Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Linking your blog to Google+

I've resisted the temptation to get serious about Google Plus over the last year or so, mainly as I didn't see much value in Google's social network. To me it just seemed a little errr... pointless. However to be serious about search engine optimisation, I really needed to have more of an understanding of the platform. (No, this is not an admission that Google+ is something I now use privately, just something I use professionally).

My first step towards using Google+ was linking this blog to my Google account. Usually this is a process of just checking a box in the back-end of the administration and off you go. However in my case this was a little more tricky, as my blog was created in an older Google account and my public Google+ profile sits under a different one. This was resolved by adding the account with my G+ profile to the list of authors and administrators of my blog and then subsequently going in a removing the older account.

Having then linked this blog to my Google+ profile, it was only a matter of days before I noticed that this link was recognised by Google's search results.

Meaning a picture of my face and a link to my Google+ profile was now evident.

Monday, August 26, 2013

The Key Objectives For Any Digital Strategy

Every major organisation now needs a Digital Strategy, or should have one already. But is your strategy underpinned by some simple core objectives?

Here are mine:

  • Be great
    Create a seamless digital presence that evolves over time to create a service that maintains & improves quality and exceeds digital standards & user expectations. 
  • Be inclusive and user-centric
    Ensure as many customers as possible can access your functionality via digital touch-points, regardless of their: ability, connection, devices (e.g. mobile, PC, kiosk, tablet, etc.) and location. 
  • Be optimised
    Build a service that optimises your life-long contact with your customers. Provide: relevant, timely & targeted information to maximise revenue using online marketing & communication techniques. 
  • Be measurable
    Understand digital visitor behaviour at every touch-point and use that data to create insight to inform business thinking and steer future digital roadmap developments, marketing services and business processes.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Further musings about Meta tags

In a recent posting, I mentioned how the Meta Keywords tag is no longer used by search engines to rank websites. Even Google now officially states that they don't bother with it... so as a search engine optimisation technique, I wouldn't spend any time on them.

This therefore raises the question of whether you should even include it in your site or if you should remove it.

So here's some thoughts on the pros and cons of keeping this tag in your site.

Remove them:
  • Your site HTML code can easily be seen by viewing the source in your browser - PC's typically. This means the keywords always on display and can therefore give your competitors insight into the keywords you are targeting.
  • Although a lot of people are now on super-fast home broadband and work connection, there are still a number of users on slower download speeds ... including those on mobile devices. Although removing a line of HTML code isn't going to make your site noticeably quicker, as one UK supermarket slogan goes... every little helps.
Keep them:
  • HTML / Accessibility standards change and evolve from time to time. Therefore there is the chance that the Meta Keyword tag could be brought back into use (although very unlikely I guess).
  • Some on-site search mechanisms might still use them to classify pages on your own web presence 
  • If you're after throwing your competition off the scent of what keywords you're actually targeting, you could always put false ones in your meta tags... but then, that might be a little too much

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Have a redirection strategy when changing your site

Lots of companies I speak with are changing and updating their websites, it’s the natural evolution of things (and also keeps us digital agencies in business). Some of them are carrying out complete overhauls of their online presence, including:

  • Re-platforming (e.g. moving to a more enterprise content management system)
  • Changing the design of the user interface and navigation
  • Applying a new site structure 

When doing all or some of the above, one very important thing usually gets forgotten… the redirection of old page locations to their corresponding new URLs.

Why is this important?
Well, for a start, you hopefully have previous visitors who have bookmarked specific pages with the aim of returning to them at a future date. You would not want them to get the ubiquitous ‘404 error’ that tells them the page is not found on the server.
Secondly, you want to preserve as much of the SEO value of each page as possible. Current thinking (and input from search engine optimisation authorities such as Google’s Matt Cutts) says that the majority of PageRank Juice’ is transferred to the target page when you do site re-directions correctly. And the correct way of providing redirect is via a 301 redirect, which tells the incoming page request that this is a permanent redirection.

There are some important things to note here:

  1. The amount of Google PageRank that you lose through a 301 is currently identical to the amount of PageRank that dissipates through a normal link.
  2. A 302 (temporary redirect) passes 0% juice through to the target page, so should be avoided when optimising your site for search.

Therefore for any sites realistically bigger than a few pages, it is important to plan your redirection strategy. But not just as you are cutting over from one site to another, but as much in advance as possible. In other words, ideally as soon as the new site map and page content have been agreed.

You then have the job of mapping old URLs to new URLs. This can be quite simple if both versions are similar. However it can be far more complex when pages are split across different subjects or when you have an entirely new approach to your site content. So plan your redirection strategy in detail and make sure you are sending users and search engines to the most relevant new location.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Returning to Wordpress SEO

It's been a while since I dabbled with the complexities of Wordpress, the popular website blogging platform that is now the content management system (CMS) behind so many sites.
Note: We've moved onto typically using Drupal for most decent sized sites these days, mainly because it is more of an enterprise CMS and far more stable when you have multiple users all entering and editing content at the same time.

However I had the chance to dive back into the area of Wordpress SEO very recently. This was when a new client was already in the process of having their site developed by anther agency and needed some help to ensure they got the most from their content. Luckily the web developers had used the popular Yoast Wordpress SEO plugin. This was a tool I hadn't used in at least a few years, so it was interesting to see if the popular Wordpress plugin had evolved much.

Luckily the important features are still there, primarily the ability to edit the Meta Description and Meta Title for each post and every page.
Note: Most search engines apparently no longer take any notice of Meta Keywords, which were once the first set of changes for everyone in the search engine optimisation industry. Also older site accessibility standards included some meta data a basic acceptance criteria, however Meta Keywords were not explicitly stated back then and the more recent WCAG2.0 doesn't mention the need to include any specific meta fields... phew!

Luckily the product has improved since I last use it. I really like the Snippet Preview, which gives you some indication of how your page will be displayed in search engines such as Google (however, from experience, search engines don't always take the on-page data you provide and use other sources - e.g. Alexa or Apparently Yoast has been using Linkdex for it's advanced page analysis tools for the last year or so, although this breakdown of: word count, keyword usage and relevance isn't something I've seen in my stand-alone version of Linkdex.

Overall, it's been a rewarding experience going back to something I used to do and re-learning an updated version of a popular SEO tool.

I'll try and blog about the results of my efforts when the site goes live...

Friday, August 9, 2013

Make Customer Experience Management easy for real people

It seems like the world has suddenly woken up to the concept of "the customer journey", the idea that users have specific processes and tasks that they go through to achieve their goals via multiple touch-points & channels.
I must have heard the phrase more in the last few months than I have in the preceding 10 years. It's like every middle manager thinks they have only just invented the term... But that's OK, these people can catch-up with the online industry. We've been using: personas, customer process flows and transactional funnels for over a decade, with great success.

But now things have changed in that time. The idea that the user follows a linear journey is a simplistic model that takes no account for the multiple user types, needs, loyalty, etc. There's also a lot more data available via analytics now can be interpreted, analysed and even processed in real-time to create a dynamic site experience (e.g. product recommendations and multivariate testing) and automate various marketing processes (retargeting, etc.).

However, for all the fancy integration and mathematics behind the scenes, these complex systems still need a non-technical person to manage the experience day-to-day. Normal humans (not rocket scientists) are needed to change assets, conduct conversion experiments and approve content updates. In short, the very person who has now got excited about the improved user experience, now needs a simple way to manage the data-driven customer experience.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Building your corporate digital analytics capability

As an organisation develops its digital understanding, you see certain trends and processes emerging. One of those is the increasing usage of digital analytics and increasing business reliance on the figures produced.

Digital analytics is now taken seriously as a business tool. From what was once a mainly geek-ish domain has emerged a significant service that can empower the business to make more rational or efficient decisions.  But just as other digital resources have grown (and grown-up) over time, the analytics resource in your organisation may well have grown too. If fact, making the point a bit stronger, if your web analytics team has not grown in size or depth in their understanding as the rest of your online capability has matured, you are probably missing something.

However… creating, scaling and keeping your web insight team is not an easy task.
Firstly positioning the team as just another marketing service is not the right approach. Having them regarded in the same light as a search engine optimisation or pay-per-click resource misses the point. This is not to take anything away from the SEO or PPC staff you might employ but the online analytics function is not just there to inform and maintain the current activity… but can also be used to feed insight back into your organisation too.

Creating the right online customer analysis and insight team structure depends a lot on the size & scale of your company. Most small companies do not have someone dedicated to this role (unless they are a digitally-focused business such as an eCommerce site) and even a lot of bigger companies combine the work of a web analytics function with other disciplines, and in a lot of cases this is digital marketing. It is therefore typically only much larger enterprises that can usually afford or utilise a dedicated person or persons in a digital analysis capacity.

Structuring this multi-person team can then be a little different from the way you might structure another digital functions. Although a lot depends on the types and quality of the individuals you hire. Just having a bunch of people who can all do the same things might not provide enough specialisation or focus… and analytics can quickly get into specifics. Some larger teams can range in skill-sets from more technical-orientated people through to business-based modellers who can pull trends and opportunities from complex data structures.

Keeping the team (aside from the effects of your own management style) can be the hardest thing to achieve. From my own experience there is currently a lack of decent experience digital analytics professionals out in the market right now. Quite frankly, we need more digital analytics experts. People with the right skills and experience are given far more choice about who and where they work, with many choosing a more lucrative career as a freelancer or consultant. Therefore holding on to good digital insight staff is crucial if your organisation is to you want to grow your capability and retain best practice knowledge.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Lawyer's Letter to Merchant Soul

In a previous post, I  copied an open letter to Stephen Halpin of Merchant Soul about him owing our company over £26,000 of unpaid invoices.

Below is a letter sent to Stephen Halpin by our corporate lawyers:

Dear Sir
We act for Ideal Interface.
We are instructed to recover from you the above mentioned sum which is comprised by several invoices dating from as long ago as October 2012, full details of which have already been provided to you by our client.  There is no dispute concerning the invoices – you have simply failed to honour your payment obligations.
The matter is obviously of great concern to our client since there is every indication that you have been continuing to incur liabilities without any obvious means of being able to meet them.  This conduct is indicative of wrongful and/or fraudulent trading, the penalty for which includes being compelled to repay money owed out of your own pocket and being disbarred from acting as a director ever again.
The context of this is to make it plain to you that the sum outstanding is sufficiently high that if it transpires that you have wrongfully or fraudulently traded, our client is prepared to take all such steps as are necessary to prosecute such a matter to a conclusion through the courts and the DTI.  
In the circumstances we urge you to give this matter your most urgent attention.  Accordingly unless we have your payment in full, or acceptable terms of payment, by 4pm on Thursday 15 August 2013, our client will take all such steps as are necessary to effect recovery whether through proceedings or insolvency process. We hope that this is not necessary and that common sense can prevail.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Tracking individual users in Google Analytics

Several people have recently asked me if it is possible to use Google Analytics to track and store information on specific individual visitors to their site. Usually the popular analytics package only reports trends and grouped user behaviour, you never get to see the granular detail of each person (e.g. their specific browsing path around the site, etc.). However this can be quite annoying for some marketers who want this information and who have used competitive packages from companies such as WebTrends or Adobe (Omniture) in the past.

If you read the Google Analytics support documentation on Google’s website, you will see in several places there is a reference to NOT using PII (Personally Identifiable Information). This is data that can be used by Google to identify an individual and includes info such as: Name, Address & Email address. However PII can also be a mobile phone’s unique identifier or some other way to recognise a specific device.

There are work-arounds to this restriction (such as using Custom Variables that hold randomly-generated reference for each specific user), but these come very close to violating Google’s End User License Agreement and are definitely not in the spirit of the platform.

So can you upgrade to Google Analytics Premium (the paid-for version of GA) and then start to store important user data? No. The collection of personally identifiable information (PII) is in violation of Google Analytics entire EULA and therefore paying $150k still doesn't let you use the platform as you might have hoped.
Google has therefore been pretty specific in its user agreement (with its new Universal Analytics product also currently having the same restrictions) and even gives the warning that:
Your Google Analytics account could be terminated and your data destroyed if you use any of this information.
However, I have one important point to raise that has been bugging me…

In GA there is the feature to understand your Multi-Channel Funnels. This is lets a site manager understand the interactions between different online media and see how the channels work together to trigger sales. Since this report gives a breakdown of all the multiple digital customer touch-points over the last 30 days… if Google doesn't uniquely identify individuals, how does it know when specific people use each channel and then join them up to create a complete picture of the steps customers take before actually converting?