camera, submit the image to a site or application and get an almost instant price from a number of highly-competitive online retailers.
Note: If you haven't tried it already, Amazon's iPhone app does exactly this.

In my opinion some retailers are most definitely still in denial about the whole multi-channel approach. They don't want to join up the sales channels in an effort to win the sale and their store staff on commission are not encouraged to tell customers that the same product is not out of stock on the company website.
And why should they? Unless there is some way of attributing an online sale to the physical visit, then there's no value in them giving the company website address. To them they might as well tell the potential customer to go next door to the competition....for all the financial good it will do them.

But is doesn't have to be like that...... Does it?

Thursday, November 3, 2011

27% of smartphone owners will shop online this Christmas

Smartphone usage for online shopping purposes is on the rise and
Christmas peak trading is almost upon us. Therefore if you don't have
a mobile commerce site that provides information, displays products at
competitive prices and ultimately has the ability to sell via a
portable interface..... you're missing out on the biggest sales
opportunity of the year.

This holiday season millions of smartphone-weilding shoppers will be
looking to transact online for everything from presents for their
nearest & dearest, to the latest designer outfit to look fantastic at
the office party.

According to Deloitte's 2011 Annual Holiday Survey 27% odf those who
owned a smartphone (e.g the Applie iPhone or one of the many Android
devices) will use their phone for Christmas / Holiday shopping. The
study also highlighted that consumers with smartphones will more
generically use them to:
find store locations (67%)
compare prices (59%)
obtain product information (51%)
shop online (45%)
scan bar codes (40%)

Retailers now need to tap into this market. They may even want to
provide services that will encourage smartphone purchases such as WiFi
connectivity in store (useful if your products are sold out in a
physical location, but still available via your online store) and QR
Codes (to tie together the online and offline worlds).

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Google is killing Sidewiki

So, Google Sidewiki is going the same way as Buzz and that other thing
that nobody used..... (Wave wasn't it?)

This news must hardly come as a surprise to those who actually used
the product. It never really got mainstream acceptance in the way that
some other Google products did, even though it was pretty useful.

Google's approach creating a range of different products and
killing-off those that don't work, is a double edge sword. Yes they
are willing to crowdsource approval of their efforts and see which
ones are viable in the longer term, but it does create a bit of upset
with those who were keen users.

Personally I'm a little sad to see it go, as I was a user of it for a
while when it first launched. I either used it to make notes against a
site, like a schoolboy writes in the margin of a literature classic or
as a form of private digital vandalism.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Making blogging easier

Keeping a blog can be a hard old job sometime. For me, its proved to be difficult to combine long working days, parental responsibilities (I've just become a dad for the second time) and some form of social life on top.
 
I use Blogger.com as my blogging platform of choice, as I like the tools available (compared to WordPress for example). However I have also used the email to blog solutions such as Posterous.com from time to time and find them incredibly easy to use..... and perhaps if I was starting over again, I would now use such as service.
 
Its therefore very helpful that Blogger now provide similar email to blog functionality. Something that allows me to compose and post my thoughts, without either needing to log on to the main site or write an article in a word processing package and then cut & paste the words across when I get an internet connection.
 
Progress!
 
BTW: This posting is actually my first posting using this service.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

The five signs your digital strategy sucks

Does your company have a digital strategy and do you recognise any of the points below?



  1. Digital strategy? Oh yes, we’re working on that
    I hear this type of phrase a lot these days and typically what it actually means is “we don’t really have a digital strategy, but I’m not prepared to admit it”. If you don’t actually have a plan in place for how you are going to assess, approach, deliver and maintain your company’s online presence…. then you need to strongly consider getting this done soon (and be honest about its existence & progress).


  2. It’s full of social media bullshit bingo
    http://press20.blogspot.com/2011/07/social-media-bullshit-bingo.html
    Well…..If it doesn’t contain the obligatory mention of Facebook & Twitter every other sentence, how can it possibly be about digital? Wrong!
    Sure, there’s a world of engagement out there via the main and niche social networks, but don’t forget the basics of a decent online presence (via any device) such as making sure your corporate website works on all the main browsers and in an accessible way.

  3. It’s purely about technology
    Focusing just on the IT within your digital technology is missing the point. You also need to map out and understand how you are going to develop: business processes, customer segmentation, etc.

  4. It’s not about technology at all
    Missing out the tech part is just as bad as basing your entire plan around it. You still need to cover how you’re going to implement new tools to help you: create better online functionality, improve data integration, measure customer interaction quicker & better, etc. and remember to think about how this will develop this over time.


  5. It's a bolt-on to your existing business strategy
    If you haven’t considered an integrated approach to marketing and sales online, then you’re not giving full consideration to the channels available and more importantly…. digital’s more pervasive role within your business to: reduce costs, enable customer, staff and even customer-to-staff communication.

I'm sure there are a lot more sign-posts that a digital strategy sucks big time..... Any suggestions?

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Mobile devices and our data consumption

The continued popularity of mobile devices has now driven demand for smartphones, tablets and netbooks. This has consequently had a significant impact upon the type and rate of our digital media consumption.

Once we just used the humble desktop (or laptops if we were fancy and flushed with money), but now at home, at work and on the go we use mobile devices such as: iPhones, iPads and a legion of Google Android powered devices more than ever before.

We’ve apparently now become Digital Omnivores, using Internet data from a variety of sources and many at the same time. I know, because my own browsing and other online behaviour has changed in the lst few years since I've had a smartphone (or few).

As well as sitting down with a laptop most evenings to continue working, I also now regularly burn through over 1.5 gigabytes of mobile data a month on my mobile (mainly accessing email and Twitter through the day, when I'm not within range of a public Wi-Fi node). I also have the fabled "multi-screen experience" when watching the TV at the weekend now, as the iPad tablet comes out to check program schedules, background information on news stories or the Twitter back-channel gossip on the latest pop star wannabies.

And I can only see this trend for increasing data consuption to continue, as devices get faster and deliver a more interactive experience.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Digital strategy – times they are a changing

“May you live in interesting times” is supposedly the English translation of a Chinese curse.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/May_you_live_in_interesting_times
And although the phrase may not have exactly been as written, the sentiment behind it is clear…… when things are changing, life is hard.

Corporations are also finding the current business climate difficult. We are quite possibly on the brink of another global recession and consumers & businesses are clamping down on spending. Some analysts are even saying that we may need to rethink finance, consumerism and even our way of life. Things are…… interesting.

But the Internet is OK isn’t it? Well, quite possibly it is if you look at it just as a network of inter-connected machines that exchange data. But if you are the person responsible for crafting your company’s (or client’s) digital strategy, then you don’t just have to revise it yearly to follow the organisational business plan… you need to evolve your thinking far faster to stay abreast of the latest innovations and thinking.

Only a few years ago, Social Media wasn’t of any real concern to the digital strategist. Yes, it was there in the form of blogs and forums, but it never had the numbers, passion and backing until the major social networks gained traction. Now these same networks are releasing feature after feature all the time, gaining users across the globe and affecting the way people communicate and live.

And that’s just one factor at work. When you combine others such as : local search, augmented reality, QR codes, mobile and more….. all developing and innovating in their own ways, any digital strategy is already out of date by the time its written and printed out.

What’s therefore needed is for a digital strategy to be a living document. Taking this concept further, an agile approach is needed not just in its creation, but in its maintenance and implementation. In essence, I think that the thoughts driving y online improvement forward need to exist in something more like a Wiki than a Word document.

The main issue in my opinion is that although this idea is perhaps a practical way to address the ever-changing Internet landscape…. this approach would conflict with the typical process-heavy structure and governance within most corporates. It is therefore a shame that the very companies that need such a flexible approach are the very ones least likely to implement it.

Digital strategists are indeed living in interesting times.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Social Local Mobile - innovation begins now

A recent study predicted that the value of online shopping through the web and mobile commerce will grow to £33.7 billion by 2015, representing an annual increase of 4.5 per cent.

Even Google have recently shown their aim to target mobile devices by the purchasing of Motorola Mobile and got social with the release of Google Plus (no, I don't use it either). They also have a pretty big hand in location-based online search and offers via the Android mobile operating system.

Sure.... 2010 was really the year of Social Media, 2011 is the year of mobile and location-based services such as Foursquare are stil growing in use. However, for me it is the combination of Social, Local and Mobile together that now forms a digital trinity of innovation, instant access and ease of use.

And I don't use the word innovation lightly, as I believe that this combination of technologies is where will see the next tide of Internet innovations come from. The next year or so are going to be really intersting and I'm looking forward to watching how back-room developers and start-ups take advantage of these and come up with fantastic concepts that leverage the always-on and socially-conncted online population.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Is mobile your company's biggest challenge?

So..... 40% of Fortune 500 companies claim their biggest mobile challenge is developing their online services across multiple operating systems and devices

 do they?

Well fragmentation in the online industry isn't anything new for web developers. We've been living with this since the the days of the Mosaic and Netscape browsers (and if you don't know who they are, then I'd stop reading this blog now if I were you). This confusion was then multipled with the arrival of Microsoft 16 years ago, who then went onto make a complete mess of browser standards, that we've been living with ever since.

However things have got even more mixed-up in the last few years with the growth of the mobile channel, fueled by smartphones and tablets such as Apple's iPhone & iPad, as well as a host of Google's Android mobile OS powered phones. For me 2011 has definately been the long-awaited "year of the mobile". Although this is a title that online marketing consultants have been foretelling for the last decade, in my opinion this year is it and according to research from Gartner.... smartphone sales globally will reach 467m in 2011.

But the fragmented mobile landscape is directly affecting many organisations’ plans to implement an effective mobile channel. No one device or operating system entrely rules the roost (at least not in the UK) and right now if a company plumps for just one.... typically the iPhone... then it is excluding a huge user base. But to try and get comprehensive market coverage is an expensive and exhaustive process....

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Google & birthdays - personalisation to make you smile

Today is the 14th of September, my birthday. And when visiting the Google homepage this evening I saw a great 'Google Doodle', that of a birthday present and a cake with a candle in it.

"Oh" I initially thought "it's Google's birthday as well as my own". But then thought back to reports I had read recently about Google's birthday being in January or a range of dates in September including the 15th .... but not the 14th. Had Google got its own birthday wrong? Was a server giving the wrong date and showing the present and cake image a day ahead of time?

No!

Google knows my birthday thanks to a complete profile of me I entered some while back. It would therefore seem that some clever programmer there has created a small bit of personalisation code to display this image when the anniversay of my birth comes around.

Clever, engaging, thoughful and just a little bit all-knowing. Just how I like my search engines.

Friday, September 9, 2011

My favourite error page

OK, not the most inspiring of blog titles, but bear with me....


I was about to watch some stuff on Youtube earlier today, to catch-up on some videos posted by far-off friends, when I got the message below. Now an Error 500 on a website is usually a sign that something is wrong... its the online equivalent of a car breakdown. Its not like its stablemate, the 404 (page not found) error... which is the web equivalent of a dead-end sign, an indication to metaphorically turn around and retrace your route using the back button. Oh no... the 500 error says to the user "something so important has gone wrong, that even we don't know how to fix it".

So its actually quite welcome to see a company at least communicate that its aware of the issue and (albeit jokingly) planning on doing something about it.

Well done Youtube for dispatching a team of highly trained monkeys to deal with my problem. I'll be back soon.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Ealing Tweetup - the biggest ever

It isn't often you get home from an infomal local social media event, exhale gently and take a while to relax... but then isn't every day you help run one of the UK's largest digial events and quite possibly the biggest Tweetup ever.

If you're not aware of what I'm referring to... on Thursday 1st September the Ealing Tweetup took place. This involved: two bands, 200 people, free drinks, senior London politicians and almost £1000 raised for the Ealing Mayor's fund to help those affected by the recent Ealing riots.

But don't just take my word for it, here's what Ealing Councillor Bassam Mahfouz said about it:

"A synonym for fantastic live music, great company and flowing drinks the Ealing TweetUp has become an event that draws the good, the bad and even the politicians together in the name of social networking. Addictive, welcoming and energetic every attendee left wanting more whilst others are joining twitter in their droves just so they can get an invite. With over 200 tweeters, we may have to move the #EalingTU to the Wembley Arena before long."

Monday, August 29, 2011

Blame Social Media - then think again

Social media has been blamed for the riots across the UK last August and since then there have been numerous several cries from politicians and other senior people to shut social networks down to stop them being used for organising disorder.

As you may have read in a post I did on this several weeks ago, I thought the whole idea of blaming social media itself pretty ludicrous. http://press20.blogspot.com/2011/08/dont-blame-social-media-for-unrest.html

But politicians and leaders carried on this chain of thought, all the way up to the front doors of the social network providers. But there it seems to have stopped thankfully, as now senior UK politicians have backed down in their rhetoric to shut down or restrict networks such as BlackBerry Messenger, Facebook or Twitter.

After apparent 'positive' discussions a Home Office spokesman said that the “The Government did not seek any additional powers to close down social media networks.”

Hurrah.... we don't yet live in a dictatorship.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

So I have a mobile app developed - now what?

In today's final guest post from Mark Walsh from Nation of Apps, he answers questions on the important subject of what to do once you have your mobile application actually developed for you.

Do I need to promote my mobile app once it has been launched?
Well actually, the promotion should start before launch so that you have already generated interest in the app and your target audience are waiting in anticipation. Once the app has been launched you then have about a week to really push it and take advantage of being featured in the ‘new app’ sections of app stores. After this, you need to follow an ongoing programme of activities to maintain interest in your mobile app.

So how do I go about promoting my app?
There are a number of ways to promote your app and many depend on the type of app and target audience. Some ideas are:
- Consider a website to promote your mobile app
- Consider the use of social media to promote your app : Twitter, Facebook
- Present a YouTube video
- Post blog entries on your and other people’s blogs
- Consider getting app reviewers to review your app at launch to generate interest.

What if my app doesn’t work properly and I need to get it modified?
If bugs are found, resilience is poor, users are having navigation issues etc. then it is possible to get the application developers to make the necessary changes and re-deploy the app.
However, if this proves to be the case, you may well have missed the boat as it is likely users will have stopped using the app and maybe even deleted it. The app will also probably get bad reviews which will impact future uptake. It will be very difficult to recover from this and that critical week 1 impact will have been lost.
This is why thorough app testing is vital. Prior to launch, not only must the app be tested for technical issues but it should be tested by the target audience to ensure they ‘get it’. They need to know exactly what the app does without having to stop and think, be able to navigate easily, and achieve the desired result intuitively.

Mark's details:
company site: http://nationofapps.co.uk/
blog : http://www.nationofapps.co.uk/news-mobile-application-development.html
Twitter: @nationofapps

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

The financial low down on mobile applications

Following on from yesterday's post about getting your app right first time, Mark Walsh from Nation of Apps anwers more questions. This time around the finances involved.

So how can I make money from my App?
There are two main options to consider regarding mobile application monetization.
1. Offering Consumers A Free App And Make Money From ....
- Advertising
- Charging for extra functionality
- Charging for upgrades
Free apps receive significantly more downloads than paid for apps therefore you are guaranteed more downloads and could then use this as an opportunity to make money from displaying adverts, offering extra paid for app functionality, offering paid for functional upgrades.

2. A Paid For Mobile Application
You can charge consumers to download your app. If you are planning to do this ...
- How much would you charge?
- What do you base your charge on?
- Have you researched what a consumer might pay for a similar app?
- Are you prepared for less downloads than if your app was free and possibly have a more aggressive marketing campaign?

3. How much does a mobile app cost?
Mobile application development cost can vary depending on the type of app required. The key factors that have impact on the cost of an app are:
- How many features will need to be incorporated
- Complexity of the features within the app
- Goals and expectations
- Has a similar app been developed before or is this completely be-spoke
- Time required to create a good design
- Estimated app development time / duration.
- Server development and infrastructure costs
- Amount of project management required
- Amount of testing required

So is it a good idea to try and get the cheapest app developer I can find, or should I use a mobile application development company who might charge me more?

There are ways of paying less than the going rate to get a mobile application developed, but the old saying ‘you get what you pay for’ very often applies.

Inexperienced mobile app developers can leave you with a mess of poor quality code that is unreliable and impossible to maintain. In addition to this, using offshore app developers can lead to communication issues and difficulty in them understanding the culture of the target market. The risk exists that you will end up with an app that you can't use properly, can’t maintain, and gets bad reviews because it crashes or behaves erratically.
It’s a common occurrence in mobile application development that clients come to us to recover ‘botch jobs‘ whereby attempting to do things on the cheap has backfired and proved a false economy. For all the above reasons, it is therefore vital that you understand the risk of cutting corners and recognise the value of handing the development of your application to a reputable mobile application development company.

Mark's details:
company site: http://nationofapps.co.uk/
blog : http://www.nationofapps.co.uk/news-mobile-application-development.html
Twitter: @nationofapps

Monday, August 22, 2011

How to get your mobile application right first time

I get asked quite a bit these days for advice on mobile platforms & applications. So I have asked Mark Walsh from Nation of Apps to answer a few questions on developing and delivering the right mobile app for businesses.

Once I have an idea for a mobile app, what’s the best process to follow to get it right first time?
There are a number of things that need to be thought through in detail. This starts with defining your mobile application requirements.
- What do you want your mobile app to do?
- What do you want to achieve with your app?
- Who is the target audience? Personas, Demographics.
- Do you have branding requirements?

How should I decide what platform to build for?
One of the key drivers to answer this question is regarding who will be using the app. It is important to understand your target audience and what mobile devices they use. Analytics from websites and apps that your target audience currently use can help with this. If you find the trend to be specifically more Android orientated, or iPhone orientated then there’s your answer.
If the app is targeted for specific business users, then it may well be that Blackberry should be the choice. It has been a common strategy for companies to develop mobile business applications first for iPhone, however this approach has often been flawed and the target audience found to be predominantly Blackberry users.

Mark's details:
company site: http://nationofapps.co.uk/
blog : http://www.nationofapps.co.uk/news-mobile-application-development.html
Twitter: @nationofapps

Friday, August 19, 2011

eCommerce Programme or Project Manager? Part 2

This is the second of 2 postings on the difference between an eCommerce Progamme or Project Manager. The earlier part can be found here.

Responsibility
It’s a natural effect that the bigger the amount of work to be done, the more there is at stake throughout a business. Although this risk is typically financial, it could also have other important effects on your existing business. With this risk comes the responsibility of reporting it to senior people (with the aim that they can mitigate it as much as possible)… who in-turn may have directors, owners or shareholders to keep happy.
Keeping the senior stakeholders informed on a large online project can often be a role in itself and I would always recommend that the Programme Manager contributes or even runs the regular senior meeting attended by all relevant parties. The ability to participate in or even chair these sorts of meetings typically requires additional communication, influencing, or other skills that are usually beyond those needed of a Project Manager.

Coherence of Effort
When your ecommerce requirements need a programme of work, then it is essential to have a coherent overview of all effort. This is to ensure that there is no unnecessary overlap or conflict in tasks & deliverables. Although a Project Manager will be responsible for the effort within one project, the eCommerce Programme Manager must understand all possible touch points across all pieces of work for all projects. If there are any interdependencies, the programme manager must be responsible for ensuring that each Project Manager is aware of them and takes on the responsibility to their project.

Ultimate Value to the Business
A project manager has key performance indicators to report on, mainly that of the project running on time, ins cope and to budget. These are the main factors for a project to align to its business case and if it will be ‘judged’ as a pass or fail.
The ecommerce programme manager however must look at the overall value to the business for each component of the programme of work. They must be able to justify why each piece of work is important to the long term return on investment of ecommerce to the organisation.

Prioritisation
All of the above lead into prioritisation of effort and resource allocation – which is fundamentally different between a project manager and a programme manager. The programme manager must have the ability to override a project manager’s plan for the ‘greater good’ of the ecommerce programme of work and delivering the maximum value to the business.

In summary, there are significant differences in both roles and as the key stakeholder of the you need to decide which one(s) you really need to ensure all your initiatives are a success in the long term.