Thursday, June 30, 2011

The battle for the web continues

My post last month declared that the battle for the web has begun, with the rivalry between Google and Facebook escalating to the point where a Global PR agency was hired by Facebook to tarnish the reputation of one of Google's products.

And now the battle over the eyeballs & attention, browsing behaviour and therefore the wallets of the majority of Internet users has taken another step forward with Google's announcement of Google Plus ... its own social networking site that lets users post photographs and videos as well as comments and messages. In addition it claims to allow users have "real world interactions" and "real life sharing" (whatever that is, but my guess its somewhere between a Facebook status update and a Twitter post).

This latest dive into the social space by the mighty G has already built up a healthy cynicism for the digital elite, who claim that Google's previous attempts at social networking have been less-than ideal and I also have my already-documented reservations about their ability to understand and develop social functionality.

However, let's not forget that Google already has a working and popular social networking platform... . Now it may not be that popular in Europe or the United States, but Orkut has over 100 million global active users... with a high proportion of them in Brazil and India.

So before we all dismiss Google Plus as a venture as flawed as Buzz and Wave (which I still think will make a magical and evolved appearance when the world is ready for it), consider that Orkut is in the top 100 of all sites according to Alexa. And furthermore, ask yourself what would happen if it decided to merge this community with its newly-created Plus service?

The battle continues....

Monday, June 27, 2011

Social Media Maturity

Companies of all shapes and sizes have been venturing into Social Media for a few years now and the case studies from their agencies are coming thick & fast. The leaders in each of their respective markets have been continually breaking new ground online and laying the path for others to follow. In fact, you would be hard-pressed to not see Social Media on the communication and/or technology agenda of most decent sized companies, with some displaying a fair degree of advanced implementation and feedback.

But as I've posted about before, Social Media maturity isn't equal in all companies and I even developed the social media maturity matrix last year as a way of benchmarking a company's evoloution and adoption.

So it was good to see Forrester research releasing this post earlier this month as asking "Where is your company on the social maturity scale?"

This piece, a mere taster of the huge research that Josh Bernoff and Ted Schadler have done as part of their analysis into the social media maturity of organizations also forms an additional chapter to the incredibly popular Groundswell book.

The diagram they have provided shows a four point scale progressing from early adopters through to laggards and describes the various stages along the way of:
  • Dormant stage (laggards)
  • Testing (late majority).
  • Coordinating (early majority).
  • Scaling and Optimizing (early adopters).
I've not read the full report that Bernoff and Schadler have done, but I'm sure there is far more depth and evolution of this diagram in their work.

I guess I'd also like to see how my model of social media maturity stacks up against theirs.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Dear PR person: the basics of blogger outreach

I’m not going to name-names (yet), but I have recently been sent several online pitches “For Immediate Release” that almost defied belief. Clumsy, unprofessional and badly-written emails are being sent all the time to blog writers in an attempt to get them to write stuff and get the word out in the blogosphere.

I know I’ve previously covered some of this topic before, but here are some further examples of what really hacks me off about bad blogger outreach:

1. Stop trying to be my buddy
Whilst most bloggers like to be treated as humans, we’re not daft enough to fall for your ploy that you’re our best friend divulging a secret, when you’re just touting a new product or service. Using a very informal tone and being sycophantic is less likely to endear us to you. “Hey there, I thought you’d like to be the first know about ….” just doesn't cut it.

2. Stop writing huge amounts of content
If you have to take over a hundred words to describe your client’s new offering, then either you can’t write succinctly or your client is doomed to failure with an overtly-complex product. Better still, write a clear summary of the features and make sure the link to more information on your website is obvious and works. If reading your press release is hard work…. There’s less chance I will continue read it.

3. Provide a link to more information
How am I supposed to learn more or even provide a link to your client’s site if you don’t include it? Yes, there are online press releases sent out that still don’t include a link to the client’s website or other online resources that could be of interest (e.g. Flickr product gallery, independent reviews, etc.). Links in blogs help your client SEO efforts.... and this is something you should even be advising them about.

4. Don’t send attachments – ever!
Not everyone is on a broadband or company Internet connection; some of us are on our mobile devices. This also includes any imbedded images or even your agency logo which we have no interest in downloading.
Rant over

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Brace Yourself for the return of the Ealing Tweetup

As many readers of this blog will know, I now run the Ealing Tweetup. This is West London's best social media event and has been a huge hit with local Twitter users (and some from further afield). It has previously included: live music, video interviews and even sponsorship from Ealing-based businesses.

In April we had a great event with about 25 people turning up to enjoy themselves and meet their fellow Tweeters, some of which had only ever met each other online and not in the real world before then.

Now the Ealing Tweetup returns to its spiritual home of the Rose and Crown pub in South Ealing:
Church Place, St. Mary's Road, Ealing, London, W5 4HN [map]

If you would like to come along and be part of the fun, then feel free to come along unannounced. However to give us some idea of the numbers (and to help future sponsorship opportunities), we'd really like people to confirm here:

This time we have some sponsorship for the event and to qualify for your free drink all you have to do is sign-up for the Ealing Today newsletter . In addition we also have local band Brace Yourself playing throughout the night and here they are in action (not Acton)

Dilbert gets SEO - shame about his boss

Today's Dilbert comic strip highlights the regular problem where clients (internal as well as external) misunderstand the benefits that 'black hat' SEO can have.

Unfortunately this sort of situation can happen in real life as well as in comic strips. It can even take longer to explain why black hat activities are not appropriate as it can to explain why your search engine optimisation services are of benefit.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Poor Conversion Rate? Why a new website STILL doesn’t convert as planned

Following yesterday's blog posting on why new websites might intially have poor conversion rates , here's my further thoughts on why your shiny new eCommerce site might not be converting as you'd hoped...

Your site isn’t optimised for eCommerce
Yes, that’s right, your new site may have a new funky way of taking visitors through to purchase or whatever, but that doesn’t mean that it’s the optimal way. By looking at your analytics packages you’ll have to hypothesise why users are leaving the process when they should be converting. You’ll then have to change things in a systematic way to see what makes an improvement (and what has a negative effect). This is called A/B (where you swap 2 things to observe the impact) and multivariate testing (where you change a number of things)  in the eCommerce industry. You may well find that the right supporting content or imagery provides the necessary reassurance to sufficiently encourage more people to do online business with you.

You’re losing visitors from search engines
Oh, did nobody inform you that having a different site structure and page naming convention could affect your search engine traffic? Well I’m sorry to inform you that all those pages of your old site that were indexed by the popular search engines aren’t going to help you if they don’t exist anymore. You’re going to have to speak with your search engine optimisation (SEO) agency before you move to the new site and make sure you’re doing all you can to minimise the impact of the new site.
They will suggest things such as ‘301 redirects’ and other such clever stuff. You really should take this advice (especially if you’ve moved to/from using ‘WWW’ at the beginning of your URL structure).

In a nutshell..
Getting a new site is just the beginning. You now have a new task ahead of you, to quickly make the most of what you have had built and to eventually surpass those conversion stats you gave the boss.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Why your new website doesn’t have the Conversion Rate you planned

So, you spent a small fortune getting that new transactional website designed and developed by a leading agency. You told the boss that with an improved ‘user experience’ you would have a higher number of online purchases than with the old site you currently have (perhaps even giving a new and higher percentage figure of just how many conversions you would achieve) …. and you have just launched it.

So why has the number of conversions you predicted not happened? Why, when you take a look at your analytics dashboard, have those ‘look to book’ ratios not shot up as you predicted?

Well here’s something that your web agency may not have told you, when you set out your expectations at the beginning of the project….. Conversion rates don’t usually start off as high as you planned for a new site.

But why?

Existing users now get a different experience
According to user experience best-practice you should have a site that relies far more on ’recognition’ rather than ‘recollection’…. but the fact is that for a lot of sites, a certain proportion of regular users know their way around.
For example, if you consistently use one online banking site, do you find you start to move the mouse to the part of the screen where the ‘login’ section is, even before the page has fully loaded? I do!
For these regular users, this new site will be a disconnect with what they are used to and some may even think they are on the wrong site. All this confusion makes them think and this is the opposite of what you need!

More tomorrow, as its getting late.....

Friday, June 17, 2011

An online fashion content strategy

If you're in the online world of fashion (and these days if you're not online you're not very fashionable) then you may be struggling for ideas to generate content for your website and off-site SEO & Social Media campaigns.

This handy presentation from should give you a few pointers on where to start

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Average conversion rates - important differentiation points

I have a new article published in the website, this time on website conversion. The article centres around the key fact that there is anything but an average conversions rate for an eCommerce site and that different traffic from different sources converts differently too.

I think its important for transactional site to understand one principle.... all traffic is not equal and there is significant differentiation between conversion rates (and average order values too) depending upon the source of the traffic and other factors, such as the keywords they type into search engines.

In the real world this is perhaps easier to spot. For example: a car dealer may realise that a smartly-dressed person, pulling up in a 3 year old vehicle of the same make is more likely to buy a replacement one than someone being dropped-off by a bus or by the way they dress... even perhaps in the words they use when initially asking for a test drive.

And the same thing applies online, you just have to know what those things are and set out your site accordingly.

Here's the article in full:
Please let me know what you think of it.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Retail website homepage weights – why are they so bloated?

I have been working on client eCommerce sites recently and noticed that some competitive ones were very slow to download. Assuming my Internet connection was the problem I looked to stop any other online services that might be running (e.g. Skype, downloads, etc.)… Only to find I didn’t have anything else downloading.

So I loaded-up Firebug (a brilliant and free debugging tool that plugs into Firefox) and checked the size of the homepages I was looking at.

Here’s what I found:

Total file size: 573k
Onload time*: 7.55s

Total file size: 1.5Mb
Onload time*: 13.63s

Total file size: 1.3Mb
Onload time*: 16.28s

Total file size: 1.1Mb
Onload time*: 8.16s

Total file size: 1.1Mb
Onload time*: 7.44s

Total file size: 720kb
Onload time*: 7.39s

Total file size: 1.1Mb
Onload time*: 7.22s

Total file size: 866k
Onload time*: 9.33s

Note: This isn’t an exactly scientific test, being conducted once on a PC with network traffic. But even as indicators of total file size and download time, they do start to paint a pretty interesting picture.

However these figures pale into mere insignificance when compared with the weight of the George Style Blog set up to accompany their support of Graduate Fashion Week. This homepage tops the scales at a whopping 2.8Mb (or to put it another way, not just one but two entire old HD floppy drives from the past!).

You really have to ask why this sort of bloated homepage shenanigans is still going on in this age of web page optimisation…. and whether any of these UK retailers are aware that an increase in page delivery speed can significantly improve conversion.

*Onload time is approximately the time taken for the page to start to display. Other elements are still downloading and the entire page might take much longer to fully render.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Content Farms and SEO – part 2

This is a follow-up posting to my earlier one on Content Farms*

What are search engines doing about content farms?
Search engines fully understand that visitors will only use them if they can provide highly relevant search results. In fact Google has recently very publicly stated its aim to crack down on content farms (and therefore by consequence retain market share of the lucrative search advertising market). One approach has been in the releasing of a ‘plug in’ to its Chrome browser; this creates a personal ‘blocklist’ that gives users the ability to block certain sites from Google’s search results (but only for that person using their browser).
Other initiatives include a number of changes to the Google search algorithm that noticeably improves the quality of search results. The recent 'Panda' update by Google in April was one such change that was inteded to down-grade the visibility of more obvious content farm sites.

It is also my belief that the Google +1 button I covered in an earlier post is an aim to combat sites such as content farms. But rather than using the negative technique of blocking those that it thinks are less relevant to the search user, it is now encouraging users to reward the more relevant pages and sites.

Isn’t there a fine line between some content sites and content farms?
Oh yes indeed, in fact there is considerable overlap and it is becoming increasingly hard for the search engines such as Bing and Google to tell them apart. For example, news sites such as those from the popular newspapers (obviously except those behind a pay wall) are increasingly aware that they need to encourage search traffic. In fact the Washington Post earlier this year was caught with a posting on its website stating “SEO headline here”, obviously highlighting where some reporter had failed to add the keyword-focused headline to the article before it was published online.

Cases such as this show that even the big boys are trying to capture search traffic in anyway legitimate way they can… but in doing so are further blurring the line between news source and content farms.

So how do I stop my site being recognised as a content farm?
In a reversal of my earlier post on creating a content farm, the most important advice I give on this topic is to write for your visitors not for the search terms…quality content will be well read, forwarded and linked to. Search engine algorithms are increasingly able to cleverly tell which sites are official and which sites are created just for the purpose of targeting them… and in the end it is in everyone’s interest to ensure that we get quality search results.

In a nutshell, content quality is not something you should forget when writing for your website, especially if you produce a lot of it!

*this article was not written just because I was getting a lot of keyword-related traffic on this subject from search engines, honest!

Friday, June 10, 2011

Content Farms and SEO – what you need to know

What is a content farm?
A website (such as a blog) containing content that is run with the aim of appealing to search engines.

Why would someone create a content farm?
Search engines are a fast and easy way of finding information about all sorts of topics. If you can create content that people search for then you will get traffic to your site. You can then monetise this traffic in a number of ways, such as selling advertising or sending visitors to an eCommerce site for a commission (known as affiliate selling).

How do you create a content farm?
The main rule is you don’t write for your reader, you write for the terms your visitor is looking for and you ‘fill in the gaps’ with content.
I’m sure you have been to sites that read appallingly badly except they contain a lot of the search terms you type in to find the page…. You know the ones; it’s almost as if someone doesn’t actually care about what they have written except to stuff keywords into a posting. If you recognise this sort of site, its a good bet that you’ve visited a content farm..

But isn’t this what SEO people do anyway?
Well, sort of… but not really. A good Search Engine Optimisation professional will advise you to write content for your site around the topics and keywords that you want people to find in the search engines. They may get into more detail and ask you to write a list of the more popular terms you want to target…. and advise you to mention these on a regular (but not too often basis). They shouldn’t advise you to create page-upon-page of meaningless and keyword-packed content purely to target search traffic.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

The PR digital sweet spot

In my post recently, I blogged about the intersection of Social Media and Search Engine Optimisation. This is a place I called the "PR digital sweet spot" and it’s the place where the modern PR practitioner needs to work and think.

As I've previously explained, there are a number of digital tools available to the modern PR agency.  The more I talk with clients and prospects, more I believe that the two essential tools of the modern PR trade are
Social Media and Search Engine Optimisation.

However it is the combination of these two that creates an extremely potent mix that has a two-fold benefit...
  1. Search Engines are the place where people look for instant answers, or at least for clues to to the questions they have.
  2. Social Media is the online place where they engage with their friends, colleagues and confidants
And what's more.... both rely on the skills that PR people have built up through their careers.... the ability to listen to a conversation and the ability to create great original content. Its just a shame that so many PR practitioners still pay lip-service to both.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

So Is Google +1 going to work? History tells us it might not

Now, I’m a fairly obvious ‘power user’ of Google (as I run a digital consultancy that has an online marketing & SEO division) and have my Google Profile all set up and current… in fact I think I have a couple…. a personal Google account and an Ideal Interface one. So I’m not really your typical user out here, e.g. the person who may not have done this and may even know what a Google Profile is. So I therefore question the usefulness of this function and actually wonder how popular the +1 feature will be.

Hopefully this foray into Social Media for Google isn't as half-hearted as their earlier attempts.

1. Google Buzz hasn't really gained traction in a market already use to Twitter (perhaps because people were upset by its stealth launch into their Google Mail account rather than being something they requested)

2. Google Wave was touted as the successor to email, but turned out to unusable by many as a collaborative place to work and produce rich documents (however, that's not to say that it will have its day eventually, perhaps when people are more used to working in that way).

Only last week the ex-CEO Eric Schmidt accepted that he’d missed out on "the friend thing"…. which is not only a complete simplification of how social networks, it also gives us some idea of just how the search great generally views social media – e.g. it’s a thing to do, rather than a way to connect and even add value to search results.

Put simply, I’m not convinced that Google still gets Social Media and sharing completely. If you want an example of just how little the Google +1 feature is integrated into the rest of the Google product set, consider how useful it would have been to have added a “+1” button into Google’s blogging platform (Blogspot) and how beneficial this would have been to the legions of bloggers who are so dependent on referrals from any source….. That’s really not something Facebook would have missed and perhaps why they lead the social media league table.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Google gets social sharing eventually

Google has now launched the +1 button, which is basically a way for your visitors to easily recommend your site within the search engine. By adding a +1 button to your site (you’ll probably need you site developer’s help in doing this) you are adding Google’s equivalent of a Facebook ‘Like’ to the page. This allows people viewing Google’s search results to see which links their friends positively rate and therefore add more relevance to the results. In other words… someone is more likely to visit a site found in Google if one of their contacts also thinks it’s a good link.

However, there are a couple of caveats to consider:

  1. This functionality is currently reserved just for the main site, with other local versions due to get theirs subsequently
  2. You need a Google Profile set-up and be logged into Google while you browse
But there’s a big positive consideration….. rumour has it that Google say they MAY use the +1’s as an additional signal for ranking pages. Yup, this means that your contacts could potentially help your SEO efforts if you add this little button to your site (and visitors click on it). Google have carefully said they will see how peer recommendations affect search quality before using +1 as a raking factor, so this isn’t yet a way of quickly gaming the engine by getting all your mates to promote your site. And you can bet that the ‘black hat’ SEO market will be instantly looking at ways to use this to artificially manipulate results in the future.

Whether this also means a +1 has an effect upon your site’s ranking in Google for everyone or just those who have linked contacts and are logged in remains to be seen.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Why buttons are helping sites

You will have seen social media sharing buttons crop up all over the web recently, with sites only too keen to encourage you to click, share and show your appreciation.

This is happening more and more, but why has everyone gone button mad?

As I see it… for one key reason… Share-ability (or in other words the pull & push of social media)

Buttons are now a very useful way to encourage visitors to share their content. When once it was all about content.... “content is King” we used to cry. Content is what search engines love and these same search engines are what get you traffic & recognition.... and therefore attention & advertising space or sales.
But now it is all about content sharing, your site content is far more valuable if it is read, shared and then re-read by others. There’s still the reassuring need to make money from content… but if you can use the power of social media platforms to share this content to a wider audience (whilst still retaining your revenue from all these disparate channels) then you are clearly onto a good thing.

Your site has to work as hard a possible. By providing buttons and the means to share this content beyond your current readership, you are using social platforms & their users as a means of free syndication.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Button mania

There have been two developments in the social media sphere over the last few days you might be considering if you need to grow your site traffic or your online reputation.

Both are similar pieces of functionality launched by Google & Twitter that you embed within your site and they mean bigger things for these two giants of the web (that I will explain in a series of small subsequent posts). But let’s be honest about what they are…. Buttons.

Everywhere you go on the web now, there they are….. buttons requesting you ‘Like’ the site, ‘Tweet’ and tell your personal or business contacts how much you like something, or further buttons to post this & that to a wall, blog post or some other social network.

Yup…. The pinnacle of web savvi-ness (if there is such a concept or word) is to have a site with a bunch of different buttons that look like virtual medals adorned across it. In fact, someone I know recently said that sites with all their buttons on are beginning to look like the side of war planes with their ‘kills’ stencilled heroically on their flank. (If you don’t believe me, just take a look at sites like The Huffington Post, where each article has an entire section on the page devoted to their social trophies).

As a concept you could even ask ”So where does it end?”. Perhaps you could get to a point where there are more buttons on a page than content. In some ‘Kenny Everett’ type comedy extreme, you would end up having a site where the numerous buttons scroll off the page, like unending medals given to an over-rewarded highly-decorated soldier.

Thank heavens for features like which aggregate social sharing bookmarks into a single button.