Friday, November 30, 2012

Choosing a new ESP isn't always the right answer

A friend was asking me today about how he should go about evaluating an email service provider for his client. The current ESP being used is a well known one, but in his due diligence efforts he wants to be understandably thorough.

Here's roughly what I said:

The main ESP's are all pretty good these days and usually the same names tend to appear when large companies want to change. In short, it's a mature market and they all have reasonable products. Sure, there are lots of benchmarking stuff reports that compares the major players, but you're not going to go significantly wrong with any of the key ones (hopefully),

However, the principle areas of risk with any email system are:
- understanding all the functionality (e.g. Dynamic, automation, etc)
- using the package correctly (e.g. Improving deliverability)
- developing a coherent testing & learn approach
- integrating it with back end systems (e.g. CRM)
- integrating it with website analytics 

In short, a decent ESP is a good tool in the right hands, but then so is a chainsaw

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Content Marketing confusion

I think there’s a huge confusion over what Content Marketing is (for example, even the Wikipedia entry defining what it is gets very confused). 

In my opinion, Content Marketing is not just about acquisition of visitors via sharing, search, syndication and so on… it is about engagement. Or in other words, about getting users to come back to your site once they have already visited. Therefore an important success criteria is not just the typical ones such as visitors and subsequent conversions. It is also about returning users and how frequently they come back to your site.

Let's also be clear, content marketing is not search engine optimisation. Although the two are potentially mutually beneficial, SEO deals with the optimisation of the code, configuration and the content of the site. SEO is also typically is seen as a way of acquiring visitors who convert… not a way of retaining them.

Therefore an admission... I need to make an amendment to my recent presentation on content marketing optimisation, where I show the feedback loop from both search rankings and website analytics.

The example KPI's I give as the metrics to use to update content are visits & visitors, bounce rates and conversion. However I didn't give engagement or return frequency as one of these figures... and should have.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Are data silos holding your company back?

In a recent blog post I commented on the issues with collecting data across the organisation. But one it is collected, it's the storage that's the next problem.

You see, data in businesses is still pretty much silo based, with information retained within specific people, units and departments. Decision making is consequently restricted to this data and is therefore restricted in its scope, outlook and ultimately its potential. And typically where there is a lack of data, this leads to assumption and inherent inaccuracies. In short, silo-based thinking leads to silo-based data capture, which leads to silo-based-decision making.

This isn't a new phenomenon and there are articles that exist online since the beginning of the web that talk about this. But with the increase in the amount of data being captured about people, their activities, their multi-device habits and transactions they perform all the time ... the world is collecting and storing more information than ever before (often with little consideration of how it will be used subsequent) and this creates a growing problem. For example, I remember just a few years ago working on the implementation of a large eCommerce site, where a key requirement was to capture every possible piece of  web analytics data (including the complete user journey for every visitor) in another database not accessible by the rest of the business . When I asked why this was, the only rationale given at the time was "I don't know, but we might want to look at it later".

However this issue is something that 'big data' practitioners are now starting to get their teeth into. Products like Autonomy are now worth billions of dollars (although perhaps only to HP at the beginning of 2012 now) because they can make sense of huge amounts of structured and unstructured data to provide business insight.
So maybe there was a reason for storing all that individual website visitor data back then...

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Why Community moderation is like a pot plant

Today I was presenting some thoughts to a client about the development of their digital strategy. Along the way we also discussed some digital marketing and content optimisation recommendations, including an approach to community management and moderation.

In a rush to explain myself (I was getting a little carried away I guess) I explained that managing a community online was like a household pot plant.

How? Well, like any living organism, a community needs care to keep it alive. Only the way you care for a community is by moderating (pruning) it carefully and providing the necessary feed (updates or topics for discussion). You can also afford not to go to this effort every single day (meaning you can afford to occasionally take a holiday) and rely on the inputs and outputs you've provided to sustain your entity.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Still doing basic online attribution?

Online attribution? Well, imagine you have a transactional website and you didn't know which digital  channel was responsible for each of your goals or conversions (e.g. sales) . Finding a way to 'attribute' specific actions to specific marketing channels gives you a better understanding of how and where to spend your budget.

Currently a lot of website analysts and digital marketers apply a ‘last click wins’ approach  to measuring goals. This is where the last channel used gains all the credit for the acquisition (this could be: an online advert such as Google’s AdWords, a paid for link on a partner website, a targeted email, a review site looking to get affiliate revenue for a referral, or a listing in search engines , etc.).
Why do they do this? Well it is what your typical online analytics tools provide you out of the box and therefore it easy to understand and manage.
Note: Others actually apply a 'first click wins', which means awarding conversions to clicks that have not actually produced conversions... or in other words, not rewarding the last channel that did!

However some sites are now applying slightly more complex attribution models, to try to give some credit to the overall purchasing process and not just one click. Some apply an equal weighting to all the known/recorded‘ touch points’ or alternatively and with slightly more complexity they apply a simple gradual increased weighting up to the moment of purchase. These methods of equal attribution and escalating attribution both have their plus points (they are quite simple to measure and calculate) and their drawbacks...with the obvious caveat being that none is really a true picture of the value added by each online customer interaction.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Google Hotel Finder pushes results off the screen

Last week I had a quick outburst at Google for managing to take up most of my screen real estate with adverts. This previous posting was based upon a search for car insurance, which left only one organic search result on my 1366 x 768 laptop screen.

So, with the dark launching of Google's Hotel Finder application yesterday to much of the UK's searching traffic, I was keen to try it out. The subject of this particular functionality will probably be discussed in a later post, but for now I couldn't get past one obvious fact...

... that Google's new hotel search tool takes up a lot of space on the page. 

Just take the screen shot above as an obvious example. Here, following a search for "hotel in glasgow" I get a page displaying: pay-per-click adverts, a map showing the location of some hotels in Scotland's fair city and now the sponsored zone that allows me to enter my required date range and 4 price-based links.

But a quick image edit later, you can see what this page looks like if you remove all the adverts.

And this is being gracious, considering the map is a link to another page that has several PPC links in pole position on the page.

So, well done Google, for managing to completely push all organic results off of the screen of my pretty high-specification laptop. Are you trying to do away with the search engine optimisation industry entirely?

Thursday, November 22, 2012

What role does your Chief Digital Officer have?

At the beginning of this 2012 I pulled together a post on the emerging role of the Chief Digital Officer (CDO).

Over the last few months I've been considering this role more and now think that this is a job that will become more commonplace in the future. And it would seem that I'm not alone in thinking this, with executive recruitment company Russell Reynolds now stating that
The spike in demand for Chief Digital Officers has been felt globally. In Europe, the number of search requests for this role has risen by almost a third in the last 24 months
So what should the Chief Digital Officer should be responsible for in a major organisation?

Here's my suggestions:
  • Having a seat on the board that champions the implementation / growth / adoption of digital technologies & practices, whilst contributing to the overall business strategy
  • Online best-practice guidance and mentoring for all executive level staff
  • Owning the company's digital strategy (including the digital roadmap of future features and functionality)
  • Managing the implementation and management of online services (where there's no dedicated business owner)
  • Ensuring the Digital Strategy aligns with overall IT, operational and product / commercial roadmaps
  • Overseeing the overall digital user experience (e.g. every online touch point)
The Chief Digital Officer should also have the following experience:
- Experience of working within a blue chip organisation on a global scale (e.g. FMCG, Manufacturing, Online, Retail, etc.)
- Knowledge of Digital Marketing (from search engine marketing through to complex attribution)
- eCommerce best practice (conversion optimisation, merchandising, pricing and fulfillment) 
- A sound grounding in technical architectural and operational standards
- A history of large project / programme delivery

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

The problem with collecting data

Data gets collected all over the place these days:

  • Customer feedback questionnaires regularly request and assess views and opinions
  • Website analytics capture everything from machine preferences through to individual clicks on each page
  • Audience research shows the number of adverts watched in a single evening and the retention of those products the following day.
  • In-store ethnographic research identifies trends in purchasing behaviour and the effects of pricing, product selection, promotion and placement.

But businesses and their agencies need to move away from the habit of just retaining data from single channels (e.g. website analytics. TV viewing figures, etc.) and transcend the basic online only attribution models that are currently out there.

They now need to understand the entire user journey that leads not just to a transaction, but to a longer-term relationship. Only then can business truly understand the influence that different devices, channels, proportional activity and other factors (such as peer recommendations) have on purchasing and subsequent behaviour.

But who is linking these sources and others together? Who is trying to pull together the collective understanding from each of the different communication and commercial channels?

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Windows 8 isn't the expected hit

For the last week or so I've been considering a new PC and the installation of Windows 8 upon it. I'm sure I'm not the only one who's thought about it and I know at least one friend who has dabbled, installing it as an upgrade on his current home PC ... I've seen his cursing on Facebook as a result.

However, so far I've yet to take the plunge myself, perhaps put off by the ragings of my friend, but also because... well, I just don't need to really. You see, I've kind of got used to my Windows 7 operating system, which was hastily upgraded as soon as it came out, following the disaster that was Windows Vista.

So now I have had a stable and working PC for the last few year, allowing me to get on with the more productive things in life, like actually using it for work.

Am I put off by having to learn yet another user interface? Yes

Can I be bothered to install it on my current machine and risk its stability, productivity and compatibility? No
(In other words, I'm not too sure I can run all the software I have installed on my current box and I'm in no mood to find out by a process of trial and error)

Apparently even Microsoft are admitting that sales of their new version are "disappointing" and to make matters worse... even the story explaining this lack of sales in The Register has scored even more points for Google:

I can't help but feel that Microsoft may not be winning this one...

Monday, November 19, 2012

Have yourself a very merry tablet Xmas

As sales of tablets continue to grow and the market fragments into numerous smaller ones that cater to different user needs (media player, e-reader, games machine, laptop replacement, etc)... The end users and the device makers both seem to be the beneficiaries. Worldwide sales are now predicted to climb to over an estimated 100 million units in 2012 (a 98 percent increase from 2011 sales of 60 million units according to Gartner, Inc.)

Also if you run a website, you will probably have seem the jump in tablet usage from your website analytics over the Chirstmas periods of the last two years. So therefore, it is highly likely that there will be another jump in tablet users this holiday period (I'll also try and use the phrase 'Holiday Period' more often, rather than just Christmas and New Year, as this trend is a global one... with users who celebrate Thanksgiving and Hanukkah also driving sales in the winter months).

So with over 60% of tablet owners planning to research and then purchase holiday gifts, decor and food items this Winter, it is highly likely that you will see yet another jump in tablet usage.  This means that if you have not already considered the compatibility of your website on such a device, you are already behind the curve. To make matters worse, the types of device you now need to build and test for have grown significantly in the last year.

It looks like site owners and online retailers have yet more headaches on the run-up to their busiest period.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Google - just how much is adverts?

In yesterday's post I put up a screen grab of a Google results page for the term 'car insurance'.

Looking back at this image again, I was struck by just how much of the screen is actually covered by adverts. Or to put it another way... what happens if we take the same screen and remove the pay-per-click adverts and link to Google's sponsored promotion for its own car insurance aggregation product.

Quite telling isn't it?

Friday, November 16, 2012

Google is back with car insurance

Has anyone else recently done a search for car insurance?

Well,if you has done this about a month ago you'd have seen the screen shown in my recent posting.
However, I checked Google only recently (e.g. a couple of days ago) and the sponsored link to 'Compare Car Insurance - with Google" has disappeared between the organic and the PPC links.

Well, I checked Google again tonight and low-and-behold, the sponsored link is back.

But with one slight amendment.... where previously the search engine boasted quotes from 120+ providers, the language in the advert has subtly changed to 'Compare up to 110 Insurance Providers'.

Has Google possibly got issues with the number of insurance providers on its panel?

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Ecommerce sites please prep for Christmas

I have a magical and imaginary crystal ball, so if you run a retail eCommerce site in the Western world ..... let me tell you what I see in your short term future....

....An increase in visitor traffic over the next 6 weeks, culminating in a peak around Christmas time.

So now I've told you what's going to happen, what are you going to do about it? Well, if you're like so many other sites I see, you'll do bugger all about it. Then, should your site start to go slow (or even stop) in the run up to your busiest online trading period ever, you'll remember this blog post. And by then, there will be almost nothing you can do about it.

But right now, with 6 weeks to go, there is still time (just) to do something about it. How much actually depends on a number of factors, including how stable and scalable your eCommerce platform and code actually are. Another will depend upon the flexibility you have with your hosting company. Other factors are much harder to describe without going into a lot of scenarios and assumptions, but suffice to say there's always something you can do to improve the performance of a site, given enough lead time and the right expertise.
Note: If you don't know who who to contact, please drop me a line

In short, dear website owner or manger, please make sure you're ready for what is expected to be the largest eCommerce Christmas ever.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Digital jobs for Scotland

15,000 digital jobs for Scotland. That's how many jobs The Scottish government is predicting will be created as part of its investment in the country's broadband infrastructure over the next few years.
(See this article form the BBC about it:

But hold on one minute, lets not put our faith in fast Internet connectivity to stimulate jobs here in Scotland. Lets take a moment to remember that broadband Internet might not be the employment panacea the government is predicting,

Sure, in many ways the Internet has been an engine of growth and created many new companies and roles. In fact it has created whole new industries and economies.

But it is also responsible for disrupting entire markets. For example, it has brought the newspaper and wider publishing industry to its knees. It's changed lead generation across numerous industries such as travel, effectively pushing a lot of agents into harder and more niche roles. And lets not even mention the decimation of the local consumer electronics, books or music store....

Sure, there are plenty of successful examples of new and old economy companies making a success of online... And I'm personally hoping that this significant increase in bandwidth both opens up more remote communities as well as providing a greater customer base for Scottish ecommerce...

But lets just hold on and wait for the economic benefits of fast broadband before promising them.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Big Data and The Republican Loss

This is more of a question than an observation, which is why I've posted it on a Sunday (I'm not expecting an answer and I'm assuming most professional users are out or not reading blogs & Twitter ).

I've been reading a fair bit this weekend about Orca, Mitt Romney's voter assessment software, built by an anonymous supplier on a Microsoft platform.

According to various articles, Orca suffered stability and accuracy issues in the run-up to the election last week. Something many people are now claiming cost The Republicans the Presidency of The USA.

Orca was apparently built pretty hastily 7 months ago to rival the effect of a similar piece of kit used successful by The Democrats in 2008 and wheeled-out and improved upon again this year. Both systems apparently crunch 'big data' to identify likely voters and contributors for their respective parties. Only Orca didn't deliver.... It apparently crashed, locked out users and couldn't handle the data entry required of it.

So my question is simply this... If Mitt Romney is from such a prestigious financial management background (Bain), where spreadsheets have been the backbone of accurate decision making for over a decade ... then how come it was this crucial element that was so weak in The Republican campaign?

Friday, November 9, 2012

Are we about to have a battle of the tablets?

One in four US adults now owns a tablet computer, and two-thirds of those who own a tablet purchased them in the last year. These figures, despite being quite recent, don;t take into consideration the recent launches of the iPad Mini as well as the new Kindle devices (which now makes my slightly older Kindle look very out of date) and other Android devices...... let alone this month's Microsoft Surface launch
This means that the ubiquitous iPad does now have some serious competition in the tablet market and therefore this leads to an overall increase in tablet ownership.

The above diagram, provide by The Economist & Pew Research shows just how much the market has changed in one year.

In my opinion there's a battle coming. One that will be fought in full view of all of us (and most will get caught in the crossfire). The war over mobile commerce.... which is set to explode over the next few years.

Don't believe me?
Well Business Insider do, as they have predicted several mobile commerce trends over the next few years.

Their predictions pretty-much reflect a lot of my own thoughts:
  1. Mobile commerce is getting bigger and bigger
  2. Mobile payments will fuel this growth
  3. Tablet growth will drive up this usage even further
  4. The SoMoLo 'holy trinity' of Social Mobile & Local will be attractive to marketers (although specifically how they will take advantage of this, I'm not sure yet)
Therefore those companies who manage to take as much of the tablet now, will be in a position to commercially make the most from it in the next few years.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

How much value is your website data giving you?

I'm on a mission to make sure companies get more value from the online data they collect. Why?
Well most companies now know that they can plug analytics into their website, ranging from the free (but still incredibly useful) Google Analytics, to paid for products such as: Coremetrics, Adobe [yes, we do still call it Omniture] and WebTrends.

For me the diagram below highlights the increasing value of website analytics and their importance to the business.
Reading the diagram from the bottom up, you firstly move on from a position of no data (or badly collected data) by setting up correct data capture processes. This can be anything as simple as collecting log files from your web server of visitor traffic. However by taking the next step (e.g. implementing website analytics) an organisation makes the move to having information it can use, now typically presented in the form of tables, diagrams, etc.

But, that is typically where most companies stop. However there's an additional layer above that, delivered by carrying out data analysis on the available information and creating valuable online insight.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

No you are not an expert!

It seems like every is a bloody expert these days. From self-styled Digital Marketing gurus through to Social Media ninjas (please, enough with the fantasy role playing... you should have got that out of your system playing Dungeons and Dragons in your youth), it feels like everyone wants to be known as an expert in their field.

It's actually not that hard to look like an expert these day. Just like nobody knows if you're a dog on the Internet.... it is relatively easy to create the pretense of a fair amount of knowledge, so that anyone quickly looking at your online activity will think your an expert.

Don't believe me? Take a look at a range of colleagues and ex-colleagues on Linkedin. Check out how many are now using the new 'skills' functionality to label their expertise. Now look at how many are over-stating what they are capable of and therefore how little they are getting their fantasies validated by their peers.

So next time someone says they are an expert in a specific subject, just look at how many people have confirmed this in their Linkedin profile.

So far, in my Linkedin profile I have given myself the following skills, which have yet to be validated by any of my contacts: Online User Experience, Internet Strategy, Project Management, ecommerce seo, Technology, Programme Delivery, Web Analytics, Web Content Management, Online Marketing, SEO, Web Solutions, E-commerce Solutions, Multi-Channel Commerce, Digital Communication, Conversion Optimization, Web Strategy.
Does anyone fancy confirming these for me please? :-)

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Content Marketing Optimisation - presentation

To try and explain both the alignment of the typical website delivery process (engage, specify, design, develop, test & launch) with the approach needed to deliver website content, I put the presentation below together.

Both processes need to closely align, but then once content it delivered it needs to be updated in a cyclical process. This content marketing optimisation approach need to factor in not just the brand (e.g. values, voice, etc.) but also other considerations such as the relevant SEO terms to target.

As always, the presentation is a 'straw man' and I'd value any feedback anyone has on this.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Learnings from migrating the Ideal Interface domain

Last week I migrated the Ideal Interface website across to the sub-domain and mentioned at the end of this blog post how I was concerned that it may affect our SEO rankings. 

Well a quick check on Google has show that we have still retained the top spot for a search on "Ideal Interface". However we have lost our site links, the series of lesser links under the main listing that link off to other pages on this site.

It is also strange to notice that Google still gives our old site ( a third place listing, behind an Australian User Experience consultancy.

Hopefully, when our old site completely disappears from Google's listings we might get back our site links back in time. Until then, I think it is safe to say our listing has been affected by our domain migration.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Content Marketing Optimisation

Content Marketing needs a lot of thought and effort to do it correctly, so it is definitely not something you should rush into. You first need a content marketing strategy, and then you need the right team & appropriate inputs to be able to create the content. But creating content across your owned marketing channels (website, social media sites, etc. ) is not the end of things… content needs continual review & refinement to improve its effectiveness as an in-bound marketing (and conversion improving)channel.  But, just updating content to make it more timely and relevant for the sake of it is a thankless and unnecessary task.

To truly optimise your content marketing over time, you not only need to back in the results of your efforts (visits, bounce rates, pages viewed per visit, conversions & other goals)  but you really need to take this information and use it to create further content or amend your existing content.

You web analytics package should help give you the information you need to produce various insights into what your content is doing for you. In fact, Google’s new A/B testing tool (which I have decided not to use as it currently looks a fairly immature product) is now called ‘Google Analytics ContentExperiments’, now indicating the search giant’s emphasis of the benefits of content optimisation as a means of gaining decent website traffic.

However, let me just state that I believe content marketing is not (as a lot of other people have stated) just about SEO. Search Engine Optimisation is just one of the tools in the content marketer’s toolbox and should therefore be considered along with everything else.

In other words, you need to consider content marketing optimisation as business as usual, in just the same way as (hopefully) your online PR, eCommerce merchandising and other staff currently consider search engine optimisation.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Does Scotland have a digital skills issue?

I see a huge digital/eCommerce/online opportunity available to Scotland. There's people doing great things here and I'm impressed with a lot of what I see.

But Scotland can only truly take advantage of the new digital economy if:

1. There is a decent supply of brains
Academia has its part to play here, by educating and training the best to not only gain qualifications. but to be employable. However the digital industry also has another part to play here, rather than just rely on the cream of the crop from the top universities… recognising where it can cross-train slightly more experienced people from alternative disciplines. I did this in the late 1990’s when all the online start-ups had exhausted the supply of programmers, digital project managers, etc. It worked then, it can work now.

2. There are roles available
A actually think that entrepreneurs are doing a lot in Scotland to move things forward and from what I’ve seen so far they are given a fair amount encouragement and resources. But they can only generate a certain amount of new roles. IMHO more traditional businesses must also step up to the plate and realise that the world is moving fast, very fast…… and that older models of working, selling and distribution are not necessarily the ways of the future.
The figure I quoted in an earlier blog posting from the Scottish Enterprise report into eCommerce showed how little IT jobs contained the word ‘eCommerce’ in them.
Surely this isn’t the fault of the labour supply, who (with the right education, exposure and training) can be highly useful digital resources?….. To me is shows a lack of general demand for digital roles up here.

Which if it is true, is more worrying!

rebuilding the new Ideal Interface website

The old Ideal Interface company website had been up for about 3 years and was looking  a little dated. Not only was it out of date from a content perspective (as well as having our old London address & details, it contained references to an association with a parent company that has now folded) . On top of this, the CMS we had used required upgrading and given that the site was only a small, I thought a blogging platform was more suitable. Oh.... it also wasn't mobile compatible, which I see as a must in the current online world.

I therefore made the decision last week to redevelop the site, but this time using the Wordpress blogging platform.... The site's main purpose is to house a small amount of content based around our central proposition of eCommerce and Digital Marketing consulting, so I thought a blog was the ideal vehicle going forward. But here was the challenge I set myself...... get it done for no charge (except my time).

The first issue I had was exporting the content from our current content management system (Drupal) to our new one. Despite looking at several ways to do this automatically, I eventually settled for a 'copy and paste' approach. This actually turned out to be quite time efficient, given that Wordpress accepted most of the formatting from the old CMS.

The second one was migrating the domain across. You see the forwarding of our company email addresses is managed via one domain name provider, but migrating the DNS across meant losing this forwarding (which was not available in Wordpress as far as I could see).
Note: I only found out about the lack of forwarding by stopping the company email addresses for a period of a few hours. Luckily these were saved by our DNS ISP and eventually came through. Ooops!
The remedy to this issue was to give the website a subdomain and eventually I settled on
However, Wordpress did charge me for the mapping of this subdomain, at a cost of about £9.

So now, we have a new site. One that has the same content, is updated using the Wordpress app on my iPhone and works incredibly well on mobile devices. I'm not 100% sure I like the template used on the PC version and I need to include the logo in there ASAP. But for just a very small outlay I can upgrade this template to a premium one or get one developed that I like.

Let's see how it fares.... especially as the domain has now changed and this may affect our SEO rankings.