Wednesday, 9 December 2009

L'Homme du Sport

I am off to France later on today. Better make sure that I am dressed for the occasion.


Friday, 27 November 2009

The Office Lasts Forever

I am a huge fan of the American Office. Now in its 5th season and 94th episode, a massive 80 more than the original UK masterpiece.

This historic episode was an undoubted pinnacle of the American series as after many years of procrastination, deliberation and obtactles, Jim (read UK Tim) and Pam (Dawn) finally got married. Whilst the audience were undoubtedly waiting for a last minute problem to scupper their big day, it was actually one of the most amazing TV wedding scenes ever witnessed and rivalled the conclusion to The Office UK's romantic conclusion.





Of course, this pays tribute to the biggest social media hit of the summer. The JK Wedding Dance. Jill Peterson and Kevin Heinz digressed from the increasing tradition of comical wedding dances as the wedding party danced in turn down the aisle. Shared on Youtube so distant relatives could watch, the video has generated over 30million views in the three months since it was launched in July 2009 and enabled Jill and Kevin to join the growing list of online celebrities.

The video helped Chris Brown's soundtrack "Forever" to Number 1 in iTunes and number 3 in the Amazon download charts. Due to the controversy associated with the artist Jill and Kevin have set up a donation scheme for domestic abuse.

The Office video has no doubt sparked a refueled interest in the original JK sequence. It will be interesting to see if this mass exposure is capable of changing the deserved negative opinions of Chris Brown and once again start to buy his records.

Monday, 2 November 2009

The Palm Pre

The Palm Pre launched exclusively on O2 on the 16th October 2009. Widely pitched as the most realistic competitor to the iPhone, the handset is the first entrant to the smartphone market from California based Palm.




I was lucky enough to be able to sample the phone prior to launch and demo it to a number of key contacts at the A4U conference. Here is a sample of the main feedback I received from some of the delegates.

Keypad
One of the most common complaints about the iPhone is the usability of the touchscreen keyboard. Personally, whilst it took a bit of getting used to, I love my touchscreen keyboard and have even written blogs on it in the past. It appears however that it is a problem if you have long nails, therefore the sliding button keyboard on the Palm Pre proved to be particularly popular for the female tester.

Multi-Tasking
The ability to have multiple applications open simultaneously is noted as one of the biggest pro points of the Palm Pre. Once you have become familiar with the touch controls, it is relatively simple to switch between different apps without having to go back to the home screen. This is particularly useful when switching between emails, calendar and the internet.

TouchStone Recharge
One of the most innovative aspects of the Palm Pre is magnetic charging. For any Palm Pre user, the touchstone charging device is a mandatory accessory. Simply place the Palm Pre on top of the touchstone and it will automatically charge the device. If you are on a call, the handset will automatically switch to speakerphone when placed on the touchstone. This is great if, like me you often find yourself on extended conference calls.

Mirror
When the keypad slides from beneath the handset, a small mirror is revealed. This again proved to be really popular with the female contingent who proclaimed to use it for emergency make-up amends.

Overall, I think the Palm Pre is a brilliant alternative to the iPhone and a fantastic addition to the growing smartphone market. With new products on the horizon from Sony Ericsson, HTC, Samsung and Nokia, this market promises to develop substantially over the next 12 months. Increased competition is good for a market and can only drive further innovation so it promises to be an exciting time

Wednesday, 23 September 2009

Office Training

For the past two days I have attended a training course aimed at becoming a better leader. Whenever I attend a training event that focusses on psychological values rather than tangible skills I can't get past memories of the training episode of The Office, where David Brent undermines the trainer with his different and often innacurate interpretation of the various metaphoric expressions.

On the course I was reminded of one of my favourite scenes from The Day Today, where office managers attended a course on "disassemblage". It is classic comedy from Chris Morris's finest creation that also planted the seeds for Gervais's masterpiece.




Sunday, 2 August 2009

Something to Shout About

Recently I was faced with a challenge that that was even more taxing than trying to fix my blog, I had a leaking pipe. My desired action in these sorts of scenarios is always to try and find a tradesman as soon as possible. In my opinion, given the process of locating the right person for the job, is far more complicated that it needs to be.

Yell.com is the online manifestation of the famous Yellow Pages brand, the traditional first port of call for anyone seeking help with the nasty things in life.
In my opinion, the website is under performing.

Google Trends demonstrates that the site has lost traction throughout 2009.
A quick analysis within Hitwise indicates that the website has dropped from 2nd to 3rd position in the Business Classified section behind both the US and the UK versions of Google Maps.

I have previously blogged about the ability of Google to destroy online businesses and Yell.com is clearly in the firing line. So what is Yell.com doing wrong? Here is my synopsis:

1. The first page of results are dominated by sponsored listings.
Customers have only recently become accustomed to Google sponsored links and there is a far more complicated algorithm involved in calculating these results. I am certain that the Yell algorithm does not factor for quality score and relevancy when determining the hierarchy of its sponsored listings.


It's great that Yell are earning revenue from charging suppliers to appear in the top positions for relevant keywords, but what sort of experience does this offer the customer. In my circumstance, I called all four of the sponsored listings and only one was really relevant and lived up to the description placed on Yell, whilst another had no integrity at all. Advertised as "no call-out fee" they instructed me that I had to pay a fee as soon as the plumber stepped through my front door. It reminded me of this. I know exactly how Yell can improve this experience for customers.

2. Incorporate User Generated Content
In my opinion, this is the biggest missed opportunity for Yell. Given the importance of UGC in todays online environment, it is a fundamental missing from what is one of the UK's largest comparators.

We have all seen the programmes on TV such as BBC1's Rogue Traders aimed at highlighting the cowboys. I live in fear of having one such cowboy visit my house.

The best way to find a tradesman is to seek recommendations from friends and family. In my pursuit of a plumber, I was advised of the Check-a-trade website, that offers the capability to rank tradesman based on the scores awarded to them from previous customers. Each tradesman is scored from 1-10 with room to put comments and justification where necessary. This allowed me to select a plumber that was recommended for work conducted locally.

Yell should either consider the acquisition of Check a Trade and incorporate their reviews into the comparison space or look to develop similar functionality in order to increase the integrity of their search results and consequently the propensity of customers to revisit their website. The Google trends graph above clearly illustrates that traffic is steadily declining.

Once the site has the ability to detail an accurate set of search results, they will then be able to revisit the business model for receiving payments from suppliers.

3. Earn Revenue from Referrals
I do not believe that Yell currently earn money from referring a company to a customer successfully. I believe they still work as a classic business directory, charging for relevant placements within their site in the same way as they would the old Yellow Pages book. There are far more effective ways of monetising their online traffic.

If they were to instigate an affiliate relationship with all partners listed in the directory, they could earn money from the value they are passing on to customers and suppliers.

This could either be a on cost per acquisition basis, where the supplier website is advanced enough to facilitate appointment booking, or on a cost per lead basis, where customers are simply able to make an online enquiry.

I estimate that functionality to allow tradesman to develop online booking will be available as a saleable application within the next five years but it is not here now.

Therefore, Yell should develop telephone tracking capability to record all the calls made to businesses as a result of enquiries made from their website. In this instance, they would be able to charge organisations on a cost per lead basis. This would incentivise suppliers to list accurate details on the Yell website, as they will have a higher chance of converting the paid lead.

I am sure that Yell are aware of all these points, but if they do need any assistance, I'm just down the road. My name, yes, it's (J) R Hart(ley)igan.

Monday, 20 July 2009

iPhone 3GS: A Steal at £500.

Disclaimer: The views below express my personal opinion only and are in no way representative of any company and therefore they should not be interpreted as such.

I was unfortunate enough to have my iPhone expertly stolen from me at a Kasabian gig last week. I had naively always assumed the front pockets of a pair of jeans were a safe place to store bulky items such as phones, wallets and keys due to the difficulty of getting a hand in and out undetected. I clearly underestimated the modern thief.

I could feel the phone being pushed up my leg from the outside of my jeans. This happened so quickly that by the time I had moved my hand down to my side, it was all over. I looked directly behind me immediately but all I saw were hundreds of people all going crazy to "Shoot the Runner". I could do nothing apart from applaud the stealth and skill of the thief, who stood to make a nice profit from that particular prize.

Determined not to let it spoil my evening, I called my network using a friends phone and was able to immediately cancel both my SIM and the phone within minutes of the gig ending.

Without my iPhone, I was destitute. Even on the train home, when I would usually watch an episode of Family Guy or listen to tracks from the gig whilst checking email, social networking or playing Flight Control, I was suffering.

So on Friday, I took advantage of a meeting in Oxford Circus to visit the Apple store on Regent Street and purchase the new iPhone. After all, I was always going to do this when my existing contract expired in Dec so I was simply bringing the expense forward. This is how I justified the £500 purchase to myself.

Now that I have had the phone for a week, I thought I would speak about some of the features that the 3GS model has over the 3G.

Improved Camera & Video

I am not really much of a photographer so I cannot really comment on the increased camera quality. The 3G fulfilled my needs perfectly. I do still long for the ability to take photos at night, although I do understand the potential impact that this will have on battery life and size.

The video is really good. I was surprised at the quality and how easy it was to take videos and to upload to Youtube. The videos do not scale out to be full Youtube size however, which is disappointing. Or at least I have not worked out how to do this yet.

Increased Speed
This is supposed to be the greatest feature of the new iPhone. At first, I struggled to notice any increase in performance. After a while though I began to notice a real speed increase when navigating to pages that I frequently access. Essentially, I believe that the iPhone 3GS has a better way of accessing cached web files. I generally access the same pages every day, so this increase in speed is of huge benefit to me.


Compass

I laughed when I found out that one of the main features of the 3GS was a compass. I anticipated that this is something that I will use about as often as I use a real compass.Well I have now had the phone for four days and I have already used the compass once.

I believe that the compass technology is also the foundation for more exciting geo-based apps, such as the impending TomTom iPhone app.



Voice Control

This feature is one that most excites me. In theory, it's like something from a futuristic film where the lead character simply instructs "Lights on" to activate. There is a whole set of voice commands available including both phone and iPod controls.

It may be my voice or diction, or the fact that the program is aimed at an American accent but it really struggles for accuracy. This resulted in me calling an old friend at midnight on Sunday, when my instruction was simply to "Play Artist Kasabian".

I have similar problems when trying to use Google Voice so maybe I am the problem and I should book a course of elocution lessons before I pass definitive judgment.


Improved Battery Life

A full day of meetings in London is usually enough to see the battery off on my iPhone 3G. I tend to use all the features extensively throughout the day, watching videos on the train, listening to music on the tube whilst making calls and accessing the internet via the 3G network. I also rely on Google Maps to find venues. I am pleased to say that the 3GS managed to survive this.

The new features are great but my favourite aspect of the iPhone remains; the ability to update the software for free. This means that you are buying a device that is just going to get better and better. Apple have the opportunity to listen to the feedback of customers and resolve any issues quickly as well as pass on benefits that make the initial investment even more worthwhile.


Sunday, 12 July 2009

How to Fix a Broken Blog

Any regular readers of Online-Marketing-Manager.co.uk would have experienced problems in the past 4 days due to a technical reasons beyond my control and to be honest, initially beyond my comprehension.

I thought it would be helpful for any budding bloggers, to explain what happened and how I have now finally managed to resolve the problems. The most useful starting point would be to
explain how this site is configured in the first place.

The site began as a blog, using the Google Blogger software as the host and publisher of the content. I then purchased the domain Online-Marketing-Manager.co.uk in order to have a more SEO friendly URL in which to advertise with. Rather than purchase a web hosting package with Fasthosts, I knew that Blogger offers the functionality to publish on a custom domain as well as fairly comprehensive instructions as to how to set it up.


The key instruction here is to alter the CNAME for your web address to point to ghs.google.com. A CNAME, which is short for canonical name, informs web browsers that a domain is hosted on a particular IP address. As different URL's generally have different IP addresses, a CNAME is used when there is a desire to point one or more addresses to the same IP address. In this instance, I wanted to inform web browsers that Online-Marketing-Manager is held on the blogger IP address.

Fasthosts are not mentioned within the instructions for common hosting services, that has a distinct US bias.
In fact, Fasthosts do not support CNAME amendments. Therefore, I was stuck.

I searched through a number of forums on the subject of Fasthosts and CNAME's with no luck until I eventually discovered that I could get around this problem, simply by changing my A record. An A record is the main record of the IP address for a website that is stored within the Domain Name System (DNS). Essentially it pushes a domain name to a set numerical IP address. In this instance, the address was, 72.14.207.121, the same IP address the CNAME ghs.google.com would direct me to. My DNS settings would look as follows:

mydomain.com. 3600 IN A 72.14.207.121
www.mydomain.com 3600 IN CNAME ghs.google.com


Eureka! My site was live and registering within the Google search index, exactly how I had intended it. However on Thursday, disaster.


Now I specialise in understanding the more technical aspects of online marketing. I can speak with authority on search engine marketing, tracking and analytics. However, when this message was returned, I was completely dumbfounded as to the potential reasons why.

First I checked that all my DNS setup at Fasthosts and my blogger settings had not been changed. To be honest, given I set the site up some 18 months ago via the scrambled method detailed above, I was unsure whether an anomaly would jump out at me. Having seen no obvious problems my initial conclusion was that my fasthosts web hosting package had expired. After 20 minutes on hold to fasthosts I proceeded to have a heated exchange with the customer service operator who argued, quite correctly, that as far as fasthosts was concerned, my settings had remained unchanged.

I looked again at the Blogger settings and ran through the complete setup process again before deciding that everything was fine and there must be a prob
lem with the fasthosts web servers. Indeed, when I called fasthosts again, there was an automated error message detailing a server problem that was due to be fixed on Friday 10th July at 1800. I waited eagerly by my computer until 1800 only to see the problem continue. I called fasthosts again.

On this occasion, I was informed that the web server problems they were experiencing only affected clients using email. The customer services operator then speculated that there was a problem with the IP address I had specified as my A record. Again, this triggered lots of searching on the internet for "blogger changing IP address" and
"72.14.207.121 expired".

The web blogger that came to my rescue was Nitecruzr. After surveying a large number of Google groups, he/she appeared to be an expert on the subject and I was drawn to their site, only to find the solution right there in front of me.

On Thursday 9th July 2009 Google expired the IP address for server 72.14.207.121. According to Nitecruzr, this was the third of three historic Google servers to be expired and replaced by new Google Apps IP addresses that were launched in Nov 2008. For those who are interested, a stable DNS configuration that includes all four of the new Google Apps Servers would look as follows:

mydomain.com. 3600 IN A 216.239.32.21
mydomain.com. 3600 IN A 216.239.34.21
mydomain.com. 3600 IN A 216.239.36.21
mydomain.com. 3600 IN A 216.239.38.21
www.mydomain.com 3600 IN CNAME ghs.google.com

Because Fasthosts only supports one A Record and no CNAME amendments, I simply changed my IP address within Fasthosts to one of the four new IP addresses above.

My issue here is communication. Google must know the amount of blogger users that are pointing their blogs at the expired servers. The very nature of their blogger account also means that they are easily able to contact them. No communication was received. In fact, the information above was so difficult to find out I eventually settled on the advice of a third party, whose domain was so suspicious, I was prohibited from accessing it from my work laptop.

I can only hope that any other bloggers out there using any of the expired web servers find my host, and follow the instructions kindly detailed by Nitecruzr. I can validate that they are 100% authentic.

Now come on Google, let's increase the communication. It's not as if you have more important things to be concerned with.

Thursday, 9 July 2009

A White Hole

Fifteen years ago, this was the funniest thing I had ever seen. It's a shame such an amazing series went so spectacularly downhill culminating in those awful specials on Dave.




So what is it? .....only joking!

Friday, 26 June 2009

A Good Way to Handle Bad News

In a week where Habitat were exposed for taking advantage of the crisis in Iran to promote their products, I thought this was a good move from my friends over at the O2.

Whilst Michael Jackson fans across the world are immensely saddened by his death and immediate thoughts are for his friends and family, 1M UK fans will naturally be a little curious about the tickets they bought to see one of his 50 shows later this year.





Wednesday, 24 June 2009

Tuesday, 23 June 2009

Skimming

The company Skimlinks was a big winner at the recent A4U awards winning Best Use of Technology, Best New Entrant and Innovative Publisher of the Year.

They work by allowing publishers to monetize their content by analysing it for potential to include affiliate links. For example, if I wrote a blog post about Nike trainers with a link to JJB Sports to purchase, Skimlinks would be able to find that link, recognise the link to JJB Sports and replace it with an affiliate link. As a publisher, I would now be earning revenue from what was previously a simple link on my website.

In content text linking is very much a silent participant in the online marketing world. Organisations such as Kontera and Infolinks are rarely discussed and seldom found in any top end content sites. Their value to the customer experience is questionable and publishers fail to make significant revenue from the cost per click model in place.

Therefore, it is easy to see why Skimlinks is appreciated by affiliates and publishers alike. They allow further monetisation of content by using the traditional CPA model.

What about Advertisers?

It is easy to see how Skimlinks is a fantastic tool for publishers, but does the innovative technology add positive value to advertisers?

Skimming is a generally regarded as a derogatory term. Although Pond Skimming is an excellent past time, the word is more commonly associated with Credit Card fraud. I would question whether Skimlinks is the best name for an organisation given the reservations about affiliate marketing still inherent within many e-commerce operations.

I have worked on both sides of the fence when it comes to an organisational attitude to affiliates; where affiliates are regarded as costly intermediaries and more and where they are embraced as a key driver of incremental sales. I know a number of directors that would object to me proposing that we work with an organisation called Skimlinks.

The ability to make incremental sales is a fair challenge to put to Skimlinks. It could well be argued that because the publisher already had links to the advertiser, they would have received the sale anyway. Skimlinks purely rewards the publisher for sales they are generating, even those they are unaware of.

Whether these reservations will define the success of Skimlinks or not, it is good to see innovation within the affiliate space. With the current dominance of comparison, coupons and cashback the affiliate marketing industry has a vested interest in protecting the large proportion of content affiliates that are missing out on last click attributed sales. I applaud Skimlinks attempts to reward content sites that add value to the customer journey but are increasingly getting less share of the overall bounty.

Thursday, 11 June 2009

Austrian Gay TV

I just saw the trailer to the upcoming feature film for Sacha Baron Cohen's latest creation. It's out on 11th July in the UK. Reminded me of this classic moment:

Tuesday, 2 June 2009

The e-Terminator

This week saw the launch of Terminator Salvation, the fourth of the science fiction series that describes a future where machines have taken control of the planet.

Whilst Jim Cameron's spectacle is obviously some way from the truth, developments in artificial intelligence mean that computers are getting smarter. The semantic web for example signifies a step change in the level of understanding from machines.

There is a terminator already evident within the online community that holds the power to kill. It doesn't kill people directly however but it can destroy online businesses.

One of the greatest strengths of the internet is that it has broken down the barriers to entry for entrepreneurs and small businesses to establish themselves. Initially it created a level playing field for all advertisers. Increasingly in the last few years, it has become tougher to find a successful niche. One of the reasons behind this is that the risk of diffusion of innovation by the online giants is too high.

For example, imagine an online analytics startup in 2003 (Not Urchin!). They would have had to produce a business plan, acquire finance and invest considerable time and resource into developing their solution. All of a sudden Google Analytics is released, for free.

There are more examples:

There has been a recent trend towards online conversion with specialist optimisation agencies such as Tamar and Maxymiser working with advertisers to ensure that the converiosn journey is a fluid as possible. As soon as Google brought out Website Optimiser, what happened to the profits for these companies?

I recently discovered Google Merchant Search. Whilst this is only in Beta in the US and available purely to the finance sector, imagine the damage it could do to the price comparison community?

Google Wave is on the horizon and has the potential to dramatically affect the way in which live communication manifests itself online. How does this affect organisations that are providing Live Assistance software?

There are of course a lot more. What effect does Google Trends and Insights
have on your Hitwise subscription? How does Gmail affect your corporate choice of email provider? And how had Google Maps affected online cartographers.

As I implied in my previous post, Google controls the online customer. They have the power to decimate a large number of online businesses without significant material investment.

Of course Google could never threaten to become the equivalent of the fictional Skynet. After all they do no evil.

Monday, 18 May 2009

A Lone Wolf

New search engine Wolfram Alpha launched in the UK recently. Clearly a lot of man hours have been invested into developing this tool but there are some fundamental failings. The biggest of which will also mark it's eventual downfall and generally marks the downfall of all new search engines, it's not as good as Google.

What has to be congratulated, is the amount of PR that Mr Wolfram obtained for his project. Despite the performance of the search engine, I would imagine that online PR would have been easier to obtain due to the desire from the online community for a rival to Google.

The world needs another search engine. Google recently suffered from a power outage that, despite being less than two hours long, seemed to cause pandamonium in the online world and the bright future of cloud computing was questioned for the first time.

Google is the greatest risk for e-commerce with businesses reliant on traffic from both paid and natural search. Granted, it is a cost effective means of promoting your website but even basic businesses accept that a reliance on one area of the supply chain represents considerable risk to stability.

Mr Wolfram can be comforted however by the fact that far bigger players have also failed when competing against the big G.

Ask tried to change perceptions by being the first search agency to feature multiple formats within their SERP's in what we now refer to colloquially as Universal Search. They have now brought back Jeeves with a view to gaining more brand noise.

Yahoo! continues to struggle against the tide. The much hyped Panama change to calculating paid search results failed to ignite revenues in this area of the business and rumours of a takeover by Microsoft continue to rumble on in the background.

MSN has recently launched Bing to try and save face from the failures of Live.com. To be honest, I'm not sure what they have gained here. It wasn't the brand that was the problem with Live, it was the results offered to the users and the speed in which it was capable of updating the index that caused problems.

Cuil launched in 2008 and claimed to have a larger index than any other search engine. Whilst this USP initially generated a lot of interest, once again the users quickly dropped off.

There are a lot more that could be added to this list as well.

There is a very limited window of opportunity for a new search engine to capture users on a permanent basis. If a user has a unsuccessful search using a new search engine, the chances are they will go straight back to Google. Even offering incentives to search in the form of cash rewards or charity donations has failed to change the balance of power. At the end of the day, people search online for the rightresults. When Google gives you the results you want, why go anywhere else?

Wednesday, 6 May 2009

Lessons from Offline Conversion

Firstly an admission, I am impatient. On a regular basis I have been known to abandon my basket in a supermarket when faced with an excessive queue. I cannot empathise with the eager customers that stand outside Next for hours on the first day of the January Sale. To this extent, online has been my saviour. If I still had to do my Christmas shopping in the high street I would have suffered a nervous breakdown by now.

Working in online marketing, nothing annoys me more than waste. Attracting qualified, targeted customers to the brink of purchase only for the purchase process to fail is disheartening to say the least. I have previously blogged on the necessary steps online marketers should take when websites fail. But what about the online conversion process in general?

There are a number of lessons online can learn from offline. Lessons in merchandising can be taken from point of sale advertising in stores, information architecture can learn lessons from store layouts, and the service delivered from store representatives is actualised within live assistance initatives. In the majority of cases however, the ability to convert customers is not one of them.

Now I am an advocate of maximising conversion, whether it be offline or online. When the customer is ready to make a purchase, everything possible should be done to enable this. Therefore, when shopping offline, I am constantly faced by the same questions:


"Why is there only one till open? Why should I wait 20 minutes to get served? Why are there not more staff working? I am ready to pay, why don't they want my money?"

There are a number of initiatives that have been taken to accelerate the offline conversion process. Supermarkets have introduced self service tills, Barclaycard are the first bank in the UK to implement contactless technology and a number of shops have remote payment devices for those wishing to pay by card.

A successful brand that has one of the most unique and effective offline conversion processes is Argos. Offering payment consoles within their stores for customers to enter their products and make payments within a couple of intuitive easy steps.

To find successful examples of online conversion, just look at some of the biggest online retailers. Amazon invented the One Click process allowing users to purchase whilst browsing, as long as they are signed in. EBay bought Paypal in order to offer it's users a simple and secure way to purchase online and iTunes, is currently bankrupting me, by giving the ability to purchase within one click from my computer or iPhone.

Finding examples of traditional bricks and mortar brands with a strong online conversion is more difficult. The fact that in most industries 1% is considered a good conversion rate is damning in itself. Imagine if you owned a shop in which only 1 in 100 customers actually bought something. Granted, the internet attracts a higher proportion of browsers to buyers, but in my opinion, websites should do more to convert prospects into customers.

Other organisations have adopted third party payment mechanisms in the form of Paypal or Google Checkout but consumer adoption of these tools is still relatively low in the UK.

Maxymiser, a conversion optimisation company, recently blogged about how the growth in paid search had stagnated and how organisations should redeploy their finances into increasing conversion. Whilst their reasons for advocating this are relatively transparent, there is a great deal of substance to this argument.

In my opinion, organisations should invest in both. If my sole performance indicator was conversion, then the first thing I would do is pull back my advertising spend. There has to be a balance between attraction and conversion.

In these challenging times it is becoming increasingly difficult to get consumers to part with their hard earned wage. Brands should ensure that the online conversion process is as fluid and efficient as possible. I would challenge all site owners to examine their online conversion process using the analogy of an offline conversion and ensure that the people leaving their site are not those ditching their basket in the queue to pay.

Sunday, 26 April 2009

Footballing Algorithms

Last night I attended the PFA Awards Dinner at the Grosvenor House Hotel in London. I have been lucky enough to go to other awards ceremonies at this venue and really recommend the venue as a great evening out. Despite being 30 now, I still feel like James Bond whenever I put on a tuxedo. Even if it was a bit of a squeeze.

The awards this year were won by Ashley Young of Aston Villa who won Young Player of the Year (Cue Jeff Stelling pun) and Ryan Giggs of Manchester United who was voted as PFA player of the year.

In the football calendar, there are two main accolades that an individual player can win.

1. The Football Writers Association (FWA) Player of the Year,
This award is given based on the combined scores of approximately 400 football journalists & pundits throughout England. Every writer The first winner was Stanley Matthews, who took home the trophy whilst playing for Blackpool in the 1947/8.

2. The Professional Footballers Association (PFA) Player of the Year,
This award is given based on the votes tallied from all the members of the Professional Footballers Association. A footballer who wins this award has been voted by their colleagues and peers. This award came into place after the FWA award and was first won by Norman Hunter of Leeds United in the
1973/4 season.

I think these two different voting systems provide a good analogy into the evolving nature of Google's search algorithm. When the algorithm was first constructed, it was based on a fairly simple(!) voting principle, the most inbound links won. The players decided who won the award.

As the algorithm has developed, other influences started to take effect. The search engines became more involved in judging the criteria necessary to rank in the top positions. The football writers became involved.

One of the most significant is the increasing influence a user can have on the results. In 2008, Google launched SearchWiki a tool that allows users to change their view of particular search results. This information is of course gathered by Google and whilst not impacting search results at the moment, it is my view that it is only a matter of time before this information is integrated into the algorithm.

Imagine if there was a football award that was voted for by the fans. It would be expected that the team with the most fans would naturally win the vote. Man Utd are the most popular team in the UK, this is partly due to success on the pitch, heritage and history but mostly due to the way in which they are marketed. Investment in building the Manchester United brand will enable them to win the vote.

The same can be said for the influence SearchWiki has on the search results. The most popular sites that invest in integrated marketing campaigns will get the votes, not the ones that have invested purely in SEO by buying the votes of the football writers.

Wednesday, 25 March 2009

Doing Bird

The explosion of Twitter as a social network has been astonishing during 2009 as the micro-blogging mechanism has made the leap from the online niche to the mainstream. It would seem that Stephen Fry getting stuck in a lift was the best thing that could ever happen to newest Silicon Valley start-up in Feb 2009.


So how are businesses engaging in this new tool? O2 UK picked up on some tweets from celebrity Phillip Schofield who was having some problems with his iPhone. Using Twitter, O2 were able to guide Mr. Schofield through the necessary steps in order to resolve his problem. This looked great for O2. The problem was that all these conversations took place in the public domain so all of Schofield's followers, that were O2 customers quickly got in touch to find out about new tariffs, handsets and whether there was a new iPhone arriving in the Spring. The Official O2 Twitter account had essentially become an interface for customers to speak to the brand. As a result, the poor fellow that manages the O2 Twitter account, quickly found that his remit expanded to cover PR, Customer Service, retention and acquisition and O2 had to rapidly rethink how they used Twitter.

Other businesses have encountered problems with how they embrace Twitter as well. Mars offered Twitter users the chance to have their tweets featured on the Skittles home page if they mentioned the word skittles within their tweet. Cue the British public using the depths of the English language in order to crowbar as many profanities as possible onto home page of the brands home page.

Recently, Twitter was even instrumental in the end an a-list celebrity relationship as poor John Mayer's excuse that he was too busy with work to reply to
girlfriend Jenifer Aniston's text messages, were exposed as he was found to have updated his twitter profile numerous times during the same period.

So there you have it, a new craze is out there. Twitter is the tool of 2009 and organisations that feel they should be harnessing the power of social media as part of their online marketing strategy are swarming to it trying to do something, anything to prove they are web 2.0 savvy. It will be exciting to see what brands
will do next. One thing is for sure, there will be more disasters than there will successes before the tool and users find the optimum position for both to benefit.

and if you're reading this Jen, I'd give up twitter for you.

Tuesday, 10 March 2009

SEO Tracking Problems

A worrying post by Patricio Robles emerged on the e-consultancy blog recently. Patricio wrote about how Google are testing the use of AJAX in order to hide the query parameter within their search string.

There are two obvious impacts should Google decide to continue on this path.

1. Broad Match
Anyone that has worked with me on a PPC account knows that I am not a great fan of broad match. I believe that the most effective campaigns are built where careful keyword planning has been applied so that the keywords within the account are very closely aligned with those searched upon by the target market. The generic, catch-all nature of broad match means that impressions, clicks and money can be wasted on queries that are not relevant and will not convert.

Search organisations should be pro-actively enquiring against the query string parameter on broad and phrase match terms in order to identify the actual term being searched upon.They can automatically update their keyword portfolio with a revised list of negative match terms and further terms on exact match. This helps to minimise the wastage on a search budget.


2. Tracking Natural Search
Nearly all natural tracking solutions rely on the query string parameter in order to determine information about the user and their search. For example, from the following URL it can be identified that I searched for Arsenal, using firefox.

http://www.google.co.uk/search?q=Arsenal&ie=utf-8&oe=utf-8&aq=t&rls=org.mozilla:en-GB:official&client=firefox-a

Web analytics software extracts this information from this query string. If Google hide the query string from passing this information, then it can only be captured if Google create an API which is unlikely considering the result of this change means that Google Analytics establishes a unique selling point over competitors in the ability to capture detailed information about natural search tracking.

It will still be possible to determine where the traffic has come from, just not which keyword it was. For brands that are trying to coordinate their search engine marketing to generate the best ROI from both paid and natural simultaneously, this is a serious obstacle.

Within the comments on the post, Jon Howard notes that AOL, which is powered by Google, has always obfuscated query strings for search terms, although I have not found this to be the case in reality.

I believe that the only way forward is for web analytics to collaborate and challenge Google on this process.
The industry has been crying out for standardisation of search strings for some time and web analytics companies are best placed to achieve this. Voices need to be heard but Google, of course, does not have to listen.

Tuesday, 17 February 2009

When Targeting Technology Goes Wrong

Increased targeting is one of the benefits most frequently associated with Online Marketing. The ability to use technology to target niche segments is considered a major advantage of the medium as it uses data to segment and identify key segments far more efficiently and quickly than a human ever could. However, using technology to target customers does not come without complications.

In one of my previous roles, I used Google content targeting to sell flights and holiday packages to European and Worldwide destinations. One day our PR team received a complaint from a distressed widow claiming that we were advertising our fantastic holidays on a memorial website adjacent to the written tributes for her recently deceased husband. His name was Mr. Madeira.


Google content network had obviously identified the content on the memorial website as relevant to the keywords within our campaign and shown what it deemed to be an appropriate advert within the adsense unit on the page.

Now in my opinion, Mrs. Madeira had every right to vent her fury at our company for displaying an advert on this page. I do believe however that her anger was misdirected. If I ran a memorial website, I would not look to have advertising on it unless I was specifically in responsible for the content that is there. I simply would not trust a content network that displays inventory algorithmically to place adverts that would be appropriate to my highly sensitive audience. The risk of upsetting my customer base would be too great.


Brands should always understand that the Internet is a very big place and that whatever targeting technology they implement, there is always a chance of upsetting minorities of the Internet population. Anyone who is involved in using technology to target and segment audiences understands this. Unfortunately, only a small percentage of the online population fit into this category.

Friday, 16 January 2009

What's in The Box?

In my circle of friends, this is described as the funniest clip of all time. Straight out of Dennis Norden's laughter files.

What's in the Box?

Thursday, 15 January 2009

The Best Marketing Campaign of 2009...to date.

This month there has been a lot of coverage about a particular job working for Tourism Queensland in Australia as a caretaker for Islands of the Great Barrier Reef.

The job involves sampling all the activities the island has to offer, including a new luxury spa, snorkeling and bush walking and reporting back via an online video diary with associated blog.

It is being described as the Best Job in the World and comes with a luxury house on the beach, and a salary of approximately £55K for the six months contract.

As part of the interview process, 11 candidates will be flown out to Australia where they will be subjected to 'rigorous' tests. These will involve scuba diving and sailing as well as sampling local cuisine and culture. (Where's the psychometric testing?!?)

Now anyone would think this is an amazing opportunity. The cynics however may
wonder as to why Tourism Queensland is prepared to invest so heavily in what is, in essence, a paid holiday. Well it is in fact a superbly delivered marketing campaign to promote tourism to the destination.

The job managed to gain coverage across every major news channel on both TV and radio, there were articles in every paper & topical news website and the viral effect resulted in the deeplink being passed around the internet quicker than a celebrity sex video.

In a time where we wake each morning to news of a businesses in financial trouble and economic doom and gloom this positive news stood out from any broadcast and within any publication.

The site managed to gain over 1M visits in the space of three days, causing the servers to fail under the strain. The site was also redesigned to
facilitate better merchandising of Tourism Queensland and incentivised visitors to join it's RSS feed or email updates in order to win prizes.

The demand was unprecedented. The cost of all this coverage was £55K + overheads for six months. I am sure a number of major brands would really struggle to get the same kind of exposure even if they had ten times the budget.

This year marketers are going to have to use their budgets in innovative ways as return on marketing investment is scrutinised even more in challenging times. It is not about marketing less, it's about marketing smarter. In my view, Tourism Queensland have set the bar for 2009. I'm excited to see what happens next.