It would be funny if it wasn’t so shameful. Microsoft’s fragrant PR team for XBox360 has provided a classic illustration of the mantra that we always try to emphasise to clients – clumsy and inappropriate use of social media is worse than not using them at all.
In this instance, some clever PR type thought it would be a good idea to capitalise on the untimely death of Amy Winehouse. So they posted a message on Twitter exhorting people to “remember Amy” by buying her music from Microsoft’s Zune online store. One of the key benefits to businesses in using social media is that you make yourself part of a community and can convey a sense of character. This tweet was a disaster because:
- It portrayed Microsoft as greedy, opportunistic and insensitive (while that’s possibly no surprise to most people, reminding us of it so effectively is almost certainly not what the PR people are being paid for).
- It was crass and inappropriate in the context of Twitter. People use Twitter to give and receive news and information and to share comments and observations. Clumsy sales pitches, especially ones based on exploitation of misfortune, are discordant in that environment. The rule of thumb is “don’t sell at the party”, i.e. keep the communication appropriate to the context.
- When you make this kind of mistake in social media, there is nowhere to hide, and word spreads fast. I did a Google search just now (see the screenshot). That showed 9.4 million references on the Web (within two days of the incident), most of them mentioning that Microsoft has been forced to apologise. That’s a lot of bad publicity in a very short time, all from a single 140 character message.
This first mistake was bad enough. But then the very bright PR people at Microsoft panicked when they began to get the backlash. Yes, they thought they would make it all better by posting another Tweet conveying their sincerity and human warmth: “Apologies to everyone if our earlier Amy Winehouse ‘download’ tweet seemed purely commercially motivated. Far from the case, we assure you.” Well that’s OK then! The only good thing about that response is that it has given me more classic material for this case study. The message here is that when you get caught out on social media, you need to be serious about damage limitation and reputation recovery. That half-hearted and unconvincing tweet just reinforced the impression that these people are cynical and untrustworthy.
In this kind of situation, you need either ignore it so that the furore atrophies quickly (a risky strategy) or to tackle it head-on convincingly and effectively. In Microsoft’s position, I would have considered making a proper apology (not the weasel worded thing they issued) acknowledging that a mistake had been made and showing contrition. I’d also think about making some kind of gesture to show that I was serious about making good. That might have meant offering the downloads for free (and refunding those who had already bought), or making some kind of donation (maybe to a substance misuse charity). Anything that showed I was willing to take some pain rather than hope to get away with it via another 140 character message.
What they actually did – almost unbelievably – was to post a third cynical tweet: “With Amy W’s passing, the world has lost a huge talent. Our thoughts are with Amy’s family and friends at this very sad time“. Pure genius. You can see now why they got 9.4 million negative mentions in two days.
It may be that the Microsoft PR people were working on the principle that all publicity is good publicity. More likely, those responsible are now working through their contacts books to find new jobs. To be fair, we frequently come across PR agencies struggling to understand how to harness the immense power and potential of social media (even though their own promotional material generally suggests that they are actually brilliant masters of it) and to avoid making the most basic mistakes.
Compare and contrast with the iTunes store. They saw the commercial opportunity too, of course, and they posted a prominent “Remembering Amy” feature in their store encouraging people to buy the music. And yet, they suffered no opprobrium. The reason for that apparent inconsistency goes back to our theme of the right message in the right place. Visitors at the iTunes store are there to buy and expect the shop to be promoting certain products and to help them find topical material. In this case, you’re in the shop, not at a party, so the dynamics and expectations are quite different.
If you’d like some no-pressure and competent advice or discussion on using social media effectively to help your business or organisation, here are some options:
- Follow this blog - bookmark and visit regularly or use the RSS feed in the bottom right of this page.
- Sign up for our free email newsletter (use the form at top right of this page).
- Drop us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.
- Give us a call on 0845 638 0700 (ask for Kevin or Yvonne).
There’s a whole world of possibilities out there! It would be a shame to miss out or to mess up!
Here at Kent House we try to provide a professional and intelligent approach to search engine optimisation (SEO). We aim to establish with prospective clients what the goals should be, and what will make money for them or otherwise help them achieve objectives. We review their competitors and the competitiveness of key words to find the most effective and best-value targets and strategies. We work up a plan with them to use the best mix of activity from the ones available: optimisation of your website and its pages; use of social media and social networks such as Twitter and Facebook; online and offline PR; link building; blogging; localisation; mobile; video; etc. Often we find ourselves advising clients that they can get better results for less money and that spending more isn’t going to improve return on investment. And we never work for our clients’ competitors.
Counter-intuitively, that kind of considered and ethical approach can often be a difficult sell. It’s perhaps not surprising given that many organisations are unsure about how SEO really works and what it can deliver, and that the SEO industry is still plagued by dubious outfits making wild promises but delivering little and frequently using dubious techniques. Here are some examples …
The “number one on Google” callers
The classic is the cold call from a salesperson promising you will be “number one on Google, guaranteed” in return for signing up to a direct debit. In the harsh light of day, the “number one” promise is, of course, meaningless. Even though the search engines are getting ever more sophisticated, any fool can get a website to top position on Google for searches on an obscure phrase. But is there any value to you in being number one for “Blackwoods Widget Manufacturers, Liverpool”? Will that generate any more leads for the company in question? Obviously not. It takes much more effort to work out what search terms your prospective customers are using and how to make sure you appear in the results for those terms above your competitors. The cold-calling salesperson won’t understand that or even care – they just need to get their quota of sign-ups. And yet, thousands of companies fall for this approach. Maybe they feel that they are at least doing something (however pointless), or maybe they are bullied by the sales pitch and then find it hard to get out of the long term contract.
Many firms employ agencies or casual staff to post hundreds of spam comments on popular blogs. The comment includes a link to the site they are trying to promote (their own or a client’s site). They hope to improve the ranking of their site in search engines by creating lots of links. Whilst the strategy really can improve your ranking (especially if you post on blogs covering relevant subjects), it comes at a price. The spam messages add nothing to the blog articles and discussions off which they leech, clog up the discussion with noise, and they risk annoying visitors and damaging the reputation of the site employing the tactic. It is very rare for an SEO firm to advise their client so they can make an informed choice about whether to use such tactics. Instead, they usually charge the client for skilled SEO input and then pay a cut-price agency to deploy this cheap spam approach without the client ever realising.
There’s an example of this in action here on our own blog. We normally delete such rubbish, but have left his one as an example. The offender in this case is a firm calling itself “InnnovativeSEO”. They’re at www.innovativeseo.co.uk. They describe themselves as “… committed to reaching new heights in marketing performance by providing creative and innovative solutions”. Really? How exactly is it creative and innovative to post a dumb, irrelevant spam comment on a competitor’s blog in the vain hope of improving SEO performance? Perhaps “plumbing new depths” would be a more appropriate slogan for this outfit. Feel free to visit their website for an example of SEO cowboys in action.
It is so much better to post useful comments onto relevant blog articles, making a contribution to knowledge sharing and to the quality of debate. Doing that still allows for the inclusion of a promotional link back to your site but also enhances your reputation and doesn’t make you look shabby. Doing that needs a more intelligent approach and is more time consuming than paying an agency in India to post 1,000 “nice article, thanks” comments on irrelevant blogs.
I’m amazed to see this still in operation, but lots of SEO firms still charge their hapless clients for “submitting your site to the search engines every month”. What nonsense. Submitting your site to a search engine is free and simple. And in any case, your site will be picked up automatically and listed much more quickly as the search engines follow links to it from other websites (if your site doesn’t have any links to it from other good quality sites, it is never going to rank well in the search engines anyway). And the idea that you need to resubmit regularly to stop from dropping out of the results is so wrong that it would be funny it it wasn’t being used as a way to trick clients out of their money. Here’s an example of a site that seems to promote monthly search engine submissions.
This practice is another regrettable example of less reputable SEO firms using low-cost automated and simplistic techniques, regardless of the consequences or effectiveness, whilst presenting themselves as experts and professionals to naive paying clients.
There are many SEO techniques that cross the line from “gaming” the system to cheating it. These are referred to as “black hat” techniques. Whilst they can get very good results, they can carry the risk of reputational damage and/or the client’s site being penalised in (or even dropped from) the search engines.
At Kent House, we pride ourselves on our ethical and professional approach. But, we don’t subscribe to the sometimes hysterical and self-righteous school that says that using any “black hat” technique must be condemned. Google does not make the law or dictate ethical codes of human conduct (not yet, at least!). So, although Google’s guidelines say that you shouldn’t do something, that doesn’t make it unlawful or even necessarily unethical to do so. What is unethical is not to have advised the client of the issues and potential consequences of deploying such techniques and to have obtained informed consent. We still see plenty of SEO competitors charge top dollar to get good rankings for the client by using very cheap and easy black hat techniques with the client not realising how it was done and being unaware of the potentially disastrous consequences. Google isn’t yet God, but they are perfectly entitled within their own system to drop or penalise sites that don’t follow their rules. And there have been plenty of examples of that happening, even to powerful corporations such as JC Penney and BMW (see this article for more information).
SEO is a very easy industry to get into. You just need a computer and an internet connection. A search for “seo company” on Google’s UK site returns 74 million results. Because of the low barriers to entry and because most clients struggle to know how to measure whether they are getting value, the industry is full of cowboys and outfits making questionable promises and delivering dubious services. In my next article on this subject, I’ll post a checklist that you can use to help judge the quality of SEO firms and to choose the one that’s right for you.
An interesting story today regarding the unpleasantly narcissistic dating site BeautifulPeople.com which bills itself as “exclusively for beautiful people”. Loathsome as this outfit is, their latest stunt appears to demonstrate the power of online PR campaigns nowadays in generating web traffic and leads, something that is important to many of our clients.
The website owners (or, more likely, their PR agency) have issued a press release claiming that they were affected by the “Shrek virus” causing thousands of unattractive people to be allowed membership wrongly. They claim to have removed the unattractive members with a refund of membership fees for their trouble. I’m sure this outfit has legions of expensive lawyers on standby, so it would be dangerous of us to accuse them of having made up the whole thing. But, we find it hard to give any credence to the claims whatsoever. There is no record elsewhere of any “Shrek virus”. The name of this alleged virus is something of a clue. It is hard to imagine how this story could possibly be true.
Our friends at nakedsecurity have put the case succintly:
The website explains that it hasn’t needed to inform any computer security firms about the malware as it is being “investigated internally”, and a “former employee.. placed the virus before leaving the team” and “despite wreaking havoc with the application process, member privacy and security was never breached.”
Phew! So, lots of publicity for the website but nothing for current or future members to worry about then. How convenient!
Despite the total lack of credibility to the story, it has been picked up and covered online by serious news agencies such as The Guardian, The BBC, The Telegraph, The Daily Mail and many others. A quick Google check shows there are 5.9 million links and references to this ludicrous story on the Web, all achieved in hours by spreading a stupid press release! Not bad at all for a day’s work.
Yes, it’s pretty depressing that so many journalists at so many leading institutions can be so ignorant, gullible, or lazy as to give this implausible and shameless plug the time of day. However, this failing of humanity does show the power of clever PR.
We’re not suggesting that you suppress your gag reflex and descend to the same level as these people. But, with a bit of imagination, many firms will be able to generate interesting (and ideally even true) press releases which can be expected to get decent coverage in the local, regional, national, and trade press. The cost of a press release is hugely lower than advertising, and can be much more effective at generating leads. Nowadays a press release can be submitted easily and cheaply to multiple online channels. Distributing even a fairly uninspiring article containing relevant key words will help a website’s performance in search engines such as Google, thus helping to attract visitors to the website. And if you are lucky or clever enough to hit the sweet spot and go “viral”, you will be inundated with links and visitors.
We always strongly recommend having a press release strategy for our online marketing clients, especially in this age of social networks. If you’d like to discuss how to create business through social and online marketing, give us a call on 0845 638 0700 or email Yvonne Conway or Kevin Holdridge and lets see what would work for your organisation.
Footnote: Don’t you just love karma? It seems that beautifulpeople.com have become the victim of their own “success”. They look to have paid more attention to coming up with their gimmick and distributing their press release than they did to managing their web hosting infrastructure. So, today instead of seeing the usual conceited home page, visitors today were presented with this altogether more satisfying error message. Beautiful!
Well, at Kent House we’re as cynical as you about the robustness of surveys. But, regardless of the true numbers, this survey published on 19 March 2011 on DMI Online makes a valid point. The survey claims to have analysed 10,000 UK websites and to have found that 40% of them got no traffic from search engines or from pay-per-click advertising. As they put it succintly: “It means the only people visiting these websites will be family, friends or those who know the actual website address.”
I suspect that the survey included a lot of “dead” or inactive and “amateur” sites which will have skewed the numbers. Even so, we find that many of the businesses coming to us because they are dissatisfied with the performance of their website need some help to understand where its all going wrong. This is usually just down to unfamiliarity with the model for online marketing. For instance, we met with a very experienced sales manager only yesterday who was frustrated with the level of traffic to his company’s website. After just a few minutes of discussion, we could almost see the light bulb switching on in his head as he “got it”. There’s no stopping him now – frustration has turned to optimism and an action plan.
Search engine optimisation (SEO) and pay-per-click advertising (PPC – such as Google Adwords) can become enormously powerful and hugely cost-effective tools once you make the link (no pun intended) between patterns of user behaviour online and the way that search engines work.
Get better results from SEO
One of our messages is “Don’t waste your money on a website”. That may seem a peculiar thing for a web developer and online agency to say. However, we still see too many unhappy people who have spent lost of money on a website and – with charming naivety – waited in vain for a torrent of vistors and customers. As evidenced by the survey above, the principle of “build it and they will come” just doesn’t work online. With billions of web pages out there, you need to be assertive in attracting visitors to your website and then in converting them efficiently into paying customers or at least into beginning a relationship with you. If you don’t get the marketing right (including SEO, social media, and maybe pay-per-click advertising), you’ve wasted your money on a website that is little more than vanity project generating a return only for the web designer.
We know that different clients have different attitudes and capacities. Some want to be very hands on with their SEO, others are happy to agree a strategy and then to oustource the donkey work. On the principle that our job is to help our clients to meet their goals rather than to make them fit into our processes, we provide a range of support offerings so you can choose something that is just right for you. Here are some of the ways in which we can help you with your SEO and online marketing:
- Follow this blog for news and tips covering SEO and online marketing
- You can sign up to our free email newsletter which includes regular features on internet marketing and online trends
- Ask us for a free review of your website and SEO
- Take one of our SEO support packages - they range from a one day small-group SEO workshop, through the SEO – Getting Started Package, to the Advanced Tailored SEO Package
- Get results from social networking by signing up to Simple Steps to Success, a 3-month 10-point social media action plan managed by email
- Take the Social Media Mastery programme to squeeze the maximum possible opportunity for your organisation from social networks
Alternatively, just give us a call or drop us an email so we can talk about what you need to get the best return on your investment? We’re on 0845 638 0700 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
A couple of experiences this week have prompted me to write about the often neglected need to protect your domain name(s).
Proving domain name ownership
We picked up a new client this month who was fed up of the poor service they were getting from their web host. Before the transfer of their site to Kent House could be processed, their supplier went bust. Luckily, we had just obtained a copy of their files and database, so it was easy for us to rebuild those on our servers. But, the domain name ownership was registered to the now liquidated supplier, and not to the client. It took nearly two weeks of time consuming effort and frustration to get the registrar (Fasthosts in this case) to recognise the client as the legitimate owner of the domain and then to transfer control to them. During that time, the client’s site couldn’t be seen by anybody. Wouldn’t you know it, that all happened just as the client was trying to promote itself to new funding bodies.
Remember to renew your domain name
Blue chip retailer, Halfords, suffered a major embarrassment this week as their site went down for at least a couple of days. In this case, the problem seems to have been that they or their agents had forgotten to renew the domain names (halfords.com and halfords.co.uk). So, instead of visitors seeing the Halfords website, they were presented with a generic holding page from the domain registrar (Network Solutions) which also contained adverts from competitors! I don’t know the financial impact in terms of lost sales for an operation like Halfords of 2 or 3 days downtime, but I think it safe to assume it was more than the £20 renewal cost of two domain names. I see that the domain names have now been renewed 10 years ahead!
Domain name registration and management lessons
If you invest time and money in an online presence, your domain name is a critical part of that. Domains may cost very little, but if your £10 domain name isn’t working neither is your £x,000 or £x,0000,0000 website or ecommerce operation.
Here at Kent House, we take great care to ensure that our clients’ investment is protected in order to support intellectual property rights, business continuity, and market position. Regardless of who you use to look after your domain names, here are some essential tips to avoid embarrassment and possible disaster.
- Make sure the domain name is registered to you or to your organisation – never to your web developer or some other agency. Unless that is the case, you will struggle to prove your ownership and will become a hostage to fortune. We have inherited clients who were told by their old developers that domain names could only be registered in the name of the developer. Such operators are either incompetent or untrustworthy (possibly both) – use them at your peril.
- Make sure that the email address on the domain ownership record is yours, that it works, and that the mailbox is monitored actively. Most domain management processes are automated or semi-automated and carried out through email. If you aren’t receiving those emails, you risk not being notified that the domain is expiring or that somebody is attempting to steal it (which is much a more common event than you might think).
- Demand that your supplier sets up an online management area (or control panel) specifically for your domain(s). Less diligent suppliers will just chuck all their clients’ domains into a single holding account. That’s easy for them but it means that they will never allow you direct access to online management of your own domains because that would mean you also having access to everybody else’s domains. If you don’t think that’s a problem, imagine the scenario if the supplier goes bust – how will you move your website and domains to restore service, especially bearing in mind that your email will also have stopped working if you’re using the same domain for that? Keep the URL, username, and password somewhere very safe.
- If your domain name permits it, ensure that it is ‘locked’ to prevent accidental or malicious changes being made. UK domains don’t have that facility, but it is available for most others.
- Check the public record (‘whois’) to ensure that your domain has been set up for you as described in this article. You can do that very easily online and for free using a tool like DomainTools.
- Consider registering your domain(s) for several years in one go. This reduces the likelihood of unintended expiry each year. Long-term registration is also an SEO tip as it slightly improves the performance of your website in search engine results.
There’s lots more to say about domain names, especially about strategies for choosing the right name or portfolio. But that can wait until the next article. For today, the key message is about risk management and disaster recovery. Choose your supplier wisely, and make sure you are covered against fraud, negligence, and supplier failure. In nearly a decade of operation at Kent House, we have never had a client suffer any loss of domain or domain-related service. That’s because we invest in quality processes, pay attention to detail, and pride ourselves on customer service. If you really have to use a different supplier, make sure they deliver the same!
Our largest local competitor went bust last month. The failure of Internet Business Solutions (aka NetBiz Solutions and another slight variant under which they have just started trading again after apparently walking away from £400,000 of debts), has prompted us here at Kent House to reflect on the nature of the market and of our own business.
The NetBiz Solutions business model is one which plagues the Internet industry. It appears to have been built on generating contracts through an aggressive sales operation delivering lots of small under-priced projects so that the company can survive on cashflow from holding on to customer deposits (they held £100,000 of customer deposits at time of lquidation, yet the liquidators reported only £5,000 of work in progress). Apparently the company collapsed because of “a loss of key sales people”.
Well, we at Kent House certainly have no problems with the idea of sales and marketing and with providing sensible but keen prices – quite the opposite. So what is the basis of our objection to companies like this one?
Firstly, they contribute to the low levels of confidence and trust generally accorded to the web development sector. Under their business model, the customer is likely to get a pretty but pointless website built on no other strategy than (a) the customer thinks they need a website but isn’t sure what they should be doing with it, and (b) the developer needs to maintain cashflow. Customers who have had their fingers burned in this way and have spent money on a website that has failed to achieve anything for them either find themselves forced economically to stick with what they’ve got despite its inadequacy, or are reluctant to risk making a new investment and are inherently suspicious of the sound advice offered by firms such as ours. Being closed to the opportunities offered by online channels can be a serious competitive disadvantage.
Second, is the issue of the sales-driven approach. The economy would, of course, collapse without sales teams, and a strong sales operation is critical to the success of many companies and ventures. But, the “churn and burn” sales approach is wholly inappropriate to meeting the needs of small and medium enterprises who want to invest scarce resources in order to generate net profit from online channels. The quick sell of a formulaic website from a rate card in this situation can lead only to disappointment and resentment. A tailored plan involving competitor and market analysis, identifying targets for return on investment, and a customised package of online services is a much more complicated deal to “sell” and it requires some honest communication and some working-up. But, it is the only way that the customer is going to make money from their investment. Web industry cowboys find it easier to sell on the basis of “The website will cost you only £2,000 if you can pay a 50% deposit today”. It’s harder to convince a client (especially when they have been burned once) that a cleverer investment of £3,000 will earn them much more than that in new business or deliver more than that in efficiency savings, thus making money rather than costing “only” £2,000.
The third disappointment for us is that this kind of company is a bit like a nasty infection – it tends to keep coming back after you think it’s gone. In this case, Internet Business Solutions seems to have engineered a “phoenix” situation whereby they have immediately started trading again with an almost identical name from the same offices and with apparently the same people running it. The only things that seem to have gone away are £400,000 of debt, a substantial grant paid earlier this year by the regional development agency (apparently in 5 figures!), and most of the staff. Unsurprisingly, the “new” team of 7 seems to include mostly sales and marketing people and a book keeper – leopards generally don’t change their spots.
On a personal note, I consider the increasingly common practice of phoenix companies to be disgraceful and disreputable. It is inevitable that some businesses will fail – there but for the grace of God, etc. But that is no justification for leaving betrayed staff and creditors behind while shamelessly restarting with the original company’s assets bought at nominal prices. One of the reasons I formed my own company was so that I could operate by a fair moral code – having to compete with lowlife competitors sometimes makes that difficult, but I know on which side of the line I want to stay. I would also question whether liquidators are always diligently exercising their duty to get the best deal for creditors.
One small ray of sunshine from this shabby affair is that our biggest local competitor (by “biggest” I mean largest by number of staff) is now smaller than us – at least until they persuade another swathe of unsuspecting customers to sign up.
Kent House and Keele University Science and Business Park recently organised a joint seminar on social networking. The event, held on 9 September 09 at Keele Hall, was attended by nearly 100 delegates from all sectors of the local community – including small and large businesses, professional bodies, local authority, voluntary sector, and education.
The aims of the event were: to introduce social networking; to explain some of the jargon and issues around social media and social marketing; to suggest some of the opportunities offered by these new online channels for reaching people more effectively than is possible by traditional means; and to offer some examples of how social networking has been implemented locally.
The event was chaired by Rosi Monkman of Keele University Science and Business Park. The presenters were:
Kevin Holdridge, Managing Director, Kent House
A brief on what Social Networking is, how to get it right and avoid common pitfalls
Linda Jones, Managing Director, Passionate Media
An in-depth study on how to boost your business using social networking media
Hannah Hiles, Media and Communications Officer, Keele University
A case study on how social networking sites helped a business to engage with its customers
There is currently a lot of buzz as well as confusion around social networking, and this was reflected in the lively questions-and-answers session at the end of the presentations.
We have made available here the slides and video from the event.
Want to keep up to date with social networking?
We encourage anybody interested in social media and/or in search engine optimisation to sign up for our free monthly email newsletter. This provides news on market developments, lots of hints and tips, and occasional discount offers for our intensive SEO and Internet marketing bootcamp courses. It’s easy to sign up – just enter your email address in the box at the top right of this page. Rest assured, we will never pass on your email address to other parties or send you spam.
Slides – social networking presentations
The slides from the event are stored on Slideshare, and embedded here:
Video – social networking presentations
Click on any of the speakers’ names below to see video of their presentation.
Getting results from social marketing, social media, and social networking
Selling on the Web
One of my favourite aphorisms is “on the Internet nobody knows you’re a dog”. Using Web and email, you can reach customers and project your presence just as effectively as big, long-established corporates. In fact, if you’re nimble and smart about it, you can outplay them. Not all the clients I see necessarily believe this at first – they assume that the big guys have brand, reputation, and infrastructure behind them, making them invincible. Well, here’s an example of my online shopping experience last month that nicely illustrates how all of that counts for nothing and how a bit of passion makes all the difference.
Too many pizzas meant I neeeded a new suit with room for growth. Being a man of a certain age and conservative tastes living outside a major city, the obvious choice used to be Marks and Spencer. A visit to the local store soon confirmed that I am no longer in their target market. The only options available were a visit to Manchester or buying on the Internet. I had no time for the former during business hours, so ecommerce seemed the obvious choice.
Buying clothes on the Web offers fantastic possibilities (access to huge range of styles, fabrics, colours, and ability to compare prices) but also has a few potential barriers (you can’t try for fit, can’t feel the fabrics, colour can be deceptive onscreen, and you can’t walk out with the product). But, good clothing ecommerce sites can overcome the barriers for would-be customers through:
- Listing stock levels for each item
- Offering fast delivery options with information on expected arrival dates
- Having good quality images of the products
- Using modern tools to allow the customer to get a more confident view of the product (magnifying glasses enabling detail view, 360 degree rotation, images of the clothes on models, detailed specifications listed)
- Giving good guidance on sizing
- Providing a simple and efficient returns and exchange service
Here’s what happened when I gave it a go …
The bad ecommerce experience – Austin Reed
Austin Reed is a big name, trading for over a hundred years. Their website declares their own brilliance thus: “Austin Reed has transformed itself from a traditional business into a dynamic and progressive group, boasting over 70 outlets in the UK with international licensees across the globe.” So, you’d imagine they’d got the hang of retail? Maybe they have instore, but online is another matter.
I thought I’d do a test purchase before committing to a large-ticket item. Just as well I did. I ordered a plain black belt. Everything should have been pretty straightforward. The website allowed me to see the products in detail using a magnifier, and picking the size was simple.
Delivery was fairly quick. Unfortunately, though, the belt delivered was a completely different product. I rechecked on the website to make sure the error wasn’t mine – sure enough, the product was nothing like the description. Austin Reed provide a simple returns procedure, with a prepaid postage label. Rather than return for a refund, I wanted to exchange for the product listed and displayed on the website. So, instead of sending the belt back, I emailed their customer service team asking what the correct product code was.
It took 6 days and two chasers to get a reply. That message didn’t even include the usual bland, insincere corprorate apology that we have come to expect and cherish nowadays. The content also did not inspire confidence in Austin Reed’s ability or enthusiasm to get me what I had ordered: “We will endeavour to send the correct item, however if we are unable to locate this item we will have no choice but to refund the item back onto the card you used for the purchase.” As they clearly didn’t know their own stock and website, I decided to cut my losses, and sent the item back for a refund.
The refund did come through reasonably promptly. However, Austin Reed quietly kept £5 of my hard-earned money, presumably for the postage cost involved in their erroneously sending me the wrong product! I also see today that the incorrect product details still haven’t been updated on the website, even though they’ve known for 3 weeks that the entry is wrong.
Needless to say given that bad ecommerce experience, I wasn’t willing to risk buying online from these guys for a larger ticket item. So, they lost a potential sale worth several hundred Pounds due entirely to poor organisation and lack of interest. They have also gained this critical online review. A classic example of snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.
The better ecommerce experience – Charles Tyrwhitt
Charles Tyrwhitt is a relatively young upstart compared to Austin Reed. However, they are strong at online selling and marketing. I took the risk of buying the new suit from them because of the following:
- The website displayed product information well and in ways relevant to me as a prospective customer (well categorised; easy to filter by style, colour and product characteristics; good and helpful product images)
- There was clear information on stock levels and availability (including expected dates for out-of-stock items)
- Delivery options and timings were clearly stated
- There were customer reviews providing me with more information and confidence
I’m now the satisfied owner of a Charles Tyrwhitt suit. I wouldn’t say its the best suit I’ve ever owned, but it was delivered on time and met specification and expectation. Customer service was slick, with informative confirmation emails along the way worded in such a way that I felt the company cared about the order and my custom.
Selling online – the lessons
My conclusions are that – if you approach ecommerce in an appropriate and businesslike manner – you can outperform larger and well established competitors. Investing in an ecommerce solution that quickly builds confidence in visitors who may never have heard of you, and helps prospective customers smoothly to the checkout can put you ahead of the competition. But, remember that it is not just about the ecommerce website itself – if your customer care or order fulfilment is sub-standard you will quickly lose business and reputation. Online selling may be an exciting new channel with its own quirks and challenges, but it is still subject to the traditional principles of effective retail management and marketing. A little enthusiasm also goes a long way!
You did it. You got yourself a website because prospects and customers kept asking for your web address. And you’d heard how much business small companies could generate from a website. So, you paid a Web developer handsomely for a beautiful site with the latest Flash animations, or had your brother-in-law build it on the cheap.
But your site’s been up for a while and it hasn’t brought you any business. What’s gone wrong? Here are the six things you can do for maximum results.
1 Make it part of your marketing strategy
Be clear what you want the website to do for you and then make sure it’s designed to do that well, whether reaching new customers, providing new services to improve customer relationships or improve cross-selling and repeat orders.
As with any marketing medium, your site must focus on your customers’ interests – not yours. Your site should be easy to use and tell customers exactly what they need to know.
2 Promote a positive image and user experience
Get the basics right so you don’t alienate users. Ensure the site looks professional, works properly, doesn’t oblige the user to install extra software and is user friendly. Websites that are too slow, crash in the middle of the transaction or ask for unnecessary information will alienate users.
3 Embrace Internet marketing
Google currently indexes billions of web pages. For your site to be found by customers and prospects you need to get your Internet marketing right.
The site itself should be optimised to get the best possible results in the search engines for your target keywords. A competent web developer can make sure the site is designed and built optimally. But, you also need to make sure that the text is well written for optimisation and is regularly updated. Use a web-savvy copywriter for best effect.
Get links to your website included on other relevant sites. Done correctly, this will improve your results in the search engines. You might even consider temporarily buying links on premium sites to get a quick initial boost.
Done properly, pay-per-click advertising is easily the most focused, cost-effective, and measurable marketing tool in history. You can easily dip a toe in the water through a small-budget Google AdWords campaign.
4 Reach out – use email
Websites only work when a user goes to them (the ‘pull’ effect). Get better results by combining the ‘push’ approach of using email to reach out to customers and prospects. It’s easy and cheap to reach people through email, and especially email newsletters.
5 Be sticky
'Stickiness’ is a measure of how well a website encourages users to keep coming back. There are some tried-and-tested ways of building stickiness:
- Regularly give things for free (maybe a downloadable briefing paper or promotional offer). The cost to you can be small with online delivery.
- Provide an online customer helpdesk
- Build an area for customers only where they can get access to premium resources
- Add new and relevant information
6 Stay fresh
Make sure you have good content management facilities so it is quick and easy to update the content and structure of your site without having to pay – and wait for – your web developer to do it for you. Then have a plan to ensure you make at least monthly updates.
Kent House offers a free no-strings appraisal of your site with recommendations for improvement. If you’d like some advice on how to get more from your web investment, give us a call on 0845 638 0700 or drop us an email at email@example.com.