Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Handle redirects correctly

Our company (Ideal Interface) has been working on a number of client engagements this year and we've seen a number of ways that their websites handle the dreaded "Page Not Found" situation.

This occurs when resources (web pages to you and I) are moved or renamed, but links or bookmarks still look for the old URL.

Usually a dreaded error comes up that says "Error 404, resource not found" or something similar - unless you let Google take control of this and automatically suggest useful alternatives from its search index.

So what can you do about this? You obviously can't have exactly the same website structure and page naming convention from one generation of your website to the the next (and some evidently can't even have this from one week to the next).

My recommendation to handle this is to set up site redirects correctly, so that you give the user what they want. Now some websites build 'custom 404' pages that are more palatable than the generic & bland page I've already described. These will politely tell you that the page doesn't exist and usually give you a link back to the homepage of the site.
For example, here's Amazon's:

One additional step you can also carry out is to ensure that permanently moved content has a 301 HTTP server redirect set up (and don't use 'Meta refresh code in your web page)
Note: This hint is courtesy of the great O'Reilly book 'The Art of SEO' I am currently reading for review on the subject

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

2009 in retrospective

With grateful thanks to John Lennon and Yoko Ono:
And so this is Christmas
And what have you done
Another year over
And a new one just begun

And what a year! (Phew!)... Our company ( has grown in numbers and the projects we're working on, we've been busy pitching for some new work and also started work on some in-house projects that should start to reach fruition soon.

But what about 2010 and beyond, what does that hold in store?

Seth Godin recently asked a bunch of eminent thinkers and movers "what matters now?" and the results have just been published into this very interesting (and free) ebook:

Monday, December 28, 2009

How to get yourself delisted from search engines

With all this talk about NewsCorp delisting from Google early in 2010, I thought I'd get my thoughts straight on how it is possible to do this:

There are two main ways to ensure that your site doesn't appear in search engines:
  1. Use a lot of underhand Search Engine Opimisation techniques
    This 'blackhat' activity will get your website delisted quickly and with a chance your URL may never reappear in the listings!

  2. Tell the search engine spiders not to visit
    What? Yes, you can tell all the major search engines that you don't want all or part of your site spidered & indexed. Its called a robots.txt file and it sits in the root directory of your website.
    Note: This isn't an exactly new thing done by Google, Robots.txt was devised in 1994... two years before Google was even incorporated.

So why, if Mr Murdoch has been threatening to delist his properties from every search engine (apart from those he wants to do a deal with) why hasn't he just got his Tech people to make this simple change and instantly get removed?
Note: This is even something Google took some time earlier in the year to point out how to do.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Conversation economics

What's the value of a conversation?

Or to put it another way, what's the opportunity cost of not having a conversation with your customers? (And by a conversation... I actually mean a continuous dialogue not a one-way monologue that pushes information at them).

We're now living in a world of Attention Economics, where the attention of a customer is easily lost and so very hard to regain (especially if your business is commoditised). So basically a lost conversation is a lost customer, and with the cost of customer retention usually far cheaper than new customer acquisition... even the financial benefits are obvious.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Corporate Webtribution

Earlier this month Elizabeth Bernstein at the Wall Street Journal coined the phrase Webtribution as the personal act of getting your own back online. She highlights how easy it is for an individual's reputation to be wrecked using email and other online methods.

However although its easy to attack a person's personal brand, its even easier for a badvocate to attach your company, regardless of whether they have a legitimate grievance or not.

So what can an organisation do in advance to protect itself from this activity?

1. Firstly register all likely domains that your organisation needs and as many of the ones you don't want to be used against you. These include all popular TLD's (top level domains), common misspellings (especially if your domain is even slightly difficult to spell or obscure) and obvious insulting ones such as, etc.

2. Find out what the general public and customers are saying about you. . Search for yourself on search engines weekly and set up Google alerts and Twitter monitoring services (e.g. on your company and brand terms.

3. Claim the first 10 results of Search Engine Results Pages - especially in Google which still has the lion's share of the search market - for each major term.
There are a number of ways to do this such as:
- registering your company on (here is the profile of Ideal Interface as an example) and
- using sub-domains for your different online services / offerings (e.g. Yahoo)

4. If you haven't already... start and maintain a blog.
This will not only act as a useful resource of information for prospective & existing customers, but will help your Search Engine Optimisation efforts around your key brand terms.

Friday, December 25, 2009

How quickly Social Media works

For an example of the power and speed of Social Media, take a look at this TED presentation from Alexis Ohanian (incorrectly named in the video) on a Greenpeace campaign against Japanese whalers.

Happy Christmas

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Newspapers, an epic fail

At the beginning of 2009 I mentioned an animation called EPIC, that put forward a view of the future in 2015 where Google and the New York Times went head-to-head in an (errrr... Epic) battle.
Note: I actually found out subsequently via Wikipedia that the movie was made by the Museum of Media History and was originally produced in 2004 and subsequently updated in 2005.

We have witnessed a crumbling newspaper business model, once based upon near-monopolistic retail and classified adverts. And those 'golden days' just aren't likely to make a comeback (ever). Well in 2009 this animation took another step towards becoming realised.

Advertising revenues along with readership numbers have dropped further and so have the profits & staff of those papers along with them. The only difference worth pointing out is that the battle this year wasn't taken up by the New York Times - as suggested in EPIC, but by News Corp (owners of the Wall Street Journal).

And now even some of those papers that state their readership is rising aren't selling more newspapers. Apparently since April 1 2009 there have been new auditing rules in the USA that have made it easier for newspapers to count a reader as a paying customer... by counting both their print and digital subscriptions to the same person as two readers! (The Huffington Post explains further here)

But the decentralising of information from newspapers and their mainstream media owners, to millions of the general populace with the ability to publish for free, is just the tip of the iceberg.

What were are really hinting at here is the decentralising of power... and for some that is an opportunity (those prepared to understand and embrace digital democratisation) whilst to others it is a threat (old media owners and those who used the media to control and restrict thought & opinion).

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

US Publishers still blaming Google

Google-bashing seems to be a popular pastime these days, with the newspapers and publishers taking turns to demand their share of someone else's business model now that their own is failing.

However this article from Frederic Filoux attempts to counter some of the Anti-google feeling amongst newspapers publishers.

Its a fairly heavy-hitting article that explains how newspapers at first rushed to embrace Google but now want their share of the search engine when their own business models failed;

What I don’t like is the duplicity shown by legions of publishers: pouring huge sums into SEO/SEM to develop questionable audiences on the one hand, while at the same time whining about copyright violation and fair use abuses simply because this Styrofoam audience is not monetized enough.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Social Networks World Map

Vincenzo Cosenza from Italy has put together an updated version of his Global Map of Social Networks, 6 months on from producing his first one in June.

This map collated with data from Alexa & Google Trends shows the ongoing domination of Facebook as the main Social Network in 100 out of 127 countries.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Is Google Sidewiki Brandjacking?

I've previously covered the topics of Brandjacking and Google's Sidewiki tool on brand sites. However I have recently considered whether the use of Sidewiki on a site could actually be considered Brandjacking...

Firstly, for those to who don't have the Google Toolbar installed on their favourite browser, I realise that you won't know what I mean... so here's a video to explain Sidewiki's functions:

So how could Sidewiki be Brandjacking?

Well, it now allows anyone to comment on any page on your site and therefore to say what they like (yes, I'm aware there is a complaints policy, but I'm not aware of any company that has done this successfully yet). It therefore is scary for those brands that don't facilitate user-generated comments and discussions, but is also a problem for those that do!

As Jeff Jarvis pointed out back in September about this:

So now in the Sidewiki, there’s a parallel discussion going on, separate from [commenting functionality]. There’s no opportunity to respond in threads. I have no control over the content associated with my site essentially on my site. What has been added? Each of those people could have and normally would have commented right here.

It therefore creates a separate channel for alternative conversations to take place on a website. However this is an argument that's not restricted to Sidewiki. Other services such as FriendFeed have removed conversations to entirely different sites for some while now (with little complaint), something Matt Cutts from Google is happy to point out.

Hopefully some clever person is already working out how to include Sidewiki comments into common blogging platforms (perhaps even Google - via their Sidewiki API) or commenting services such as Disqus. This would make finding, tracking & responding easier for everyone, including those that allowed comments on their site... and may even encourage a few more to do so.

So... is it Brandjacking?

In my opinion its not... but what it may be.. is a catalyst in making more brand site owners aware that they don't entirely own the online channel and that their advocates and badvocates now have a chance to say what they like and perhaps its time to join in!

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Monday, December 14, 2009

NewsNow gives in to NLA demands

Information is just surfacing that NewsNow (as mentioned in a previous posting of mine) has bent to the demands of the Newspaper Licensing Authority and is to pull all links to a load of national newspaper sites from its paid for/ B2B area on its site..

Struan Bartlett from stated:
“We have worked extremely hard to seek clarification from the NLA and its solicitors on the legal basis for either NewsNow or our customers requiring a licence. I am sorry to say that the NLA has not substantiated the legal basis for its licence. Indeed in our view its arguments do not hold water. We believe that other organisations who privately agree with our position have reluctantly signed the NLA agreement under pressure. However, we are not in a position on our own to fund an extremely costly legal case on behalf of an entire industry.

So... rather than fight a costly legal battle against the NLA, they will imminently remove the links from their paid-for part of their site.

The full news release is here.

What's in a name?

Having become parents in the last year, my wife & I have gone through the whole process of selecting a name for our baby girl. This was fraught with problems, such as:

1. Who or what is associated with the name?
It may sound good to name someone after a famous person, place or events - but times change
(As the people who named their baby boys "Tiger" have subsequently found out)

2. What does the name sound like out of context?
Ask yourself the question "if you saw it written down, would you know it was a name?"
(Famous examples such as Scout Willis and Peaches Geldof spring to mind)

3. Does the name only suit a certain point in life?
Something that sounds great for a baby, may not necessarily be good for an adult.
(e.g. How many board directors do you know that are called "Poppy"?)

You may even consider what the name means in other languages!
(Note: a UK translation agency now provides a service that does exactly this)

And the same needs to be said for companies who name themselves and their products.

The most obvious recommendation I can give is to do an online search first. As well as seeing if another company has a similar name, you can also see what other search results come up as well. Something could come up that can damage your future brand, especially if the results are particularly unsavoury. However if your term produces a Googlewhack (no search results for those exact words) then you have either found something completely obscure or search heaven. This article from Marty Wintraub at Search Engine Land covers a lot of other useful pointers (including watching out for Search Engine Optimisation and social media naming tricks).

Thursday, December 10, 2009

The value of an email address

"What's each customer email address worth to you?" I asked a client a year or so ago, when we were discussing their future email marketing plans. We then set-about finding out the Lifetime Customer Value of the company's email database (and further important calculations). In other words, we tried to model the revenue per email address over time, with some interesting learnings along the way.

These days its not effective enough to measure just the cost of each campaign and work out the average revenue per email... You have to have a good idea of the total worth of these accounts and try to understand the customer buying profile(s).

To take the stress out of calculating this yourself, the Direct Marketing Association (DMA) have done this work for you . They found on average that an email address is valued at £9.11

However, its should be remembered that:
  1. This research was done in late 2006 / early 2007, so you need to amend this according the the rate of inflation over time
  2. This is only an approximate average from a number of companies in different sectors, therefore it is probably a good thing to do your own modelling and mathematics

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Website performance challenges

Yesterday I posted about the potential for Google to affect its search rankings based upon response times, which looks to be a growing issue in 2010.

In fact, a recent report from Aberdeen Group highlights that many companies are still not assessing their website performance from the user's perspective and that less than a third of those surveyed have the support for their C -level executives for any website optimisation initiative.

The report also highlights the areas of concern that site owners have about their web offering, with most stating their applications as their principle worry:

There's a Paparazzi for that!

UK newspaper The Sun has a toungue-in-cheek poke at the iPhone adverts:

Monday, December 7, 2009

Page response time matters even more now

I recently posted on the how websites need to be careful about their page response times and now it seems this has become a much bigger issue in the last couple of weeks.

Why? Well recently Matt Cutts, Google's Principle engineer, has mentioned that Google could well be factoring page response time in their organic search rankings in the future.

The impact of this change (ranking based upon how quickly a site comes back with a page to the user or the search engine spider) is that popular sites with slow pages could....
  1. Find themselves pushed down the page in Google, etc. or even disappear from the first page entirely
  2. Have to spend more on their SEO efforts or step-up their pay-per-click advertising to ensure they get prominence on the top of search results*
  3. Have to spend more of their development and testing efforts on Volume & Performance efforts - in turn adding to project timescales
  4. Bring hosting Service Level Agreements further into the spotlight

(*You try explaining to your boss why you're having to spend loads more on your Marketing budget because your site slipped down the results for key search terms)

So... with page performance becoming a more important factor, are you already measuring your page response times and comparing them against those of your competitors?

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Russell and Bromley - where is your website

In this modern age of digital communications, it is refreshing to see some companies bucking the trend and refusing to put up a website. Russell and Bromley is one such company that has thought better of taking advantage of any: online messaging, customer contact information or store locator to help customers actually find their High Street shops...let along putting up images of their product or (heavens forbid) selling stuff online.

No, instead they have decided to block user access to and have a server error message displayed there.
This has also obviously been the case for some while as they have even managed to get their main URL de-listed from Google.

So having seen this error message displayed for over a week, I rang up the company and asked them if they knew this was the case.... only to be told by the person answering that "Yes, we were aware and we will be putting up a website some time in the new year"

How disappointing... they are obviously doing so well in ignoring Christmas and the holiday sale period online, I'm surprised they have time to work on this new site at all.

in reference to: (view on Google Sidewiki)

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

SEO in demand

As digital industry observers may have noticed, Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) is a skill that has been in constant demand throughout 2009.

There has been a continual rise in awareness of the term SEO by most businesses and it now not just the domain of the marketing/technology hybrid (so-often labelled a "geek") that it was several years ago. Now it is a defined market sector in the Internet industry and one that requires its own skill-set and experience, has its own terminology and mainly tries to keep to best-practice rules & guidelines. Overall the main purpose of the SEO industry is to ensure its clients get maximum and ethical benefit from their sites within the organic (main) results on web search engines (Google, Yahoo, Bing, etc.).

A year or so ago, stories of the SEO market place dying out emerged, partly fueled by the opinion that as all sites became standardised there would be no difference between them.
This viewpoint, in my opinion, is greatly exaggerated or incorrect.

  1. As new junior talent comes into the web development industry (and others leave) and as the search engines change the algorithms their very engines are based on - which affects the placement of the results - thus there is always lots to learn and improve upon.
  2. Not all web agencies are created equally - some still don't develop to standards or test, test and test again
  3. Different sites require different approaches. Some need instant recognition at the top of one or two specific keyword searches, others need a more general or volume-based approach.
  4. Search habits change, either as vocabulary and names come to prominence, or as users get more proficient and specialised in their search terms.

So what is your company doing about its constantly-evolving SEO requirements and how are you going to find the right SEO agency to help you with this in 2010?

Google changes First Click Free rules

Readers of paid content on websites have known for ages that they can get around the paywall security of newspapers by visiting these sites via Google News.
The 'First Click Free' functionality in Google allowed visitors access to view the first page of premium content on such sites, but subsequent pages were blocked. This blockage could be overcome by constantly going back into Google News and clicking on the next premium story, meaning that all premium content could be read for free. But this has now been changed.

Now Google has announced that it is allowing publisher to change this rule, meaning that after viewing 5 pages of a paid content site per day, Google will stop its First Click Free rule being used. This means that visitors on the 6th click will be faced with the newspapers site's registration/payment screen.
More information from Josh Cohen at Google is available here.

So... is this a knee jerk to the recently-announced News Corp / Microsoft discussions? Is it a way to placate Rupert Murdoch following his relentless insulting of Google?

Errr... no! Apparently Google has been planning this change for some time, although it has also been more-than aware of the battle that's been coming for some time as well!

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Blogging bad habits

I've just recently read a decent concise book about blogging for business called “Blogging to Drive Business” by Eric Butow and Rebecca Bollwitt, due out on 28th February next year.

I got sent the chapters by the publishers who were after a quote for the notes on the cover. So hopefully my comments are there when the book arrives on bookshelves (if there are any physical bookstores left in 2010)

Anyhow, this book explains the "who, what and how" of this art-form.
Note: I've called it this, rather than a science, as the: subjects, measurement and quality are completely subjective.

It has therefore got me around to thinking about blogging best practice and I think it's time to mention, not the good things I find about blogging... But the mistakes that are made so often.
  1. Writing badly
    Yes, i know I'm guilty of it sometimes (I use an iPhone blogging app sometimes, so I don't get the chance to correct my spelling before I post), but this has to be a major reason why I stop reading blogs. Not everyone is a great writer... so if you're not, take time to read your entire posting again before you submit it. If you can wait a bit beforehand, even better.
  2. Blogging in anger
    Submitting a post just to vent your spleen is the equivalent of drunk-dialling. However unlike a midnight call to an ex-lover... your post can be up on the web for a very long time and you can quickly regret doing it. Always remember that everyone on the web can read your post, not just you. In particular, if you mention a person or company in a particularly nasty way.... consider NOT doing this and then consider it again! (I'll not even venture into the legal nightmare of defamation and libel for more vitriolic posts)
  3. Not replying to comments
    So someone has taken the time to read your blog and even write something in response. Now assuming they are not a spammer or a mad person.. what reason or right have you got to ignore them? Blogging is a platform for a dialogue, not a monologue. Even a "thanks for the posting" response goes a long way to building a relationship with your audience, so whether you are a company or personal blogger... you have a brand to consider
  4. Intermittent blogging
    Yes I know that writing a daily blog can be a huge investment in time, so if you can't maintain a daily blog... don't do it! (consider writing a weekly blog instead). Its understandable that we take holidays or time off, but if you know this is likely, why not write a post or two in advance and schedule them to go live when you're absent - most blogging packages allow this functionality these day.
    Note: I've yet to see a headline of a dead blogger continuing to post thanks to this feature, but I bet it has happened!
  5. Writing posts that are too short or too long
    If you wanted something fluffy that goes "meow" then you wouldn't buy a dog and try to train it to do it, would you? (you'll be disappointed or on TV/YouTube very quickly). So don't blog if you are only going to post a few words (use Twitter) or a huge amount (write a book/ebook). Statistics from back in 2006 from ProBlogger showed that the average time visitors spend reading a blog post is 96 seconds. Now, potentially these times have decreased as people have got used to Twitter's 'microblogging' format, but the general consensus still to keep your postings between 200 - 500 words.
    Note: If you have a much longer piece, consider breaking this up into two or more articles

So... does anyone have any more?