Posts Tagged Online Marketing

Don’t change the business model! Make it work!


I recently attended the Nielsen Norman Group Usability Week in London and although I took quite a bit from my time there, one episode left a bitter taste in my mouth. My core focus when I arrived at the Usability Week was on the one day event called “The Human Mind & Usability: How Your Customers Think”. This was something that I felt could be really beneficial to me and a number of clients and therefore was very much looking forward to it.

The day course was presented by Marieke McCloskey, a user experience specialist with Neilsen Norman Group. As the day started, I really felt it was a good decision to choose this presentation as Marieke came out with some really interesting facts and case studies on user tests she had run in the past. All was going really well. Of course a lot of what she had to say were things that I would have come across a before – but it was the little gems that I hadn’t that I really wanted to get from this.

Throughout the presentation, Marieke referred to a certain website quite a lot and in the afternoon session this website was going to be our focus of attention for discussing all we had learned throughout the day.

“Brilliant”, I thought. Finally we’ll get to see Marieke in action. We’d get to see what she would do when presented with a real world situation. I was looking forward to seeing how she would tackle issues that us web designers tackle on a daily basis with clients that come to you with a problem and want you to solve it.

So what was this website? Well the website in question was Ramenbox.com.

Ramenbox.com is a website that basically sells Ramen – Ramenbox.com’s unique selling point is that you can bulk order a custom selection of Ramen and have it delivered to your door. They are the world’s first sellers of customisable box of Ramen (according to their website).

Ok, so I hadn’t got a clue what Ramen was before I went to this event and I certainly couldn’t tell you if people would be interested in buying a full box of Ramen, but that shouldn’t be an issue. We’re here to discuss how we can build a website to help this company maximise its chances of success right? Well so you would think.

If you have a look at Ramenbox.com – you’ll see the process is quite complex, never mind the fact that the website designer clearly didn’t spend much time user testing the website before launching it. The website’s from page starts off well, with 1-4 step instructions on how it works. The problem is, they don’t really give you clear instructions on how to get started. The wording, the layout and the complexity of the choices to even get one item into your shopping cart is enough to turn you off filling in a complete box of Ramen. I would imagine that Ramenbox lose quite a lot people in the first one or two clicks. If you do have the time to play around with that website and figure out what you have to do – I think most people eventually get it – but it will still feel too cumbersome to continue with their order.

Anyway, this website to me was an absolutely brilliant case study – it has everything you could wish for. A totally complex business model, a website that had not taken the cumbersome process of ordering into account and we have a usability expert to tell us how we could solve it! Or so I thought…

After lunch Marieke split us all into groups so we could discuss among ourselves what we would do with the website and how it related to what we had discussed throughout the day. Brilliant I thought again – this is the type of stuff I love! Solving problems with a user centred and practical approach to design. I was part of a lovely group – we all agreed on a process and what we’d change to make this website work as best it can. I personally felt we had a solution.

So next step was opening it up to the floor to talk about what our groups had discussed. Straight away the guy that had been loudest all day (you know the ones, they’re always at these conferences) – we’d change the business model – it just doesn’t work. In fairness to him, he had a point. The whole process was just so difficult and complex that there were better ways of approaching the business model. But that’s not what we’re here to discuss right – we’re here to discuss how we can make a complex business model work online aren’t we?

To my dismay, Marieke agreed with him, but she opened it up to the floor for more ideas – I thought, “now’s our chance to show how we’d do it”. Again, another loud attendee is ushered to voice his opinion on what he’d do. Again, he comes back with another way to change the business model. Again, Marieke agreed. This then started the floodgates of how everyone in the room would change the business model. Even those in our group seemed to move with the idea that changing the business model was the best way to solve this problem. A classic example of the “Solomon Asch Conformity Study” that we’d spent sometime discussing earlier in the day.

I hoped against hope that Marieke would come back with how she would tackle the problem by changing things on the website – but no – she finished the session with how she would get the client to change their business model. I nearly cried. Why could she not see a solution to this problem – even one – other than redesigning the business model?

Can you imagine if we turned around to every company we deal with that has a complex way of doing business to change their business model? It just wouldn’t happen. We do of course suggest to clients how they can simplify their model to make it work online, but in some cases it’s just not possible – OR – the client is hell bent on doing it in that particular way.

If a company employs us to help them succeed online – we take their idea and present it as best we can to get a maximum return on their investment in time and money. We give them the very best advice and spend time figuring out how they can actually achieve their goal, but with realistic targets and constant suggestions on where they can improve.

Maybe I’m just being pedantic – but it really left a sour taste in mouth. Telling Ramenbox to change their business model is not a usability solution to this problem, it’s a cop out in my opinion.

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SEO : the biggest con of the 21st Century?

It seems like an age now since Eoghan McCabe of Contrast wrote his controversial “SEO is Bullshit” blog article back in 2008. That article was followed up a few weeks late with an article titled “SEO is Still Bullshit” which included discussions and comments from some of Ireland’s most respected SEO experts.

At the time, Eoghan’s article and subsequent comments irked me quite a lot. He, like every other SEO sceptic totally ignored the value and definite “need” element of SEO and focused purely on the usability issues that were generated by poor techniques used by most SEOs in order to get websites ranked in the Google search results.

In hindsight and after many more years in this business, seeing the rise (and fall) of (too) many so called SEO expert individuals and companies; I’ve finally woken up to the fact that SEO is in fact total bullshit.

Yes that may sound quite alarming coming from someone who has sold the importance of Search Engine Optimisation for over a decade. But the simple fact is that SEO has probably one of the biggest cons of the 21st Century.

I say this with complete sincerity and assure you that this is definitely not an article designed to create linkbait as was suggested at Eoghan’s reasons for his original article.

Let’s look at the very basic facts surrounding SEO.

  1. Ranking a website is easy!
    Yes believe it or not it’s quite easy to get your website ranked on Google or any other search engine. Granted, the more competitive the key phrase wish to rank for, the harder it is to rank.

  2. Google wants to find Good websites with relevant content
    A very simple fact of the matter is that Google wants to rank websites that are relevant to the search being performed. Searching on Google would be a waste of time if the sites it ranked in the top results were not relevant to what you were searching for. A simple rule of thumb is to build a website that a user likes to visit and is easy for a search engine to find relevant content. That’s not rocket science is it?

  3. SEO is not Rocket Science
    I’m sure you’ve been there before, discussing search engine optimisation with a so called expert and he/she talks in riddles and makes SEO seem extremely complex. Well it’s not – there can be quite a lot to it if you are targeting a competitive key phrase, but in most cases it’s pretty straight forward.

  4. SEO only drives traffic!
    One major misconception I come across with people who know a little about SEO is that they sell SEO as a way to drive business through your company. Well the fact is that all is SEO does is drive traffic. Of course with more traffic, it should in turn produce more sales – putting more effort into focusing on building a website site that will convert as many visitors to your website as possible will in the long run be more useful than having a website that only a search engine can understand.

  5. SEO does not Educate!
    A lot of SEO’s sell SEO as the holy grail in terms of marketing your business. The fact is that SEO only targets people who already know about a service or product you provide. If you have a brand new concept or product that n0-one knows about – SEO will not help you get in front of the people that are likely to buy your product or service.

  6. SEO is just Good Web Design
    Every website we build now includes FREE on-site search engine optimisation – we just call it building search engine friendly websites. A lot of SEOs like to class themselves as elite God like beings that are more important than Web Designers themselves. But they’re not and the reality is that you should be thinking about making your website search engine friendly from the time you start building your website. I used to be shocked at how little HTML knowledge a lot of SEO experts actually have. Iif you don’t understand how a website is built under-the-hood, how the hell can you really understand SEO??

  7. SEO Forums / Blogs aren’t always right and are often taken out of context!
    One of my pet hates is discussing SEO with someone who has read up a little about SEO and automatically assumes that the information they have read is the Bible truth. If you happen to be reading an SEO article online, please check the date the article was published. Chances are the information you have is incorrect or well out of date.Also, please ensure you are taking everything in context and not just jumping at conclusions without testing. SEO is all about trial and error – NEVER assume anything!!

    For a classic example of how unconfirmed theories send shockwaves through a whole industry, read this article – a prime example of an out there theory… http://econsultancy.com/uk/blog/7594-is-email-reputation-now-a-google-ranking-factor

  8. Matt Cutts is not an SEO
    Yes I’m sorry Matt lovers, but have you ever seen any websites that Matt himself has personally performed a search engine optimisation job on? Well I haven’t, but that doesn’t mean he hasn’t of course! 

    Yes, one thing he has got over us all is that he has inside information. How much is questionable as he rarely seems to throw out anything more than the obvious.

    He’s constantly being taken out of context, with a lot of people taking what he says as “fact”, without reading into the actual meaning of his comments in the overall picture of things.

SEO? The bottom is that anyone can can do it. That sole reason is why we now have a market saturated with SEOs that claim to be God’s gift to Number 1 rankings on Google.

The SEO industry has become one that preys on vulnerable companies who will never truly understood how the web nor search engines work, but believe the hype that is discussed at length at nearly every business seminar across the country.

There’s no doubt SEO is important, but its value in most cases has been greatly over exaggerated. For any website to be a success, you must create a search engine friendly website at the very least – whether you should go further depends very much on the competition in your field.

SEO is in the gutter as far as I’m concerned – from the companies that offer you “guaranteed No. 1 spots on Google” to companies who offer “link building services” from websites with little or no value. And of course we have the SEOs who think 301 redirects are the solution to all your problems, it just gets more ridiculous as time passes.

Maybe Eoghan saw all this long before the rest of us, one things for sure… he certainly seen it before me.

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Online Marketing has gone to the dogs

It’s been nearly 8 years now since I started online marketing company 2bscene. At the time, there weren’t many dedicated online marketing companies around. Most companies offering online marketing services were either web design or advertising agencies trying to cash in on what was clearly going to be a massive growth area of business.

Search Engine Optimisation was still pretty much in it’s infancy and I had built up 4 years experience of search engine optimisation of websites before I started 2bscene. God, in those days it was a hell of a lot easier to rank than it is today.

Of course, Google Adwords wasn’t around then, so there were fewer online marketing opportunities. We did have a number of online advertising options, but they were limited generally to banner advertisements and advertorials.

There was nothing as popular, nor as effective as Google Adwords is today. Banner advertisements were beginning their steep decline in click through rates and search engine optimisation was hardly heard of.

In fact organic search engine optimisation was the only real option for many businesses to get found online, yet little knew about this little secret never mind recognise it’s potential.

I have to admit, I didn’t come from a marketing background when I started 2bscene. I naively opted to study music and live my dream rather than contemplate choosing a college course that would enhance my career! However marketing was something that always interested me greatly.

I had gained significant marketing experience (and interest) in the companies I had worked with before setting up 2bscene and felt I could effectively build and grow a company selling online marketing services. Online marketing was a new and exciting way for businesses to promote their brand and there were very few companies offering the service in Ireland. Therefore the only thing I could be judged on was the results I achieved.

Fast forward 8 years and oh how the landscape has changed.

I had many reasons for setting 2bscene up as a solely online marketing services company. One of the main reasons was to distinguish my business from other web design companies.

At the time web design companies were popping up all over the place, everyone you talked to knew someone who was a web designer. Of course, you could still only count the good ones on one hand, but the surge in growth of these cheap and nasty web design companies was rapidly helping to deteriorate the web design market. From students working from their parents bedroom to the fly by night web designers who have disappeared off the face of earth, they all did little to enhance the reputation of a “web designer”. In fact, they did the complete opposite.

I get it all the time from new clients “we had a falling out with our web designer” or “we can’t get in touch with our web designer”. The perception of a web designer followed through in many advertising campaigns with the likes of IBM featuring web designers off snowboarding while their was a disaster taking place at the office. Web designers became a breed of people who could simply not be trusted to be there in a time of need.

The student type web designer brought web design to a level where a lot of people expect web designers to work for free or next to free. In their naive approach to business, they’d undertake to do a job only to realise they would bore with the client and their requests quite rapidly. In some cases, they thought the best solution was to do a huge amount of work for free in order to get the client off their backs. And of course, there were those who simply said the job is too big for me and disappeared, never to be contacted again.

Now the same thing seems to be happening with the online marketing industry. In fact, everyone wants to be or claims to be a search engine optimisation expert nowadays. I’ve never in my life encountered so many people in any other industry I’ve worked in, that claim to know more than the expert they have hired to do the job for them.

A times it can be a major struggle to have a reasonable discussion with a client/potential client about how best to market their website. There are a lot who feel that they are near experts in search engine optimisation because they have done “a lot” of research on the subject. A little knowledge is probably the most disruptive of all.

It doesn’t help much when businesses like “Snap Printing” decide that they are all of a sudden web marketing and web design experts because they now offer these services to clients. Pretty much all of our clients have been approached by UK online marketing companies offering to get their site listed at the top of Google for €x per month which is clearly a total scam. Yet, clients still question and compare the work we do, to what these shower offer.

Look let’s face it, search engine optimisation is not rocket science and is not hugely difficult when you know what to do. Anyone who has done even the most basic research on search engine optimisation could possibly rank a site for a non competitive keyphrase, that’s fact. But there is one key skill to search engine optimisation that I feel is the most important strength and that is… experience. Because search engine optimisation is changing all the time, having the experience to notice the changes that have occurred and why makes the job a whole lot easier.

Google Adwords and other pay per click solutions are similar. Pretty much anyone can get an account set up and get your site listed in the top results, but the value add from a professional comes in when they help you get the most bang for your buck. Experience is what makes the pros stand out from the rest.

I find it incredibly sad that the industry has come to this as I feel like the bubble is about to burst on the whole industry. In the past, there was a massive burst bubble for the web design industry. Web designers admittedly charged well over the odds for a simple website that never had a chance of generating a return on the investment. This led to many businesses believing that having a website was not a worthy investment for their business and opted not to have one at all. Web designers in the past year saw a massive rush by the companies without websites finally realising that the web was the way to go, but again a lot opted for the cheap option rather than choosing a true professional to do the work.

When I look around at the new so called experts that are leading the industry today, I find it hard to see any real quality. It seems to be the same old faces who you can rely on and trust. The problem with that is that a lot of these are too busy to handle the smaller clients and therefore the smaller online marketing companies are picking up the pieces and doing a pretty woeful job.

A recession is no better time to weed out the poor companies, but I just hope it doesn’t take too long for these guys to get found out!

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Tools for Building a Successful Online Marketing Campaign

Online marketing is quite a broad term used to describe the act of marketing a business or web-site online. It encompasses all online marketing activities such as Search Engine Optimisation, Pay Per Click, Email Advertising, Google Advertising, Banner Advertising and of course Social Media Advertising.

If you’ve ever met someone and discussed online marketing with someone who works in the online marketing industry, you were probably amazed at how much knowledge this person had of the Internet and its usage. Every Internet marketing expert I know loves to recite the latest statistics on the growth of social media marketing, browser usage and pretty much anything other useful online statistics. Most people I know look at online marketing as some sort of god like skill that only the elite and very web savvy fellows can possess. Much of this can be blamed on the self hype created by a lot of these new wave “marketing experts” who think only they possess this knowledge. The reality is that anyone can do this job and a lot of the tools they use to gather key statistical knowledge about your business is at your fingertips and generally for FREE!

Researching your target market is the key to a successful marketing campaign, whether online or off. But what information should you be looking for and where can you find it?

  1. Keyword Tools
    It sounds like the most obvious place to start, yet the majority of people I encounter every day don’t know that they can get statistics on the number of times a search for their product or service was searched for on a monthly basis. Not only do they not know they could get access to this information, they certainly didn’t know it was free!Keyword Tools are the best place to start when planning any online marketing campaign.

    Keyword tools allow you to quickly establish the amount of interest there is in your product or service by showing how often a keyphrase was searched for on a monthly basis across the major search engines. Most go one step further and create a list of other suggested relevant keyphrases that that people are using for when searching for the products or services you offer. A good keyword tool will also you to drill down to see statistics relating to searches in your locality as opposed to just globally.

    Google Keyword Tool is probably the best free Keyword Tool available on the web today.
    https://adwords.google.com/select/KeywordToolExternal

  2. Google Ad Planner
    It’s not surprising that since Google make the majority of their revenue from Advertising that they would offer another great free service to help you establish how best to market your business online, step up Google Ad Planner.

    Google bought Doubleclick back in 2007 for $3.1 billion. Since then they’ve rolled out the Google Ad Planner to its network of advertisers. What’s great about Google Ad Planner is that you can research and select some of the web’s top properties that you would like to advertise your business on. It allows you to view statistical data such as the number of visits per month, search terms used to find the website and the demographics of users (where possible) of most of the webs largest online properties. You can pretty much see statistical usage information on any website that have advertising opportunities open to the public.

    If you want your advertisement to appear on some of the webs most popular websites, this is where your research should start.
    www.google.com/adplanner/

  3. Facebook
    There are over 1.5 million people in Ireland with a Facebook account, that’s simply a market too big to ignore. Facebook offer an advertising system similar to Google Adwords that allows advertisers to target specific users based on a number of different criteria such as sex, age, location, interests etc.

    A lot of web marketing experts use the Facebook “Create an Advert” system to get an idea of the demographics of those using Facebook. It’s quite a nifty little tool that updates immediately on screen as you select different criteria. Of course, you don’t have to complete the advert to access this extremely valuable information. Another great tool that is absolutely free!

    www.facebook.com/ads/create/

  4. Google Trends
    This is probably the least effective of all tools mentioned, but it’s definitely worthy of being in the list. Google Trends allows you to compare the world’s most popular topics. One really good feature in Google Trends is the ability to see the rise or fall of certain search terms used to find your product or service.

    For example, you could try a search for “online marketing, SEO“. The results will show you how people searching for the term “online marketing” has stayed pretty stagnant over the last 6 years, while searches for “SEO” have grown substantially. With this knowledge I can see what terms are best to focus now.

    Another cool feature to Google Trends is to see which terms are most popular in different countries.

    www.google.com/trends

  5. Google Adwords
    I always suggest Google Adwords as a tool to anyone who plans on marketing their business online. I’ve left it until very last because it’s the only one of the tools I have suggested that is not free. However, although it’s not free, it can be a hugely beneficial tool for gaining insights into the habits of those people you are targeting can be.

    Even running a small Google Adwords campaign on a budget of just €50 will give you invlauable information that you simply wouldn’t be able to gather in any other way. Google Adwords is instant, your advert is live within minutes and you can quickly analyse the performance of your advert on so many levels.

    Setting up and running a Google Adwords campaign is simple, but running an effective one is actually quite difficult. You should spend time learning about Google Adwords and how it works to fine tune your campaign.

    www.google.com/adwords

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Advertising? Just Google ‘Advertising’

You gotta love the way some companies advertise their business online. I love seeing a quirky ad that urges people to visit a website that promotes a brand or product. But there is one thing that we’d always recommend steering clear of when promoting a business online, that is relying on search results. Whether it’s the organic search results or even paid listings, basing an advertising campaign on the search results is such a bad idea.

Not so long ago I wrote about how Imagine were playing a dangerous and costly game with their ad ” WiMax, Google It”. The fact that Google Adwords is a pay per click system, means that you are ultimately paying for traffic that is pretty much useless. I guess you could easily say the same about TV adverts, but this is the web and one of the major benefits of it is that it’s quantifiable.

On my way home in the car this evening, I heard another advert that uses the Google verb. Yes, a company called “First Advertising” are running adverts on TodayFM and Newstalk in which the great employee suggests his boss should Google ‘Advertising’ and choose the first company that appears on the list.

Now for me, that is just suicidal! Nevermind that fact that no-one is in control of the search results other than Google, if I were in direct competition with First Advertising, I could easily turn on a Google Advertisement and be number 1 within minutes.

The other obvious scenario that they have clearly overlooked is the fact that if you do perform a search in Google (.ie) – it is Wikipedia that is actually the first result, in fact it’s not even in second place. Not until you choose “pages from Ireland” on the left hand side of the screen (which is harder to see with the new Google layout) do you actually see this company’s listing. Worse still, if you search on Google.com, they don’t appear on the first page at all!

On their website they state they are running these ads to celebrate their “clear dominance” of the Google search results. Dominance in a search results page that has no more than 2 other real competitors (pages from Ireland search).

I’m sure First Advertising are a great company, but they are just leaving so much open to chance that for me it’s a complete waste of money.  I wish them great success with the campaign and I really can’t wait to see how many of the top SEOs will try knock them from their perch!

Oh and of course…. If you want someone to look after your Google Advertising campaign, you could always contact me! 😛

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