Online PR campaigns – the good the bad and the ugly

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!

google-viral-prDespite 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 TelegraphThe 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.

beautiful-people-my-arseFootnote: 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!

not-so-beautiful

SEO Jargon Buster Part 2

3 September 2010 by Yvonne Conway  
Filed under Search Engine Optimisation

Continuing on from my original Jargon buster, I have had some requests to keep going and explain some more. So here we go:

PageRank

PageRank is a Google term, but all Search Engines use something similar.

The Official Google Definition:

PageRank relies on the uniquely democratic nature of the web by using its vast link structure as an indicator of an individual page’s value. In essence, Google interprets a link from page A to page B as a vote, by page A, for page B. But, Google looks at more than the sheer volume of votes, or links a page receives; it also analyzes the page that casts the vote. Votes cast by pages that are themselves “important” weigh more heavily and help to make other pages “important”.

PageRank can fall between 0 and 10, with 10 being the best. Not even Google itself has a PR of 10 and each step up the scale is incrementally more difficult to achieve, so it is much harder to get from a PR of 4 to 5 than it is from 0 to 1 for example.

When calculating your PageRank other things can also be taken into consideration such as quality of your site, age of your site etc. You can find out your PageRank here: http://www.prchecker.info/

Alexa Rank

The Alexa Rank of a website is a calculation of how popular and important a site is on the web. The lower your Alexa Rank, the better. Broadly speaking, if your Alexa Rank is 10,000,000, then you are the 10,000,000th most popular website on the internet.

Link Building

In order to increase your website’s PageRank you will need to engage in some inbound link building. This means that you will have to get other websites to link to you. You can do this by submitting your site to relevant internet directories or by asking other webmasters in your “industry community” to link to your site from their site.

The trick with link building is to firstly ensure that the people linking to you are relevant to your industry so if you are in the bicycle business, you are not that bothered with getting book sellers to link to you, but to get a link from the Tour de France site would be brilliant! Secondly you want sites with a good PageRank to link to you (normally 4 or above) because you want them to pass on a little of their PR to you.

Anchor Text

Anchor text is the text you use to make a link. Most people use the web address as the link e.g. www.kenthouse.com but if you are trying to optimise your website for a particular keyword you should use the keyword(s) as the anchor text so Web design Staffordshire would be a better way to link to our website than simply using the URL.

(Meta) Tags

Meta tags and tags are tags (or labels) used to describe the various parts of a web page. Meta data is the information contained within the tags. The tags most people in the SEO business are concerned with are:

  • The Title tag
  • The Keyword tag
  • The Description tag
  • Alt tags
  • Heading tags

Content

Content is the information on your website. It is most frequently used to refer to the words on your site. In SEO “content is king” – the more rich content your site has the better it should perform. Where content is concerned it is also important to constantly review and update it so that the search engine robots have something new to interest them each time they visit your site. The more new content you give them, the more likely they are to visit your website.

CMS        Content Management System

A CMS is a way of managing your website’s content from how the information is structured, to updating and adding pages, to inserting downloadable documents etc. If you are serious about doing your own SEO you need to be able to control your own content. That might mean having access to your FTP server and being able to edit the HTML or investing in an SEO friendly CMS.
As you get more and more into SEO you are going to be making changes to your site at least once a week and this could get pricey if you have to send every change to your web developers to make!

Number of pages indexed

This is the number of pages on your site that Google, Yahoo! and Bing can find and then display in their search results. You can find this out by typing ‘site:www.yourwebsiteaddress.com’ into the search box in each of the search engines. Your aim is to get all your webpages indexed and you can do this with the help of an xml sitemap.

What SEO cannot do

A carefully thought through SEO campaign can get you to the top of the search engine rankings, but it cannot encourage customers to buy your products or services where there is little demand for them. Equally, you may be listed high up in the search engines, but for search terms that no one uses.

Unfortunately there is very little you can do about creating demand where none exists. But you can work to ensure that you are targeting your optimum keywords. To do this we advise you to perform a thorough keyword research first before embarking on your SEO strategy. Remember that a successful SEO strategy is not necessarily about targeting the broadest, most popular search terms, but more importantly it is about identifying keywords that people actually use, and can potentially lead to a business deal.

When working on your SEO campaign, try to avoid such unethical techniques as:

  • Keyword stuffing (excessive repetition of your keywords in the text or meta tags in order to influence ranking).
  • Use of keywords in the meta tags that are not reflected in the page content.
  • Creating multiple pages with virtually identical content.
  • Automatically generated doorway pages which contain little user oriented content.

Ecommerce – the good, the bad, and the ugly

5 August 2009 by Kevin Holdridge  
Filed under News and views

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!

When the campaign ends…page titles

There is always a worry that after spending thousands of pounds on an SEO campaign with an agency, your site will lose its positioning in the SERPs once the campaign is over and you begin to add new content yourself.  Therefore I have come up with a guide on adding content to your site to help you overcome this worry and to continue the work where your search engine optimisation agency left off.

When adding new content there are 6 key areas you need to be aware of.

  • Page Titles
  • Paragraph or Section Headers
  • Words in bold and italics
  • Internal links
  • Images and Alt Tags
  • Keyword selection

For the purpose of this first article I will focus on Page Titles and how they can be “optimised” for search. Before I do that a quick explanation of page titles is probably in order. The page title is what you can see in the top bar of your web browser – it generally shows the website’s name and some blurb about the business or the site. It is prime SEO real estate and a very quick and easy way to improve your on page optimisation.

For a number of reasons page titles are one of the most important aspects of search engine optimisation. Firstly, because they are the first thing that is displayed when a search engine shows your page, so they should always be relevant, concise, descriptive and encourage people to click on your result. Secondly because they are the first thing a robot will see when it comes to your site and thirdly because they are a great way to get some more keywords onto the page and make your site relevant to the crawler for a search term.

When coming up with page titles there are several schools of thought on how to structure them. The two predominant theories go:

(A)    Company Name |Section | Product or Service
e.g.
ABC Ltd | Mountain Bikes | The Brilliant Mountain Bike 2.1

(B)    Company Name | Brief description of what is on the page
e.g.
ABC Ltd | Specialists in mountain bikes such as The Brilliant Mountain Bike 2.1

I personally prefer the second variant as it gives a description of your business which then appears in the SERPs, giving your company a more human face and encouraging people to click on the result. However, when done well either option will help your positioning and continue your site on its way to a page 1 result.

The Kent House Design and Technology Seminar

Throughout the year Kent House run a series of events on various topics including SEO, Design, Website Development and Internet Marketing. On 22 June we will be holding a free seminar on Design and Technology and how getting the balance right can improve your online presence. The event will take place at Keele Hall, Staffordshire.

Download the PDF Invitation for more information.

For this upcoming event we have secured the services of Julius Wiedemann – author of Guidelines for Online Success and one of the World’s leading experts on design and marketing. Julius will be giving the keynote presentation and plans to focus on the evolution of design online and take a look at how design has changed how we do business from branding to emails to mobile marketing.

Our very own Kevin Holdridge, will discuss ways in which design, technology, and marketing can work harmoniously together online. He will show examples of how many companies get this badly wrong, thus wasting their money and damaging their market position.

The seminar aims to help local businesses and organisations understand how to get the best return from investment in online channels such as the Web and email. It will do this by focusing on how to get the relationship right between the technology, design and marketing of a site.

The event would be suited to anyone with an interest in marketing, design and websites and more critically people interested in making their website work harder for them by achieving better results in the Search Engines. I have included the event program below.

If you are interested in attending, please register online or alternatively send me an email with all of your details.

Event Program

Session 1
How we got here – A brief on the evolution of media, communication and design.

Session 2
Your site – Design and Usability – How to integrate great design into your site without compromising on usability.

Session 3
Return on Investment – How to maximise your investment in the online world.

Session 4
Design, usability and Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) – How to design an effective, easily navigated site yet still do well in Google.

6 Tips to help you get the best return on your investment

22 May 2009 by Kevin Holdridge  
Filed under News and views

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 info@kenthouse.com.

Search Engine Market Share

This is just a very quick check in to give you the latest update on Search Engine Market Share.

Google is still number one with a share of 73.32% of the search market. Yahoo! comes in distant second with 15.78%. Ask, MSN and Live are at 3.93%, 3.52% and 2.11% respectively.

Although Google has the largest share, it is important to remember that 16% of the world’s internet surfers is a HUGE number and one which could make you millions – moral of the story, don’t forget the little guys when thinking about search marketing. The almost frenzied need to get to page one and number one on Google should not overshadow the fact that  Yahoo!, Ask, MSN and Live are equally as important and worthy of a certain percentage (maybe 16%?) of your time!

Google AdWords Professional

logo_qualified_ind_801Last week I passed my Google AdWords exam and have to admit that it was an unwelcome return to my university days of blind panic and “have I done enough??”.  However, panic was unnecessary, I passed and I have the logo to prove it.

There is remarkably little online outside of Google itself that can help you towards acquiring the accreditation and this really surprised me, surely with the number of people out there working in SEO and PPC someone would have written something, a cheat sheet some detailed help but no! One thing did seem to crop up time and again on forums and blogs– a general consensus that the questions are vague and open to interpretation. I could not agree more and this increases the difficulty of the exam considerably.

However drawing on my experience and the fact that I had swotted up on all things AdWords related in the AdWords Learning Centre, I passed and am safely among the ranks of the qualified for another two years.

If you have any PPC or SEO questions, give me a call or send me an email, I am always happy to help.

Internal Optimisation – Header Tags

A great place to start with SEO after you have decided on your keywords, is your section headers – your <h1>’s to <h6>’s. These are simple to change for even the most technology-phobic among us. When a Search Engine Robot is scanning your site it will put more emphasis on these than on the underlying copy. Therefore always try to include your keywords in your headers.

If you are lucky enough to have a copywriter to fill your site for you, always remember that although headings like “we do our best for you” may sound great and look “glossy” they are useless for SEO. A more suitable heading would be “ABC Ltd’s customer service policy is the best in Manchester” or “ABC Ltd’s customer service policy is the best in the toy making industry”. In these headings you have your company name – assuming you will want to be found under your company name – and either your location or your industry. These will more than likely be among your keywords and therefore carry more weight for a Search Engine if they appear in a section heading too.

Always use header tags. If you are building a list, the list title should be a header, if you have a table, the table label should be a header. Additionally, every page should have at least 3 sets of header tags, for example a <h1> for the page title, a <h2> for main section headings and a <h3> – <h6> for lists, image labels, table names, sub-sections and so on. Always remember to include at least one of your keywords in each of your header tags.

The Kent House development team always set up header tag templates for <h1>’s to <h6>’s as standard and they are exceptionally easy to apply in SiteManager. However, whoever your web developer, they should do the same and if they have not, challenge them on it, it is a very basic part of any website development and should not be neglected as it is a key part of SEO and a key part of any site’s look and feel!

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