Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Increasing customer value on travel websites

Having worked on a number of travel sites in my career, it is surprising to see that some travel companies still aren’t looking to maximise online customer value at every opportunity.

However, there are different ways of doing this online, each with their own merits, approaches and supporting technologies:

1. Increasing customer revenue per transaction

This is the strategy of trying to get as much out of each online customer order as possible. In ecommerce terms this is known as AOV (Average Order Value) and is a key metric that most travel websites live & breath.

The enabler of this maximisation is a decent user experience within the booking process that should give the visitor enough information to make all the booking decisions they need and presenting the relevant opportunities for:

  • up-selling: trying to get the customer to order the better option of what they have selected (e.g. room upgrade)
  • cross-selling: trying to get the customer to buy additional items that enhance their stay (e.g. car hire, excursions, etc.)
2. Increasing customer revenue per complete booking cycle

Once the customer has done their booking and left the site, that’s not the end of the sales relationship with them… that’s the beginning. The opportunities to increase the value from each customer will depend upon their budget, circumstances and how they want to spend their holiday (relaxing, touring, playing badminton, etc.). But failing to recognise these opportunities is potential lost revenue and may actually mean the customer misses out on something they didn’t know about.

The two enablers of this activity are:

  1. Marketing to the customer and informing them of the relevant opportunities you offer (e.g. via email, telephone, etc,)
  2. Allowing the customer to return to the site to easily upgrade and to incrementally buy items they want by themselves.
Care should obviously be taken not to bombard your customers with too much or unnecessary messaging and don’t forget that each different type of person will be have their own decision cycle/timings.

Hint: The idea is to understand these different customer types and be able to market to them in a better & better revenue-generating way as they lead up to their eventual stay.

Also, you have to make the self-service functionality of you website easy enough to be used by anyone… if it becomes a complex application that only a travel agent with a PHD* could understand, then you will unsurprisingly find that this service isn’t used very often. (* and there aren’t too many of them around)

3. Increasing lifetime customer value

A person booking with your site once is a sale, a person booking twice is a retained online customer. In my experience, marketing to the retained travel customers is usually easier than marketing to a new customer…. They have previously used your services and you know information about them that will help you speak to them in more relevant and effective way (assuming they didn’t get a completely negative experience previously).

Therefore it should be in very travel website’s interest to encourage existing customers to book more often that they currently do and to try to increase their order value each time. Eventually you should get to calculate / measure the value of a customer over the entire time they want to do business with you (their CLV or customer lifetime value )

For this you need to consider using CRM systems and processes which pull together customer information such as purchase history, AOV, etc. and then need integration into online systems for personal emails, etc.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Measuring Social Media activity across your business

If you work for a larger company with multiple divisions (and marketing initiatives) then there is a good chance that you have more than one piece of social media activity going on at once.

There's also a pretty good chance that these different initiatives are not connected and may even be duplicating effort (or worse, working against each other).

So what do you do?

1. Audit all activity
Firstly, do an audit of all activity involving social media across your company.  Create a list of everything from those business Twitter accounts in the USA office, through to those Facebook Pages created by the German Marketing team.

2. Measure reach, impact and engagement
How? Well, for reach, its a numbers game. With services such as Twitter its easy to see the number of followers an account has and its just as easy to record the number of Facebook 'likes'. Counting up the number of people who have 'like'd each clip* or are following your channels on YouTube is obvious. Also most blogging platform now either provide statistics for the number of visitors to your blogs or allow you to integrate Google Analytics or other stats package into each page.
*YouTube also allows users to give each clip a 'thumbs down' plus has basic stats built into it now

However measuring impact and engagement is a different matter and I would therefore suggest you look at these methods as a starter:
  • Twitter: 
    • Look at the number of re-tweets each account gets, this will give you some idea of how valuable the followers regard the postings.
    • Measure clicks on hyperlinks. You can do this either by looking at your referrer information in your site analytics package (assuming the links point back to your own site), or if you use a service like Bit.ly which integrates with Twitter, this will show you the clicks on each Tweet.
      Hayden's tip: Use Google link search to see how many people hyperlink to your Twitter account e.g. http://goo.gl/6hkt

  •  Facebook

    • Look for the amount of comments and 'likes' on postings. Obviously the more followers you have, the greater the likelihood of having comments and 'likes'...
      Hayden's tip: To get a real measure, work out your average number of responses per posting and divide this by your total number of followers.. and then measure this over time.
  • YouTube, Flickr, etc.
    • Both these sites allow commenting on each respective file uploaded and YouTube even allows video responses to be posted. Reviewing this feedback over time will give you some idea of the content that people find interesting (in a positive or negative way - so remember to )
      Hayden's tip:
  • Blogs
    • Comments are the obvious way of measuring engagement with your blog content and because they are easily spider-able by search engines and social tools, you can use a variety of methods to understand the quality of the people contributing to them (e.g. http://socialmention.com/)
      You can also use your analytics package to measure more factors about engagement such as the amount of time spent on each page (paid for analytics applications may even have a specific way of working this out, such as this method from WebTrends)
      Hayden's tip: Again use Google to measure the number of inbound links to each blog: e.g. http://goo.gl/tjTn
There's obviously lots of other social networks to assess and the ones you audit and measure will depend upon the countries your business is active in. But without first taking stock of your entire social media presence, there's no way you decide which efforts are working and which are not.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

SEO and eCommerce Merchandising

At Ideal Interface we have various clients who have eCommerce websites. Having done SEO work for them, including strategy and implementation consulting, I thought I'd post on some ways you can leverage your online trading site to benefit your company's search engine optimisation efforts.
  1. Give you products the names that people are looking for
    If you want to target search users who are looking for a "red patent shoe", then calling your product "scarlet platform brogue" isn't going to help as much.
  2. Provide decent product descriptions
    The supporting content you provide on the page will help the search engine spiders to understand your page better. Also try to include alternative words to target the long tail of search (Hint: you might want to mention "scarlet platform brogue" here, but again only if people will search for that term)
  3. Ensure your site navigation (and therefore your directory structure) includes keywords and that these are replicated in your page titles and breadcrumbs.
    E.g. footwear > shoes > smart shoes > red patent shoe
  4. Use of on-site search for keyword research
    Take a look at the terms that users type into your on-site search and you'll learn a lot about what they are looking for. Obviously these will be different to the terms that users type into the major search engines (e.g. they don't tend to search too often for your site name in on-site search, rather your brands or products) but they will be terms that real users type in expecting to find things.
    You'll also find out (if your search is clever enough) the terms that bring up no products. (Hint: this could either be highlighting a problem with the way you describe products or be an opportunity in the making).
  5. Optimise your entire site to ensure spidering and indexing by search engines
    As well as making sure every page of your site is coded to standards and that you're taking full advantage of Semantic HTML, you should use tools such as the Google Webmaster services that are freely available. 
  6. Create a dynamic sitemap.xml
    If your product catalogue is constantly changing, then I  recommend the use of a dynamic sitemap.xml file. This is a technical file that sits in the root directory of your site and tells the search engines all the indexable pages your have. A sitemap.xml file should be created each time your website product catalogue is created and will save you effort of manually updating it
Does anyone have any further suggestions?

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Does Facebook Places mean the end for Foursquare?

As regular readers and followers of my Twitter stream will know, I'm a frequent user of the Geo-location based application Foursquare. I've been using it for most of the year now and I like its combination of gaming (I am currently having a competition with a fellow nearby user to be the Major of our local Pizza restaurant) and tips... where I have been know to give the odd negative review.
However, Mark Zuckerberg made the announcement last week that Facebook will now extended the availability of its geo-tagging service Facebook Places to the UK (and Japan).
Facebook Places has up until this week only been available in the US, but it is now live here in the UK and already seems to be building up users (if my friends are anything to go by). The service is already built into the iPhone Facebook application, however other mobile users (Blackberry, Android, etc.) will have to wait for their developers to catch-up and for now can only use the service via the 'touch' version of the site accessed with a mobile browser.

But with the launch of this service, I am sure I'm not the only Foursquare UK user who thought "hey, why use two applications when one will now do?". Or to put it anther way, given the 500 million Facebook users, does this spell the beginning of the end for Foursquare?

Possibly... but I have an idea... sell the product to a bigger company right now!

But who? Well.... if:
So who's left to buy up little old Foursquare?


Perhaps. Although it also failed to buy Foursquare in April for the assumed $100m+ price tag, you can't help but think that Foursquare's value may have decreased a little now that Facebook has entered the market.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Google Instant - a impact on impressions

As the more astute of you may have noticed, with the introduction of Google Instant search a couple of weeks back, your search query impressions would have increased in your Google Analytics. As per the recent post on Google Webmaster Central blog, you apparently see an increase due to the way impressions are counted.

Apparently the method used for counting impression has changed significantly and if the user stops typing so that the results are displayed for a minimum of 3 seconds, then Google also counts that as a search results impression.

I have to admit I was a bit foxed by this announcement at first, until I realised that it was not page impressions on the target site that had increased, but just the number of search results that contain your URL.

Google has also stated that they haven't changed the way pages are indexed and ranked. So that's OK then.... isn't it?

Well...I'm not so sure. Aren't Google going to factor in the change in impressions (and therefore the reduction in Click-through rate) when calculating things such as the quality score (which is calculated every time your keyword matches a search query)?

Monday, September 20, 2010

eCommerce 101

There's the idea in  most business owners that setting up an eCommerce website is a difficult thing.

It really isn't.

Sure, if you're a large company that needs to integrate a site with back-end fulfillment systems and has a complex and ever-changing product offering, then you're going to need a scalable, flexible online trading service.
But if you're a small to medium sized business and you want to turn your website into a platform for sales.... then you don't need a kingsize budget to get started.  Most of the time it is possible to use one of two methods to get your ecommerce idea off the ground:

1. Hosted
These days, most hosting companies offer a transactional 'online shop' creation service. They range from the very basic templated service for simple products, through to flexible set ups that allow you to build & configure: your own design, complex product catalogues,  multiple currency & delivery options, downloadable products, eBay integration, discounts/coupons, rating systems and much more.

2. Software
By installing an application into your own hosting environment, you can have all the features of the above hosted service plus the possibility of  integration with other business systems (e.g. Finance / Accounts, customer / order management and mail / telephone ordering).

However if you want the very simple ability to transact online, without moving to another platform or installing software, then you want to consider adding PayPal to your existing site. You simply sign up for a basic business account, drop a button onto your website and either have an instant payment (even taking credit cards) or have a shopping cart  if you have more than one product or service.

eCommerce doesn't have to be difficult

Friday, September 17, 2010

Google Instant – a radical change?

Last week Google changed the search landscape yet again with the launch Google Instant, which transforms its search engine result pages (SERP’s) from a static list of results to an AJAX (Asynchronous JavaScript and XML) powered set of results. Now Google has been using a cut-down version of this technology for several years in its predictive text within the search box….. but what is impressive about this change is that the search results now update with every keystroke.

The whole SEO industry is continuing to deliberate about whether this is a big change or a small change for search engine optimisation professionals. Both way, it is a change that does have an impact, but then everything Google does (and it does a lot all the time) has an impact on SEO.

Suffice to say that the principles of SEO have not changed and Google has admitted that it has not changed it algorithm, just the way results are presented. But it is fair to say that after a week since its introduction there is now an additional layer of complexity for SEO people to deal with.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

The digital marketing toolkit

If you have read my recent post on The digital PR toolkit and the slightly older one about the AIDA customer acquisition process, then this one on the toolkit available to digital marketers will come as no surprise.

To quickly recap.... if we follow the AIDA customer acquisition steps as shown below, then there is a relevant role for digital PR, Marketing and Conversion specialists throughout the entire process.

The second circle shown above is what I believe is the scope of the online marketer's role in the steps to obtaining customers (I'll hopefully talk about how you keep them in subsequent postings). And taking just this circle on its own, we can show the different tools available.... again with the on-site tools shown within the sphere and the off-site ones placed outside.

The first thing you that regular readers of this blog will realise, is that there are some tools mentioned here that were also covered in my previous Digital PR Toolkit posting. This is because the roles of online PR, marketing and conversion have now blurred.

Here's a breakdown of the respective tools:

  • Online Advertising:
    Media such as animated banners and buttons may have gone out of vogue somewhat, but there is still a lot of online media inventory available out there and its now possible to target the site or demographic sector you are after reaching. With the general ubiquity of greater broadband speeds now available, other richer formats such as video or interactive adverts are now gaining greater prominence on a lot of pages.
  • Affiliate Marketing
    Sometimes seen as the murkier side of the industry, there is no doubt that paying someone a commission to grow your sales for you is of significant benefit. Yes, there are the downsides in that you could end up competing with affiliates when running your own activity, needing the obvious communication and management between both parties.
  • Search Engine Marketing
    Advertising through Google, Yahoo, Bing and the like is a directly-attributable way of growing website traffic and leads for your business. Making sure you have identified the correct keywords and setting the right budget is something pay-per-click specialists know all about!
  • Search Engine Optimisation
    Why pay for traffic when you can gain prominence in search engines results for free? If you have focused an entire marketing budget on directly measurable clicks (e.g. via PPC), you would probably have missed the opportunity to promote your site up the organic rankings as well.
  • Micro-sites (or one-page microsites)
    Sometimes you either don't want to or just cannot make changes to the main organisational website to support a customer acquisition campaign. This could be for a number of reasons, including: timescales, budget, flexibility of design or just because you want a different campaign-specific URL. Then a microsite (or even just a clever one-page site) is often the most practical approach.
  • Email Marketing
    Email was one of the first Internet applications and is still an effective tool for marketing to new and existing clients. Just make sure your email marketing campaigns area working as hard for you as they possibly can. (Hint: Just because its an older technology, it doesn't mean you should stop being innovative in its use)
  • Competitions
    Some may see this purely as a tool for gaining leads (or email addresses) and to a certain extent that's true. However a clever competition can be sponsored or contain various questions that could segment your audience better (Hint: to be able to market to them better in the future). There is also a huge opportunity missed by so many online competitions to drive customers through to websites at the end of the competition form.
  • Sponsorship
    Although many see sponsorship as a brand-building exercise rather than a marketing one, in the online world sponsorship on some sites can contain clicks through to the target website and help in the customer acquisition process.
  • Social Media Marketing
    In the last few years, advertising spend has started to follow users into social media. And with one main reason... that's where Internet users are spending so much of their time. Sure, there needs to be a mindset change in creating a two-way dialogue with consumers rather than just a one-way monologue as conventional marketers do... but the integration of paid advertising with social media engagement creates a potent mix that most online marketers will not be able to ignore.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Customer Interaction Technologies

Back at the end of 2008 I blogged about the use of CIT (Customer Interaction Technologies) and how they could help fill the opportunity gap between low cost-to-serve channels such as websites and high ones such as face-to-face contact or telephone-based customer services.


Although its been a while since I posted these thoughts I've recently uploaded the entire presentation that these slides were based on up to Slideshare and it is now embedded below.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Building client understanding of SEO services – part 2

In my earlier posting on this subject I covered why the lack of information about how Google actually uses its Page Rank algorithm makes it difficult to tell a client expressly how much SEO work is required.

But this is not the only factor in why it is so very hard to quantify what’s needed to improve a sites search engine visibility. There are bunch of other factors that can affect the amount of time and effort required.
For example:
  1. Lack of clarity of the exact search requirements (Dear Client, exactly what keywords are you looking to target and why?)
  2. The target site is badly coded
  3. The target site has little or no relevant content
  4. The subject material of the site is operating in an incredibly competitive online market (potentially with each competitive site using their own set of SEO consultants to promote it)
  5. The time and effort required to inform / educate / chase a client
As you can see, there are so many variables.. but still some less-than-professional companies still offer a 'boxed' £100 solution to SEO. I'll leave you to decide if you think this is a good approach.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

The new journalism

There's no doubt that the role of journalists have changed and you would now be hard-pressed to stick to the exact dictionary definition of a journalist in all circumstances:
This was a subject raised a few months ago by the BBC broadcaster / presenter / journailst Andrew Marr in his article about the demise of traditional journalism: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-10745720

On reflection I think journalism has changed and will change again as both the media and population as a whole embrac their use of social media tools to communicate and inform each other of what is happening around them.

The intelligent jouralist is one that learns to weild these new tools.....

Friday, September 10, 2010

Social Media brandjacking

I've mentioned the topic of online brandjacking quite a bit in the past and have covered topics such as domains and cyber squatting, brand trademarks in PPC campaigns and Google Sidewiki.
But with the growing use of Social Media, occurrences of Social Media Brandjacking have also increased.

So what do I mean by Social Media Brandjacking?

1. Handle squatting
This is when brands have their names or products taken by someone who pretends to be them. This happens a fair bit on Twitter, where it has picked up the term "Twitter Jacking". Its a growing trend where opportunists have freely stolen the names of companies, celebrities or even fictional characters.
Looking back, I believe this activity gained mainstream attention in Summer 2008, where someone called 'Janet', supposedly a spokesperson for the oil company firm Exxon, posted messages at http://twitter.com/ExxonMobilCorp (now a protected account). And more recently, as if BP didn’t have enough problems with a certain oil spillage in the Gulf of Mexico, the Twitter account @BPGlobalPR started gaining far more followers than the real BP PR team!
Note: The account is now a voice for Anti-BP sentiment, with over 190,000 followers.

2. Brand fans have created an online presence in Social Media (usually Facebook)
So your chief exec finally walks past your office desk and says "I think we need a Facebook site for our brand x". Whilst this is undoubtedly a move in the right direction, you know that a Facebook page has already been set up by well-meaning fans of the brand and they are already posting their opinions and comments there.This is a more difficult situation to manage and its often not intentional social media brandjacking... so if it happens to you, tread carefully, very carefully!
(Hint: Sometimes its better to watch, slowly participate and provide assistance when required)
This does therefore once-again raise the interesting question about who actually owns the brand and who should curate the content that appears on social networks.

3. Brand detractors / critics have created an online presence in Social Media
Its relatively easy to set up a Facebook Page for any company if they haven't done so already (although hopefully most should have by now). If this page has postings or comments that have obvious false information or things that are harmful to your brand then you *may* have a case for taking action as claiming this is a scam or an infringing on your intellectual property.
Its also pretty easy now for brand critics to attack a brand on social media sites by constant negative commenting or posting alternative content. For further information I recommend reading Jeremiah Owyang's posting: Prepare Your Company For Social Media Attacks

One thing is for sure, brandjacking on social media sites is an activity that is likely to increase as more and more people sign up to these networks.

Is you company prepared?

Thursday, September 9, 2010

The elusive ROI of Social Media

Between July and August 2010, Aberdeen surveyed 65 retailers regarding their use of social media marketing to interact with customers

Results indicate that 85% of these organizations have an initiative in place to help manage brand reputation and encourage revenue-building consumer interactivity.

However, despite its pervasiveness significant challenges remain to achieve a full return on investment (ROI) from social media adoption. For example fifty six percent (56%) of retailers in the same survey indicated that they are unable to quantify the effect of social media.

What's happening?

Teens and Fashion online - retail, mobile and social habits

Working with our client River Island over the last few years has meant I have come into contact with many young, fashionable and beautiful people (Could there be a more disliked bunch? And no, according to Mrs Sutherland this apparently doesn't make me any of the above by default!)

Its also interesting to see the staff there as a cross-section of the Generation Y and Millenial demographic that is now becomming the new workforce. They live online, they work online (well, the ones in the thriving eCommerce and Marketing teams that I speak to on a daily basis do) and they socialise online using the obvious social media sites of Facebook, Twitter, etc.

The work we have done with them has meant this thirty-something consultant has also seen how high street retailers have now firmly embraced the new breed of mini celebrities and digital-savvy fashionistas that have grown in number and prominence over the last few years.

With virtually every cell phone now having a camera, teens are walking into changing rooms and happily snapping pictures of their fashionable mates. They are then either texting it to their friends or posting the photos to their Facebook profile for instant fashion feedback.

These online friends and the technology to instantly share is playing a huge role in fashion that retailers are only just starting to tune into. In understanding and analysing these habits..... the clever retailer will find new ways to engage with this audience, build a relationship and hopefully drive sales.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Building client understanding of SEO services – part 1

I’m always talking with potential new clients about the different services we provide at Ideal Interface, with most seeing the advantage in our offerings of: digital consultancy, website design & delivery and online marketing. However the search engine optimisation service we offer is sometimes harder to quantify to a prospect, so I thought I’d air my thoughts in public on how to build a client’s understanding of SEO and clarify just how difficult it is to say “x effort equals y outcome” and why all-so-often we have to state “it depends”.
Lets just start from a common understanding that hyperlinks are the currency of the web. This is particularly true in two ways:

  1. The Google 'Page Rank' is basically a measure of in-bound quality links to a site. It is this rank that dictates how highly Google displays the pages/site when a keyword is entered.
  2. People follow links.... this means they click on page content, banner, emails, etc. and this converts to offline leads and online sales.
Therefore both people/money/revenue and SEO 'juice' follows links and therefore they are crucially important.
However if you asked a prospect what a link to their website gets them in business, then a lot of them probably won't have a clue. Unless they have a comprehensive web knowledge then they won't know whether links from one domain are worth a fortune in sales or are worthless for leads, etc.

But they should! Analytics are free these days (using Google Analytics & others) and it is very easy for professionals with this knowledge to tell which links & URL's are driving business...
The opposite is true for SEO. Its very hard to tell which links from other sites give your site a boost in the search engine results pages (SERPs) - although an SEO professional can make an educated guess as to which ones are the most important.

Google (and about 90% of all UK searches are done via this search engine these days) doesn't tell us this specific information, probably because everyone with a basic knowledge would then ‘game’ the system…. but it does constantly give out advice (mostly by Matt Cutts) to do all the basics of website design, build and management properly first of all and then the links to your content should come naturally*. Obviously you can 'assist' this position if you know how....

* I am still amazed by how many sites ignore this advice and then wonder why they fail to gain decent organic search traffic. Its basic site stuff.... but it often gets forgotten or de-prioritised.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Dreaming about blogging

Ok, its time for an admission... last night I had a dream that I was asked various questions about my blog. Yes, it has now got to the point where I'm dreaming that I'm interviewed about my posts...

The two questions I was asked are:

Q: Why do you sometimes write posts that don't make a specific point?
A: I write what I want, this includes posts that are less factual and more musings & subjective.

Q: What happens when you eventually run out of things to blog about?
A: If it ever happens I'll go back and comment on previous blog postings I have done.
Which reminds me, I really need to follow up on that Car Companies and Social Media Conversations post I did back in March.

..... how very strange.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Multi-channel dialogue - is your organisation ready?

I've already mentioned how the increased complexity caused by a number of communication channels can create disjointed or even contradictory messaging.

Nevertheless customers still want to trust companies they buy from, despite an erosion of that trust (particularly financial institutions) over the last few years. And (surprisingly) many would still like to build a lasting relationship with those companies.

But this can no longer be done just using one channel of communication (such as the phone or email), there's the need for a more innovative & creative approach to gaining customer trust and enhancing the customer experience at the same time.

A dialogue with the customer has always been a very successful method of building customer loyalty and now newer digital methods such as Social Media are available to engage customers in consistent and continuous dialogues across a number of channels.

But not all organizations are ready for this level of constant communication, despite its obvious way of creating differentiation in today’s market. Is yours?