Friday, September 27, 2013

The signs that Google is killing the SEO industry

It's funny that the Internet search engine that really defined the work of search engine optimisation practitioners over the last decade is now giving several signs that it wants to kill that industry off.

1. The removal of organic results from the top of the SERPs (Search Engine Results Pages)
In a post a year ago, I commented on how little of the organic search engine results showed on the page of a normal user's screen for hotel-related searches. Back then I explained how very little actually appears above the 'page fold' on a decent size monitor and asked Google the question:
Are you trying to do away with the search engine optimisation industry entirely?
Well a year later the search giant has answered my question, by showing no organic results above the fold for certain search queries. E.g. "diabetes symptoms".

And with yesterday's announcement of 'Hummingbird' (the search giant's biggest change to their engine algorithm since the 2009 'Caffeine' overhaul), Google stated that  “around 90% of searches" would be affected. My initial take on this was "Great, I bet that means even more paid-for results appearing at the top of the page".

2. The removal of organic keyword information 
Unless you're in the SEO industry you might not have been following the recent developments in the ongoing [not provided] issue with Google.
To put this in a non-technical way... Google used to let's site owners see which words were driving organic search traffic to their site, via the Google Analytics tool they provide for free. However, over the course of a almost 2 years, the percentage of terms you get to see in GA has diminished to the point where now only 20 - 30% of the total are visible... and this is decreasing all the time.

Why? Well there has been various excuses for removing this incredibly valuable SEO source, from the generic "privacy" label through to the mention of "NSA snooping" (That's the National Security Agency, the internal spy organisation, similar in function to GCHQ, to us Brits).

However, despite all this bluster by the 'Big G' about protecting our privacy, Google still provides full disclosure about specific keyword usage to those who pay for it's AdWords Pay-Per-Click service. Thus putting a price on your privacy.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Google changes the top nav for search again

Google seems to be rolling out another new iteration of its top navigation bar.

In what seems to be an about-face from the adoption of the black left justified "Google bar" that currently lives across the top of all Google apps, the new version gets rid of the black background and moves to the right.

In my opinion this makes the Google+ link to Google Social Networkking platform even more obvious and seemingly relegates the useful links to: maps, Play (Google's app store), YouTube and more. To now reach these functions, you click on the three by three grid image, which then drops down the icons for these popular apps.

Will it catch-on and be adopted across the entire Google estate? Or have I just stumbled across a limited test by the Big G?

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Embedding a Google+ post inside a blog article

I find I'm using Google Plus more these days, so I thought I'd understand how to use the embed post feature. And as this blog is also run on Google's Blogger platform, inserting a G+ post into this blog seemed the obvious choice.

However was actually easier than I thought. By selecting the drop-down menu at the top of a top, you get the options as follows:

Then just selecting "Embed Post" you get access to the HTML code, that you then just copy and paste in the HTML editor of your blog.
Note: editing HTML might not be everyone's idea of 'easy' but for most technically proficient users this should be relatively simple.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Will Social Media Experts take over the World?

I once read back in 2007 that since the rate of Elvis impersonators in the World was increasing at such a fast rate, by 2019 a third of everyone on the planet would be one.

However, I now fear that the Social Media Guru Disease is getting out of control. Now rather than the prediction that the population will be filled with an excess of flared sequinned jumpsuit-wearing singers, we could end up with more than our fair share of inexperienced 'Social Media Ninjas' and self-trained 'Social Media experts' setting up training courses in "creating a Facebook page" and running webinars in "how to engage customers using Twitter".

Well... too late, we already have too many of these!

Hayden has now left the building.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Do you have Social Media Guru Disease?

I fear that a new highly virulent strain has gripped the modern world. One that seems to be so infectious it is spreading life wildfire and afflicting nearly everyone it comes into contact with.

What are the symptoms?
  1. A delusional state of mind 
  2. The constant mentioning of abilities and expertise that the person clearly doesn't have
  3. The impersonation of professionals they have occasionally met or seen
  4. Constant requests for you to like them or follow them
In case you haven't some into contact with these poor people yet... These symptoms are also accompanied by other physical manifestations, such as the sudden appearance of websites and marketing material claiming to "learn the basics" or "grow your business with Social Media". These messages, like a form of digital graffiti, are now posted all over Linkedin and Facebook... it's almost as if those who are worst affected are using the very channels that fuel their delusions as cries for help.

Yes, Social Media Guru Disease is here people and could be affecting those around you at this very moment.

  • Does your partner keep setting up different Twitter accounts for no reason?
  • Has your son started drawing large letters (particularly the letter 'F' in blue) on every vertical surface?
  • Have you the secret worry that 'Instagram' may not be the covert word for your colleague's drug habit?
  • Has an old school friend sent you over 15 request to 'like' their flower arranging business in the last week?

I noticed this disease appear a couple of years back and hoped it wouldn't get out of control. But alas, it seems it might be too late.... I hope not! 

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Is this the best 'Page Not Found' message?

The web was originally created for the purpose of linking between different locations using hyperlinks within pages. This is still the case now, only these days there a lot of broken links out there as pages change their locations over time (e.g. when a new site is built or when products are no longer available to buy online). Consequently now and then you're bound to run into the odd 'Page Not Found' message as you browse around.

This is sometimes called a "404 error", as this is the official server code created when a web server can't find the page requested. And typically this 404 error page generates a dull computer-created message that looks completely out of place on your newly-designed digital masterpiece.

However, it's not often you come across such as page that makes you giggle. I'll therefore leave it up to you to decide if this 404 message from baby & toddler retailer Mothercare is actually the best example out there.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Retailisation - what it means to be a modern digital retailer

"We want to be more like a retailer"
"We need to think more like a retailer"
"Our business needs to evolve into more of a retail model"

Sound familiar? Well I'm hearing these sorts of quotes more and more often these day, and  not just from the obvious brands you would think. But from established product manufacturers and service providers, who realize that they need to up their game and drive people to consideration and purchase/subscription/take-up.
It seems that despite a recent Global economic melt-down driven by over-spending and an economic reliance on spending... retailisation seems to be the way forward. Everyone apparently now wants to be the next Amazon, Zappos or

So what does it actually mean to think and be more like a digital retailer these days? (Especially the major online or multi-channel retailers, who seem to epitomize this ethos).

Well here's my thoughts:

  1. A good online retailer never stops looking for ways to improve what they have. This constant & iterative approach to goal optimisation means sites need to constantly change to increase their conversion ratio, average order value and other KPI's. eCommerce giants like Amazon, Argos, Tesco, etc. no longer launch major re-developments once in a while, but have a tried & tested process of smaller changes planned based on analytics & insight. These changes are then implemented in an  optimisation road-map as quickly as they can, with the idea of building up a picture of what works and what doesn't.
    This is also not just something that done on the homepage of your site,  where every product/service wants to get visibility, but on every page / template, including: landing pages, product pages, etc.
  2. Use every opportunity to maximise each individual transaction. From useful up-sell and cross-sell opportunities through to optimised abandoned basket messages or a clever eCRM communication that pulls in dynamic product suggestions based on browsing history... you have the data, use it to persuade and encourage.
  3. Carry out regular user experience site reviews, but ensure they are done from the perspective of a prospect/customer.
    Examples could include:
    1. A new customer looking for product information
    2. An soon-to-be customer looking for product validation
    3. An existing customer looking for support or returns information
    4. A lapsed customer who has forgotten their password.
  4. A PPC & display budget should focus on those campaigns that deliver conversions and not just visits or other vanity metrics. In other words, deliver a bought media strategy that targets goals using input from you site analytics.
    (And if I hear one more senior exec say "we have X number of hits on our site" - I think I'll scream)
Retailisation isn't for everyone. But as more & more sites move beyond just the basics, I'm sure it is an approach that will continue to increase in use.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Online success - 8 soundbites for digital improvement

I'm typically not in favour of using soundbites, without backing them up with facts or information. However I find myself using the following more and more... so thought I'd note them down for future reference.

Find and identify your audience
Turn monologues into dialogues via web and social networks
Match the style of message with the style of audience
Create, implement and analyse ideas which deliver results
Measure value and worth properly
Build engagement, loop it and exploit it
Developing a programme for continuous improvement
Evaluate, set-up, use and  tools that use the data you already own

Hopefully in another post or two I'll go into these in far more detail.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

5 ways to spot a crap Content Marketing agency

Content Marketing is this season’s buzz word. Like ‘Social Media’ was a few years back and ‘Web 2.0’ a few years before that… Content Marketing is apparently all the rage now.
Only there’s a big problem with that.

To try and fill the gap between client expectations and delivery of these, a bunch of agencies have recently cropped up offering: Content strategy, Content Marketing, In-bound marketing and the rest. You know the ones… they email you all the time (well, they fill up my ‘Promotions’ tab in Google Mail – which I now treat like a second inbox for spam) and make it seem like they are a reputable company and not just a bunch of people jumping on the latest digital bandwagon.

Yes, there will be the odd one out there who has actually done what they say and possibly for some brands you may have actually heard of. But a lot of them have either just re-purposed their existing Search Engine Optimisation efforts or may have worked out how to do the basics in Google Analytics (e.g. look at in-bound source URLs, print out a PDF of landing page bounce rates, etc.).
So here’s my tips on the ways you can spot a crap content marketing agency:

  1. They send you an email such as “understand blogging basics” or “free website content review” when they've not even looked at your site
  2. They don’t actually have any content creation and copy writing skills (they typically only offer to suggest blog posts or to analyse what you've already written)
  3. They have spelling or consistency mistakes across their website (an obvious sign of poor content quality) 
  4. Despite claiming to have been doing “Content Marketing for years” their own twitter feed and blog posts go back less than 12 months.
    (And watch out for the tell-tale sign of sudden flurries of blog posts all written around the same time, and then large gaps where they haven't been bothered)
  5. They make wonderful sweeping statements like “you need to increase brand engagement” with no indication of how you actually do this, let alone measure it.

So. Did I miss any points? Let me know. 

Monday, September 2, 2013

Think Search Engine Optimisation is easy?

We often get new digital marketing clients come to us after hearing a lot of inaccuracies (or just plain lies) from others, so I thought it best to set down a points about SEO that might come as a surprise to those looking to hire a decent search engine optimisation company:

  1. The improved placement of your site in search engines can’t be guaranteed. There are certain SEO things within our control such as on-site content, the code of your website and some in-bound links (e.g. from partners, etc.). But there is a lot beyond our control, such as how the search engines index & display sites, plus what the competition does… all of which may affect the positions of your site in the organic search engine result s (SERPs)
  2. Reputable SEO agencies should not use any underhand or short-term 'black hat' SEO activity to gain an improvement, no matter how tempting this may be to the agency or the client. There's no instant way to get a significant lift in your site rankings without a lot of hard & genuine work. So don’t keep asking us to do it, or we will resign the account.
  3. We are (to a certain extent) at the mercy of your web development agency to make code & configuration changes for the benefit of SEO. By the way, if that’s also us, then don’t worry. Your web developers may have their own opinions on what is good for SEO, we may have another...  we’re not saying we’re always right, but we may have the bigger perspective here.
  4. SEO & PR now have to work together to be truly successful. We’ll therefore need access to either your in-house PR person or your PR agency. If you don’t have either then we can still do loads of great stuff, but our link-building activity may take longer.
  5. We can't optimise your site without content... decent, credible, interesting, readable and shareable content. If you have no intention of producing it yourself, then we can suggest people for this job. But if you don’t want to use them… then the scope of how we can optimise your site is then limited.

In short, I don’t think Search Engine Optimisation is easy, although the positives of working in such an interesting and dynamic industry more than makes up for this.