Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Scotland's new eCommerce focus

Intro: This post is the second in my series on the future of Scottish eCommerce, with the previous post here

Scottish Enterprise has recently pledged on its website:
"to increase focus on the e-commerce opportunity for Scotland and in particular, to focus on international e-commerce awareness, advice and support."
To support this focus and the Scottish Government's commitment to Scotland's Digital Future, it is now running a new programme to raise awareness of the eCommerce opportunities for Scottish companies and to help businesses north of the border to capitalise on digital commerce processes and technologies.

One parts of this programme was event run today labelled 'Effective e-Commerce: Reaching new markets online' and held in The Sheraton Hotel in Edinburgh. I went along to listen, to meet potential prospects, see the types of people attending and listen to the range of presenters giving their insight. The attendees seemed to range from one-man operations who have yet to properly venture into online sales, through to large companies who wanted to understand 'what happens next'... and everyone else in between.

What was clear from today's event was the obvious determination of many of the participants to make the most of the emerging eCommerce opportunities in Scotland. Yes, there was a lot of jargon and TLA's (three letter acronyms) being used at various points, but there was also a lot of useful advice given out, especially in the breakout session I attended in the afternoon.

On the downside though, I'm not convinced that these sorts of mixed-bag events are all that is required to move Scotland into a leading online retail region. What is also needed is other business support such as: eCommerce mentoring, a better skilled workforce and the ability for company eCommerce people to share and learn from each other in a positive environment.

Additional note:
I forgot to mention in this post that all attendees were given a copy of 'E-commerce Get It Right!'
This has now been added to the company 'library' for future reference.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

eCommerce in Scotland

As friends and readers of this blog will know, I've now relocated my business and family to Scotland. I've therefore taken an obvious interest in the online retail scene north of the border.

The UK is now a world leader in the field of eCommerce and over the last few years has seen double-digit growth (despite the worst recession in living memory). Furthermore recent figures from the Boston Consulting Group have predicted that the UK’s Internet economy will continue to expand at around 11% per year for the next four year. This means it should reach £221bn by 2016, or a whopping 12.4% of the UK's GDP!

However it is clear that (except for a few notable exceptions) that Scotland does not have an eCommerce economy to fully match that of other parts of the UK. In fact, in a recent report by Scottish Enterprise it said that Scotland had the lowest proportion of any nation or region in terms of advertised IT jobs mentioning eCommerce..... just 2% compared to 11% in London and 10% in the East Midlands.

But ecommerce is a huge part of business today and is a growing industry within the Scottish economy in 2012.  It also contributes an estimated 200,000 jobs, worth £31 billion in sales (of which about £8 billion was actual sales using websites, compared to other online transactions such as direct B2B connections).

Clearly there is a lot of ground to make up. Or put another way, there's a huge eCommerce opportunity in Scotland for those companies who want to move into this market.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Going back to Google Analytics

There comes a time in your life-long learning where you decide not to keep up with certain subjects.

The latest HTML / CSS code, the specific configuration of some lesser-used Content Management System functions and whatever is number one in the pop charts.... Are all items of information I no longer learn or retain in my brain.

And to be honest this is the same for the finer and more recent workings of Google's free website analytics package. As I've used a number of web analytics packages over the last few years, my reliance on Google Analytics has reduced and I've now realised that, along with the product updating, my understanding of the entire suite of tools within Google Analytics is not up to scratch.

I'm therefore putting my nose back into the latest version (3rd edition) of the GA bible, Advanced Web Metrics by Brian Clifton.

I think the current aim will be to wade through this book again (I used to have a version of it a couple of years back, but gave it to someone) and possibly sit the Google Analytics IQ qualification tests...... depending on how much time I actually get.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Why has your SEO stopped working?

Have you started noticing that a lot of your efforts to push your site up the search engine results pages (SERPs) are now not having as much of an effect as they used to?

If so, then there is a good chance that your website has been penalised by Google’s algorithm updates.

Google's Panda and Penguin updates over the last 9 months have heavily targeted content and link spam.
Therefore these "less than white hat" tactics which used to work in the past (e.g. content farming, link networks, etc.) aren’t so effective anymore and in fact are much riskier now. This effect on your site could well be because Google has significantly changed it's ranking algorithm to penalise websites that breach their best practice guidelines. In fact, Google is known for making around 300 changes a year to this algorithm, which has over 200 factors (or 'signals') that affect it.

The Panda updates were meant to affect sites that depended on poor or duplicate content. It therefore hit sites that pulled or 'scraped' content from others.The Penguin updates that came a little later then affected sites that purchased links from other sites, rather than building them up correctly over time.

Now, the very work that has previously made your website rank well, may be having the opposite effect.

Note: I've been told by a few people recently things such as "we like your blog, but sometimes it gets too technical. Can't you write something a little less complex?". This posting is in response to that feedback and therefore I'd appreciate any further comments about its content.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Does big data mean big problems?

The subject of Big Data is currently reaching the level of hype previously reserved for Social Media, Web2.0 and the dotcom boom & bust before it. Just like these previous concepts... big data is large enough, complex enough and technical enough to bewilder a lot of 'normal' people. And like its predecessors, it is sufficiently hard enough to describe... however I like the explanation:
"Big Data is anything that doesn't fit into an Excel spread sheet"
However it is obvious that some companies are making progress with big data... whilst others, especially the consultancies, are keen to make out they have been involved with big data since before it was big news.

Of interest to me was this video posting by McKinsey, which explains how to deliver big data and the necessary analytics tools into the hands of  managers who need it.

However I think the challenge with all of this talk about big data is not only of defining it , but also getting started in the subject. You can talk about big data all you like, but how do you actually start making progress with analysing it and when does it actually become database administration (which has been dealing with gigabytes of data since before the dotcom bubble).

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

The Service Orientated Architect

With the innovation of service orientated architecture last decade (a set of principles and frameworks for designing and developing software around the re-use of back-end web services) complex web properties  became easier to develop and maintain. Key functionality was separated out and structured along business-focused processes, then integrated back together when required.

But do you ever get the feeling when working with digital technology (and therefore the technologists that wield the magical power to understand and work with it) that your business needs and issues are a mere distraction from their principle aims?

Yup, you're not alone.

It's not uncommon for a lot of Information Technology people, regardless of their level, to consider "the business" as an annoyance or actually having requirements counter to their technological aims.

Perhaps IT people need to be more service-orientated too? Structured and aligned to wheat the business needs, then integrated with their customers.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

The overuse of the word strategy

The other day I was asked what online jargon ticks me off (to give it a polite title).

My first thought immediately went to the complete overuse of the word 'strategy' amongst a lot of people in the online industry. Here's my reasons why I think the word has become so popular:

1. Agencies and online consultants can charge more if they use the word strategy
(yup, for some reason, using the word automatically means you understand it and how to apply it to a client's business)

2. It has become incorrectly interchangeable with the word 'plan'.
(All too often I hear things like "we need an implementation strategy" when what is really meant it "we need a plan to put this website live correctly")

3. Clients feel reassured by the use of 'strategy' to define their aims.
(Admit it, no client wants to label their approach as anything but strategic. It would be counter to a lot of anyone's ambitions to say something like "here's a presentation of our content marketing tactics")

4. There are too many digital strategies
Yup, that's right.... The equation to calculate the number of digital strategies within any organisation is:
(Number of people who think they 'get' the Internet + 1).

Perhaps we need a strategy for digital strategies?

Monday, October 22, 2012

Where have all the website analysts gone?

All to often I speak with clients who have great websites and have therefore implemented analytics, such as those by Google, Webtrends, Omniture / Adobe, etc. However a lot of them also admit that they are not getting as much from these analytics packages as they should be.

They often claim that they either don't have the skills in-house or an aligned digital agency who can give them timely and relevant insight. This is a real shame, as these organisations usually understand that their business could be that much better if they could just gain better explanation of what their customers are doing (or not doing).

To back this up, a recent posting from eConsultancy highlighted an important and worrying trend..... website analysts are disappearing.

If you look at the graph above, you will see that in the recent survey, for a question asking "How many dedicated employees does your organisation have doing analysis of web data?" the number of organisations with zero staff responsible for web analytics has actually increased.

Increased? Surely it doesn't make sense that, in an increasingly digitally-savvy business environment, companies are downsizing their online analytics capability? It would seem so, and this is further backed up by the other data in this survey.... that clearly shows that most companies (i.e. those with up to 3 people responsible for online insight) have been reducing their focus on this important function in the last year. Perhaps unsurprisingly, only those large companies with five of more dedicated website analysts have increased their numbers.

It seems that the either role of website analyst is disappearing, or the smart staff required to fill these roles just aren't around any more. Where have all these people gone?

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Above the fold?

"Out of sight out of mind"

It's a pretty blunt saying, but for me it kinda sums up my thoughts about the 'fold'....that part of any web page that you have to scroll below to read stuff.

And although we now have a generation of smartphone users who are accustomed to scrolling with their thumbs, I still believe users on PC's and tablets are less likely to scroll to content below the fold as it means they have to carry out another action.

Jakob Nielson also agrees with me:
Web users spend 80% of their time looking at information above the page fold. Although users do scroll, they allocate only 20% of their attention below the fold.
Obviously this topic is entirely subjective and a lot has to do with the user experience and design of the page. Plus there are now a LOT of different screen resolutions out there, meaning that content pushed entirely off of one screen could well be sat in the middle of someone else's. On top of this, a lot of people think that fold issues are a myth.....

But a recent Google update may make more of a difference to those interested in the benefit of the fold, especially those with more advertising at the top of the page. Now Google have updated their Page Layout algorithm, which is designed to reward sites with content, rather than ads, above the fold.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

7 steps for creating a content marketing strategy

In my previous post, I mentioned that content marketing is easy. Well here's my thoughts on how to create and run a successful content marketing strategy:

1. Have a strategy
Yes, I know this I'd obvious. But if you set-off without knowing what you're doing, you stand a chance of going nowhere quickly (See my posts on agile digital strategy for my approach on doing this)

2. Have a strategy that can be measured
Yes... I've purposely made this a separate point and I think you need to be clear exactly what your KPI's are and what success looks like. These figures should also be stated within your business justification (e.g. for further resource to assist you or to explain why additional effort must be put in).

3. Create an editorial calender
Your content plan should not be a hand-to-mouth process of a weekly meeting to just plan the next few days of content production. Products are seasonal, demand is seasonal, budgets are seasonal and therefore content needs to be seasonal... or at least adapt to the changes needed over time.

4. Build an editorial team
Ok, not every organisation can have a full-time team of one, two or more people doing their content marketing. However this doesn't mean you don;t need to have the input of (offline) Marketing, Comms/PR, Product/Proposition and your own digital marketers (and/or agencies).

5. Don't just create content, share content!
It's simple enough to forget, but you're not just encouraging visitors to enter and read your content, you're hoping they share it via more traditional (email) as well as social channels. Therefore do what you can to encourage this via the use of social sharing functionality (usually via the typical array of social buttons) on your site.

6. Make it usable and beautiful
Ok, maybe not beautiful, but at least consider that your content isn't just for the search engines..... it has to be read by a human too!

You however notice that I've really not focused on Search Engine Optimisation in a post about content marketing. "Surely that was a slip?" you're thinking "SEO is key here, why not cover it?".... Well to tell you the absolute truth, we all should know that content marketing IS about SEO anyway and a lot of the points mentioned above should consider this all the time. I'm also keen not to promote a specific formula for search engine spamming within a content strategy.... or maybe I'm saving that for a later post?

Monday, October 15, 2012

Content Marketing is easy!

Or that's what those who don't understand the subject say anyhow.

However the recent wholesale adoption of the use of the term seems to imply that nobody was doing content marketing beforehand.... when in fact content has been at the heart of marketing for decades (if you don't believe me, just remember that the terms 'advertorial' and 'soap opera' were created by marketers to explain certain types of content created to promote their wares).

Having done, run and eventually made a success of content marketing, I can safely say it can be a complex beast. Not only because it involves different skills (not just copy writing), but also because in large organisations it typically involves several people or even departments. It is also an ever-changing discipline, that now has far more technical considerations than it used to.

In a recent eConsultancy survey,
90% of respondents felt that content marketing would become more important in the next 12 months and 93% said their companies either had a defined strategy in place or were planning on having one within the next year.
I therefore assume that if you're reading this you're planning on creating or improving your content plans into 2013. I therefore guess that for you content marketing is easy.... if it wasn't for the content and the marketing bits :-)

Friday, October 12, 2012

Agile digital strategy - an overview

Over two years back I created a set of slides about how digital strategy should be agile and not like the industrial age of strategic planning (e.g. not responsive to changes, etc.)

Well, I recently had to point people to this information, only to find out I'd not actually uploaded the entire presentation. So rather than have to sort through all the slides individually, here's the whole thing uploaded to Slideshare:

Agile Digital Strategy from Hayden Sutherland

BTW: The individual posts, along with an explanation of each slide are still available here: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4Part 5 & Part 6

Thursday, October 11, 2012

A surplus of creative feedback

Just ask anyone in the media, marketing or promotional industries and they will tell you how difficult it can be to get sign-off of anything creative.

From clients that "just want a few extra changes" through to the wholesale madness that is "I don't like it, do it again".... Everyone has an opinion on creative work, everyone.

But just like every waiter in LA being an out-of-work actor and every taxi driver in London having a cure for immigration or Chelsea's failures in European Championships... Everyone seems to think they know how what good design looks like, even if they're not even asked.

You never get this in other industries (usually). Architects don't get treated like second-rate draftsmen, car mechanics are taken at face value on the quality of their work and I've never heard a hairdresser told "oh just do something and I'll tell you if I like it when it's done".

But give a client a single website design at breakfast and you'll have 10 different pieces of feedback by elevensies, plus a few more contradictory ones by lunchtime.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Has Google Plus lost the game?

In a recent piece of research, I was not surprised to see Facebook and Twitter taking up the lion's share of attention.

Using their online research tool, HighBeam ( looked into the total media attention received from the eight major social media tools / platforms in September 2012.

Although Twitter dominated with 55.84 percent of the media attention and Facebook had 40.30 percent, Google Plus received less than 1 percent of media attention. In fact it only had a meagre 0.08%, although they are keen to mention that their "Google+" search had to be performed as “Google Plus” (so results may not have contained all mentions).

However, this is yet another indication that the Google Social Network is really not getting the attention (and therefore the eyeballs) it needs, if is to compete with the big boys.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Are UK Financial Services cracking Social Media?

To a large extent the Financial Services market in the UK is still finding its feet with Social Media. This is strange, considering they have typically been at the cutting edge of digital adoption. Sure, most companies in this sector have raced to use Twitter and Facebook, but in my opinion a lot (and especially the bigger players) are still at the early stages of the Social Media Maturity Matrix.

However the  comparison sites are proving to be better at engaging customers with this channel than high street banks. Compare The Market’s position at the top of Stickyeye's recent Online Consumer Finance
Intelligence Report for social media reflects the online and offline branded campaign to “Compare the Meerkat”. The report gives the aggregator one of the highest engagement scores, despite claiming:
"Among the retail banks, social media remains a relatively under developed channel, with many operators not integrating their main site with key social media assets such as Facebook and Twitter.."

The UK however should look to the USA, where some FS companies have really found their way in this space:. For example American Express has been at the forefront of Social Media since launching its first online community in 2006 and then launching OPEN Forum a year later (a community project which focuses on small business owners).

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Is your site ready for an ecommerce Xmas?

Yes, I know it's still 81 days until Christmas, but if you run an online store you're probably already preparing yourself for the busiest online sales period ever.

Or more to the point..... If you have not already prepared your website for the expected peak in Internet retailing in 2 and a half months, then you're leaving it very late to do anything about it!


1. Because as people feel the nights drawing in, they start to consider their Christmas presents for others. This means they're already browsing your site and some are carrying out early purchases to flatten out their seasonal spending.

2. Because properly assessing how to test your site for peak visitors and transactions takes time. From my experience: analysing, setting up tests and preparing for any volume & performance tests typically takes anything from 2 weeks upwards to do correctly.
Note: this can take far longer if you only have one environment (e.g. Live) to test against.

3. Because you don't just run one test during the middle of the day. You really should arrange a few tests over a longer period to get an average (Especially if you have any shared infrastructure).

4. Because there will always be something that needs to be fixed after you have tested your site. It may pass the expected volume tests, but if your developers or operational IT staff are watching carefully.... They will always find something to improve (meaning you should test again just to make sure).

Monday, October 1, 2012

A broken Mercedes website speaks volumes

Would you buy a new car from a website that didn't work?

How about one that, no matter what browser you used, still wouldn't let you view and configure a vehicle online?

No, me neither!

But in my search for a new car tonight (and on the recommendation of a friend) I tried to check-out the latest range. And lo and behold, it didn't work. It literally gave me a grey screen and no content, no matter how often I tried.

Needless to say, I'm no longer in the mood for Stuttgart's finest. A shame really.....

IRIS : Internet retailing in store

Congratulations to Internet Retailing Magazine and Expo for their introduction of the term IRIS which is short for Internet Retailing in-Store.
Not only is it a great term that is easy to remember, but the eye-based connotation is also clever and relevant.

These days the use of mobile devices to shop online has grown to become a major revenue channel for all but the most resistant of retailers. But as more and more people shop with their smartphone in stores, and use other connected devices when they are there, then the in-store Internet retailing experience is going to become of increasing importance.
Note: connected commerce happens anywhere you can get data, not just at home on the sofa via a fast broadband connection (as I'm sure a lot if ecommerce traders still believe).

The Government's High Street Review revealed that retail spending has fallen by 42% in town centres and is forecast to fall further to 40% by 2014. So one could therefore argue that the more recent developments in online retailing such as click & collect now need to connect the digital experience with the physical one. Not just to increase the revenue for online traders, but as a potential way of boosting the stores income too.