Thursday, January 24, 2019

Picking what NOT to do is an IT Strategy

Technology change and progress never stops. There is always a newer version, a better alternative piece of software or another way of supporting an evolved business process or two.
For internal technology departments and especially those within larger organisations, this rate of change means there's never an end in sight. In a world of infinite need and finite resources... there's usually a long list of things to do once the current projects & programmes have been delivered.
With all this demand and the expected pace of implementation (that can come from all angles including: business stakeholders, vendor sales people and consultants) it can feel like everyone wants to change everything at once:
New finance system? Yes
New HR software? Sure
New B2C website? Of course
New B2B website? No problem
New sales portal? Yeah
New customer data platform? Naturally

Faced with a these requests, perhaps along with a potential new-found investment in technology to fuel a "digital transformation", senior IT people will want to say yes. Who wouldn't want more resources, increased budgets, the chance for some new "toys" or the opportunity to stick a big 'look what I've done' post on their LinkedIn profile?
But like the proverbial plate spinner, who (theoretically at least) should know how many plates they can spin at once... those in a position to take on technical work need to understand how much change they can take implement before they hear the sound of virtual crockery smashing. Experience needs to inform them (and so do their managers, subordinates and peers) just how much change their organisation can take on in parallel.
But when the demand for so much change outpaces the organisation's ability to deal with that change, someone has make the important decision as to what to do and therefore what NOT to do. 

Nobody, least of all IT people (prehistorically noted for saying "the answer is no, now what's the question?") want to tell a business stakeholder that their project is less important than another... but sometimes there is only so much change you can do at once.

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Advice on Video Search Engine Optimisation

The aim of video SEO is simply to make it as easy as possible for both YouTube and Google to understand all video content. And why wouldn’t you? With Google being the largest search engine and YouTube being the second, it is more and more important that companies now factor online video optimisation into their marketing efforts.

Since Google can’t fully understand what your video is about without help (not yet, anyhow) optimising your clip currently means providing as much textual information about it. This is so that search engines can properly index it and then show it in their relevant search results.

My advice here is therefore:
Creating an optimized title is perhaps the most obvious thing to do, yet is probably one of the most overlooked. The clip title should be several words long (we tend to keep to the same 55 – 60 character range we recommend for web page title optimisation) and include the major keyword(s) you want to your video to rank for. Note: There are differing opinions on whether the keywords at the beginning of the title give more of a boost than those added subsequently… but I have found no definitive proof of this.

Insert as much text as you realistically can into the description field of your clip. Add words about the video content, the people or characters, the situation or product it shows, and the usage or benefits being explained. In short… consider this a blog post and use several hundred words if possible. Obviously, any content placed in the description needs to include your targeted keywords from your SEO strategy, plus don’t be afraid to sometimes repeat keywords or derivative terms here
If your clip contains people speaking (e.g. a voice-over or some dialogue) strongly consider obtaining a transcript of the text and inserting this in the description too.
Don’t forget the transcript can also be:
  1. Used to correct or improve the closed captions, which you must consider - Sure, YouTube can auto-transcribe your audio content, but not any visual content than you may also want to describe
  2. Added as additional content into any web page that embeds this video clip (potentially providing some on-page SEO help too)
Video Tags
There is growing consensus in the SEO community that tags for YouTube clips have minimal optimisation benefits (but they do help with cross-linking between clips with the same tags). So still use them to describe your content in the same way you would a social media or blog post. However, remember to use those tags which highlight the uniqueness of your video (and therefore avoid very generic and therefore very competitive terms).

Title information
Remember to provide bespoke information about each different clip uploaded.  Don't upload the same clips with different info title & descriptions.
(Although I have no personal proof that this is "black hat" SEO activity... it does go against the very premise of what Google is trying to do. Plus, if it was suddenly treated as such... it could have a lasting negative effect.)

Encourage comments, ask for them and respond back when you do get them.

Friday, December 7, 2018

Still making the same SEO mistakes?

I'm amazed that so many existing & newly
-developed websites are still making so many Search Engine Optimisation mistakes. It seems to me that so many organisations are ignoring the basics when it comes to organic improvement of their main online asset.

I see it time and time again:
- Poor keyword analysis
- Unrealistic placement targets
- Poor quality coding
- Duplicate (or very similar) content
- No redirects for deleted pages
- Badly written content

Why is this?

Friday, November 9, 2018

Site launch checklist

I was recently asked for a checklist of essential items to check on a website before it launched. So I have shared it with you all here:

Page titles
You should know by now that every page must have a page title. It's what appears in the top of the browser for that page and how it gets shown by default as a bookmark or Social Media post.
However it is also a key Search Engine Optimisation ranking factor, so ensure that it is relevant, the right length (approx 55 characters including spaces seems to be fine) and ideally unique across your new site. There is also a significant consensus in the SEO community that the keyword you are targeting for this page should be as close to the beginning of this title as possible.... but I will leave that for you to assess the value of.
Also since Google usually displays just the first 50–60 characters of a title tag, I would keep to that range without very good reason.

Meta data / Meta tags
These have grown in the number and function they perform over time, with some having a bearing on Social channels and SEO. But the key one here is Meta Description.
I'm not going to give you advice about what to exactly write in this field... as I've covered it in so many other blog posts. However, ensure that have a description on every page (correctly placed inside the <head> of the page). Plus consider that the current average length of the description field for desktop results is around 160 characters, whereas an average of 130 characters for mobile seems to be the best.
Note: Ignore using Meta Keyword tags

This little text file (mostly named sitemap.xml) usually sits in the root directory (or obvious sub-directory) of your site. It is a tried & tested way to tell search engines which pages are available for them to be crawled. It does this by giving a list of URLs for every public page in the site along with extra metadata about them.

This little text file (all lower-case only please) should sit in your root directory of your site. It is usually the first file a search engine bot checks on a site and is there to tell all or individual bots what they are NOT supposed to do. For example, they are supposed to ignore certain directories or files.
So in this way it is the opposite of a sitemap.xml file and care should be taken to not have pages in both.
Note: some search engines may ignore the robots.txt so do not use this as a way to  hide site content or data you definitely don't want found.

When launching a new site, URLs can change.
At the most fundamental level, this can mean a change of domain (e.g. to brand or a change of sub-domain (e.g. to So sites should ensure they understand and handle all redirects correctly at new site launch.

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Minimum Viable Experimentation

Those who work in the digital and agile world should be pretty familiar by now with the implementation of a Minimum Viable Product (MVP). This is the creation of a working product that doesn’t have to meet all requirements, but allows further testing, feedback & iterative improvements. It is an approach pretty well understood and used across the industry and one that should lead to better products sooner.

So perhaps we need to use this approach, not just in the creation of the initial product, but in the way we release further functionality & features to our products? This would mean focusing less on the usefulness what each new piece of functionality provides (in economic terms the 'utility'), but basing each successive development on what it tells us about the product's overall ability to meet the wider strategic objective?

In other words, rather than add new stuff that simply compliments the overall richness of the experience... shouldn't each new tangible delivery be based upon a hypothesis? And in-turn, shouldn't this hypothesis be derived from insight that is focused on improving the user's needs or outcomes?

For example... if your project aim (which I assume directly linked to your strategic objective) is "to have a better online sign-up process for a new credit card", then each successive sprint or release from the initial product launch should be delivered to address this aim. However you shouldn't just assume that this is the case. 

Firstly make sure that each time you plan your deliverables you are actually answering a question, such as:
"How can we stop [a specific type of customer] exiting the online form before the end of the process?"

Secondly develop a hypothesis that can be tested in a small experiment. Such as:
"We believe that by adding [1: a specific feature] at [2: a specific point] we will create [3: an expected behaviour] by the user and therefore they will reach [4: an outcome] that will improve [5: a goal]."

Where in our new credit card sign-up example this could be:

A specific feature
A reassuring statement about financial approval
A specific point
The 4th of 5 pages in the process, where the most users drop out
An expected behaviour
The user is reassured that they could be approved easily
An outcome
The user moves to the 5th (and final) page of the process
A goal
Form conversion improves

It is worth stressing the point that these experiments don't have to be huge or complex, and in some cases making changes to a piece of content or image may be sufficient. They just have to be enough to prove or disprove your experiment's hypotheses…. a minimum viable experiment and nothing more.

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

What question are you really trying to answer?

Digital Transformation
Self-service technology
Faster delivery

Heard it all before? Yes, so have I... numerous times and across many different clients.
Each is craving to "move to become a digital organisation" or "reinvent their online proposition to embrace change" and other similar modern and (to be honest) pretty meaningless statements about themselves.

But I think they are approaching this the wrong way. 

On the basis that each company exists to provide a product or service to another (person or company)... why the heck are they not focusing on asking more questions about what their customers need? Or questioning what stops their valuable users buying/using/engaging more? And more fundamentally... why aren't more people tasked with trying to answer those questions with the creation of better products and services, increasingly delivered as software?

So rather than saying "we need to redevelop our website to improve our KPIs"...
You need to ask "why don't we make it easier for customers to convert?"

And rather than stating "we need to reduce the number of clicks in our online booking process".
You need to ask yourself "why do customers seem to have a problem getting past the 4th page?"

It is only then that you get to the creation of an insight-based hypothesis to change a process or product. 

Friday, October 19, 2018

Is data driven marketing that simple

In a post recently I commented about the increased adoption of data driven marketing ...

It's simple really:
1. Build insight with real data
2. Foster loyalty
3. Communicate creatively
4. Analyse to improve

But is it that simple?