Matt « Datadial Blog
0208 6000 500

Written by Matt

Google-Local

Matt

March 25th, 2014.

A Beginners Guide to Google Local Listings – How to Get Listed and Ranked

For many small business owners, online marketing is a vital component of the marketing mix, and thankfully in my experience; this is something that most small business owners will know very well. And while there are a lot of ways to get noticed on the internet, the best way to get online attention has always been Google. Because of Google’s ever-reaching virtual arm, a business owner would be advised take advantage of the local-business focused Google Places.

Google Places is a great tool for any locally focused business, and it’s also free and easy to set up. This post is going to show you exactly how to get your business listed on Google Places and it’s going to take you through the all-important task of getting ranked.

Setting Up Your Account and Getting Listed

Before we get to optimisation, I’m going to take you step by step through getting your business actually listed on Google Places. This process is fairly straightforward and the initial setup should take no more than an hour.

Step 1 – Create a Google Account for Your Business

To start with the very basics, you are going to need a google account for your business. You probably already have a personal google account, but it is advisable to make one specifically for your business. The reason for this is that there is a chance that an employee will manage your listing at some point, and you probably won’t want them on your personal account. This is also convenient if your business does ever switch hands in the future. It’s best to keep your business account easy to remember, and most people will simply put their business name @gmail.com.

Step 2 – Claim Your Business as Yours

google_placesIf your business Gmail account is good to go then you can now claim your business and get it listed. Now you’ll need to go to the Google Places homepage and click Get Started. Click “Get your business found on Google” and now you’re off to the races. Since this is your first time listing a business under your business account you will have to search for the business by your country and phone number. It is important that you use the businesses landline for this search or google won’t recognise the business (this is because of the integration with google maps).

When you search for your business Google will either find your business and show you basic information (usually pulled from directory sources such as Yell) or it will take you to the next step that we’ll cover. If it does have you listed already then still don’t worry because you will be able to edit and add more information about your business. At this point your business is being claimed as yours and you will now move on to the biggest part of this guide.

Step 3 – Edit Your Listing

Now you are in control of your listing and you can get started on entering all of the details of your business. Google will want you to be very specific and you should prepare yourself because there is quite a lot of information to be entered now. We’re going to touch on each area now and give you a good idea of how to efficiently do each section.

Basic Information

google-local-10-packBasic Information is where you’ll input all of the, you guessed it, basics of your business. This section is fairly easy to understand, but it is also very important for your listing. These are the categories that your listing must have, straight from Google:

  • Country
  • Company Name
  • Address
  • City, County, Postcode
  • Main Phone Number

While the fields are pretty self-explanatory it is important to note that consistency is key here. Google wants to trust your business and it wants to make things simple for the consumer, so it is very important that you enter everything here consistently with how you’ve used it in the past. Look at other websites that your business is on, such as FreeIndex or Qype, and make sure that every detail is identical. It really helps to nitpick here because even minute things like using St. instead of Street can make a difference to Google.

The business description in Basic Information is also a very important part of your listing. This is your time to shine and make your business look good (all in 200 characters or less), so you should think of it as something that you would feature on your own business website. Use keywords here and make sure to target the description to your ideal consumers.

Service Areas and Location Settings Areas

In this area you will be asked if your business is in one location or if it is in multiple locations. If your business doesn’t do deliveries or outside business of any kind then select that option and you’re done. If your business does operate in multiple locations then you will have to determine an area of service. For this option you can either provide a distance from your location or list the cities/areas that you want to be listed in. Both options have their advantages and it will really depend on your type of business.

Hours of Operation and Payment Options

This section is again pretty straightforward. Google will pull the information from your company website if you don’t enter it, but it is best to be in control of the information and avoid any errors. Completely filling everything out will also help to build on your reputation with Google and make you look more trustworthy.

Images/Photos

Photos are a very important part of your listing and they should definitely be included. Pictures will make your business look more attractive to potential customers and it will also make you look more professional and trustworthy to Google. There is a limit of 10 pictures so be sure to use the best pictures possible with you limited slots. It’s also a very good idea to use your most important pictures first, so that customers see the good ones even if they don’t look through all of them. The pictures that you should use include:

  • Company logo
  • Images of your employees at your business
  • Pictures of your products
  • Pictures of the business itself

Videos

Videos aren’t exactly necessary in your listing, but they definitely won’t hurt. Every little thing still builds credibility and makes you look more trustworthy.

Additional Details

It might be tempting to put keywords and extra marketing in this section, but that would be a very bad idea. The best use of this area is to put additional details only, things similar to the examples that Google offers (brands carried, parking). You can use your keywords in the other sections, but reserve this area only for important details that didn’t fit in the other areas.

Step 4 – Verify Your Google Places Listing

You are almost done now, but you still to verify with google that you do actually own your business before you can take full control of your listing. There are two options for verifying your listing, and these options are phone verification and mail verification. Mail verification can take 2-3 weeks so as long as the option is available to you (which it will be in 99% of cases), you’ll want to use the phone option. Immediately after you choose the phone option your business line will receive an automated call from Google which will give you the 5 digit verification pin. Enter the pin and you will finally be ready to go on your listing.

Optimising Your Google Places Listing

Now you and your business are all set up and verified on Google Places, but there are still some things that you can do to get the highest ranking possible on your listing. Being listed is all well and good, but this isn’t the same thing as being found.
A lot of the little tricks have been mentioned above, but I’m going to go through a few more good practices that will help to get your rankings up.

Maintain Your Google Places Listing

This might seem a bit obvious, but you will definitely want to keep up with your page and change any details if anything in your business changes. It’s also a good idea to check the analytics on your website and play with your listing until you get the optimum traffic from it.

Market Your Google Places Listing

It might seem redundant to market a marketing tool, but giving your listing some love really will make a big difference in the long run. To ensure that your Google Places listing gets the most attention possible you might want to consider these steps:

  • Encourage your customers to review your listing – use transactional emails and mailing lists for this.
  • Post updates on your Google Places page with things like coupons and discounts
  • Build up business reviews on other reviews services
  • Optimise your business website for Google

Utilise Citations to Improve Your Google Ranking

Citation-Image-1-LogosThe last thing that we’re going to touch on which will really help your ranking is the all important tool of citations. Google loves to see you being mentioned on other websites, and having a good list of third party citations is one of the best things that you can do to improve your local ranking. There are countless services that list local businesses, and getting yours on just a few of these (but especially the right ones) will endlessly help you in your pursuit of getting noticed by customers. LocalVisibilitySystem is a great starting point to see the types of websites that you should be getting your business listed on.

I have also put-together a useful list of the top local citation sources that are used by Google.

The Excel Spreadsheet can be downloaded from here

UKLocalCitations

The above tips will all help your business not only get listed on Google Places, but will also help you actually be seen. If you follow these steps and always keep your Google listing in mind then you will start to find that it is an excellent source of well-targeted local customers.

LASTLY – you can of course ask your SEO agency to do ensure you have your Local SEO done right.  Please see how Datadial can help you by clicking here.

 

196641

Matt

February 13th, 2014.

(Another) New EU Directive: Will it Inhibit or Enhance Online UK Retail?

A new EU directive has made its way into UK law.

The purpose of this new legislation is to both increase customer rights when buying online, and make expectations of customers more consistent across the European Union, thereby increasing cross-border trade through online stores.

We all remember the cookie fiasco of 2011, the last major attempt at enhancing the rights of the internet user. The UK government not only failed to enforce it, but even to comply to their own law. Due to strong resistance and powerful arguments against the law, it was revoked in 2013.

Will this new push for user’s rights follow a similar fate?

10 Second Summary

To make customer rights more uniform across Europe via:

  • Increased minimum cancellation period

  • Obligatory refunds within this period

To increase customer rights by:

  • Forbidding auto-ticked checkboxes

  • Using clearer, less attractive language on the ‘Buy’ button

There are many other changes to be made in response to this directive, but the above represent the parts of the legislation most likely to affect online retailers in a big way.

When Will This Affect Us?

The law is set to come into effect in the UK on the 13th of June, 2014.

Some things are likely to need changing before this date rolls around. We’ll need to retrain our staff in regards to dealing with returns, cancellations, refunds, and customer service in general.

Terms and conditions will also be affected, as well as the code responsible for auto-ticked checkboxes, and the text for the ‘Buy Now’ button is going to get a little uglier, I’m afraid. Let’s get into specifics.

Shall I Click “Buy”, or “Order With Obligation To Pay”?

agt-buy-buttonWords like “buy”, “confirm” or “place order” are now apparently too vague and open to interpretation to describe the button that leads to payment.

“Order with obligation to pay” is the phrase our customers now have to read and agree to before buying from us.

One of the biggest arguments against the old cookie law was that it put other countries, particularly the US, at a significant advantage, since their websites didn’t include pop-ups which, to those that don’t know what cookies are, looked like a request to infringe on their privacy.

The buy button thankfully occurs a lot further in the buying process, and is likely to have less of an impact.

Sales may be lost, however, and they are not sales that depended on people not knowing what they were clicking on. It’s a wonder why this was deemed as a necessary change.

Be_zhNZIgAAEonG

Credit: Chris Lake @Lakey

If the cookie law was a reaction against the thought of websites tracking our movements, is the buy button law a reaction against the thought of the 1-Click button?

We can deviate a little from their suggested script, as long as it remains explicitly clear that by clicking the button they are entering into a contractual agreement that ends in payment. Clearly, it’s up to us to interpret this detail to a degree.

Whatever the case, the change to buy buttons is just one part of this legislation.

Say Goodbye to the Presumptuous Tick Box

When a page loads, any checkboxes that relate to a add-on service must be un-ticked.

checkboxFrom July onwards, if you want your customers to sign up to your newsletter or add some extra insurance cover to their purchase, you’ll have to make the prospect compelling enough to have them tick it themselves.

Most customers have now been trained through experience to look for checkboxes they have to opt out of before clicking confirm. No, it doesn’t build goodwill for a brand, but it still goes on. You can see how this is in the same line of thought as the buy button changes, the difference being that these checkbox changes are likely to be a genuine improvement in the buying experience.

Adopt a German Attitude Towards Refunds

The “right to cancel period” will be expanded from a minimum of 7 working days to 14.

This is to align the rights of customers buying from a UK retailer with those of customers buying from other EU countries, such as Germany, who already enforce a 14 day right to cancel period.

Refunds for products will be obligatory within the right to cancel period, on the condition that the product is returned with its value undiminished by carelessness. Even if the customer has cancelled, the retailer can withhold refund payment until the product is properly returned, which most of us will agree is fair enough.

It seems that these changes to refund policies are weighted to be fair to both parties, but they will require some attention be paid to our terms and conditions before enforcement comes into play in July.

The benefit is a consistent customer experience across Europe, which should result in more cross-trade online, and a wider reach for small UK retailers that don’t have the budget to expand operations overseas in a physical capacity.

How Do We Protect Ourselves from Prosecution?

If you’re hoping for a similarly lax enforcement practice as we saw with the cookie law, you’re in good company. Perhaps a revision to the surprising buy button policy will occur in time, but until then, any UK business owner who acquires sales online will be at risk of prosecution without making the necessary changes.

You can read the official document here (PDF), which includes model cancellation forms and detailed descriptions of policies we’ve covered here.

The most visible loose ends we will need to tie up are the buy buttons at the end of our buying sequences, the add-on checkboxes that appear at the same stage, the statements made in our terms and conditions (even if it is only the enforcers who will read them), and the wording of any relevant forms available to our customers.

Be sure to educate yourselves and your staff on all the relevant changes. There are many others included in the document above, including changes to content classification, and to information available through customer support helplines.

 

online-review1

Matt

January 29th, 2014.

How Online Reviews Can Make or Break Your Business

Your customer is staring at the screen, hovering over your buy button, and they can’t shake the feeling that they might be about to waste their money.

Finally, their cursor slips back to Google, where they throw “…reviews” at the end of the search query. They don’t come across anyone talking about your product, but instead find few about a competitor.

If people can’t find what others are saying about your product or service, then this scenario is a daily reality for your would-be customers.

Traditional advertising is losing its advantage. People have always trusted their friends’ opinion, and now, just about anyone can be your customers’ friend online.

As consumers we’re predisposed to respond to recommendations, rather than promotions. We trust honesty, skeptical of sales copy. Above all, we want be convinced by people like us to give in to our temptations.

If someone is considering handing money over to you, it means they’re tempted. They will look for reasons to buy.

All you have to do is give them reasons they feel they can trust, which means they can’t come from you.

The Secrets To A Lucrative Review Campaign

Review campaigns are efficient converters if done correctly.

In order to translate into increases in sales, they need to be optimised in four ways

  1. Schema Markup
  2. Persuasion
  3. 3rd Party Reach
  4. Reputation Management

Let’s look at each of these in more detail.

1. Schema Markup: Make Your Reviews Impossible for Google to Ignore

People don’t link to reviews, so how are we supposed to get ours some visibility in the search results?

Schema markup and social signals are all the search engines really have to go by.

We’re covering social signals in section two, so here’s an overview of what you need to know to have your reviews indexed and properly organised to make them accessible to search engines.

Schema.org markup is the metadata convention that the major search engines (Google, Bing, and Yahoo!), agreed to use as the standard way to make web content more accessable to them.

Implemented properly, it makes sense of, and helps to organise structured data structured data.

The Markup

Use the “itemscope” attribute in a <div> tag to tell the bots that everything in this division is about one particular “thing”, which you’re about to specify.

<div itemscope> </div>

Use the “itemtype” attribute to link to Schema’s page about reviews, telling the search bots where you’re getting your markup from. This leaves it looking like this:

<div itemscope itemtype=“http://schema.org/Review”> </div>

Finally, add an “itemprop” attribute to this tag, and every other tag within it that you want the machines to understand. The itemprop name for a review is simply “review”, so our division ends up like this:

<div itemprop=”review” itemscope itemtype=“http://schema.org/Review”> </div>

Let’s look at an example taken from the Schema.org webpage on reviews.

Example Review

Webpage Text:

5 stars – “A masterpiece of literature”

by John Doe. Written on May 4, 2006

I really enjoyed this book. It captures the essential challenges people face as they try to make sense of their lives and grow to adulthood.

Schema Markup:

<div itemprop=”review” itemscope itemtype=”http://schema.org/Review”>

 <span itemprop=”reviewRating”>5</span> stars -

 <b>”<span itemprop=”name”>A masterpiece of literature</span>” </b>

 by <span itemprop=”author”>John Doe</span>,

 Written on <meta itemprop=”datePublished” content=”2006-05-04″>May 4, 2006

 <span itemprop=”reviewBody”>I really enjoyed this book. It captures the essential

 challenge people face as they try make sense of their lives and grow to adulthood.</span>

</div>

You can go further into the world of Schema.org markup and make full use of all the attributes and properties that it offers you, but the above is all you need to get started and to label the essential elements of a review in a way the search engines will understand.

If it’s all a bit daunting there are a few markup generators out there which you might want to try-out.

reviewA bit of Schema markup makes your reviews stand-out in the search results. Searchers prefer to click on links that have a picture and/or a line of stars next to them which will have a huge impact on your click-through-rates. If you’re running ads in Google Adwords, why not give your landing page every advantage it can get?

2. Persuasion: Turn Customers into Spokespeople

Ask and you’ll receive.

Companies are constantly leaving opportunity on the table when it comes to reviews. It’s anyone’s guess as to why, considering how easy it is to tap this resource. Take this chance to get an edge.

There a a few ways to go about it:

Follow up email. You have your customers’ email addresses, so make use of them. Make it a simple one-click-at-a-time process, perhaps with the words, “Are you satisfied with our service?” and a binary option below, which opens up a fast-loading page with the words “…almost done.” at the top, and a single extra box to fill in a quick reason for their answer. Don’t ask your customers to fill out a survey. Most people imagine they’ll be committed to pages of questions.

Calls to Action. Where would it be appropriate in your site to ask for a review? Perhaps at the end of a tutorial blog post that helps your customers solve a common problem? Blog comments are better than nothing, but perhaps it’s worth directing people’s attention to something a little higher in return.

Social Media. People like to talk. And nowhere do they talk more online than on social media sites. On-site reviewing presents a mental barrier. The customer isn’t used to your domain, or your interface. It’s new and scary. But they’ll turn around to tweet in the next moment without hesitation. There is opportunity in the connection you have with the social web, and exploiting it can be as easy as tweeting, “Tell us what you think.” Consider having a section of your site that displays the best tweets you’ve ever received.

Incentivise. Asking nicely works on some people. Others need a little more of a push. Stay well away from gifts that could be construed as paying for reviews (i.e. discounts on future purchases), as this will discredit the reviews that you do manage to get. We’ve been trained to be suspicious of internet content at the best of times, so do everything you can to maintain trust. A good alternative is to offer a prize draw, or to donate to a cause. Any kind of incentive is risky to your reputation with not-yet-customers, so to be safe keep these offers to follow up emails and make it very clear that the incentive doesn’t depend on whether the review is positive or negative.

3. 3rd Party Reach: Have Spokespeople Everywhere Online

Google-Places_reviewsThe most powerful place to have positive reviews is on 3rd party sites.

72% of consumers trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations, as long as they find them on an impartial review site such as Reevoo or Epinions, or on the marketplace site where they reached your brand, such as Amazon or Google Checkout.

Google Shopping seller ratings are aggregates of ratings pooled together from all relevant review sites on the web, including reviews left on your own site, so long as you’ve implemented Schema markup properly (see above).

While social media can be powerful, the highest return on time investment will always be spent on the sites where people go specifically to talk about products and services, and to either persuade or dissuade others from using yours.

Enter into these targeted conversations and take an active role.

Answer people’s questions or deal affectively and professionally with concerns that are raised, and don’t be shy about linking to pages that list your product or service. Remember, 3rd party reviews are seen as more trustworthy, so encourage them!

4. Reputation Management: Use Everything to Your Advantage

A bad review will help you.

Consumers who go out of there way to read bad reviews are 67% more likely to convert than the average shopper, and 30% suspect censorship when there are no negative reviews to be found. I know I fall into that category.

A caveat to this is that if the majority of reviews are negative, the impact is of course to deter most potential customers. There is a balance.

In order to strike it, we need to manage our online reputations by tackling negative reviews head on. Listen to what’s being said, as the feedback alone can be invaluable. To stay completely on top of it, keep a spreadsheet of negative reviews. This way, you can search and compare what customers wish were different. See what’s cropping up repeatedly, and if it’s clear something needs to change, you can now allocate resources to solving a problem that you can be sure will boost your business in the future.

 

google-tax-1200x800

Matt

December 17th, 2013.

Good Guy Google – Nine Awesome Things Google Have Done That You Didn’t Even Know About

Love them or hate them, almost all of us these days use Google as our default search engine, and for increasingly other services beyond that, from email to analytics, document storage to translation. Some strange few even use their social media offerings.

But are Google ‘good’ as a company? There is plenty of deserved criticism surrounding privacy and tax avoidance amongst other things. supposedly Google still work on the simple premise of ‘Don’t be evil’, although many would claim that this ethos went out of the window a long time ago. Even Eric Schmidt has since come out and said that the claim was stupid.

However, Google do do a lot of ‘good’. Here are ten of the best examples of ‘good guy Google’, and of the search engine giant doing things that, while not driving their profits higher, help to benefit – potentially – all of mankind. And no, this isn’t a paid Google post..

Google.org

Google.org is perhaps the best example of Google doing good, as it exists purely to develop technology with a positive social impact.

Google-Flu-2013-France2Projects range from Google’s role in advertising and coordinating crisis response efforts, to heavily subsidised (or free) versions of Google’s commercial products for use by non-profit organisations.

Most impressive of all, however, are the Dengue and Flu Trends services, which detect the earliest indications of an outbreak of flu or dengue fever based on the number of people searching for symptoms and treatments.

These can predict epidemics even before doctors have noticed a significant increase in patients presenting with the relevant symptoms, allowing production of the right medicines and vaccines to be scaled up in preparation.

Googling ‘Suicide’

Search for ‘suicide‘ and you might expect the usual helplines and support services for your country or location to be among the top results anyway.

However, Google go further than that – in the UK, you’ll receive a specific message (which, admittedly, still appears below rather than above the sponsored links) telling you to call the Samaritans for help.

In the US, you’ll be presented with an equivalent message for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, while in either country, the organic and sponsored results alike are packed with organisations who can offer advice and support to those going through troubled times.

Breaking Boundaries

Perhaps more than any other big brand, Google work to open doors – figuratively speaking – in developing countries, in order to give people there access to information on as much a free a basis as possible.

The company itself is physically present in over 60 countries worldwide, and the majority of its search results are served to non-US customers.

Google Search itself is available in over 130 different languages, while Google Translate translations can be manually improved by international readers to give a better version of the text than is possible through automated translation.

This is helping to make every web page – regardless of its original language – accessible to web users worldwide, putting all countries and nationalities on a level footing in terms of their access to knowledge and information.

Google Doodles

google-steve-jobs-link-1317903191When Google’s homepage logo changed to a ‘Doodle’ – originally a stylised version of the logo that paid homage to a famous person born on that date, or some other such achievement – it used to be big news.

These days, Google Doodles appear much more often, and are much more complex, often involving some kind of game or other interaction.

However, they also serve to raise awareness of scientific achievements, independence days and cultural celebrations, helping to unite people all over the world every time they make a search.

In rare instances, Google will also add a text message below the main search box on their homepage – they did this, for example, as a mark of respect to Apple innovator Steve Jobs upon his death – and this is a further means by which they can raise awareness, as well as showing a little of their human side on what is otherwise a sleek corporate homepage.

The Return of Authorship

It’s worth taking a moment to look at some of the more recent ‘good things’ Google have done specifically for the way the web works.

For instance, since introducing their own Google+ social network, Google have made it possible for authors to effectively connect their work directly with their Google+ profile.

This in turn allows seasoned professionals to be given added significance in the search results by placing their author image alongside their work.

Supporting Journalism

The web has often been portrayed as the enemy of traditional journalism, with print news publications finding it difficult to compete with real-time ‘news’ via social networks, and to maintain editorial standards in the face of bloggers who are often not subjected to the same levels of scrutiny on grammar and spelling.

In February 2013 though, Google took the first plainly visible steps towards overcoming that (outside of simply carefully selecting the sources of content that are included in the Google News search index).

A total of eight students from 2,300 applicants were selected for fellowships at seven different organisations with links to journalism, from research centres and training facilities, to action groups that aim to protect investigative journalists while they carry out real-world research.

The response to the scheme was so great, Google had to extend the application review period by a full week, and received an application every two minutes on the last day of the deadline; the chosen students will also spend a week working at Google, and learn about how the worlds of journalism and technology can overlap in the years to come.

Safer Internet Day

Each year, on Safer Internet Day, Google make efforts to raise public awareness of online security – particularly among those users who might not be so experienced at using computers or searching from smartphone handsets.

The brand’s commitment to security is built into its products – Google Chrome automatically updates to apply any new security patches, while both Google Search and Gmail transmit data only via encrypted connections.

But its public awareness efforts go beyond automation, encouraging best practices among human users of its services, and of the kinds of technology on which those services are delivered.

In 2013, for instance, the Safer Internet Day campaign from Google focused on issues like locking and password-protecting PCs, laptops and mobile phones, to prevent unauthorised access.

Scrolls and Santa

In December 2012, Google made two announcements with close links to Christmas – one of which was a frivolous bit of fun, while the other was a major archaeological advance.

Google-Santa-Tracker-4-600x358Once again, the search engine ran its annual ‘Santa Tracker’ service, giving people worldwide the ability to “see where Santa’s headed next” on services like Google Earth, and on devices ranging from PCs and laptops with the Chrome browser installed, to Android-powered mobile devices.

Around the same time, Google unveiled the further digitisation of the Dead Sea Scrolls, putting 5,000 images of the scrolls online, and with detailed information for 900 individual manuscripts.

Google provided the storage for the data – which includes colour images at 1,215 dpi resolution, along with infrared scans – and added supporting information through Google Maps, their own imaging technologies, and even YouTube integration.

Whatever your religious beliefs (and that extends to non-religious beliefs like atheism too), Google strive to cater for cultures and communities of all kinds through these kinds of projects, whether they are academic in nature, or simply a fun way to celebrate an important date on the calendar.

Google Goats

goats2In 2009, Google stopped using noisy, air-polluting lawnmowers to clear the grass and brush from the hills around their Mountain View headquarters (a necessary task to reduce the risk of a grass fire close to the building).

They instead hired a herd of goats to come and eat their way across the hillside, clearing vegetation as they went.

‘Mowing’ using goats takes the company about a week each summer, and has the dual benefits of reducing carbon emissions while also naturally fertilising the land – and for approximately the same cost as using petrol-powered industrial mowers.

markenlogo_searchmetrics_0

Matt

July 18th, 2013.

Using Searchmetrics And VLookup For A Competitor Rankings Comparison Report

Searchmetrics is a brilliant SEO tool, the amount of insight that it gives on client and competitor sites is incredibly useful. One of my favourite reports, along with some manipulation in Excel is to run a quick rankings comparison report on your competitors so you can gain insight into what they’re ranking for, more importantly what they’re ranking for and you’re not, and also how your site matches-up a full range of industry keywords.

For this sample report I’m going to take a look at some of the bigger sites in the insurance sector.

http://www.aviva.co.uk
http://www.churchill.com
http://www.lv.com
http://www.morethan.com

Other good insurance companies do exist, along with quite a few terrible ones.

Run each domain through Searchmetrics and run a long-tail keyword report on each of the sites that you wish to compare.

Organic   Rankings   aviva.co.uk  Weekly    Searchmetrics Essentials

Export and download each of these reports.

Organic   Rankings   aviva.co.uk  Weekly    Searchmetrics Essentials2

 

In Excel create different sheets for each of the exports along with the first sheet which should be named ‘comparison’ this is where all of the magic happens and your data will be pulled-in.

sheets

Paste each sites data into onto it’s own sheet, as well as cumulatively into the ‘comparison’ sheet.

Then under Data > Remove Duplicates remove duplicated keywords on the ‘comparison’ sheet.

remove-duplicates

Then delete the  following columns in the ‘comparison’ sheet  – URL, Pos, Title, and Traffic Index. This should leave just Keyword, Search Volume and CPC.

Next add columns for each of the sites that you wish to compare. This should leave you with a sheet that looks something like this.

sheet

Then, using VLOOKUP you’ll need to pull the ranking data from the other sheets into the comparison sheet. So for example into Column C all of the rankings for Aviva will appear.

The formula you’ll need is =VLOOKUP(A:A,Aviva!A:G,3,0) The easiest way to generate this is to use the insert formula function,

function

Lookup value – Is the value that you’re looking up, in this case is column A, the keyword.
Table array – is the table you’re finding the value in, which is the Aviva sheet, so click in the table array entry field, then go to the Aviva sheet and highlight all of the columns.
Col index num – is the column with the data in that you wish to import, so column 3, the ranking position.
Range lookup – Enter FALSE or 0 here to find an exact match. This will cause #N/A to be returned if the site isn’t ranking for the keyword.

Repeat this for each site. And then expand the selection by dragging the corner of the box down to apply to each of the cells in the sheet.

expand

Tidy the sheet up by formatting as a table, and (hopefully) you should have something that looks like this.

final

If the #N/A results are annoying you can easily remove them by modifying the VLOOKUP formular from

=VLOOKUP(A:A,Aviva!A:G,3,0)

to

=IFERROR(VLOOKUP(A:A,Aviva!A:G,3,0),”-“)

You can also colour-code the rankings using conditional formatting.

endsheet

 

If you would like to download this example sheet I have added it here – CompetitorReport

 

 

daily-mailbullshit

Matt

April 3rd, 2013.

How the Daily Mail Became The Worlds Most Read Newspaper

Love it or hate it, the Daily Mail has always had the power to shock. With its daily obsessions over immigration and ‘human rights insanity’ to a determination to cover every tiny detail about the Royal family and celebrity stars, the paper has an almost equal share of critics and fans. Yet although this British national newspaper is not the biggest selling daily in the UK, never mind globally, it has been named as the biggest online news source in the world overtaking the New York Times (comScore, Feb 2012).

All the British national papers began their internet websites on a more or less equal footing in 2008. While the Times (in June 2010) decided to go down the route of paid subscription content, the Daily Mail and most of the other papers decided to monetise their websites through the use of paid advertising. The announced in June 2012 that they had become profitable for the first time.

However, the success of the newspaper’s online operations is set to continue growing. Guy Zitter, managing director of Mail Newspapers, told an industry conference in June that the advertising potential of the Mail Online was still “not even touching the sides”. Whilst advertising revenues are predicted to top £30m this year, two thirds of this still comes from the UK, whereas two third of the Mail Online’s audience lies elsewhere. – Four Media

For this strategy to work, they would have to be able to drive traffic to their websites in high volumes. Most of the newspapers translated their daily issues of the paper into online editions, using traditional journalism and headlines to create their websites. While this ensured that they kept their loyal readership, the websites were not able to maximize the attention of the search engines.

article-2142161-13051A43000005DC-148_634x334

Setting up a Dedicated Web Operation to Write up News

The Daily Mail from the start set up a separate web operation. Their homepage is made up of hundreds of stories, each clamouring to be read. The headlines read as summaries of the story, but they are also anchor text, a link that when clicked will lead the reader to the story. The story pages themselves are chock full of pictures, diagrams, commentary, YouTube clips, in fact anything that is vaguely relevant to the story. The links are designed to keep you reading and following other stories of interest on the Mail Online website, in the process maximizing their advertising revenue.

One section of the site that is deliberately written for the online version and doesn’t feature anywhere near as heavily in the print version is the celebrity news section. This is a deliberate ploy to target keyword with high search volumes as well as developing a loyal online readership around these topics. The popularity of the celebrity content is shown when looking at the directories on the site with the highest search visibility, with TV and showbiz capturing a larger share of visibility than news.

download
There is a column of abbreviated stories, small pictures and anchor-linked headlines down the right hand side of every page. This public hunger for celebrity stories has driven trending articles upwards for the Mail Online and they are regularly updated. They will rewrite and republish stories in real-time if the interest is there.

The content is refreshed at a fast rate. The web team receive the articles from the journalistic team and tweak them to suit the online readership. Articles are also gathered from other news websites and rewritten. This enables the team to put together a large amount of news stories quickly, cheaply, and optimise them for the website and publish them. A frequent criticism of this tactic is that journalistic integrity is often compromised, facts aren’t checked as there isn’t time, and often articles are closely plagiarised from other sources.

Picture21

 

Source: FourNewsletter

Developing News for the US Audience

A large part of the Mail’s success is based on their growing US readership. Dedicated journalistic web teams were set up in Los Angeles and New York. The website has a link to its US edition across the top tabs of the homepage. The Mail’s strategy drives a high volume of web traffic to the website by offering popular stories. Most news websites advertising revenue is driven by page views and the Mail’s success in encouraging visitors to click more links is instrumental in becoming the most widely read news website online. The Mail Online aims at the English speaking world and there is no shortage of potential readers.

Successful SEO Strategy

SEO strategy has played a large part in the website’s popularity. The mini-article type headlines are long tail keywords, researched and utilised for their popularity in the search engines.
In-depth articles help to maximise long-tail search visits, and the incorporation of images, diagrams and rich media help to encourage other sites to cite them as a source to develop their link profile.

Backlink History   Majestic SEO

But the website’s most successful manipulation of the web involves social media. The Mail Online wants to be the news website that everyone is talking about and often the tactics involved could be considered as linkbait, that art of creating something controversial that provokes debate by manipulating emotion.

Samantha Brick – Successful Linkbait?

Samantha Brick, one of the Mail’s regular journalists wrote an article entitled ‘Why Do Women Hate Me because I’m Beautiful’ in April 2012. During the following 24 hours, the article trended on Twitter, over 200k Facebook likes and received 1.5 million comments, most of them uncomplimentary.
At the time she was one of the most talked about women in the world. The Mail Online received backlinks from trusted and relevant sources including other national newspapers, Twitter, and many different blogs which included the Business Insider, The Huffington Post, Gawker and Buzzfeed amongst others. Overall the article helped to generate more than 4,000 links to the site. There was also a follow-up article with Samantha Brick in The Independent and TV and magazine interviews which followed.

In SEO terms, this kind of exposure is pure gold and the Mail Online gained a lot of attention. However many of the commentators were concerned at how deliberately the furore was created and maintained.

The Rush to Publish – The Mail Online’s Public Mistake

This need to be constantly at the forefront of trending articles can turn sour as the Mail Online found out when it tried to publish the results of the Amanda Knox trial appeal in October 2011. Two versions of the appeal story had been written up. The wrong story was published which stated that the appeal had been turned down when it had in fact succeeded. The story was only published as fact for 90 seconds, but it had been noticed and the Press Complaints Commission upheld a complaint about it, citing concerns about the accuracy of the reporting.

Several large blogs picked-up on the mistake and the rest of the national press picked it up as a story. However even when they get it wrong, people are still talking about the Mail Online, discussing it on Twitter and posting the links.

Success At The Expense Of Journalistic Integrity?

The Mail Online’s success has been due in no small part to its ability to understand that it was important to differentiate between the newspaper and online news markets and to ensure that each was correctly targeted.

It tempts visitors to stay and click on two or three pieces with its anchor-linked teaser headlines and most articles are commented on. A quick check of the website today and the lead story has already collected 1099 comments; another story further down has 50 comments, yet another 531 comments. The Daily Mirror on the same day has its highest number of comments as 18 on one article; the Sun has a story with 50 comments.

The Mail has a knack of getting its readers to participate and that is one of the secrets of its success.

The Mail Online is the most successful of the British newspapers to translate to online readership, but it has adapted its techniques to achieve its goal. Coincidentally, the Times website makes more revenue from its subscription service, but it serves only a fraction of the readership of Mail Online.

emds

Matt

October 25th, 2012.

EMDs Don’t Make the Final Cutts

If you are at all familiar with the concept of classical conditioning, then you should understand why roughly half the webmasters in the world wince every time Matt Cutts (Google’s head of search) mentioned a change to their algorithms. We’ve been burned too many times by the likes of Penguin, Panda and the fold algorithm and as such most of us treat his announcements a little bit like we treat a trip to the dentist – with a lot of trepidation.

Well if your website is called ‘www.oompadoo.com’ then you can breathe a sigh of relief – this time Cutts is overlooking you and giving you a bit more time to lick your wounds. This time Google is interested in targeting the owners of ‘www.buycheapfuronline.com’ and ‘www.bestbodybuildingarticles.com’. That’s right – ‘exact name domains’ or ‘exact match domains’ that have URLs designed to precisely mimic the phrases people are searching for. According to a tweet from Cutts this will only affect 0.6% of English queries – though sometimes as we know these low sounding statistics can leave fairly devastating shockwaves.

Why This Change?

Of course the reason for this change is that many sites that use ENDs do so in lieu of actual good content. This is an easy way for a site to get to the top of the SERPs and so in many cases the quality content simply isn’t there to back it up. At the same time this strategy lends itself to sites that don’t have very diverse content but rather simply focus on answering a single question in order to get AdSense revenue.

In fact this is something that has been on Google’s agenda for a while now, and not so long ago a foreboding announcement came that Google would be favouring websites that focussed on building a brand for themselves with a recognizable name and image rather than one-hit wonders. Of course this direction wouldn’t favour ENDs.

What Does This Mean?

It’s worth noting that Cutts’ tweet also stated that the change was targeting low quality exact match domains – but of course there is likely to be some collateral damage and some perfectly good sites are likely to see their rankings drop too. Some sites of course use ENDs simply because they were there, and some business names happen to be great keyphrases.

That said this will likely call a stop to people buying up keyword domains and selling them on and it might level the playing field for those sites do have more obscure and original URLs (that said ENDs will still have some value due to direct traffic which Google can’t control). For every person who will be angry at the changes there will be a new opportunity created for webmasters to jump in and fill a void at the top of the SERPs. Whatever else you say about Panda and Penguin they do seem to have reduced the amount of spam sites that come up and this does make for a better browsing experience…

So looks like this time ENDs haven’t made the most recent Cutts. But the real question still lingers… could bad puns be next? (Then I’m in trouble…)

The author of this article, Jeet is an avid blogger and expert SEO analyst. He is also a good writer and often writes guest post on SEO niche. He founded GetLinksPro, a link-building and SEO company. He also shares his knowledge and tips on SEO on twitter. You can also follow him on twitter @getlinkspro.

design-is-a-behaviour

Matt

September 28th, 2012.

Hierarchy – What do you want people to see? Where do you want them to go?

“Good visual hierarchy isn’t about wild and crazy graphics or the newest photoshop filters, it’s about organising information in a way that’s usable, accessible, and logical to the everyday site visitor.”

Brandon Jones on Sep 28th 2011 www.webdesign.tutsplus.com

The basis of design is communication – relaying a message or inducing a reaction, calls or click. With basic media advertising designers were fixated with the 3-second rule, whereby the advert has 3 seconds to get its message across above other adverts on the page.

The 3-second rule dictates that media adverts should incorporate bold, simple and clear messages and images. When implemented, this often led to aggressive layouts that were not pushing the envelope of design and could actually be classed as de-evolution of design. The finished result was an advert that was not necessarily aesthetically pleasing, but does bring into focus the importance of design hierarchy.

What does the user need to see in order?

  1. Sector / Product / Service – Industrial and Commercial Flooring (heading and image).
  2. Key information usually displayed as bullet points for ease of reading.
  3. Area(s) the company covers or is based in (Loughborough).
  4. Local Contact Number (01509 000000).

What do you want them to do?

  1. Recognise the sector, service or product being supplied by the company.
  2. Gain reassurance that the company is local and supplies what they are looking for.
  3. Call the telephone number

This hierarchy principle continues today and forms the basis of all media advertising.

Similar time frames have been mentioned when viewing websites but you very rarely get multiple websites shown side-by-side, advertising the same sector.

Website design has increasingly required multiple messages or multiple design prompts which navigate people around a site to a desired location or outcome, meaning hierarchy has become an even more vital part of design.
Once a website is opened it competes against itself, with its own messages and design prompts. A site will succeed or fail according to how well the design functions for the user. This is also dependent on what the user requires from the site. Getting relevant traffic to your site overrides all visual stimuli, but that’s a whole new subject that I won’t get into now.

Good hierarchy in web design should dictate what you want the user to read, in what order and where you want them to go. Destination or conclusion depends on the requirements and reasons of the user and most websites will contain information for multiple products or services including required action for each, such as call, click or renewed confidence with the company for example.

“The human brain has innate organizing tendencies that “structure individual elements, shapes or forms into a coherent, organized whole.”

Jackson, Ian. “Gestalt—A Learning Theory for Graphic Design Education.” International Journal of Art and Design Education. Volume 27. Issue 1 (2008): 63-69. Digital.

The human brain does not view individual items on their own merit and will instead organise them against the items around them. Items are instantly judged and ordered and size, shapes and colours inform us that the items may have more dominance than others. Understanding these principles allows us to form hierarchy within designs and use this to control the users pathway through the design.

Brad Jones explains 5 steps to analyse hierarchy in his post on www.webdesign.tutsplus.com:

Take a website you want to analyse and follow these 5 steps:

  1. List the key information points that visitors are likely seeking.
  2. Assign values (1-10) according to their importance to the average visitor.
  3. Now, look at the actual design again.
  4. Assign values (1-10) according to the actual visual importance as you see it in the live design.
  5. Consider: Does the expected importance match up with the actual designed importance?

In most cases, the answer will include shades of “no”. There are lots of reasons for this – client demands, inexperienced designers, design-by-committee – or a hundred other reasons that you’ve probably read.

Brandon Jones on Sep 28th 2011www.webdesign.tutsplus.com

The designer’s role is to take the required information and break it down into visually relevant and easily digestible portions. This has to be done while taking into account the goals and messages of the design. It is not enough to just layout the information, it has to work.

In general, service or product sites tend to work around USPs (unique selling points) and CTAs (call to actions). 2 or 3 USPs encourage the user to have confidence in the design and the 1 or 2 CTAs encourage goal conversions. These have to be displayed around a main message USP to allow the user to be reassured that the site they are using holds the information or product they are looking for.

Unfortunately, design input rarely comes from one direction. In an ideal world sites would be carved from pure creativity while using god-like functionality and subconscious triggers all based around the hierarchy mentioned earlier. In reality, the client will always want the logo bigger and will always ask “can you just make these 12 things all stand out more?”

The struggle continues…

“This post was written by James O’Flaherty on behalf of Adtrak

ico

Matt

March 15th, 2012.

The New EU Cookie Laws – What You NEED To Know – A Round-Up

What Is The Law?

The new directive is a piece of European Union legislation that has been adopted in the UK. The government have now updated the Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations, which now means that the EU directive is now UK law.

This law requires all website owners to get consent from their website visitors before they can store or retrieve any information on their devices including computers, tablets and mobile devices.

The ICO Updated Guidance For Website Owners

When Does The Law Come Into Force?

The new law comes into force on 26th May 2012. A 1 year grace period was given from May 2011.

What Are Cookies?

Cookies are files that are stored on your computer or device that store information about the user, that websites can use and retrieve at a later date. This may be information such as personalisation options, search history, purchase history, log-in information, and browsing history.

What Are Cookies? – The BBC

Does My Site Use Them?

Almost certainly yes. 92% of UK websites currently use cookies in some capacity, and the vast majority are breaking the law. If you’re using website analytics software like Google Analytics, advertising networks, or e Commerce software then the overwhelming majority of these will be using cookies to store user information.

How Can I Comply?

In order to comply with the legislation your website must obtain explicit clarification before you can store information about them on their devices. An exemption has been made for cookies that are deemed to be vital to the operation of a website. Advertising, analytics and personalisation functions are not exempt however.

Must Try Harder On Cookie Compliance Say ICO – ICO News Release

Key points set out in the amended cookies advice include:

  • More detail on what is meant by consent. The advice says ‘consent must involve some form of communication where an individual knowingly indicates their acceptance.’
  • The guidance explains that cookies used for online shopping baskets and ones that help keep user data safe are likely to be exempt from complying with the rules.
  • However, cookies used for most other purposes including analytical, first and third party advertising, and ones that recognise when a user has returned to a website, will need to comply with the new rules.
  • Achieving compliance in relation to third party cookies is one of the most challenging areas. The ICO is working with other European data protection authorities and the industry to assist in addressing the complexities and finding the right answers.
  • The ICO will focus its regulatory efforts on the most intrusive cookies or where there is a clear privacy impact on individuals.

EU Cookie Law – 4 Examples Of Sites Already Implementing It – Malcolm Coles

EU Cookie Law, 3 Approaches To Compliance – EConsultancy

Cookie compliance: Econsultancy analyses the latest ICO guidance – EConsultancy

The Cookie Law And Google Analytics

For most non-e commerce website owners the biggest impact is going to be on sites using analytics packages such as Google Analytics. Google Analytics currently sets 4 automatic cookies.

Unfortunately there is no official statement from Google as yet.

Google Analytics EU Cookie Law – Cookielaw.org

Google Analytics and the EU Cookie Law compliance could vary from country to country within the 27 state member areas. The more likely cookie law analytics solution will come via modification of the current Google analytics code, and/or an add-on, special dispensation from the requisite ICO office in that country or a browser solution through Google Chrome for instance. The UKICO office has already published information on using cookies.In time, Google might ask site owners to update their privacy policy, browsers may be engineered to include a universal consent or opt out button, similar to Do-Not-Track (DNT). Admittedly anything is possible.

In the past the EU’s Privacy and Electronic Communications Directive applied to user data, and this was largely interpreted to relate to e-mail data storage. The  ‘EU cookie directive  builds on this – no surprise you might say in light of the huge increase of seller side platforms (SSP), demand side platforms (DSPs), retargeting, tracking, ad-optimization and real-time bidding and personalization.

Cookie Law – Anaylics Are Illegal, But We Won’t Prosecute You, Probably – Silktide

“Although the Information Commissioner cannot completely exclude the possibility of formal action in any area, it is highly unlikely that priority for any formal action would be given to focusing on uses of cookies where there is a low level of intrusiveness and risk of harm to individuals.”

“Provided clear information is given about their activities we are highly unlikely to prioritise first party cookies used only for analytical purposes in any consideration of regulatory action.”

Google Analytics and The New EU Privacy Law – Advanced Web Metrics

 

How Will Compliance Affect My Site?

There are some probable negative affects of complying with the new law.

  • You may see increased bounce rates from adding warnings to pages, most of your visitors probably won’t even know what a cookie is.
  • You will lose valuable analytics data
  • Website personalisation will be affected
  • Other marketing areas such as email marketing and use of advertising networks will be altered

How the EU Cookie Law Will Affect Email Marketing – Cite

82% of digital marketers think the EU cookie law is bad for the web – EConsultancy

Stupid EU cookie law will hand the advantage to the US, kill our startups stone dead – Techcrunch

What Will Happen If I Fail To Comply?

There is a maximum £500,000 fine  if a breach of the law has caused “substantial damage or substantial distress. It is worth noting that there is a clear distinction to be made between first party cookies set for your own site and third party cookies often used to track behaviour across multiple websites.

“There will not be a wave of knee-jerk formal enforcement action taken against people who are not yet compliant but trying to get there”. – ICO Blog

Ultimately the decision to the actions that you take in order to move towards full compliance has to be your own after reading all of the facts and making a reasonable risk assessment.

EU Cookie Law: UK Government ‘break’ the law they imposed – Code Blog

Matt

February 15th, 2012.

PPC And Seller Extensions Cannibalising Your Brand Traffic

The star ratings that you often see in Google ads are known as seller extensions. These are now likely to appear in the paid, organic and shopping results.  These ratings are generated when product reviews are submitted either on 3rd party sites such as ReeVoo or TrustPilot, or when Schema.org mark-up is used to tag internal/on-site reviews.

It is often cited that these star ratings can improve click-through rates by as much as 30%, which will not only increase both organic and paid visitors, but an increase in PPC click-through rate is also likely to reduce your overall cost per click.

Now, while the effects of these are obviously positive when dealing with generic searches, consider the impact on organic brand traffic when seller extensions appeared for one of our clients brand searches.

As you can see, organic brand traffic fell by around 49%. Overall brand traffic remained around the same level, the client was now just paying for a much larger proportion of it via their own PPC ads.

The obvious solution in this case is to turn-off the PPC ads for brand search terms. However in this specific case the situation is compounded by other (legitimate and non-legitimate) companies bidding on their brand term, this includes Amazon, an approved distributor who also benefit from seller extensions  in their own PPC ad, so turning-off the client brand ads would probably result in a large share of their own brand traffic diverting to the Amazon result.

 

So what can be learnt from this?

  • Seller extensions have a dramatic uplift in click-through rate
  • Protect your brand/trademark results from unauthorised bidders
  • Prevent affiliates from bidding on your trademarked terms
  • Google are making a lot of money from selling companies their own brand traffic

 

Matt

October 24th, 2011.

The Importance Of The Long Tail – 16% Of Searches Have NEVER been Typed-In Before

Google claim that 16% of more than a billion queries entered every day have never been seen before may sound hard to believe, but perhaps a closer look at how people search online is warranted first.  450 billion new, unique queries have been handled by Google since 2003. All of this begs the question what are users doing that results in such a large number of new and unique queries each day?

Credit SeoMoz

Firstly we need to look at how people actually use search engines. In their early experiences with search portals users tend to put in short, generic terms into the search engine. As users become more skilled in searching for the items or information that they want, their search terms become more specific and descriptive.
Instead of using short, generic keywords when searching for a pair of shoes for instance, the user might be inclined to be more descriptive of the type of shoes they are looking for using far more adjectives, e.g. light brown, leather, high heeled ladies court shoes, in the hope that it would be more specific to get exactly what they want.

It is also worth considering the search buying cycle as this especially impacts upon conversions.

Firstly think about how you yourself might behave online when you’re researching buying a product.

Taking a typical online purchase for something like a television. You might start with a search query for a very general phrase like TV or television. You’ll see that there are several irrelevant results for our purpose such as the BBC and ITV results, but using the informational properties such as Wikipedia, or the Google shopping results you may then make a decision that you’re looking for a plasma TV rather than an LCD TV.

Of course you may also decide to visit one of the commercial websites listed for these queries, or buy from the PPC listings, but it’s more likely you’ll want to research a bit more first.

Next you’ll probably search for Plasma TV, this is looking a bit more promising, there are several relevant shopping results some reviews websites and a few more relevant commercial sites appearing. After reading a few of the sites you decide that the Panasonic 50PZ800B looks fairly impressive and you want to find out a bit more about it.

Of course you search for it, possibly adding terms like review, test or comparison to bring up the more informational resources.

It’s about now that you feel you’re happy with your choice, you have compared it against other makes and models, you’re happy that it’s what you’re looking for and you want to go ahead and purchase.

To find online shops selling that specific model you may use buying trigger search terms such as buy or cheap, or possibly even adding geographic search terms such as London or UK.

As a site owner you need to be prepared to be targeting as many of these longer tail phrases as you can with your main site, no easy task when you don’t even know what they are!

Try to develop good (great) content on your site, category and product pages warrant special attention for this. Getting this right will result in high levels of targeted, focused, converting visitors.

 

Matt

September 6th, 2011.

10 Of The Biggest Social Media PR Disasters

This is not a top ten list. This is not a countdown. You can’t really try to rate something as detrimental as a social media PR nightmare, because each disaster is just as much of a mess as the next and either way the damage is done until management comes up with a campaign to redress their image.

One thing about the internet, it’s much like bad Facebook photos. Sooner or later, your internet activity can come back to haunt you. So don’t think of this list as a countdown. Think of this as a checklist of what not to do for businesses.

1 Rats in the Taco Bell-February 2007

What started as a simple laugh amongst employees led to Taco Bell’s and KFC’s being shut down across the state of New York and outrage amongst the public, who were now questioning what exactly went into the gorditas. It started in Greenwich Village. After receiving an anonymous tip, TV crews arrived at a Taco Bell/KFC franchise and broke out the cameras.

What were they hoping to film, you ask? The assembly line of tacos? A special piece about the employee of the month? Unfortunately for the Bell, none of the above. The guest on this particular live feed was not human nor an employee, at least not a paid employee. The special that day focused on rats. Now one rat would have been bad enough, but it wasn’t just a single misplaced rodent. The film crew that day caught footage of dozens of rats scurrying all over the floor of the restaurant, scattering across the floor, climbing over the tables where people sat and ate, and, even worse, in the back where the food was prepped.

And it was broadcasted live.

Taco Bell’s and KFC’s all over were slammed with heaps of health code violations and Yum Brands, the mother company that owns the chicken and tacos, were ordered to clean up their restaurants or risk being shut down for good. All of this on the tail end of an E. coli scandal which sickened several people back in 2006. Stocks took a serious tumble for Yum Brands, and Taco Bell is still recovering even a few years later.

2 The Whole Foods Blog-July 2007

Whole Foods is known across the states as a Safeway of sorts for the organic and natural food industry. They have been happy to take up flags supporting the green movement, providing recycled and reusable bags to patrons, and advertising themselves as supporters of healthy living. But, like any other major food company or provider, there is competition in the field of healthy living and organic farming. So the company chief came up with a great idea to increase consumerism and productivity: assume an internet identity named “rahodeb” and troll forums and review boards of his main competitors and publish bad (i.e. false) reviews of their products.

Now that’s a great idea when you’re a kid still living in your parents basement with no ambitions and nothing to lose trolling that guy who keeps beating you on your Ebay auctions; not so great when you are the C.E.O. of a multi-million dollar corporation and the Federal Trade Commission files a lawsuit.

It turns out Mackey had been up to this “rahodeb” business from about 1999, haunting food blogs and the reputation of several companies and raised a few government eyebrows in the process, because “rahodeb” had a lot of bad things to say, none of them about Whole Foods. It really got suspicious when “rahodeb” made a thinly veiled prediction about the buyout of a competitor, Wild Oats, by Whole Foods that eventually came true a month later. Mackay resigned from his chairman position in 2009.

So if you find yourself trolling review boards trying to find the right stuff for organic, healthy living, and you see the name “rahodeb”, remind yourself that healthy living also requires a clear conscious and pure business ethics.

 3 Belkin’s “Positive” Review-January 2009

Alan Parsa was studying for his degree in documentary film making from Chicago’s Columbia College. Like any normal college student today, he needed a little extra cash in his pocket, so he went cruising on Amazon.com’s Mechanical Turk for a quick buck or two. He clicked on a link to a possible job and imagine his surprise: there was an ad to get paid, provided he write a 5/5 positive review for any of Belkin’s products. With his internal bells and whistles going off that this probably wasn’t an honest thing to be paid for, Parsa did what any self-respecting internet person does: blog about it.

In just a few hours, the story broke across the internet. Belkin was very slow to reply to request’s for personal comment, which gave plenty of time for the Belkin hate wagon to pick up steam and really get rolling. By the time Mike Reynoso, Belkin’s president, posted an apology, the damage was too far gone and The New York Times had grabbed the story. People were quick to boycott Belkin products soon after and really, aren’t bloggers the last people you want to piss off when you are in the market of producing internet equipment?

 4 Domino’s Falling-April 2009

You’ve had the job. We all think about it. Spitting on the burger meant for the obnoxious customer at the counter. Pouring Diet Coke instead of regular just to be a jerk. If you’ve had that kind of fast food job, you’ve had that bad day and you’ve thought about doing exactly those pranks that would normally get you fired. But you were never stupid enough to actually do them. And even if you did, you weren’t dumb enough to film it and put it on YouTube.

Kristy Lynn Hammonds (31) and Michael Anthony Setzer (32) at Domino’s Pizza in North Carolina apparently didn’t get the memo. Late one night, and probably not in their right minds, the dynamic duo taped themselves sticking their hands in prep stations, shoving cheese in their noses, waving meat by their (ahem!) rears, and performing an array of other juvenile antics with the produce in the back of the store. What was meant as a prank video gained more than one million viewers within a few days and spread rumors of poor management and business ethics on Domino’s Pizza’s part. The Domino’s employees were, of course, fired, and consequently brought up on felony charges.

 5 There’s A Comcast Technician on My Couch- June 2006

Brian Finkelstein needed some technical help with his Comcast modem, so he called the cable company and asked they send a man over. The technician arrived awhile later…and promptly fell asleep on Finkelstein’s couch. Maybe he was out too late partying, maybe he was too worn out from night classes. But instead of doing his job, the tech decided his beauty rest was more important than attending to the original problem he had been sent out there for.

Annoyed and irritated that his modem was still not working and certainly wasn’t going to get fixed on its own, Finkelstein broke out the camcorder and recorded the tech asleep. After some careful editing and cutting the film to “I Need Some Sleep” by Eels, the D.C. resident uploaded the video onto—you guessed it—Youtube. The fifty-eight year old employee was fired but too little too late. People were already climbing out of the woodwork to make their own comments about Comcast’s poor customer service and low quality technology. Apparently a sleepy technician was only the latest in a long line of complaints, but this was the one to finally get the ball rolling downhill all over Comcast’s public image.

 6 “Dell Lies; Dell Sucks”- June 2005

You would think that the first rule of running a business would be to keep the customer happy, especially when if someone writes a bad review long enough, loud enough, and with a catchy enough title, the customer will make sure the whole world hears about it. Dell had already suffered enough from the embarrassment of the “Dude, you’re getting’ a Dell” guy getting busted for marijuana, and then customer Jeff Jarvis published “Dell Lies; Dell Sucks”. With words like “lemon” and “the service is a lie”, Jarvis’ blog was read by many others who also felt they were the victims of faulty products and less than admirable customer service and the growing internet following of Jarvis’ blog tore Dell a new one.

Who didn’t read the blog? Anyone and everyone at Dell.

Lesson learned here: follow up on what the customers have to say about your products before you find yourself in the middle of an internet firestorm and not even realizing it.

 7 Johnson and the Red Cross-August 2007

You hear the name Johnson & Johnson and you think of the tear free shampoo, or the tagline “a family company”. You think of fresh smelling babies or dish soap that leaves your hands feeling smooth You think of the Red Cross, you think of relief efforts in Louisiana for Hurricane Katrina and first aid. So why should these two good natured well effort companies have anything against each other? For Johnson & Johnson, it was what the two companies had in common that was the problem: the iconic red cross.

The way it goes is this: the family company, Johnson & Johnson (J&J), filed suit on August 7, 2007 for copyright use of the red cross which appears on first aid kits and other various products that J&J claimed competed against their own first aid line. The family company wanted all paraphernalia with the cross emblem destroyed and for the American Red Cross to pay punitive damages for dollars lost and legal fees for filing the suit which was their idea in the first place. Red Cross argued its name was licensed to first aid kit makers to advertise readiness for disasters. J&J threw around words like “violation of federal statutes” and went on to insist that the commercial Red Cross went outside the span of historically well-agreed use of the image.

Never mind the fact that the so-called “family company” was attempting to sue one of the most well known and charitable humanitarian corporations in the world, but here are a few facts that came to light that doomed J&J’s case. First of all, the American Red Cross was founded in May 1881; Johnson & Johnson didn’t start using the cross image until 1887. Second, the American Red Cross founder, Clara Barton, had already signed a deal J&J in 1895 that recognized the company’s use of a red cross as the trademark for chemical, surgical, and pharmaceutical goods.

A judge ruled against Johnson & Johnson’s case on May 14, 2008. In June of the same year, both companies agreed that both could have access to the trademark red cross image and everyone has been pretending like it’s never happened, like a bad drinking binge.

 8 United Airlines Guitar Non-Hero-July 2009

You almost feel sorry for the airline industry. After September 11th, 2001, airports all over the nation went into a massive upheaval of security protocol and travel procedures. Many feel their privacies are being violated. Airline industries have suffered financially from the economy and a few of the major airlines flirted with bankruptcy. You almost pity them. That is, until the airline breaks something important to you in transit like, let’s say, your guitar.

Baggage handling is notoriously sketchy, but Dave Carroll, a country singer from Canada (there’s a few words you never thought would go together) added a lyrical quality to it. In 2008, Carroll was flying on United Airlines from Chicago’s O’Hare Airport. He and several other members of his band, Sons of Maxwell, witnessed the baggage handlers literally throwing their guitars around on the tarmac. Carroll’s own guitar, a $3,500 Taylor, was badly damaged to the point he couldn’t even play it.

Carroll fought for almost a year trying to get United Airlines to take responsibility for the damage they had caused. When that didn’t work, he took the Youtube route, writing a song and directing music video detailing his woes with the airline. Nine million views and one iTunes track later, United Airlines was running damage control, apologizing through Twitter and offering to replace Carroll’s guitar. The Canadian instead requested they donate their money to the Thelonious Monk Jazz Institute. United gave a total of $3,000 but there has been no word yet on whether this has had any impact on how baggage handlers handle your valuables.

 9 Chrysler All A-Twitter- March 2011

“I find it ironic that Detroit is known as the motorcity and yet no one here knows how to (expletive) drive.”

No, this wasn’t posted by someone riding the coattails of afternoon rush hour road rage. Believe it or not, the tweet came from someone who worked for Chrysler Group LLC automotives in Detroit, Michigan. Now you might start bemoaning any person should be allowed to openly vent on their own Twitter log. Free speech, the first amendment, personal expression, all of that applies, and it certainly does. The problem is the off-brand topic expletive tweet was listed on Chrysler Automotives own Twitter feed.

Whoops.

The irony of the situation is the tweeter was actually employed by New Media Strategies, a company there to specifically serve Chrysler’s social media needs, i.e. reach a new audience through current social media networks. Chrysler was quick to release a statement that said the company would not tolerate such language or behavior. The worker was fired, the expletive tweet was deleted, and Chrysler dropped NMS.

 10 Asus Kissing- July 2009

To help generate some buzz for their products, computer manufacturer Asus decided to hold a competition. In this contest, randomly selected bloggers would be given a kit of Asus products to review and blog about. Followers would be encouraged to vote for the best blogger of them all and the winner would get to keep the Asus kit provided. The competition was going smoothly enough and the fans had voted in a winner: by most popular vote, it was Gavyn Britton.

For some reason, Asus did not approve and oh so intelligently and diplomatically announced a decision to change the rules right at the end of the contest, proclaiming a new winner through new voting polls which did not include the popular vote which was initially what would decide the outcome.

Within a week, Asus was flooded with complaints and understandable outrage at this turn of events. Many who had participated in the contest felt used like cheap whores. They accused the Taiwanese company of manipulating the system and the voters for their own benefit and gain with little to no cost for the company. The story picked up mainstream attention but Asus was reluctant to admit any wrong doing on their part. They insist there was no intention to mislead the public, but little has been done in the PR department to effectively rectify the situation and the computer company’s reputation remains bruised.

Here’s an idea: when you write out the guidelines for a competition, you stick to the way they’re written instead of trying to backtrack at the very last second.

« Older Posts

Recent Posts »

Our work »

What we do »

Who we work with »

Got Questions? Lets Talk »