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!
In recent times, there has been a plethora of extreme and alarmist articles in the media about the impact of video games (both online and offline) on the lives on individuals who play them. For example, there has been an article about how parents from South Korea failed to attend to their baby’s basic needs because of their obsession with gaming. As well, there has been a lot of discussion about the supposedly increasing number of games addicts among children, with some sources stating examples of youngsters who have dropped out of school in order to to play games for up to 21 hours a day.
Countries such as China and South Korea have already declared battle against online gaming and introduced laws in the forms of an anti-online game addition system and gaming curfew respectively in order to curb their citizen’s usage of games.
However, I recently came across an article titled “Online computer gaming: advice for parents and teachers” that a UK games expert, Professor Mark Griffiths from Nottingham Trent University, wrote in 2009 in response to a huge number of emails that worried parents and teachers of young gamers sent to him over the years. Griffiths argues that, while games may be problematic to some individuals, in his career he has only come across a handful of real games addicts. Griffiths, furthermore, says that “any activity when taken to excess can cause problems in a person’s life. We would not legislate against people excessively reading or exercising. Why should online gaming be treated any differently?”. With that said, parents and teachers should be educating adolescence on how to play games responsibly.
There is an increasing body of evidence for the positive influence of games. For example, a games expert from the Silicon Valley, Jane McGonigal, believes that “gaming can make a better world” though teaching people about strategising and probelm-solving. McGonigal’s research shows that games can enhance personal happiness and help society.
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!
Families in East Anglia and London sought for a Cambridge University Research Project, in collaboration with BT…
Kent House are proud to be working with Cambridge University researchers, in collaboration with BT, in a bid to recruit 15 families in the East Anglia and London areas for an IT based project.
For one week, members of the families will be asked to record daily activities using certain kinds of technology. They will use a diary template to record the different types of digital communications (e.g. Facebook, Twitter, Skype, blogs, games, apps, etc.) that they use on daily basis, the purpose of using them, the location in which they use them, the circumstance of use (e.g. whether usage is planned or interrupts another activity), the mood they are in when they use them, if they are interacting with anyone else while they use them, the time they start to use them, and the duration of usage. The objective of the study is to identify ways in which modern information and communication technology impact both individuals and families and not to test ability or intelligence.
Participants are recruited to ensure that a balanced and representative number of people undertake the study. This is to allow for useful comparison between groups of different ages, backgrounds and geographical locations in the study.
If you are a family (or know a family) in the East Anglia or London areas, with at least one child over the age of 10, please share the link below to find out more about the project and to leave details. Selected families will receive £200 shopping vouchers.www.kenthouse.com/cambridge-uni-market-research
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.
For any of you that have been externally audited you’ll know that it’s like someone going through your knicker drawer – it’s more than a little uncomfortable – but much as you don’t like it has to be done.
As part of our on-going commitment to delivering quality products and services to our clients as well as carrying out internal meetings and reviews of our quality process we have an annual external review carried out by QMS.
Our annual review this year was held in September and we’re delighted to announce that we passed the ISO9001:2000 standard with flying colours and have also passed and been upgraded to the lastest standard of ISO9001:2008 from this point onwards.
Part 4 – Using the correct utensils
When using both type and symbols, we must consider how our choice of font will work positioned near the symbol.
These days there is an endless selection of fonts available. It’s possible to categorise them into genres such a script, serif, sans serif, slab serif, gothic etc.
The old faith-full’s: Helvetica, Arial, Gill Sans, Times New Roman and Garamond are timeless and are always a good place to start. More modern typeface such as: Frutiger, Futura, Myriad Sans, Calibri and Trebuchet also have qualities that would lend themselves very well to logo legibility as they are clean and un-fussy.
However, you need to choose a typeface that is reflective of your business and matches the style of your design. It’s very easy to go down the wrong path and choose a typeface that you like, rather than a typeface that works best for your brand.
Unless suited to your type of business, for instance – a nursery; a family holiday company; a sandwich bar etc., try to avoid fonts that are too playful or elaborate as they can impair the legibility of your logo.
You can find examples of typefaces from a selection of genres here at dafont.com – but remain mindful of your own business genre, whilst you explore!
For us mere mortals our use of iconography dates as far back as the Greeks and Etruscans, not forgetting the Egyptian script.
These visual elements were the prologue to the story of the alphabet and consequently the written language. In brief, an icon is a symbolism for something instantly recognisable that replaces the necessity for a lengthy explanation.
These days, following in the footsteps the modern masters of the last century, such as Picasso and Matisse, our icons can be more abstract, and don’t necessarily have to have a cognitive connection to a particular object. We attempt at symbolising an action or movement, like a swoosh or swirl. We use graphical elements that suggest textures and emotions. We use light-casting to emphasis shadows and highlights to give our designs a sense of dimension and depth.
I strongly advise checking out what’s out there in today’s market with regards to logo design as there are some fairly common trends. There’s an abundance of logo design books on the market today, you only have to surf through Amazon to peruse at your leisure (check out ‘Logo design – volume 2′ by Taschen [pg.249], we’re in it !). However, I did discover an interesting blog article recently by logolounge. They have reviewed thousands upon thousands of logos over the year thus far and identified some quite common trends. Worth a look if you’re after some inspiration!
Once a brand has gained high level recognition, (nationally or globally) it may be possible to remove the text and use the icon as a stand-alone logotype. Using examples such as the Nike tick and the golden arches of McDonalds, this kind of manoeuvre really does seem to work for the big players who have a need for a logo refresh in order to remain ‘current’ in these ever-changing times.
Confidently dropping the text from their logos allows their companies to develop and evolve without losing the intrinsic essence of the brand that they have previously invested an enormous amount of time, effort and dedication to.
Don’t forget, the combination of text and icon is generally the preferred option for new businesses start-ups as it helps to build brand recognition.
Next time – Part 5 – Setting the timer
Part 3 – Applying the method
To ensure a successful logo the design must be simple, memorable, timeless, versatile, and appropriate. Be mindful that an elaborate, overworked logo is probably not going to be a pretty sight. The most memorable logos are also the most simple. Here are some things to remember when you are considering a variety of concepts provided by your designer.
1. Consider differing mediums
You will more than likely want to use your logo on a variety of marketing materials, whether it’s online or in print. Bearing this in mind, your logo will need to be reproduced in varying sizes and to span various mediums. When you are considering creative concepts, try scaling the designs at down to 10-20%. Viewing logos at their smallest is a good indication of whether or not your logo will work across many platforms, whether it be a favicon on your website or a small advert on newspaper print, to a sign on the side of your building or a poster on a hoarding’s board.
Whilst okay in larger formats, designs with too much embellishment: thin lines, small shapes and light and fanciful typography should be avoided as these qualities will be lost and may even disappear when used at a smaller scale. For some great visual comparisons view this useful article written by iStockphoto, it’s worth bookmarking!
2. Preparing a logo catalogue
Okay, so you’re already thinking about different mediums where your logos may be used, but sometimes you may come up against technical questions that you’re not quite sure how to answer. For instance, you’re booking a black and white advert space in a newspaper and the sales person is asking you to provide a 1-colour version of your logo for a mono newspaper advert. Your designer only provided you with an all-singing-all-dancing full colour logo that looks great on your website and business cards, but once the colour has been striped to gray-scale by the production team at the newspaper, will look more like someone’s lent on your advert while the ink was still wet – just one big, unrecognisable smudge! In cases like this you really need to have several versions of your logo that work in any environment.
- 1 colour – usually black on white although potentially it could be blue on white or any colour of your choice.
- Reversed-out – in some instances your logo may work better white on black or on another colour. The term ‘reversed’ just means white.
- 2 colour – If your logo already looks like its uses just 2 colours, chances are they are made up out of a 4-colour process. This can cause some colours (greens and oranges) to look lack-lustre and may be better off printed as a 2 colour Pantone. Your designer should be able to produce a Pantone swatch book for you to choose an exact colour. As with the 1 colour version, these options may be requested for newspaper printing or screen printing onto a tee-shirt.
- 4 colour (also referred to as ‘full colour’) In printed materials a full colour range is usually made-up by the following 4 colours: Cyan, Magenta, Yellow and Black (CMYK), however on screen, these colours are defined by Red, Green, Blue (RGB).
Full colour logos can also be very expensive or difficult to reproduce. To keep costs to a minimum keeping your design to a couple of colours, then use tints of those colours. Reducing your colour palette can also work to keep logos from looking too busy.
When considering your corporate colours, be mindful of obvious references. For instance, a financial advisor should avoid red as this colour can be associated with ‘being in the red’ or red ‘final-demand’ letters. Eco-friendly companies would want to adopt earthy tones as opposed to garish, loud colours that are not naturally found in such environments.
Different horses for different courses. You will need your final logo provided in a variety of formats. Here’s a rough guide to their general usage:
- AI and EPS – Vector graphics that preserve the quality of lines and curves etc. when resized larger and smaller. Used for print.
- JPEG, BMP and TIFF (.jpg or .jpeg) — pixel image formats widely used to display photographic images. Resizing is limited. Images are okay when used 100%, but will distort and pixelate if made larger. Used for print and web.
- GIF and PNG – pixel image formats that have transparency qualities. Images are okay when used 100% or less, but will distort and pixelate if made larger. Used for web.
If your logo is to be used by staff members or work associates for internal documents or for a dual-affinity branded piece, I’d strongly advise creating a ‘standards’ document allowing you to distribute a guideline of do’s and don’ts to relevant individuals. In brief, this should include: corporate colours, rescaling, clearance zones, fonts, etc. This will help to project a consistent ‘tone-of-voice’ in all your correspondence with customers and fellow businesses alike. Not only protecting your brands integrity, but incrementally building and promoting a professional company presence.
Next time – Part 4 – Using the correct utensils
Unlike in the medical and the aerospace sectors, erroneous decisions in the Web development domain do not cost lives. However, poorly made decisions in all these sectors can lead to serious financial consequences. Good decisions can save both time, money and lives but the difference between bad and good decisions is not always clear until the project team gets into the last stages of the development process. In order to avoid making bad decisions in the Web domain, the Smashing Magazine provides an overview of the most efficient decision-making models that can help Web developers structure and ultimately make more informed and better decision during the design of their online systems.
The most useful decision-making models for the Web and other domains include:
- DODAR, which is an acronym for Diagnose, Options, Decide, Assign, Review, captures the five key areas of any decision-making process in the form of a circular flow. The Diagnose stage is concerned with using all available resources to find out what the problem is and what causes it. The Options stage helps to assess whether the problem is urgent or can be left for a while. The next stage, Decide, focuses on deciding what course of action is sensible and whether it should be pursued. The Assign stage concentrates on allocating appropriate tasks to people who are capable of performing them. The last stage, Review, is of the highest importance as it helps to assess whether everything is going as planned and if the expected results are achieved. If things are not going according to plan, then it is necessary to find out why and run through the DODAR cycle again until all the problems are rectified.
- NITS Brief is a quick communication framework, which can be of assistance when a task needs to be communicated to colleagues or clients. It stands for Nature, Intentions, Time and Specials. Nature is concerned with the nature of the problem or task (e.g. what is it and why did it happen?). Intentions relate to the actions that are hoped to be taken to solve the task. Time refers to the length of time that is needed or expected to carry out the actions. Specials are concerned with anything unusual or unexpected, for example, if a particular colleague would normally be expected to do something else?
- Swiss Cheese Model was developed by arguably the biggest expert on human errors, James Reason. This model is widely used in different industries (e.g. medical and aerospace) and it is based on the assumption that if errors in separate system layers are not caught out on time, collectively they can align and lead to more serious problems. Therefore, it is necessary to address errors in individual layers when they do not pose serious problems.
I hope that, on the consideration of the aforementioned models, you will be persuaded to check them out and in general focus more time and resources on ensuring that you make well-informed and correct choices in your designs.
It looks like a lot of websites out there have problem with sticking to the main topic of content that they initially started to publish on their sites. For example, websites that initially aim to publish reviews primarily about technological gadgets for some time stick to their core interests, however, a common occurrence is that later they widen the scope of their content to Internet technologies such as Web development, emailing, etc. While there is nothing wrong about including other related topics on the website, it is necessary to do it in such a way so that users interested primarily in main topic of the site (in this case gadgets) do not get overwhelmed by a sheer amount of content about something different (i.e. Internet technologies). So, to help you create user-friendly content that is geared towards your audience throughout your site, we offer the following tips:
- Create content that meets your audience’s standards
Firstly, create a main category of content that mirrors your goals and is fully geared towards the main topic of interest of your audience and create subcategories for other related topics. Secondly, you need to ensure that your site’s content meets the comprehension level and topics of interest of your key audience. So, for example, if your site is aimed at teenagers and young adults, then the site’s content should be written in a causal and relatively simple way. If however your site is aimed at highly educated older adults with high levels of professional responsibility then your website content should be written in a more sophisticated and business-like manner.
- Create content that complements your website
Your content needs to compliment your website, namely, it should be relevant to the topics that you cover. The homepage should have an introduction that gives users a general idea of what topics are included on the website and how they are structurally organised. This practice will make your site more user-friendly and ultimately will make your users want to come back to the site again.
- Create skimmable content
It is very rare for users to read content word by word. It is a more common practice to skim through content in order to quickly find the interesting and applicable areas that users are looking for. Therefore, it is important that you break down your content into short and understandable sections and/or bullets as it will help users quickly and easily find what they are looking for. Another good practice is to make your content more skimmable by highlighting the most relevant keywords or by creating separate titles for several topics.
- Create direct and to the point content
Your content should be direct, to the point and it should give viewers an impression that it is addressing them personally.
- Strengthen your argument
When you make arguments on your site you need to back them up with authentic and respectable sources or facts. Therefore, it is good practice to occassionally link your content to other reputable sources (websites, books, journals, magazines, etc.). Not only does this strengthen the correctness of arguments in your content but it also assure users that they have chosen the right place to read about certain topics. For example, the content of this article is based on Kent House’s in-house expertise, as well as advice provided in external sources such as W3C and WebCredible.
- Make your voice consistent through the website
You need to ensure that your content is consistent throughout your website and does not include any contradictory statements as conflicting content may make your users think that you are covering topics which you do not fully understand and this may decrease your site’s credibility. To avoid this, always check your current content thoroughly so that it relates to what you want to publish. Also, give users a chance to voice their feedback on your site’s content and structure as this will assure them that their opinion is important to you and that you want to make their browsing experience as user-friendly as possible.
I hope that the advice in this article will make you rethink the design of your Web content and help you create more user-friendly sites.