Wednesday, November 24, 2010

The diminishing value of links

"Build links" is the usual advice you get if you want to improve the traffic to your website.
As we all have been told by SEO professionals and the search engines themselves, the way to get higher placed in organic results is to have great content and to have high ranked sites link to yours.

Simple stuff!

So, unsuprisingly, the typical approach is to use social media such as Twitter, Facebook, blogs and other such services to build links to your site.

But hold on a minute.... how much value is a link from one of these sources?... well, if our research is correct.... very little and some times none at all.

How come? Well, there's a certain piece of code that a lot of social media sites wrap around links to external sites called "no follow". This basically tells the spiders of Google and the like not to go down this link, perhaps because the content cannot be trusted.

So in effect, all the links you build or encourage within these sites do not count towards your SEO efforts.

What's worse is that even some blogging platforms now, by default or by user choice, also use this "no follow" code. And on top of this, so do some social bookmarking and news sites. Ouch!

And you thought this SEO and Social Media stuff was easy
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Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Why isn't your annual report in HTML?

There's a growing trend over the last few years to put company annual report online. However, just sticking the print version on your website as a PDF (Portable Document Format) docuemnt just doesn't cut the mustard any more. In fact, in this recent research from Nexxar, in the UK two thirds of our top companies now produce their annual reports in HTML format.

Now I've previously covered the topic Company Report -The Next Generation, and in last year's posting I explained the benefits of delivering your Annual Report in HTML format. However what surprised me most about the finding's of Nexxar's research, was not that there are still a lot of companies holding onto their old formats, but that a number of the top French companies in the CAC40 have actually stopped producing HTML reports (and seemingly gone back to PDF or image-based reports in JPG format).

Have I missed something here and there's a reason for this? Or has the overall business climate contributed to a completed backwards step in how annual reports are now delivered online?

Saturday, November 20, 2010

The eCommerce bar is being raised all the time

The year so-far has seem a lot of new websites introduced or re-launched onto the market by traditional high street retailers. Most of these examples show that its not just the pure-play companies that can build their digital sales offering, but also those who have a very visible presence in our physical lives.

Yes, there are noted examples where this hasn't been the case, such as H&M's highly criticised implementation, and some site are still poorly designed, fail basic accessibility criteria and leave their users to the hard work. But the majority of sites launched this year show is that it is possible for retailers to learn from the past (and their peers) and implement a site which is a much better example of best practice eCommerce.

Sure, most of the UK-focused high street eCommerce sites aren't actually ground-breaking and hardly any seem to be implementing Social Commerce functionality right now.... but its fair to say the bar is being raised all the time. This not only means a potentially improved visitor and conversion rate for the retailer, but a better experince for the site visitor.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

A million likes and now what?

There's a race going on by major brands to build up the amount of followers they have on Facebook in a perceived effort to gain popularity and influence. Almost daily, those of us who work in online & social media hear claims such as the one made by Burberry today that it:
".... currently boasts three million Facebook fans, which it says is the highest number of any luxury brand"
For many companies it now seems quantity is everything in social media. Its a numbers game where bragging rights to the next million milestone are the most important currency of online interaction.

But hang on..... What's the point of having all these vaguely-attached followers who have just clicked on a button saying 'like'? Where's the customer engagement? Where's the qualitative metric of improved brand recognition?

Perhaps someone had best start reminding some of these brands that a 'like' button is just that? Its a "corresponding or agreeing in general or in some noticeable respect". It really isn't the statement of 'love' they are making it out to be and just maybe they had best learn quickly how to utilise this new-found Facebook fanaticism to improved online sales?

Friday, November 12, 2010

Conversion and performance calculations

A quick tip:
When working out what level of site volume and performance you need to test your website with, always speak with the person responsible for improving site conversion.
It's no use testing the site with a 2% 'look to book' ratio, if the clever people working on converting prospects to orders are looking to change their content and marketing plans to get closer to 8%. This 4-fold increase could mean the difference between site stability and downtime.
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Thursday, November 11, 2010

The digital conversion toolkit

Following up on my two recent posts on the cusotmer aquisition path, including the digital PR toolkit and the digital marketing toolkit, I thought I would complete the series with this one on online conversion.

My prompt to complete this posting was ceated by my arrival of the new O'Reilly book 'Conversion Optimization' which I have to review ASAP.

Digital conversion tools are those methods you would use to turn viewers into customers, browsers into buyers, lookers into bookers... and the customer acquisition cycle would not be complete without them.

Here's a breakdown of the tools you can use off-site

User Journey Optimisation:
From creating a usable way for customers to put products into their shopping basket, through to a seamless checkout/payment experience, the efficiency of the interface is key. I guess this is a pretty big subject in itself and just a footnote in this posting does not do it justice. However, suffice to say, if you're not optimizing your user journey to increase conversions on your website... then you probably need to take a good hard look at why you're doing this in the first place!

A/B & Multivariate Tools
Using tools that allow you to use and compare two or more different set of content, imagery or layout are now common practice on large eCommerce websites. Its a way to check what wording or template is leading to better sales very quickly and enables site to find what's working better, quicker. And furthermore.... do you want a way for your website to automatically improve your purchase ratio without actually doing any further fancy technical coding? Then consider using Google Optimiser, which is a dynamic multi-variate testing website tool that plugs into Google's Pay-Per-Click and Analytics functionality.

Yes, I know its old-hat compared to what I've just described, but asking customers for their views on your website (e.g. the layout, etc.) is a basic but assured way of getting ideas on what aspects of your site aren't optimal.

Search & Social Marketing
Why have I put this lots into a posting about conversion when search and social marketing aim to get customers into your website and not through it? Simple!
If there are specific keywords that visitors type into search engines that means they then far more likely to go on  and spend money on your site, are those ones worth focusing on rather than the ones that just get loads of traffic that lands, takes a look and then disappears to the next site? And if there are images in your Facebook adverts that do the same thing.... shouldn't you be looking more closely at these ones?
Note: Affiliate marketing campaigns tend to convert the highest out of all. But I'll leave this subject for another day

Now this means a lot of different things to different people and again deserves more than a few lines here. But online CRM or eCRM as its know (usually centred around email marketing and its integration with the target website) is a powerful tool to ensure that you identify, communicate with and convert customers as efficiently and effectively as possible.
Note: I'm sure I'll follow this posting up with more eCRM stuff in the future

Do you know that targeted emails can produce a far higher conversion rate that organic or pay-per-click visitors? Yes, simple old email is still one of the most effective means of securing a sale online, assuming you don't bombard your recipients with messages and your email can get users to the site in the first place.


Unless your products are available everywhere (in which case they are probably highly commoditised and therefore you're probably aware of all that I'm describing and more) then you should take every chance to communicate to your customers what your products are all about. Aside from the SEO benefits of great content, customers do tend to need  encouragement and you also need to clearly explain things such as your delivery options, returns policy and trading terms & conditions.

Sure.... analytics won't give you instant conversion improvement, but acting on what you find and analyse really can do. If you're still not using analytics to understand customer behaviour and map that all-important transaction funnel... then I recommend you do so immediately.

Delivering personalised content on new sites is one thing, but providing recommendations based on what a user has previously looked at or bought is a very sensible way to encourage them to purchase. Obviously the more you can then provide relevant suggestions (perhaps even based on what friends have bought), the better your eCommerce operation could be working.

In short.... make sure everything on your site is working as hard as it can to turn visitors into customers.