Friday, October 31, 2008

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Search Engine Optimisation: Art or Science?

I'm not an expert on Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) and leave this to people who know far more about this subject than myself. But in one conversation on this subject with a few Internet industry people recently, we ended up discussing whether SEO is an art or a science, and I thought this was a great topic to mention further.
Now I've previously said (in various forums and presentations) that online marketing itself is more a science than an art, but this has been based more around:

  1. writing an online marketing plan/strategy
  2. implementing it
  3. analysing it
  4. learning from it
  5. refining it
  6. etc.

However the work of an SEO person is less easy to test as:

  • You don't get immediate results (spiders take time to crawl)
  • Variable amounts of content are produced about each term (making organic search results varied)
    New content is constantly produced
  • The exact ranking/prioritisation of search results are closely guarded secrets
  • The algorithms behind these results can change over time
  • Each search engine has different algorithms(and a bunch of other more technical things that get increasingly complex the more you ask on the subject)

No wonder you need a PhD to understand this stuff!

From this lack of immedate results springs a set of businesses that are focused on spreading theory, rumour and suggestions, then testing them to destruction... the SEO industry. This is hardly a scientific community and one where discussion boards are regularly set alight by the merest hint of actual information.

For clients who use these services though, SEO agencies can perform wonderful feats of illusion and in some cases magic (one apparently even made BMW's German site disappear from Google for a while back in 2006).

But hang on, there may be a glimmering light out there in Optimisation Land. Some people are actually trying to put the science back into search. For example Professor Mike Thewell (who has the wonderful title of "Professor of Information Science and leader of the Statistical Cybermetrics Research Group at the University of Wolverhampton" - didn't Doctor Who face him back in the 1970's?) has recently started blogging over at on exactly this topic.

His intial post on Scientific SEO sums things up nicely:

But at the end of the day decisions are based upon gut feel and received wisdom:
art rather than science
His research & insight (which can be brain-hurting to mere mortals) should be interesting to watch over time, as he divulges more about his research. If academics are to eventually try and add credibility to what was previously just subjectivity and conjecture, surely that cannot be a bad thing?

My verdict... For now, lets call SEO work a 'craft'. Something that is on its way to absolute definition and measurement, but still shrouded in arcane terms such as 'black hat' and spiders.

(I think it must be Halloween soon)

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Where do all the bloggers live?

A quick posting (as I've been at the eCommerce Exibition in London today), but I was interested to find out where all the people who write blogs come from.

Luckily in their recent report, 'The State of the Blogosphere' Technorati provide the answer:

I'm actually quite suprised, not that North America is so well represented, but that Asia and South America are not. More investigation is perhaps required.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Apology Accepted

Whilst attempting to write a post last week I was frustrated to be told by Blogger (the online service that powers this blog):
Well, at least they have apologised (twice). And in this world of spin, mis-representation and blamestorming there’s a lot to be said for apologising when something goes wrong.

Q: What do you do when you are technical news site that relies on user-generated content, which then disappears when you have a technical glitch?
A: You put a news article out explaining what happened and encourage comments
Not that surprisingly, the community has responded with sympathy and not lambasted the site.

Compare this with the ‘issue’ over at Amazon, where reviews of a computer game were accidentally deleted/removed/hidden [delete as appropriate] with no apology and just a comment by a spokesperson that:
"Amazon did not knowingly or consciously choose to remove the reviews. The team is working on resolving this issue now and restoring all the reviews on the site."
To be fair to the online retailer, this could have been a one-off technical problem….
… were it not for the fact that negative comments of a game by the same manufacturer (and a major supplier of games to Amazon) were also removed a while back. [cough]

However, if you want to see a 'proper' company apology, take a look at the one from David Needleman the CEO of JetBlue airlines, written by him when customers were left stranded for significant time due to weather (and possibly bad service).
Note: This is the man who writes to individual letters called 'Blue Notes' to staff in his company who show superb customer service.

As Mr Needleman puts it on behalf of his company:

Nothing is more important than regaining your trust

Friday, October 24, 2008

SNCR announces 2008 winners

Those forward-thinking Fellows of the Society for New Communications Research (SNCR) have announced their choices for their awards this year.

Visionary of the Year:
Charlene Li and Josh Bernoff, whose book Groundswell sits on many of my peers' bookshelves (and mine included, when I get it back from a client I lent it to)

Innovator of the Year:
Jack Dorsey, Biz Stone, and Evan Williams the founders of Twitter.
(Which I mist admit to using, but less-so recently)

Brand of the Year:
Dell, for making the most in-roads to using new communications technologies, etc.
(E.g. For Dell Idea Storm, PR Blog, etc.)

Note: I'll obviously take credit for mentioning all of these winners in this blog and therefore expect my honorary membership to be in the post tomorrow [grin].

Thursday, October 23, 2008

7 years old today, but what was it?

In 2001 Apple revealed their new $400 baby to the world. Back then a much heavier, 5Gb, Mac-only, low-battery-life version was announced by Steve Jobs as the device that

"puts a thousand songs in your pocket."
Yes, 7 years ago today the first iPod was launched.

(For those who are really interested, you can read about the lifetime of the music player at - should you be that way inclined)

Today and 100’s of millions of white headphones sales later, they make up 29% of the company’s revenue.

The Super Influencer

As part of a piece of research I've been doing for a startup I'm working with, I've revisited the Universal McCann research 'When Did We Start Trusting Strangers?' that I mentioned in a previous post.

Peer-to-peer influence is a strange thing when you investigate it further. Now, thanks to social media and the 'always connected' society, everyone has the potential to influence everyone else. However, "not all influencers are created equal" as the report says. This has therefore created a new breed of Super Influencer! (Fabio Turel goes into more analysis about the report's findings here).

However, what the report does mistakenly do is depict the network of connectivity between individuals as a set of 1-to-1 connections .

I'm sure the visuals done were not meant to be exactly representative of the exact web of connections the report goes into more detail about, but were done by a graphic artist to a brief. However, had his/her brief been a little more realistic it may have looked something more like this:
(a social network data visualization based on a model that is based on "mobile particles that randomly bounce off each other")

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Google to research social influence

According to a recent BusinessWeek article, Google has a patent pending on technology for ranking the most influential people on social networking sites. Althought Google is declining to talk about it further, it is understood to be based on similar solution to Google's PageRank algorithm (Not named after the ranking of 'web pages' but after 'Larry Page', the person who developed it and one of the top 3 people at Google).

If this works as planned, it could give an influence ranking of you and your contacts, potentially charging more for the advertising on the pages on more influential people (and therefore potentially appying a value to the individual's social graph).

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Don't confuse celebrity with influence

The cult of celebrity has gripped the 21st Century pretty firmly. You only have to plot the appearances of reality television participants and the webpages devoted to talent-less hotel empire heiresses, to see how much this phenomenon has grown.

(Hint: if you actually do want to plot the popularity of those in the public eye, see sites such as and MSN's xRank service)

Celebrity is also not just a traditional media focus, it affects digital media as well. 4 of the top 10 entertainment sites are blogs and actors, (soda) pop stars & others take up a significant amount of the top search engine places, with some stars' search results very likely to infect your PC from dodgy downloads such as screensavers.

So, are these pop-stars, footballers, models and other media darlings true influencers?

Not necessarily!

The relationship between a celebrity and their fan base is often termed 'Parasocial', meaning:

“the seeming face-to-face relationship that develops between a viewer and a
mediated personality”
This one-sided affair, increased thanks to 24 hour coverage of cultural icons, creates false / insecure relationships that are not an exact replica of the day-to-day relationships that normal people have. If influence is the ability of an individual to affect another's behaviour, then technically celebrties do have influence. For example in research by Cole & Letts in 1999 they found that 9% of the young people in their study stated that their idols had influenced some aspect of their attitudes and beliefs.

However, don't confuse the two. Just because a celebrity looks attractive or has something to say (most do), it doesn't make them automatic influencers. Others (Boon & Lomore 2001) has shown that while some participants in a Canadian study indicated strong attractions to their celebrity idols, the participants did not feel they were inspired to change their own behaviour based on those celebrities’ lives, choices or accomplishments.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Online UK adverising set to grow despite economy woes

I've previously covered the expectation of an forthoming UK recession (or a "contraction in the economy" if you're a politician) and now its looks like its actually here.

I don't think there's any doubt that the overall ad market will be affected by the financial crisis. Indeed Guy Phillipson, CEO of the U.K. division of the Internet Adverting Bureau has said:
"Online is not immune from the economic downturn, but while other sectors see
falls in expenditure the Internet is still experiencing an incredible increase
and is propping up the entire advertising market."
But indicators are that online advertising spending should continue to rise. Indeed some organisations (e.g. eMarketer) are even predicting its double-digit growth through to 2010.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Online Newspaper Revenue... still dropping

But instead of blaming their monetisation strategy or a declining product, what have they claimed is the reason? .... According to the New York Times the reason is that they have too many adverts.

So, despite online advertising revenues growing, newspapers claim that with a huge site with lots of adverts comes the awful burdon of generating sufficient advertising dollars across all of it. Those days of generating huge online editions that were not only copies of the paper-based product, but enhanced versions with loads of additonal topics/opinions/comments, may be a thing of the past.

Yes, you did read that right. Newspapers online are considering reducing the size and number of adverts they display (and some are already doing it) .

Note: The problem apparently comes when everyone wants to spend money buying up the homepage, but don't care about the rest of it. Therefore newspapers struggle to find the right online ad sizes that they can sell premium advertising revenue for.

To quote media economist Robert Picard,
"newspapers keep offering an all-you-can-eat buffet of content, and keep diminishing the quality of that content because their budgets are continually thinner. This is an absurd choice because the audience least interested in news has already abandoned the newspaper."

Does this mean...
Perhaps. Or just possibly as Robert Picard says, "they are just trying too hard".

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Human-ise your company

We often think of and describe companies in human terms, its part of our nature to personify and understand. Therefore to encourage this thinking and to bind us to them, better brands usually give themsleves 'attributes' that are human in meaning, such as:
  • 'trustworthy'
  • 'approachable'
  • 'innovatative'
Note: Some companies obviously do this, others just ignore the exercise and make it up as they go along - honest, they do!

This is exemplified in Google's mission statement "Don't be evil", even mentioned in their 'Code of Conduct'. Its partly a way of reflecting how balanced the company wants to be (in everything from its search results to the treatment of its staff in the workplace) and partly a method of separating themselves from Microsoft (often regarded as 'The Evil Empire') . I think this statement (partly a Bill & Ted philosophy and partly a commandment) does a lot to add humanity to a large company.

So how do you describe your company in human terms? And more importantly...
.... how to your customers?

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Money markets lose, FT gains

In the last month, where the current financial crisis has caused more than just a few tears in the dealing rooms across the world, one news provider has been smiling.... the Financial Times.

In a recent Reuters interview, FT's CEO John Ridding announced:
  1. Sales of the paper has just risen by 20% (Asia & Europe) and 30% (US) from August to September

  2. Registrations to have significantly increased (also boosted by a slight relaxing of their paid content model)

  3. Page views are double year-to-date, with a 300% increase on the week of 22 September
    (Goodness knows what they were last week then!)

However, market melt-downs don't happen that often and if you can't plan a profit then I guess you can't plan a financial crisis to benefit from either.... well, most of the city folks can't apparently.

But the FT does have further plans to improve its website, including: adding (more) video, providing more formats (Fancy using a Kindle anyone? No, I didn't think so!) and ignoring the taunts that it is cannibalising its print version.

However upbeat about the benefit of the recent crisis Mr Ridding is, he's also quite sobering in his parting thoughts:

“No one has necessarily nailed the business model in media, but we feel that we’ve got a pretty strong vision and operation.”

Monday, October 13, 2008

Quality in the DNA

We've just spent the last few days in Switzerland at the headquarters of a very large food company (so no hint there then!).

Having ventured again to the land of cuckoo clocks, cheese & chocolate, I became a little heavier, happier and once-again amazed by the professionalism and quality of everyone in the country I've had dealings with. From hotel staff & train conductors, through to store owners & the executives we met, everyone seems to been intent on providing a professional service. When I asked a friend & former colleague why it was that everyone one in the country had this approach he replied:
"Quality is in the DNA here"
Having now returned to the UK, I've now thought more about how other countries, companies and individuals could learn from the Swiss and their approach to quality. In a commoditised world where one product is now so globally similar to another, its nice to know that quality can still make a difference.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

In a crisis, remember your customers

I can't really let the financial events of the last few days pass without saying something. But rather than tell you what bank I'm not going to invest in or what mattress my money is hidden under, I'll focus on customer communications happening with Online Bank Icesave (

I guess there's a tendancy to forget about customers when you're working for a bank that has not only been nationalised, but when the entire country is teetering on bankruptcy. Or should there be?

Is it really enough to place a message up on your homepage for over 24 hours that merely says:
We are not currently processing any deposits or any withdrawal requests through our Icesave internet accounts. We apologise for any inconvenience this may cause our customers
Mor recently (today) they have placed a link through tothe UK Govenment's treasury website that explains further the plans to protect UK citizen's savings, but where's the:

1. Regular updates from senior people in Landsbanki (its parent bank - nationalised)
2. Informative statement's from Icelandic Financial Services about the situation
3. Link through to other useful information

Although this bank's fate may be sealed, you wonder what the lack of messaging on other loss-making financial services sites may be doing to easy their customer worries... and therefore what it may be doing to their longer-term reputation.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Trust in different media

When yet another survey is released that states normal people distrust what newspapers say, the same newspapers go on the defensive? Therefore its therefore hardly unsurprising that when a study shows a small variance in these pessemistic figures (e.g. a small rise back in favour of newspapers), the newspapers make a bit of a song and dance about it?

However, neither Roy Greenslade nor the report writer Claire O'Sullivan from the research company Metrica, can offer no explaination or even an hypothesis for this upward trend.


Monday, October 6, 2008

Who's listening?

I've had some rather interesting dealings with a UK energy company recently. No, Ideal Interface hasn't ventured into yet another market segment (we're happy enough consulting with Retail, Financial Services & Travel right now), I've just been trying to sort out the bills for our company office in West London.

Its meant that I've been regularly exposed to the recorded voice, just before I'm connected to a 'Customer Services Representative' saying:

“This call may be recorded or monitored for quality, training or security purposes”

Taking the time to break this sentence down the other day, whilst I was repeatedly put on hold, I realised how bad a job this message does of reassuring the listener.

1. They May be doing this if they want to
2. How is this conversation being stored?
(Note, if you then pay with your credit card is the voicemail system PCI-DSS compliant?)
3. Who's quality, yours or theirs?
4. Training, aren't they not already trained enough to speak with customers?
5. Security? Is for their security not mine?

Surely there must be a better message? Something more likely to provide even a small amount of assurance to their customers that they have their interests at heart, perhaps?

I'll wait to find out. Well, I've been waiting long enough on hold already......

Friday, October 3, 2008

IBM corporate newsletter goes social

IBM are making a big thing recently about their Enterprise 2.0 or Enterprise Social Network credentials. Its therefore only fitting that they highlight how this has been of benefit internally for them.

The document below shows how they are leveraging social networks to improve the communications between their staff, current and past, creating an Alumni site which as of July 2008 had 45,000 members.

However, as well as highlighting how IBM is using modern social technology... I can't help but think that they are also using it to cut down on the fragmentation of communication caused by various employees (past and present) setting up networks on: Facebook, Xing, LinkedIn, Orkut or other publically available social networks.

You can also read this document on Scribd: Social media IBM study

Thursday, October 2, 2008

The trust of strangers

Purchasing decisions are changing because of customers use of social media. As a consequence almost 40% of retailers are using social networks to reach and influence these peer-to-peer decisions.

However, lets just think about this for a second. We allow others to give us an opinion and depending upon the amount of influence they have, we trust that opinion less or more. Therefore the customers (In reality everyone, for we are all customers of some products & services) are influenced differently, but to some extent we value the input of people we don't know. It is now possible for anyone to influence anyone else.

Before you deny this, consider if you've ever read a review on Amazon before buying a product or checked on the eBay seller before bidding on their item.
On the Internet, information about past transactions may be both limited and
potentially unreliable, but it can be distributed far more systematically than
the informal gossip among friends that characterizes conventional marketplaces.
Resnick & Zeckhauser 2001

This report is interesting as it tries to explain why buyers trust unknown sellers in the "vast
electronic garage sale" known as eBay, which, although isn't a social network to the precise letter of the definition, definately creates a sense of community, feedback and trust.

So, its not suprising then that have recently published their latest research report entitled "When did we start trusting strangers?".
Hint: Way before social media became a popular term and perhaps we may have to look back even before Mr Resnick & Mr Zeckhauser started their research.

This report identifies a trend called casual influence, showing how its incredibly easy to influence other consumers by using quick voting and recommendations. They indicate that influence and online have almost become one and the same thing, as they put it:
There are so many tools to do this that we no longer have to really think actively about influencing

Food for thought?

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Vodka, Petrol & Bankers

What do these three have in common?

Well, in Interbrand's most recent research of the 100 Best Global Brands, the only 3 companies that come from the UK are:

  • HSBC - Financial Services (No. 27)
  • BP - Energy (No. 84)
  • Smirnoff - Alcohol (No.89) - its parent company is Diageo
What relevance is this? Well, as someone from the UK, I see it as a shame that we don't have more. Perhaps its also notable that although this a Global report, 52 of these brands are based in the United States.

The rest of the World is represented as follows:
  • Canada : 2
  • France : 8
  • Finland : 1
  • Germany : 10
  • Italy : 4
  • Japan : 7
  • Netherlands : 3
  • Republic of Korea : 2
  • Spain : 1
  • Sweden : 2
  • Switzerland : 5