Monday, 22 December 2008

A Christmas Re-Tale of Online Delivery

I realise that I often use this blog to rant about poor online customer service so I thought I would begin by posting one of my more positive experiences of online retail.

Graham Chorlton recently wrote a post on the E-Consultancy Blog about how high street retailers are handling Christmas delivery. Delivery times are crucial around Christmas, particularly for someone like myself, who aims to do the majority of their shopping online but still leaves it until the last minute. The thought of gifts not arriving on time and having to find presents for all my family on Christmas Eve, fills me with dread.

In 2006 I ordered a lot of my Christmas presents from Amazon. I placed my order on 10th Dec. I had ordered a variety of different delivery dates but decided to consolidate all my orders into one delivery on 18th Dec. I specified that I would have the items delivered to my office as, like most full time employees, I am unable to sign for deliveries at home as I am not there during the day.

There really is a gap in the market for a delivery company to devise a solution to this problem. Whether it be paying extra for evening or weekend deliveries or specifying a secondary address in the event of non-delivery, this is a major barrier to online purchase.

For example, I recently had a package delivered from Apple, that I had to drive about 10 miles to my nearest TNT depot to collect, taking almost half a morning out of the office. If I had known this, it may have been simpler for me to purchase directly from an Apple reseller, all be it for a slightly inflated price.

Anyway, I must get back to the Amazon story as I said this would not be a ranting post. I went on skiing on the 17th Dec and returned on the 23rd only to find that no delivery had been made. After a bit of enquiry at work I decided to call
Amazon directly via their customer services callback mechanism. This service worked incredibly well, the callback happened almost instantly. Amazon were able to track the order from dispatch to my local Royal Mail Depot. I managed to speak to the local depot who told me that my delivery had been left for postal delivery. I had to conclude that my parcel must have got lost on the final leg of the journey, the 500m from the Royal Mail depot to my office.

However, with nothing in the office and the Xmas shopping hours rapidly running out, I decided to speak with Amazon again. Despite the fact they had really done nothing wrong, they assured me that they would do their best to get all the items sent out to me by special delivery the next day (24 Dec). The delivery was made as promised and even included the items that originally had extended delivery times.

This level of customer service, I thought was exceptional and have not forgotten. I believe that Amazon are a best of class online retailer that are continually innovating within not just their sector, but online as a whole. The fact that their customer service is also superb demonstrates that they have a a customer centric approach that will inevitably allow them to sustain growth even during this economic decline.

I
thought no more about the whole episode until a year or so later when a departing colleague was unpacking his desk and found the original package from Amazon that he had accepted, signed for and forgotten about.

I should mention that I have no affiliation with Amazon at all. I'm just delighted that they were so attentive and so helpful, especially as the blame did not lie with them.

Sunday, 23 November 2008

The End of SEO as we know it?

Google have recently graduated their social search product from Experimental to live for all Google account holders. Entitled SearchWiki, this tool allows the Google account holders to make changes to their search engine results pages (SERP's) that can be stored for access at a later date.

Here are my immediate thoughts:

How many people will use the tool?

It is estimated that 1.3M people in the UK have an iGoogle account. This can be used as an approximation for the volume of people that can use SearchWiki. However it is really only a small subset of these suers that are likely to use SearchWiki.

I use a lot of Google tools throughout a typical working week. I conduct hundreds of searches, am constantly using Gmail for email and file transfer, use Google maps to find directions to for meetings and football matches, analytics to monitor my web traffic, adwords to drive traffic to sites and webmaster tools to analyse technical details about my site. However, I can't realistically see myself using this tool.

The reason I use Google as my main search engine is because it provides me the best results in the right order. I have become accustomed with the how to search in order to give me the results I seek.

I also use Favourites fairly heavily and take advantage of the intelligent search bar within Firefox 3.0. Therefore, I cannot see why I would want to reorganise or annotate my search results as I can access the sites I need to in a simple way already. Is SearchWiki not just en elaborate favourites menu?


Will Google use any data from the tool?

At present, Google state that the information gathered from SearchWiki is not used to calculate organic rankings. My view however is that this will not be the case for very long.

Google are aware that organisations are currently able to reverse-engineer the algorithm and influence the organic search engine results. The principles of pagerank rely on users being able to hyperlink to and from websites. However, this means that search engine results can only be influenced by a small sample of Internet users that are capable of doing this. As the number of non-technical web users has grown, this percentage becomes even smaller. Therefore, it is important that Google take this volume into consideration in order to maintain the integrity of their search results. SearchWiki aims to achieve this by using Google users to shape it's search results.

Of course, it will not be long before SEO organisations adapt to start taking advantage of SearchWiki by using multiple Google accounts and increasing the rankings of their client sites.

I would love to know the level of adoption SearchWiki has seen since it's launch. Having been a fan of a lot of things Google have done, I struggle to see the value that making such a visible change to the SERP's would have on a Google user. I can only suggest that Google's intentions are not immediately transparent.

Sunday, 9 November 2008

CurrySearch

Any web analyst knows that spending time evaluating trends in paid and natural search can add value by informing marketing and business strategy. Marketing directors are constantly asking what the most searched for keywords are and how this can inform their

Search statistics that are considered far less frequently but are potentially far more valuable is the results from on-site search.This is a valuable tool for many reasons.

1. Product Development Insight
If customers are searching for a particular product that is not sold on the website then this information is vital insight into consumer demand patterns. This can be used to inform product teams into researching the viability of selling that particular product. For example, a search for Flights to New York on the Easyjet website may give Easyjet an indication of the volume of customers that want to fly to New York with Easyjet. This is vital information that should be used to inform the product development process.


2. Customer Service
If it is clear that customers are asking particular questions via the search box, it may well be that there is insufficient information on the site. The help or FAQ section could be unclear or the consumer may not be given adequate information throughout their purchase. This information can be extrapolated to understand the volume of potentiual customers that do not complete a transaction due to insufficient information but do not use the search box. For example, if a large percentage of customers are asking about product delivery dates, it is worth making this more explicit throughout the transaction.


3. Merchandising Opportunities
The on-site search results pages provide a great opportunity to merchandise to engaged users. Ideally, an organisation would build an algorithm that responds to the users search terms with promotional offers and reasons to purchase. Failing this, advertising can be used to communicate key messages and promotions to users that are conducting searches on site.


4. Information Architecture
If customers are over-relying on the search box in order to find certain products then it may be that they are too difficult to find on your site. Thanks to search engines, web users are comfortable with using a text search box. But if the volume of customers conducting a search on a site is too high a percentage of total visitors, it may be necessary to review the navigation and hierarchy of information to ensure that the most popular products can be found as easily as possible.

The majority of web analytics tools are beginning to offer the capability of tracking on-site search. The Google solution even offers the ability to tie up on site search with Google Analytics in order to gain an understanding of the complete customer search journey.

Curry's on site search has not worked for me for a number of weeks now. Any search that is conducted on their site results in a frustrating session time out page. I believe that there may be a cookie issue causing session timeouts on their site but this fault skews their web analytics and upsets their potential customers. If there are people making decisions on this data, they could gain a very distorted view of how customers are interacting with their site.

For any decisions to be made on the back of on site search information, the first thing is it has to work.

Monday, 3 November 2008

Left vs. Right

Today sees the climax of potentially the most exciting and definitely the most expensive American election in history. It is widely expected that despite claims of a late comeback from Republican John McCain, Democrat Barack Obama will become the first black president in America's history.



The main reason for the huge cost behind this race, bar Sarah Palins wardrobe, is the unprecedented investment in media made by each candidate. Obama purchased 30 minute infomercials across several of the major TV networks last week

But how has this media battle played out online? Both of the candidates have their own websites which both feature number one in Google and Yahoo! for their respective names.
It is worth noting however, that both websites require Javascript in order to function correctly. This has accessibility implications, as visually impaired web users will not be able to access this content with their screen readers. I wonder how big a demographic, this segment represents?

John McCain's website has amassed an amazing 730,243 inbound links. In e-commerce terms, these are the sort of volumes that SEO's dream of acquiring naturally. This particular battle has a clear winner. Over the same period, Obama's site has gained 1,604,953 links. This is over twice the amount of his rival! Both sites have a pagerank of 8, a clear demonstration of the exponential nature of the pagerank algorithm.

But the online pain does not stop there for McCain. Running mate Sarah Palin has become a major character in the election race but in doing so has left herself open to attacks from viral networks, belittling her serious policies by concentrating on her image and appearance. In fact the Pew Research Center's
project for excellence in journalism found that 39% of news stories surrounding Palin are negative. This compares to 14% about Obama.

McCain has also had coverage of his political rallies removed from YouTube as he became another victim of the increasingly stringent copyright laws. As a result he only has 206K associated videos compared to Obama's 368K

So if the election was to be played out purely online then Obama is a clear winner. Although both websites have greater potential to further engage with their users and capitalise on modern online marketing principles.

Microsoft have developed an interesting visual search engine that allows voters to ask questions about subjects surrounding the election. It's not associated with any candidate or incredibly accurate but worth noting that this is Microsoft's third foray into the visual search arena. It's clearly work in progress.

Monday, 27 October 2008

The Chrome Wars

Google Chrome officially launched in Beta on 3rd September 2008. Since this point the blogosphere has been filled with commentary about the performance of the new browser. Lot's of bloggers are talking about the pro's and con's of the new browser and how it fulfills or does not meet each of it's promises. Fewer have touched upon the Google strategy that sits behind this move. Why have Google released a web browser? Perhaps the answer is too obvious for the more educated online pundit to cover but I felt it was worth blogging about.

Microsoft are a huge organisation. They have made it clear that they are prepared to devote almost unlimited resources in order to acquire a higher proportion of the ever growing online advertising investment. It is difficult to argue that they don't have the greatest opportunity. Windows is the default operating system for all home PC's. Over 70% of internet users also continue to use Internet Explorer as their default browser. But 86% of users continue to search the internet using Google.

This represents the biggest tug of war on the internet. Microsoft have the browsers but Google have the searchers.

MSN launched Internet Explorer with MSN Live Search set as the default option in the search box. Google were not happy with this step, complaining to the European Commission that Microsoft were acting anti-competitively. The high percentage of users that change their Internet Explorer default search engine to Google is surely the biggest insult Live Search can get.

Recently I blogged about the latest version of Firefox, 3.0. I have been very impressed with this browser and after a brief dalliance with Chrome, I have reverted. The beauty of Firefox is it's compatibility and the abundance with available add-ons. Although Chrome is also open source, Firefox just feels more malleable and more personal.

Another question that bloggers have been asking is how the launch of Chrome impacts upon the relationship Google have with the Mozilla Corporation. It is well publicised that Mozilla earn a large proportion of revenue from Google via searches and their established referral scheme. Indeed, this scheme has recently been extended to 2011 .Reading into the detail, it would appear that Mozilla are relatively unfazed by this new addition into the market.

My suspicion is that the lines between these organisations are quite blurry. They have collaborated on a number of technical, product and financial aspects in the past and I am sure that Silicon Valley staff move quite freely between the hi-tech organisations. After all, they are less than a mile apart.

The latest statistics demonstrate that Chrome has failed to have the impact Google clearly intended. My feeling is that they released Chrome out to the online community, gathered information based on it's reaction and are now working on making the relevant improvements. An indication of this is that they are no longer advertising on Chrome on the classic Google search page.

Microsoft and Mozilla are not sitting back and letting Google innovate on it's own. Many of the major benefits of Google Chrome are evident in the Beta version of IE8 and there are some very exciting developments anticipated when Firefox 3.1 becomes available for download later this year. One thing is for sure however, Google are by no means finished in this area.

Tuesday, 21 October 2008

XLent Rankings at least!


Without doubt, the XL crisis was the biggest story to hit the travel industry this year. The airline and package holiday operator was perhaps the most significant victim within this sector of the troubled market conditions.

As my former organisation competed in the same space, it was actually good news that XL went bust. One less competitor and additional capacity in the market meant that there was less of a requirement to squeeze the margin out of our prices.

Therefore, I was surprised to see that from an search engine marketing perspective, XL became more of a threat. As an example, if I search for "Florida Holidays" XL.com features ina higher position than
Virgin Holidays, an established operator that continues to sell Florida Holidays.

The fundamental principal of Google's pagerank formula actually benefits organisations that are experiencing high profile problems. Authoritative sites that are covering the XL news story naturally create links to the XL website. In a relatively short period of time the site has amassed nearly 15K inbound links. Even organisations with an extremely active link-building programme would struggle to grow their portfolio of natural inbound links so quickly.

This exposes one of the major flaws in Google's algorithm. Google fails to correctly interpret the context of the inbound links to XL. It can the recognise volume of links from authoritative sources but it fails to consider that they all paint a negative picture of the troubled organisation.

Google of course understand this problem. Ranking XL above Virgin for the term "Florida Holidays" does not help the consumer find what they are looking for therefore they may lose confidence in search as a research method.

The context of an inbound link is already acquired from the anchor text and the text that immediately surrounds it. Insights into the context can also be gained from the network of sites where the links are created. For instance, links
from consumer protection sites such as Watchdog can be interpreted as a negative.

The algorithm needs to work harder to understand the reason why the link was created. In order to do that, it needs to be able to understand the semantic nature of the original article. This is the one of the major premises behind the Web 3.0 concept and something that we will hear a lot more of in the coming years.

I am sure that XL will be back in one form or another. The reputation of the brand from an offline perspective is in tatters. But according to the algorithm, XL.com is a great site that is gathering inbound links from veritable sources. Therefore, whoever inherits the domain, inherits a large amount of link equity, that was not there prior to the collapse.

Tuesday, 23 September 2008

The High Point of Summer

I don't watch a lot of television. Therefore, I count myself lucky to have discovered the Australian show Summer Heights High on BBC3. In my opinion, this is the best comedy series to hit our screens since The Office which is one of the highest accolades I can award it.

The show is a mockumentary series, set in an Australian high school. It tells the story of three characters, all played by writer and director and all round genius Chris Lilley.

Jonah - A year 8 student that has a history of behavioural difficulties and a great passion for break dancing. The show ends on a heartfelt moment as Jonah is finally expelled from the school after teaching staff effectively gave trying to rehabilitate him.

Ja'mie - pronounced 'Jamay' is a exchange student from a private school who needs to be the centre of attention and recognised as the "hottest" girl in the school. She is devious enough to organise a fashion show with a false charity, but rich enough to let her Mum pay for her mistakes.

Mr G - A drama teacher with a real passion for performance. His real name is Helen Gregson ("...from the greek masculine version of the name"). The reality is that he prefers using his three talents ("Singing and acting and dancing is my life") than teaching them.

The series was recently broadcast in the UK for the first time on BBC3 and gathered a cult following that discussed the show on various social networking sites. It will rely on these sites to propel it to the same level as the Office. It did not gather as big a following as other BBC3 graduates, The Mighty Boosh and Little Britain.

The sincerity beneath the comedy is what puts this series in the same league as Ricky Gervais's masterpiece. Jonah is as misunderstood as much as he is malicious and clearly designed to demonstrate the deficiencies in the Australian school system when it comes to handling wayward teens. Ja'mie emulates the large variances in attitudes between private and public school children and Mr G is a signal that talent and enthusiasm can be suppressed by an overambitious teacher, obsessed with basking in the limelight themselves.

As with many successful comedies, the ability empathise with the characters and recognise many of their attributes is what makes it brilliant. I hope it will be repeated, as Lilley has already said he is unlikely to make another series. Alternatively, the DVD comes highly recommended.

This clip features Mr G adding a bit more drama to the routine school drills.

Tuesday, 26 August 2008

What do Yahoo! Think You're Doing? (Part 2)

This is the second installment of my rant about Yahoo! search marketing and the difficulties I am experiencing as an advertiser trying to advertise on Yahoo! as effectively as on other search engines.

This installment focuses on an issue that will be particularly concerning to advertisers that have previously experienced problems with match types on other engines.

As I write this blog post, this issue continues to flummox the account management team at Yahoo! UK. The issue has been forwarded to their technical counterparts but a solution has been outstanding for months now.


2. Yahoo! Mapping

Unlike Google, Yahoo! do not have as many keyphrase targeting options. Standard match is the option that is the most similar to Google's exact match but all keyphrases are set to advanced match by default. Historically, the advanced match option in Yahoo! has been a bit too vague for advertisers likings. Keyphrases have matched to incorrect terms causing Yahoo! search campaigns to be less efficient than other engines.

Although Yahoo! claim that the functionality updates delivered with Panama allowed them to tighten up their advanced match facility, it is still advisable to initially implement campaigns with keywords set to standard match.

But even this option creates problems for large advertisers that have the intention to run highly targeted campaigns.
It appears that terms on standard match automatically map to other terms within the account. This is a similar problem to Google's problematic expanded broad match.

For example, we are currently trying to bid on the phrase "Majorca Holidays". According to Yahoo, we are unable to add this term to our campaign because it is mapping to another term within our account. This term is "Holidays in Majorca". In order to increase the position on the term "Majorca Holidays" it is necessary to increase our bid on the term "Holidays in Majorca".

In my view this is ludicrous. If is deemed that the two keywords are so similar that an advertiser may only bid on one of the terms, then the results displayed on a search for "Majorca Holidays" and "Holidays in Majorca" should be identical.
Furthermore, all advanced match terms should match to both terms.

The auction on the two different keyphrases should be independent from each other in all eventualities. Why is it not?

The real question however
is why does this mapping occur? All the terms in our account are on standard match, not advanced match so why does Yahoo! choose to match one term against another without the advertisers' explicit permission?

The highest sales volume for my organisation comes from sales of Majorca Holidays. I wish to pay to advertise against the term "Majorca Holidays" It appears that Yahoo! search marketing cannot facilitate this.

Now if this keyphrase creates 100 clicks per day, at an average £0.50 per click, then Yahoo! are potentially throwing away £18,250 per year that I would prepared to invest with them on a single keyphrase. If 100 keyphrases are experiencing the same problem then this figure increases to £1,825,000 p.a. of advertising revenue from one account alone. Considering the nature of the recent and very public merger talks, I am not sure that Yahoo! shareholders would be as comfortable with these figures as their account management staff appear to be.

Part 3 will focus on minimum bid increases

Friday, 15 August 2008

What do Yahoo! Think You're Doing? (Part 1)

My mantra is to maximise potential in everything I do. I cannot stand to see businesses fail to capitalise on the opportunities that are available in their sector. This is particularly pertinent in the online world; Why is Friends Reunited not the success Facebook is? Why have online retailers not reacted better to Amazon's entrance and rapid growth in their sectors? And why do Virgin brands not dominate the SERPS?

With this in mind, I cannot understand why Yahoo! can't make any money. As an advertiser that invests considerably in paid search, I am willing Yahoo! and MSN to make inroads into the dominance of Google and reduce users and advertisers dependence on one engine. However, I continue to be frustrated with their inabilities to invest my budget prudently and effectively.

Exasperated at my efforts to get any answers from Yahoo! let alone any resolution to these issues, I want to highlight some of the ineffective elements to advertising with Yahoo! other advertisers with a view to putting some pressure on the internet giant to pick up the ball they have so clearly dropped.

I have been writing this post for the past few weeks and it is now turning into a thesis entitled "The ineffectiveness of Yahoo! search marketing for advertisers". Therefore, for the sake of my readers, I have split this post into three parts.


Part 1. Partner Sites

When you sign-up to Yahoo! paid search program, you sign up to have your adverts showing against keywords that users are searching for. If desired you can also sign up for the Yahoo! Content Network so that your adverts appear on websites with relevant content. These are the two options that Yahoo! tell about on signing up for a search marketing account:

"
There are two ways in which Yahoo! Search Marketing displays search results across their network – Sponsored Search and Content Match."

There is however a third option that Yahoo! keep relatively quiet. Partner sites use listings taken directly from the Yahoo! index to show alongside relevant content. An example of such a site listing can be seen on the results pages for price comparison site TravelSupermarket. These adverts are shown as they are targeted to the users search criteria. I am not signed up to the Yahoo! content network however, these listings are being provided by Yahoo! search.

This problem is exacerbated when you dig further into the sites that Yahoo! class as partners. For example,
sweet-deals.co.uk. This site is not a search site. It is a spam site that is built with the sole purpose of making the owner money in a similar fashion to AFD. It offers no value to user. It is not search advertising, it is content advertising.

The bad news is that there is no opt out of this scheme. If you sign up to Yahoo! paid search, you are automatically defaulted into their network of partner sites. This is really poor for the advertiser. Not only are they forced to advertise on spammy websites but the metrics on standard keywords are influenced by the performance of these sites. When trying to optimise keyword performance on Yahoo! these sites must be taken into consideration.

For example, how does a site optimise for the keyword "car insurance" when the performance will vary so wildly across traditional search and these partner sites. Worse still, it is not possible to track these sites individually, so I cannot differentiate between the performance of "car insurance" as a partner listing on the desirable domain moneysupermarket.com and the less desirable wealthygeek.com.

Not many advertisers even know that these partner sites even exist. Others are more vocal about it. I would urge every advertiser to stop worrying so much about the amendment to the Google trademark policy and contact their Yahoo! representative about this scheme and ask them what value they see in advertising here.

Part 2 will focus on Yahoo! Mappings.

Thursday, 24 July 2008

Who are the real thieves?

It was announced last week that further steps are being taken in order to curb the volume of illegal file sharing online. Whilst I do not in any way condone file sharing, I do believe that the entertainment industry is getting a certain degree of payback for years of mistreating it's customers.

Here are three reasons why:

1.
As I have discussed in previous posts, I am an early adopter. I invest in the latest technology as soon as it comes out. I upgraded all my cassettes to CD, my VHS tapes to DVD, my CD's to minidisc, purchased a Sony Atrac player, an iPod etc.

Every time a new format arrives, the previous format becomes second-best. For example, I own a number of classic movies on DVD. Now that Blu-Ray is on the scene, am I expected to purchase them again in the newer format?

Surely, a discount should be awarded to customers that own an existing format and are looking to upgrade. This strategy could be employed in order to grow the Blu-Ray market that currently represents only 2% of video-disc sales in the UK.


2. The price of a CD in a high street retailer has remained consistent over the past decade. Despite increasing royalties to artists and ever increasing overheads, production costs have lowered. The price of a recordable CD can be used as a guide for this, you can now buy 100 for as little as £10.00

In order to compete with digital markets and the illegal download community, the price of CDS & DVDs should be reduced. Perhaps if the latest music CD was priced at £4.99 in the shops, then the retailers would not suffer as much.

3. I hate purchasing a CD to find that it is only 45 minutes long, or there are a number of tracks that are clearly album fillers. I am sure a number of people have purchased an album based on the strength of one good track. Is this fair on the consumer?

Downloading digital files has somewhat resolved this problem. It is frightening simple to purchase music on iTunes. You can purchase individual tracks and preview tracks before you buy.

Some artists are embracing digital. Radiohead launched their album, In Rainbows, online before releasing it on the high street. They also allowed customers to suggest how much they believed the album to be worth. If this was the case for all artists, the good ones would still be profitable. Radiohead made over $2M in revenue from the release of their album, even though 62% of customers paid nothing. The volume of free illegal downloading was of course far less.

Other artists are less welcoming of digital markets, although they don't mind charging over £100 for a concert ticket!

Music and film industries needs to start looking at digital as an opportunity rather than a threat. There are plenty of new revenue opportunities available via digital channels. Here's a few for starters:

1. Charging for online showings of concerts or backstage,
2. Paid memberships for access to exclusive online content,
3. Offering priority downloads of trailers, interviews or outtakes,

The entertainment industry must face up to the fact that in the
future the majority of revenue will not come from traditional sources. The cash cow that was traditional CD & DVD sales is rapidly deteriorating.

They can be criticised for becoming too complacent with the revenue attained from their captive market. They have failed to innovate and are only now that their market share is dwindling, starting to embrace new opportunities.

Wednesday, 23 July 2008

Death Star Canteen

I have never really been a great fan of Eddie Izzard but I was recently pointed in the direction of some of the excerpts on YouTube and found them absolutely hilarious.

Clips from cult movies, TV shows and comedic performances are incredibly popular on YouTube. They allow the viewer to enjoy or relive their favourite moments without the need to search for them within the full length broadcast. The related videos section enables YouTube to become almost a highlights reel of the best moments.

The clip below has been viewed over 4 million times on YouTube. This presents an amazing and relatively untapped opportunity to advertisers. There is a large audience available but no advertising. Why is there no promotion of the latest Eddie Izzard DVD? Why has the company or individual that invested the time and money creating the animation not added their contact details? Would they be open to advertisers contacting them about sponsorship opportunities? For the right brand and product, it could be quite a lucrative arrangement for all parties.

The interaction users have with this media is also very different. In contrast to many online advertising mediums, users can lean back rather than lean forward to engage in the media.

The psyche of the viewer is also different to other forms of advertising. The viewer is likely to have an emotional connection to the subject matter and as a consequence could be more open to promotional suggestions. No-one likes to be pushed upon when they are in a bad mood.

Of course, advertising in this space must be done tactfully. Anything that interrupts or interferes with the users enjoyment is likely to fail. I have previously written about the how expensive it is to advertise directly with YouTube but I am quite sure these currently untapped opportunities could be cheaper and more fruitful.


Saturday, 19 July 2008

Don't Click, Won't Click

User experience is a discipline that has come to the forefront of online in recent years. One popular online focused magazine has even adopted the mantra "User Experience is King" for the year.

When people think of usability, they often refer to how a website works, the information architecture, the design and navigation elements and its accessibility.

Usability is very much at the heart of an e-commerce website, it's main intention being to maximise conversion via continual optimisation based on meaningful testing and analysis.

The main principles of best practice usability are still restricted by the manner in which we use our computers; the limitations of a mouse and keyboard that are used to navigate through the world wide web.

This is all about to change...


Don't Click It is an experiment that challenges the traditional point and click method of web navigation by demonstrating a browsing experience without the requirement to click the mouse or keypad. So without the requirement to click, what use are of mouse buttons?
In reality the mouse itself has limited life remaining.

Microsoft Surface was one of the first developments into touch screen technology, offering a coffee table interface where multiple users could drag and drop files accordingly. As with many other Microsoft innovations, the product lost it's way and could be accused of being launched without a market in mind.

There have been other attempts but it is the success of the iPhone and iPod touch that has really pioneered the way for the touch revolution. A number of mobile producers are already following Apple down this route, quickly releasing products with similar touch screen technology.

HP have been the first to introduce this technology to the home computer with the HP TouchSmart PC, that recently launched in America. Other manufacturers are developing similar products making it realistic to expect touch technology to become an option for those looking to purchase a PC within the next two years.

So what's next?

For the film Minority Report,
Steven Spielberg took advice from some of the worlds most renowned futurologists about how technology will evolve in the next fifty years. Some of these predictions are already starting to become a reality.
The scene in which Tom Cruise navigates through various files using electronic gloves demonstrates functionality that is not too dissimilar a Wii remote. The movement is detected and translated into an on screen action.

The impact on traditional web usability will be huge. Touching and pointing your way through a website promises to be a much simpler and more fulfilling experience than point and click navigation. There will be significant opportunities to engage visitors and encourage further interaction with websites and brands.

These rapid improvements to technology will not come without obstacles, the most significant being accessibility. This should regarded as part of the greatest challenge, to create an improved web experience for everyone.

I expect touch and movement detection technology to be a form a major part of the future of web browsing, fundamentally changing the principles of usability as we know them. I wonder what Jacob thinks.

Monday, 14 July 2008

Online Marketign Manager: The Power of Misspellingss

When starting any Adwords campaign it is important to have a good idea of the keywords that you want your adverts to appear for. This process usually starts with a brainstorm of the subject matter followed by further research using online tools.

One key area that is often overlooked by agencies and advertisers alike, is misspellings. Due to the lack of competition, a misspelled variation of a generic keyphrase on exact match may well be cheaper than the original
correctly spelt keyphrase. Adwords advises that these terms should be picked up by broad match but this method, in my opinion, is not cost effective.

A large majority of misspellings come from typo's. These can include duplicate
characters (EG. Compputers), missing characters (EG. Comuters), swapped characters (EG. Comupters) or character proximity errors (EG. Compyters).

Including these variations within search campaigns, leads to greater opportunities for advertisers. As an example, when a user searches on the keyword "Loans" on Google the following results are shown:

This seems fairly logical. There are a number of advertisers bidding on the term that is regarded as one of the most desired terms in paid search. Yet, performing a search on the keyword "laons" brings very results.



In this search, a different set of advertisers feature on the page. The bigger players with significant search marketing effort are clearly targeting the misspelled keyword, yet some of the smaller organisations who were bidding on "loans" do not feature on "laons". Similarly, there could be canny advertisers that cannot afford to bid on "loans" and so target misspellings instead.

So why do a lot of advertisers not deem it necessary to bid on misspellings?
One option could be that most search engines provide "Did you mean?" functionality using a database of previous queries and search activity to make suggestions on the users original search. Many consider that users would simply click on this link first, when this is not necessarily the case.

The screenshot above shows how the main paid search adverts appear above the Did you mean? option. We already know that the user may have a certain degree of lethargy as their original search was not correctly spelt. In this scenario, the majority of users click on the paid search adverts over the Did you mean? option. I can tell this by looking at the click-through-rate (CTR) of misspellings in our campaigns.


It is also worth noting that misspellings also can be used in natural search as well, although this has not proven to be as effective. The first natural result on the search "loans" must have significant resource into attaining this position at considerable cost. I would anticipate that the first organic result on the keyword "laons" has invested less in attaining this position.

The reason this is less effective, is due to the fact that the organic terms feature below the Did you mean? option in the SERP's. It must also be considered that in order to achieve first position, this advertiser has had to include the mispelled term on the page. it is not necessarily desireable from a brand perspective to have a page talking about "laons".

Users want to get from their query to the most relevant result as soon as possible. This is why search engines still advertise the time it took to complete a search.

Therefore, as an advertiser, it is fundamental to have all your bases covered; to consider that users are becoming increasingly demanding on their search experience and not necessarily willing to invest more time in detailing their query. They want the search engine to predict the results they require and as advertisers, we must respond accordingly.

UPDATE
This post, written in order to demonstrate the power of adding misspellings to a search campaign, already features on the first page of Google for it's targeted and deliberately mispelled keyphrase "Online Marketign Manager".

Sunday, 13 July 2008

Dance Energy

The lack of efficiency inherent in marketing frustrates me on a daily basis. Why do I receive free papers that I never read, let alone look at the adverts? Why do publishers send me copies of irrelevant free magazines that I merely recycle? Why do I have to see TV adverts for things I am never going to buy? This is inefficient and a waste of money for the advertiser.

I am always very pleased to see examples of efficiency
best practice whether they be in a marketing context or not. Therefore, when I read about eco-disco Surya this weekend I was understandably impressed.

Surya is the brainchild of self-proclaimed Dr. Earth, Andrew Charalambou. The nightclub features wind turbines, minimal water usage and recycling stations at various points. The most impressive thing however, is that the whole thing is powered by the kinetic energy created by clubbers bopping away on the dance floor. It's all down to piezoelectricity, which is basically the creation of an electric charge from
quartz crystals rubbing together.

It's a unique and brilliant concept. The dancers generate the power required to play the the music they are dancing to. There is no wastage. It's super efficient.

Thursday, 10 July 2008

Inspiration Anyone?

Microsoft have never been shy about expressing their intentions to acquire a greater share of digital advertising revenue. Considering their dominance of the market for operating systems digital revenue seems to be such natural fit

In order to unify previously disparate digital advertising functions, Microsoft created Digital Advertising Solutions (MDSA) was created in 2006. It's aim was to consolidate advertising via MSN, the Xbox, Windows Live and future Windows Mobile and IPTV. It was MDAS that recommended Microsoft strike a deal with social media giant Facebook and purchased in game advertising specialist Massive.

One of their earliest advertising campaigns, entitled "The Break Up" was designed with the intention to challenge advertisers to analyse their existing relationship with customers and how digital marketing could be used to transform and modernise this relationship.

The follow up video, "Inspiration Anyone?" takes the concept a bit further and examines how the opposition to adopting modern marketing is often embedded within the upper echelons of some organisations. Even within organisations with a high level of e-commerce adoption, digital marketers can still find it difficult to change the opinions of more traditional marketers and their classical methods.

A lack of in depth understanding is the key reason behind a reluctance to adopt modern marketing practices with words such as "integrated", "viral" and "Web 2.0" often banded around meaninglessly. It is the responsibility of digtial marketing managers to educate and prove the benefits of digital marketing in order to gain the required backing and budget to deliver business gain.

Tuesday, 8 July 2008

Oh No O2

Previously, I have given great praise to the marketing initiatives of UK communications provider O2, particularly with reference to their approach to existing customers.

In a previous post, I wrote about how pleased I was that O2 were going to provide free upgrades to existing iPhone customers when the new iPhone 3G launches on 11 July and gleefully registered my interest on the O2 Website.

From here, I'm afraid everything went disastrously wrong. There have been a catalogue of fundamental errors made for any organisation seeking to offer an integrated marketing strategy.

I shall detail them all here:

Mistake No.1.

As I had heard nothing from O2 since I registered my interest, I nervously gave them a call last week, a week before launch, to check that my details were registered correctly and that I would be contacted about the impending launch.

As friendly as the sales rep was, she was unable to confirm or deny that I had managed to register my details effectively or that I would be contacted about an upgrade. Surely, as I entered my details online, they must be stored in a database? But the sales staff, working in upgrade support, were not aware of such a database.

It is basic marketing principle to keep sales staff informed of any offer that may be happening, even if it is purely online. To have the dedicated iPhone upgrade sales team without the means to find out if customers are registered for an upgrade is farcical.


Mistake No.2.

So Monday was D-day. I received a text message from O2 at 1020 in the morning stating:

"iPhone 3G is here. The phone you've been waiting to upgrade to order from 8am today. As an iPhone customer we are offering you a special early upgrade to iPhone 3G. This order is only available online. Demand is expected to be very high so to be fair to all customers, orders will be processed on a first come first served basis."

So to pick out the two key points here: The upgrade is available from 8am today. To be fair to all customers, orders will be processed on a first come first served basis. If I receive a text from O2 telling me this at 1020, when the phone has been on sale since 0800, how is this fair?

If O2, decided to stagger the delivery text messages based on customer ID then why not change the content of the text message appropriately. A targeted approach would send me a text message and give me access to the website via a dedicated code only available for me. An entrance to the website would be reserved again, exclusively for me. That would make me feel incredibly valuable as a customer.

With any marketing activity, the timing of execution is crucial. High Street retailers would not invite customers to a sale starting at 0900 with adverts in the Evening Standard on the same day.

Mistake No.3.

As any webmaster knows, being able to anticipate visitor figures is vital to ensure the correct deployment of technology and resource. I forecast visitors figures for 12 months in advance in order to ensure that the we have an adequate number of servers in place to cope with potential capacity and the call centre is adequately staffed. It is far from an exact science but scenario planning for best, worst and expected cases helps.

In this instance O2 had all the forecasting done for them. Two hundred thousand people registered online for the iPhone. Therefore, they must have sent 200,000 text messages.

Technology must be synchronised with marketing activity. Otherwise any marketing activity could result in consumers having a worse opinion of your brand.



Mistake No.4.

As a result of the launch marketing activity, the options on the automated phone system for the dedicated iPhone support were altered. They were divided into Pay Monthly and the new Pay as You Go service. However, as I was scrambling around with the website, I had cause to make phone calls to see if I could verify that my payment had gone through and if not, to complete my payment over the phone.

After being directed through the automated options (2 for pay monthly, 1 for purchases) the phone line went dead. I tried several times and the same thing occurred. Was this deliberate from O2? As a result of the demand were they dumping calls in an effort to buy some time?

This is a classic example of a marketing campaign that did not have enough involvement from suitable stakeholders throughout the business. If you send 200K text messages asking people to view a particular site then your website needs to be able to handle 200K people - all at the same time.

With any product launch, businesses must involve everyone that could be impacted, this includes IT to ensure that websites can manage the volume, retail and telesales staff to ensure that they can validate the offer and pick-up any additional questions and PR to manage any noise that comes as a result of the activity. This is all part of an integrated approach.

If you're struggling with any of this O2, I'd happily come and work in online marketing for you.

Monday, 7 July 2008

Effective Relationship Building

A few weeks ago I had the privilege of attending the NMA Effectiveness awards as a guest of web analytics company Nedstat. The event was held at the Grosvenor House Hotel off Park Lane and was a strictly black tie affair hosted by David Mitchell of Peep Show fame.

It was the first awards dinner I have attended but hopefully it won't be the last. Don't get me wrong, it's nothing to do with the awards. Nedstat, myself nor any company I work for were even nominated for an award (this year). In fact the only award that could possibly have gone the way of my organisation went to Chiltern Railways, a site that I shall review from a marketing perspective, at a later stage. This night was all about relationship building.

From a B2C perspective, millions of pounds are invested into CRM and brand building in order to encourage existing customers to engage with brands and maintain their loyalty. However, in the B2B world things are very different. For a start, there are less customers to speak to, so a more personalised approach to relationship building is possible.

It's difficult to transform this to a B2C scenario, especially from an organisational perspective. The only way this can truly work is if the brand values flow seamlessly from every customer touch point. For example, in my early years as a Holiday Rep, it was always the customers that I had a drink and a laugh with around the bar that gave the best feedback at the end of the week. The fact that these opportunities do not exist in every organisation is one of the greatest challenges facing CRM.

Without doubt, my opinion of the my hosts is certainly heightened as a result of the evening. Despite little shop talk,
their brand was well represented by the their employees. Therefore, from their perspective the night was successful as a relationship marketing mechanism. If I ever move into B2B, it is certainly something I would look to use.

But if none of this is important and you just like the odd glass of free champagne, good food and a great night out, then I would recommend attending every event possible.

The photo below was taken towards the latter stages of the evening!



Wednesday, 2 July 2008

Web Wins

With prospects of a gloomy economic future gathering momentum and the credit crunch a buzz topic in today's society, it is interesting to contrast the potential repercussions on the high street compared with those of pure online businesses.

On Monday online fashion retailer ASOS.com announced that sales had increased by 80% for the year (to April 08). The organisation have cited various on site improvements for the jump in financial performance but remain cagey about their ability to sustain this level throughout the year.

On Wednesday however, major high street retailer Marks & Spencer announced that sales had dropped by 5.3% in the past three months causing a 20% drop in share price. Chairman Sir Stuart Rose said "consumer confidence levels have deteriorated markedly and market conditions have become more challenging"

These performance figures are clearly polarised. It is interesting to note that in a retail market that is facing a dim 12 months, online performance is above expectations.

I predict that if the economic downturn is as bad as financial pundits are predicting, pure online businesses will be impacted to a lesser extent than more traditional multichannel retailers.

Due to the amount of credit available in the past few years, consumers have become accustomed to purchasing with fewer restrictions. This consumer mentality will remain, even as purse strings begin to tighten. People like to buy stuff.

Therefore, it is natural to assume that consumers will become more active online as they try to seek out the best possible prices for the same products. This will create a small surge in online activity.

Caveat
It should be acknowledged that there are two separate demographics at play here. ASOS appeals to a younger market that are less affected by the reducing house prices and rising interest rates. I don't know enough about fashion to be able to comment on the size of the overlap between their respective customer bases.

Monday, 30 June 2008

Plan B

Whilst watching the European Championship Semi-Final between Germany and Turkey, the BBC lost audio and visual coverage from the match due to a power failure caused by a severe electrical storm. Within seconds of the pictures and cutting out, audio coverage was restored through the television. However, it was not John Motson on BBC1 who was providing the commentary, it was Mike Ingham on BBC Radio FiveLive.

Even the most reliable technology can fail and websites are no exception. Last week the Sainsbury's Website was suspended due to a technical issue. During this period, any visitor to the site would have been shown the Site Unavailable page.

When a website does go down, it is important to have a contingency plan in place to ensure minimal disruption from a commercial and from a brand perspective.

Here are three simple things that should be considered:

1. Preserve Brand Integrity.
For Sainsbury's, a brand that maintains a strong offline presence, more could be done on the Site unavailable down page to promote brand strengths and reinforce key sales messages. It should be seen as an opportunity to communicate with their customer base and positively influence brand perception.

For example,
MySpace invite users to play PacMan whilst their site is undergoing maintenance. As a result of their handling of the power failure, I have a greater perception of the BBC, both as a brand and in their ability to provide seamless coverage of sporting events.

Visitors to the Sainsbury's site actually increased during the downtime as a result of the widespread publicity about the problem. Therefore, opportunities existed to actually communicate with and potentially acquire more customers.

2. Minimise Commercial Impact.

Hitwise reported that the downstream traffic from Tesco to Sainsbury's in
creased significantly whilst the Sainsbury's site was down. This is clearly detrimental to Sainsbury's commercial objectives. The site unavailable page could have done more to mitigate this.

For example, they could have displayed a unique discount code that customers could use during subsequent online transactions or even include a scannable barcode that customers could print and take to their local store.

Customers that had their shopping baskets affected, were rewarded with Sainsbury's discount vouchers. This only applies to customers that were mid transaction, not to those who may be visiting the Sainsbury's site for the first time and who may be less likely to visit again.

3. Cease Paid Marketing Activity
Given that the majority of visitors to the Sainsbury's website come from Google, it is fair to assume that a large proportion arrive via paid sponsored links. Therefore, Sainsbury's would have been paying for more visitors to arrive at their Site Unavailable page, than to their regular site, on a standard day.

Adwords campaigns are simple to pause in the event of unexpected site down time so the correct support mechanisms should be in place to identify and implement this as soon as possible.

Site down time is inevitable for any business, no matter how many support mechanisms are in place. Even Google was down for 7 minutes in 2007. It is important for any website to have effective plans in place to mitigate the effects of technology failures and acknowledge that site down time does not have to be catastrophic for their business.

Sunday, 29 June 2008

Chimp Off the Old Block

Before finding fame as David Brent Ricky Gervais and Office cowriter Stephen Merchant used to host a Saturday afternoon radio show on London based XFM.

Whilst working on the show they uncovered possibly one of most unique characters ever to work in entertainment in mancunian producer Karl Pilkington.
Like a far more abstract version of Larry Sanders, Karl's stories of growing up in Manchester would not be believed had they not originated from his innocent, half witted mind.

Pilkington has unwittingly influenced many of Gervais' comedic efforts over the past decade and has been referenced in a number of Ricky's stand up performances.

One of the most popular features of the XFM show was Monkey News, an item where Karl sprouts unbelievable stories about monkeys obtained from a dodgy source on the internet. The funniest part is that he actually believes it is all true.

Here is one of my favourites, that was subsequently animated and released as part of the world record holding Ricky Gervais Show Podcast.

Monday, 23 June 2008

Free Clicks

Google's Adpreview tool can be used to check the position and creative of PPC adverts, within Google. We all know that there are plenty of anomalies that can be found within sizable Adwords campaigns, so Adpreview can be used to understand campaigns from a users point of view.

Adpreview also allows users to conduct a search from a particular region, so that advertisers can understand local competition and evaluate geographic targeting opportunities.

One of the frustrations of this tool is that you are unable to click on an advert and check that it deeplinks to the correct landing page. This can only be checked from the standard Google search results. i recently discovered however, that there is a method that can be used so that advertisers can check creative and landing pages within the Google search results, at no cost.

Whenever a user views a SERP that features a number of sponsored links in the right hand rail, a link stating More Sponsored Links is located beneath the final paid advert. Clicking on this link takes users to Google's Ad Search feature. Ad Search only displays paid adverts. Advertisers can again use this feature to understand which advert is showing on a particular key term and the appropriate creative that is showing. The difference with Ad Search is that links can be clicked on, at no cost.

To explain further, the adverts displayed in Ad Search sit outside the traditional AdWords algorithm. Clicks and impressions are not accrued within Ad Search and consequently advertisers are not charged for clicks. Adverts are shown, even when they have met their daily budget allowing additional exposure for those with small budgets wishing to compete on expensive high volume terms.

Google of course will not be drawn on the volume of clicks that take place within the Ad Search feature but these are essentially free paid clicks that are contributing towards paid search objectives.

For the past couple of weeks however, this feature has not been functioning correctly. When clicking on more sponsored links, the results are quite erratic.
Looking closer at some of the adverts, it would appear that there is a database error with the matching of correct advert titles. As far as I can see advert descriptions, display URL's and landing pages are all correct.

It is important for search marketers not to over-rely on the statistical information generated by adwords. Adwords metrics are all displayed in averages, making it difficult to glean any really meaningful information. The best piece of information anyone has ever told me to deter me from relying on averages is that the average person has less than two arms.

By using Adpreview and More Sponsored Links, advertisers and agencies can gain an understanding of how a user views at search results. This qualitative information should always be used in conjunction with statistical data in order to make meaningful search marketing decisions.