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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.

Matt

July 19th, 2011.

Ecommerce website content for SEO – what is it and are you wasting your time?

A phrase that you often hear being thrown about by SEOs is “content is king”, Although this is (arguably) true, I think that in many cases this just leads to commercial webmasters blindly adding low-quality content to their websites for the sake of it without really considering if it is beneficial to them in any way.

It is incredibly important to understand that different kinds of content act in different ways and using different types of content in different areas of your website can drastically influence traffic, sales and conversion rates.

The table below outlines the typical types of content that commercial websites may use and the likely impact on rankings, conversions and links.

Filler Blog Posts

Description

What I would term as ‘filler’ blog posts are often the first thing many people produce when asked to provide ‘SEO content’.   Frequently outsourced they often ask their writers to write low-quality bulk copy based around their range of products and services and then dump it all onto a blog attached to their domain.

While this kind of content by virtue of its sheer volume can sometimes produce visitors, it really is the SEO equivalent of a numbers’ game, and webmasters have recently seen Google move to reduce the effectiveness of this kind of mass produced content with the Panda updates.

This type of filler content almost always converts very poorly, it is of low quality and therefore generally results in a high bounce rate, also because visitors end up on an article page rather than a  product or category page you are relying on them to navigate quite a few pages before they reach your products.

That’s not to say that keeping and writing a company blog or news pages is going to harm your site in any way, but there is a large distinction to be made between in-house staff adding knowledgeable and informed content and an external agency using it as a dumping ground for keyword stuffed articles.

Examples

Rather than picking out and linking to any sites in particular I found the example below on a paydays loans site. As you can see, it’s not particularly compelling to visitors, fairly keyword heavy along with a lack of images and calls to action. I would expect a page like this to suffer from a very high bounce rate and a minuscule sales conversion rate.

Resources, FAQs And How To Guides

Description

Resource guides, cheat sheets and how to articles are brilliant sources of great quality content if you are an expert on a topic. Even if you’re not a  fountain of knowledge you can easily research topics well enough to write an influential guide for others.

The great thing about this type of content is that it tends to attract topical links from closely related sites over a longer period of time, and because of it’s text heavy nature and the number of links that it attracts you will find that these type of articles frequently rank very well for a wide range of generic and long-tail key phrases.

However this type of content isn’t often going to convert into sales directly, but the branding a link benefits often result in secondary traffic from SEO, brand recognition or word of mouth.

Examples

Yoast – WordPress SEO

Yoast is a very well-known SEO who specialises in WordPress, he wrote the definitive guide to WordPress SEO which attracted hundreds of topical links and social shares.

The Mashable Twitter Guide Book

Social media website Mashable launched a Twitter guide book in both an online and downloadable pdf versions.With an impressive 16k Tweets and over 5,000 links to date.


Linkbait

Description

Linkbait covers a wide rage of content types, and really encompasses anything that is specifically designed to elicit a link from other websites or more recently, sharing on social media websites. Linkbait can range from anything from a funny image or video, controversial views or interesting top 10 type lists.

Again SEO behaviour is very similar to resources and how-to guides, linkbait won’t often result in direct sales, but will often attract links far better than other types of content.

Examples

Will It Blend? iPad

A really clever viral video linkbait from Blendtec piggybacking onto aspirational nature of the Apple iPad, while using the shock of destroying one to send it viral.

Berocca – Blogger Relief

Berocca used a free giveaway in conjunction with a blogger outreach programme in order to directly target the linkerati themselves. Using social media to promote the campaign and the the bloggers themselves to spread the word.

 

Infographics

Description

Strictly speaking inforgraphics would probably fall within the linkbait category, but I think their usage is now so widespread that they deserve a mention on their own.

Infographics are an attractive, visual presentation of statistics and data, however they are often criticised for over-simplifying data and not indicating facts are clearly as possible.

Scientific they are not, but they do tend to be viral magnets, people seem to be far more willing to link to or share data presented as an infographic that other forms of information.

Examples

Profile Of A Twitter User

Taking inspiration from a Guy Kawasaki tweet NG Online News put together this quirky infographic that spread like wildfire on Twitter.

The Spread Of Starbucks

Princeton University in conjunction with Flaming Toast Productions created a really interesting infographic detailing the spread of Starbucks coffee shops worldwide.

Optimised Product Copy

Description

I think that well optimised product copy is one area where many eCommerce websites are really missing a trick. You see so many with short inadequate product and category descriptions, or sometimes missing altogether. It’s all very well adding 2-3 keywords to your title tags, meta descriptions and H1 titles, but given the opportunity there is a wealth of long-tail keywords that you could also have the opportunity of getting traffic from.

Of course there are often design and branding implications that often limit the copy available on a page, but it really is worth trying to work through these issues in order to try to offer more extensive page copy. Being able to answer sales queries before they arise will also improve conversion rates and reduce the time your staff spend answering telephone or email queries.

Taking a fictitious example of a website with a category page selling toasters. You may expect to have optimised the page for key phrases such as Toaster, Sandwich Toaster etc. But if you did a little keyword research around the topic you could probably pull in  a few hundred other phrases that were used in conjunction with “toaster” each month. In this example the full list is over 400 phrases long.

Passing this list onto your copywriter and asking them to include these secondary phrases in the body text on product and category pages will have a huge impact on relevant long-tail traffic and sales to the site.

In terms of a financial impact, for example a website that has a modest 200 products, even adding 5 extra visitors per day to each product page will result in an extra £164,250 in increased revenue assuming a £30 average sale and a 1.5% conversion rate.

Examples

Simply one of the best product pages that I have ever seen is at Firebox. Product pages are immensely detailed, well written and optimised so each one should receive a large amount of long-tail keyphrase traffic. They have also incorporated social media voting, comments, videos and user reviews and FAQs. This is almost perfect in terms of creating a huge amount of content on normally difficult to optimise product pages.

Breaking News

Description

Being first to breaking news is a great way of going viral without too much effort. Of course it’s not easy to be first to the punch, but if you have inside knowledge and the ability to publish before others you will often find that you get cited and referenced on other websites that write subsequent articles.

Examples

One of the best examples of the power of breaking news is Gizmodo managing to break details of the next Apple iPhone when a prototype was lost in a bar. The story received a massive 245,000 Facebook likes and almost 10,000 links.

UGC And Reviews

Description

UGC content for eCommerce sites is really a no brainer for most sites these days. Being relatively easy to implement on most eCommerce platforms and easy to promote using reminder and follow-up emails to recent customers.

Where UGC really comes into it’s own is in competing for long-tail search phrases. Often your customers may use non-industry terms and phrases that you haven’t included in your original page optimisation.

Examples

Argos along with most large online retailers have been encouraging user product reviews on their websites for some time. Users as well as being able to leave star ratings for products are encouraged to leave more detailed text descriptions and reviews.

Widgets and Badges

Description

Although widgets and badges tend to fall far more into the off-site SEO remit I think they’re an important enough part of a promotion stratgey that they can fall into both on and off page strategies.
Often these can be used in conjunction with other content strategies such as generating top 100 lists of industry sites and asking those in the list to link back, or producing infographics with easy embed codes.

Examples

AdAge Digital produce a “Power 150″ of the top 150 worldwide marketing blogs. Members of the list can of course download versions of the badge to use on their blogs and Facebook pages.

Link Acquisition Rates

The graph below shows the typical link acquisition rates that you would expect to see over time from different types of content. The vertical axis represents the level of activity (links and social shares) and the horizontal axis the phase in the content cycle.

Content types such as infographics tend to attract a lot of links very quickly as they usually perform well on social bookmarking sites and get embedded on related blogs. This activity usually tails-off over time.

Compare this to content such as resources and how-to articles, which if well written then often sharing activity increases over time, and in the long-term can be a stable source of good quality links.

Conclusions

The main takeaways are that although content is vital to eCommerce websites, it has to be the right kind of content used in the right way. The best content strategy is one that is diverse and encompasses many of the above methods rather than focusing on one particualar one.

Matt

July 12th, 2011.

Why Google Plus will fail

Google+ launched a couple of weeks ago, and now the dust has started to settle on what is Google’s most important project to date outside of search.

So how will + be received and what are the chances of long-term success? Launching a social network is always going to be tough, even tougher when your aim is to replace Facebook, however Google have done themselves no favours with their launch strategy.

The invites scheme sucks

While an invite scheme works really well at generating launch buzz around non-social products such as GMail for instance, for social networks restrictions on sign ups can be a major contribution to their failure. Exclusivity obviously restricts the number of people that are able to sign up in the early stages. When Google+ was first announced they benefited from a tremendous amount of mainstream media coverage, since then while industry chatter has grown, the mainstream coverage has tailed-off. This may be have been an unmissable opportunity to get mainstream sign ups on the site.

Google are terrible at social

Google actually have a terrible record of ‘doing’ social media, a long list of failures lie in their wake – Google Wave, Buzz, Voice, Orkut, etc. Getting people to talk about Google products has never been an issue, getting them to use them has.

Critical mass

For a social network to succeed in the long-term they have to reach a critical mass of users. It’s not easy to persuade people to join a social network, and it’s even less easy to persuade them to move networks. People aren’t likely to move over to Google+ while their friends are still on Facebook.

Wrong choice of early adopters

When MySpace launched it did so with a sprinkling of cool bands and music promos. Facebook grew exclusively off of the back of college students in the US. Who did Google choose to be their path-finding early adopters? Geekerati and Internet marketers. Hmmm

Too easy for Facebook to counter?

While the Google+ circles are a great idea and is touted as being Googles game-changer, I love the concept of being able to share certain content with certain groups of users, but plus is not exactly groundbreaking elsewhere in terms of features and functionality, I was actually pretty disappointed at the lack of new ideas and features when I first signed-up. Facebook lists already exist, and I’m fairly sure that Facebook are already looking at extending the sharing functionality around these.

Matt

April 13th, 2011.

Special characters In meta descriptions – the beboisation Of Google?

Using non-standard characters in the page title and meta description tag seems to be a growing trend in many industries. The idea is that by using eye-catching non-standard characters readers attention is drawn to their result first, even in preference to results that may be above them.

The practice of optimising search results to maximise click-through-rate is not a new one and has been used in PPC advertising to good effect for years, but where PPC ads have to go through an approval process (where many techniques are outlawed) meta descriptions and organic results do not, so boundaries can be pushed much further.

Who Is Doing It?

Thanks to @SEO_Doctor @tomsmith1984 @KevStrong @martokus for examples

 

How Do I Use Special Characters In My Title And Description?

Use of many characters seem to be by trial and error. John Campbell is a man with far more patience than I, and he has tested the indexing of many special characters.

Special characters can be created using Unicode such as,

© is created with:©

® is created with:®

™ is created with:™

A full list of Unicode characters can be found on Wikipedia

What Are The Effects?

Currently there is largely anecdotal evidence for the benefits of an increase in click through rate. It would be difficult to test definitively as there are several other variables to factor-in.

Shaun Anderson at Hobo is well respected within the industry for running extensive tests on theories rather than relying on guesswork, he is running one the tests shown above,

It’s incredibly hard to test the impact of this on SERPS in an accurate manner. I am currently running some tests on pages on my site. You need a page with stable rankings, and a stable flow of traffic to get exact results, and that’s kind of difficult with the ever-fluctuation of Google SERPS and how changes to the UI (based on query or geo-location – for instance) impact your rankings and clicks on a daily basis – over time – in a natural way. Special characters in snippets certainly get noticed and commented upon, that’s for sure. Once you rank, GETTING CLICKED is what it is all about – every little thing that might help, should be tested on for size. You can get a way with a lot in terms of getting special characters in your snippet DESCRIPTION – but not so much in your TITLE link description (Google strips out some special characters from this element if you try it).

I was also lucky enough to hear from Craig Parker at Soula.com who has conducted some tests of his own.

In a short test I ran on a UK based e-commerce site I found implementing special characters in title tags had a small positive effect on click-through but this was not statistically significant, after around a week it caused a small negative change in [Google] rankings.

Implementing special characters in the meta was difficult to get indexed/displayed on the SERPs and provided a very minimal increase, again not statically significant.

 

The Bigger Picture…

The largest problem with this technique is that the more people use it the less effective it becomes.  how long until our search results pages look like this and nobody derives any benefit from it?

The new and improved version

What are your thoughts on this?

Matt

February 24th, 2011.

How does a paywall change your link acquisition rate?

The current trend of Newspaper sites to publish their content behind paywalls seems to be gathering speed. The recent Google announcement of its OnePass payment system can only increase the process by making payment technology available to a wider audience.

I thought it would be interesting to look to see how the move to paywalls has affected the news sites backlink acquisition rates.

So far the main newspapers that have added Paywalls have been,

  • The Financial Times – 2002
  • Moneyweek – 2005
  • The Times and The Sunday Times – April 2010
  • The News Of The World – November 2010
  • The Telegraph is set to add a paywall in September 2011

Taking the two most recent examples of The Time and The News Of The World, and using the excellent Majestic SEO graph functionality we are able to see changes on their backlink acquisition rates.

We can see clearly from the graph above that following the addition of the paywall in November 2010 over the next two months inbound links to The News Of The World fell by more than 50%


Similar, but less dramatic results for The Times. This is slightly more confusing as the paywall coincided with a domain change from timesonline.co.uk to thetimes.co.uk. We can see clearly that link gains to the old URL start to decline without the new domain ever really gaining links as a comparative rate.

Where I see some really interesting data is in the rate of acquisition for competitors sites who chose not to implement a paywall. A close online and offline competitor to both The Times and NOTW is The Daily Mail.

Their acquisition rate starts to climb sharply from the date The Times paywall goes live, and their highest ever month coincides with the NOTW adding their paywall. It’ll be interesting to see if the following two low months, December and January are a result of incomplete link data or some other trend.

It’s an interesting theory to see of the final few content producers within a market start to perform far better in terms of finance and popularity than those that eventually choose to follow the paywall route.

Matt

October 28th, 2010.

Optimising Social Media Landing Pages

Maximising the benefit of social and viral traffic is frequently a concept that is misunderstood by site owners looking at huge traffic spikes in their analytics accounts.

Great, 50k visits, how many sales?

None? What a waste of time!

Many years ago when I used to work in sales a key to a successful appointment was sticking to the habit of asking yourself,

What is the minimum I’m going to expect from this call or meeting?

For many salespeople its the sale, which in most cases just isn’t realistic. The minimum an intelligent salesperson expects from a contact is an invite to get in-touch again. Its building on this relationship that creates long-lasting rewarding partnerships.

I have always approached social media with the same kind of mindset. For the vast majority of people that land on your pages, particularly on viral and linkbait type content its the first time that they have had any contact with your brand. – What is the minimum you’ll expect? A sale, or an invite to get in contact again?

I have mocked-up below a before and after of a typical blog landing page.

Before (click for a larger version)

blog landing page

After (click for a larger version)

The key changes to the page include,

  • Adding easily visible subscribe options to a prominent area of the page, including the ability to subscribe by RSS or email.
  • Prominent social media voting buttons at both the top and bottom of a post. Many social media users are members of multiple sites. Many may arrive from Twitter for example and then wish to Digg a story. Make it as easy as possible for them to do this.
  • Twitter followers and Facebook fan pages can be as effective as email newsletter sign ups – make the most out of these if you use them and encourage people to sign up.
  • Experiment with adding related posts to the bottom of your articles, this can help with how ‘sticky’ your site is.
  • Encourage people to comment on your posts. Moderate spam and try to reply to people asking for help or advice.

Remember, its not always about converting a visitor into a sale, converting them into a user, reader, commenter, voter, advocate or sharer can be far more effective in the long-run.

Matt

August 3rd, 2010.

How Digg Got Pwned By Infographics [INFOGRAPHIC]

Digg Infographics
Click on the image to expand to full-size

Matt

July 13th, 2010.

Maximising offline activity to get the most out of your SEO campaign

It often seems to be normal practice to treat SEO campaigns as a stand-alone form of marketing.  Groups of shadowy geeks perform magic in the room at the end of the corridor, with sales and marketing teams avoiding them as much as possible at the water cooler.

However, it’s important to remember that SEO is just another form of marketing – and as such planning and integrating your search engine optimisation with your other marketing channels will mean far more coherent and effective campaigns.

Advertising

All advertising campaigns should have SEO and the company website in-mind. Is it easier for rushed commuters to remember an often random telephone number or a website address?

Do you now see more and more TV and poster campaigns telling people to ‘Google’ or ‘search’ them?   With the growing bias towards the personalisation of Google search results, having users Google and click-through to your brand is likely to mean you’re then likely to appear more favourably for them in subsequent searches.

Any increase in brand searches on Google will also (arguably) benefit your site with increased brand visibility after the UK brand update back in March.

  • Feature your website address prominently
  • Consider asking people to Google/search you – make sure you’re ranking for the term though!
  • Maybe target your SEO towards a memorable phrase you can ask people to search for – “army jobs” is a good current example.

PR Campaigns

Leveraging offline PR campaigns is a great way of getting added value out of both. I’m often surprised how many SEOs haven’t even asked if a client has a PR campaign in place, think of all of those link opportunities that have been missed and all of the great web content that is going to waste.

  • Ensure you have spoken to the PR campaign account manager so they know the importance of asking for their editorial to be placed online and understand the impact of links from their content.
  • Make use of the content the PR is generating. Ask to get cc’d in on their releases and discuss the scope for them to help distributing your linkbait to their journalists and their media contacts.
  • Between you draw up a list of the online properties you want to see your client featured on. Many blogs now have larger readerships than national newspapers – they make-up an important part of both PR and SEO campaigns, you need to make sure you approach these sites correctly with a strong proposition.

Content

Publishing good content is often the stumbling-block that holds-up many good SEO campaigns. The first port of call should be the client, asking the right questions about what’s on their shelves gathering dust can save thousands in content writers fees.

  • Encourage staff at the company to make public the results of any research or industry analysis that they have performed.
  • Ensure your entire product catalogue or list of services is published on your site. The more you can break this down into component products and services and publish these on their own individual pages the better.
  • Consider making any stats facts and figures that you have into an infographic. You’ll find presenting data in a graphical format gets a lot more attention than a simple table of figures.
  • Get the entire company blogging. If you can get everyone enthusiastic about publishing great content it takes a lot of the time pressure away from the SEO and marketing teams. Often the real industry experts in the company lie outside of these departments anyway.
  • Are there already any user guides, FAQs, or client literature already in existence that can easily be published online?

Sales Teams

Keep in regular contact with your sales teams about client feedback. make sure you gather data as much as possible from phone conversations.

  • Find out from your sales teams how customers refer to your products and services. Often it’s different to how you refer to them – the keywords that you’re targeting should reflect this.
  • Get feedback from your sales teams about questions and objections that frequently crop-up. The chances are that if people are asking questions they’ll also be Googling them too so make sure you add these to the FAQ section of your site.

Existing Contacts

In any linkbuilding campaign your existing contacts should be your first port of call. High-quality, on-topic links from relevant sites, as easily obtainable as a quick email or phone call.

  • Partner companies and suppliers and distributors sites are always worth leveraging for links.
  • Encourage your staff to blog if not doing-so already. Either on your own corporate blog or on their own sites. Branding your staff as experts can be as effective as branding your company.
  • Check to see if industry association or corporate qualifications sites offer links back to their members
  • Make sure you put your company forward for corporate awards, usually even the nominations receive links back to their site.

Image credit – Rachel Creative

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