SEO is more than just tags on a page

In short:

  • Have a strategy. Understand which keywords you want to target and why.
  • Benchmark yourself. Have a clear understanding of how you rank now on the keywords you are targeting yourself against.
  • Decide you how you want to roll out your changes – all at once or one at a time. Sometimes if you do it all at once you don’t necessarily know what worked/what didn’t.
  • Sit and wait. Sometimes it can take a couple of months to see improvements in rankings.
  • Make Google Webmaster Tools your friend and if you use Google Analytics, get the two linked together as this is quite a formidable pairing.

I wrote an email to an Accenture colleague with some thoughts on SEO. She had forwarded on an email from other Accenture colleagues that had loads of important information on the more technical side and how to implement good SEO. But there was nothing there about how to find the correct keywords to target, benchmarking where you are now and accurately measuring where you want to get to.

While this is in no way a solution to or finalised approach, it will hopefully give you enough of an idea of a good approach to setting an SEO strategy with some useful tools that you can use as well.

This was my email:

The main thing to remember with SEO is that its not just a technical solution – having the correct tags and well-structured html is only a part of it. You need well thought out copy and have many high quality sites linking to you with relevant keyword rich anchor text.

The first thing that I would do would be to come up with a strategy. What is it that we are trying to achieve? Which keywords do we want to improve on? What does success look like? Who of my competitors are doing well? Where are the gaps that I can take advantage of?

Some tools that I would recommend would be industry standard ones such as Hitwise, Google Trends and ComScore. Hitwise offers you the ability to look at which keywords drive traffic to yourself and to your competitors. It can also compare you against an industry, individual sites or a group of sites that you define yourself.  This helps you to identify where the opportunities might be that you can capitalise on.

Google Trends is a free tool that gives you an idea of how often nominated keywords are searched for in different territories. It doesn’t give you actual numbers but does give you an indication.

Then there’s the tech side of things. Reviewing your HTML, looking at microformats and other more granular html tags that Google and some other search engines still support. In addition, site speed is also quite often taken into account so using Firefox plugins like yslow and other online tools to help speed up the rendering of pages in a browser is also important. In addition to this looking at how your site is cached and trying our different pre-warming techniques can also help with this.

Another great tool in the SEO arsenal is landing pages. If you are trying to compete on specific keywords, create bespoke landing pages for these keywords with relevant keyword rich copy and with links through to relevant product – again with keyword rich anchor text.

A Practical example of Feature Driven Development

Feature Driven Development (FDD) is often theorised about on many web sites with blog posts, articles and essays being published on a regular basis and this blog post will give you a much needed practical example of it in use.

One article that is worth pointing out is DZone’s Introduction to Feature Driven Development. This is part one of a two part article describing a theoretical project and a theoretical team and the first three of five steps to achieving Feature Driven Development. It is extremely well written and gives you some really good insight into what is needed.

In my experience, I find that when you take these theories and methodologies and apply them to real life situations and projects, that they need adapting and shaping to fit with what you are trying to deliver.

An example of this is when I was leading the Product Development across five different web sites and one development team. The way in which I had implemented the Kanban methodology was different for each site due to different stakeholders and different commercial strategies needing to be delivered.

Anyway, back to a practical example of Feature Driven Development.

The example that I am using is the build of Mousebreaker, a casual gaming site that utilised a mixture of Kanban and Feature Driven Development to quickly and effectively deliver a new web site with a new code base in 28 days.

Traditionally, my approach had always been to gather all requirements, build the infrastructure, then the code, and finally the front end for a web site.  This information gathering and the writing of functional and technical specs can take a long time to complete. Then, when the development begins, the whole spec needed to be delivered before the site could launch. By which time 6 months has passed and requirements may well have changed and what is delivered is not necessarily what the business or the market needs.

Feature Driven Development tries to get around this by defining the requirements as features, then the business owners and development teams prioritise these features into a backlog of work and then the developers deliver these features in the order that offers the most business value.

One thing to note is that there is some pre-work that needs to happen before development can start. The general technical approach needs to be agreed; technologies need to be discussed, terminology needs to be agreed and basic development, testing and live environments need to be created.

In addition, certain standards would have been discussed such as coding, SEO and accessibility standards and any automated testing. In addition, any front/back end frame works that will be used as well should also be discussed.

If you look at the Mousebreaker site, you will see that the primary user function is for the user to play flash games. So the first feature that was worked on was that the user needs to be able to play a game on a web page.

At first, the developers approach was to start building a database infrastructure that could be used for the whole site. They were also wanting designs for pages etc. You need to be careful here as that is not what was required by the feature. All the feature required was for the user to be able to play a game. Nothing else.

So to deliver this feature, all that was required was a static html page with some embed code that would allow a user to play a game. The game needed to be in a web facing folder.

Once complete and tested, the feature can then be released.

The next story was that a user needs to be able to play all games on a web page.

This is where the database gets created and the initial html page is turned into a template. Again, the developers only needed to create a database that delivers the feature’s requirement.

In the meantime, while the initial features were being delivered, the designers were working with the development and business teams to deliver the designs for the site. There was a further feature for the site to have a premium look and feel that eventually would need to be delivered which could be applied to the site around the templates that were being delivered.

This felt a little back to front, but you need to remember that we were delivering features in the order of business priority.

As the features kept being delivered, the site quickly started to take shape. Throughout the development, the business representatives were always attending the stand ups and were constantly making decisions on scope of work and what would be required for launch.

We found that the close collaboration between the business and the development team was the most effective way of managing scope and ensuring that what the dev team delivered is what was expected.

I have applied this form of Feature Driven Development many times and I find that it really works. You do need buy in and effort from the business owners, and you do need to make sure that the developers do only focus on what is required to deliver the features rather than architecting a full solution before understanding all the requirements.

This allows more of a front to back development process. Where the features take priority over the implementation. One thing that I would like to point out is that there would be occasions where future considerations are sometimes ignored or put to one side to get functionality out and that this may result in refactoring work further down the line.

The thing to remember is that you will have already delivered the highest business value functionality required at that point and that the business will understand that any refactoring work should also have a value and then a discussion can be had about options and whether this work needs to be done or not. If it does and it takes a longer period of time, then allowances should be made for this.

Mobile Apps vs Mobile Sites

I was browsing the ThoseInMedia group on LinkedIn and came across this question: Mobile Sites Vs. Mobile Apps: Which Is Best For Your Business?

It made me think about what had worked and not worked in previous roles and projects and like most questions like this, its all about your digital strategy and how you monetise your content.

The main driver for me to make this decision would be to look at my business model and look at what would be the best to deliver this. Then the secondary benefits would slot in, such as deep linking, SEO, marketing etc.

Apps can be expensive to get right. I tend to look to apps if I have a sponsor that can help to fund the development of the app. In addition, it is extremely hard to make profitable apps so having a sponsor on board helps to make the app free to users and to help increase the exposure of the app.

If you do not have a sponsor and you are trying to recoup your investment through charging for your app, remember that it takes a lot of 69p/99c purchases to recoup a five figure investment. According to this report, 50% of games make less than $3k in Apple’s App Store.

If you goal is to try to increase incremental revenue – ad revenue, sales, etc – then I would go for a mobile site. You benefit from deep linking, SEO, lower costs to develop, higher accessibility to more users etc.

If you do build an app, one piece of advice would be to try to deliver something that a web or mobile site cannot do and also try to utilise the phone’s features – location, camera, etc – as this can help to really set you apart from other apps out there.

In addition, with the ever improving HTML5 standards, you can achieve many app like features through a smartphone site. There are also plenty of frameworks out there that allow you to take advantage of the device’s capabilities. Such frameworks include PhoneGap that allow web developers to deliver app like experiences through a browser. It also ensures compatibility between the main devices such as iPhone, Android and Blackberry.

Interesting piece on personal data held by Facebook

Interesting piece on personal data held by Facebook

Using Twitter well?

I came across this post just now on Mashable: http://mashable.com/2011/06/09/brands-twitter-success/

In it, Dave Kerpen – the CEO of Likeable – highlights 9 US based companies that use Twitter really well and I have to agree with his observations.

He points out that tweets need to stand out and have a personality behind them.

JetBlue has 14 people tweeting on their official twitter account and use it as a customer service channel – answering questions, apologising for poor service or delays, sharing special deals and more. They have over 1.6m followers so this is no mean feat.

Vevo engages with both their own followers and followers of the musicians that they feature, often generating debate. By engaging with followers of other tweeters, you can really start to increase your followers and increase your brand awareness.

I believe that Twitter should be used in this way. Not simply as an RSS reader where web sites auto post their articles, but to probe, ask questions, get involved.

Twitter offers real-time one to one to many conversations and can have such a huge impact on a brand’s presence online. Those that get involved and use it to communicate will reap the rewards.

Facebook Registration – Breaking down the registration barriers

Recently Facebook announced a new social plugin called Registration. Registration allows web sites to integrate a sign up form via an iframe or fbml that is hosted by Facebook.

I am working on a project that requires registration and we have decided to try this out so a lot of what you see in this post is first-hand experience of how it works.

This form can be customised to include bespoke fields that you may want to collect. By default it does not ask for a password for example, but that is easily added. Similarly, if you wanted to add in check boxes, free text boxes, options etc they are all simple additions.

Check out the Custom Fields example on the Facebook Registration page. When a user arrives at the registration form and are logged into Facebook, any compatible fields are pre-filled in therefore reducing the need to fill out copious amounts of data about themselves. This will help to reduce the barrier to entry for many users who are often put off by registration forms.

If a user doesn’t want to pre-populate the form with their Facebook data, they can remove this from the form by clicking on the [x] next to their name and photo on the form.

So what happens to the user’s data?

If a user is logged into Facebook and is filling out the form, any extra data that is compatible with Facebook is added to their Facebook profile. In the Custom Fields example on the Facebook Registration page, if you click on the text box for Current Location, a pre-ticked check box appears which says ‘Save this to my Facebook Profile’.

As a site owner, you can disable this for any custom fields that you add to the form by adding in the no-submit function to the integration.

If a user does not have a Facebook account, they are not automatically signed up.

Submitting the form

When a user submits the form, you can do some form validation before Facebook processed the form and returns the user data to you as json – a lightweight text-based open standard designed for human-readable data interchange (Wikipedia). The registration plugin can also do this over SSL which we would recommend as best practice for security reasons.

There are some issues currently with the validation – namely that if a form fails validation it can sometimes not run the validation a second time. I’m sure that there are ways around this – by doing your checks server side – which we are still investigating.

Once you have the data returned to you as json, the website needs to process that data and store it.

Key feature

You may think that the pre-filling of personal data would be the killer app for this product. Whilst it is a pretty important feature, my personal favourite feature is it shows any of your friends that have already registered on the site – giving users social proof that the site is worth registering for and that they are not doing this blindly. Giving further incentive to users to register.

The end?

Nope! Once you have the data stored in your database the web site still needs to handle things like logging in, profile pages,editing of profiles, forgot passwords etc.

Final thoughts

The Facebook Registration plugin is definitely a step in the right direction for Facebook. For them, it allows further integration of their platform into external websites as well as gathering further incremental information about their users.

For the websites, it takes out a big chunk of development that would be required to create a new registration system. It also reduces barriers to entry by having the form pre-filled in most cases so therefore converting non-registered users to registered users should be easier.

It will be interesting to see where Facebook goes with this. Whether they will extend the Facebook Connect product to help with editing locally stored profile information and profile pages.

I do think that this is one of the bets plugins that Facebook has released and its still early days.

I’ll post updates as and when I have them.

Social CRM – an introduction

One thing that I have started to become obsessed about is Social CRM.  Social CRM is essentially CRM but social! I know that sounds obvious and is not that insightful but if you think about it, it makes a lot of sense.

Customer Relationship Management has traditionally been a one way conversation – from the business to the customer. When a customer triggers a certain action, an email, text message or letter gets sent with a call to action to try to get the user to do something that data from a profiling system thinks that they would be likely to do.

Social CRM, at least my understanding of this, takes place in social networks and is comprises of two way communication – generally one to one or in the case of Facebook pages one to those who have liked your page.

This could be an automated thing, a manual thing or a mixture of the two.

I will let you in on a few top level thoughts that I have floating around in my head that I will delve in to more detail on in future posts.

The Like button

You will have seen from one of my previous posts, Closing the Viral Loop, that by giving the user a reason to click the like button would increase the number of likes a piece of content may have.

Conversion

By focusing on what users are doing and what they are saying or liking on your site, you can start to tailor messages to them. If a user likes Kings of Leon on a music site, tell them when tickets go on sale or if you have a special offer on a t-shirt or poster.

Feedback

Using Social media to ask users for feedback on new features or to test new pieces of functionality can really help you to get quick feedback – both good and bad – and can respond quickly to new suggestions.

Super users

I believe that one of the biggest things that can make a difference online is finding those users that will go the extra mile for you. Take my previous post about the Marmite XO campaign run by We Are Social where they used Social Media to find the biggest fans of Marmite to spread the word on a new product that they wanted to launch.

As I mentioned earlier, these are loose ideas that I have running through my head and I needed to get them down on a post. If you have any ideas of your own or what to discuss any thing then please do leave a comment below.

I will be delving deeper into these concepts and exploring them to see what we can achieve using social media to drive the monetisation of users online.

Driving engagement and sales using social media

Please note that these are notes from a seminar. Actual post to follow In the future.

Robin Grant – We are social

Unilever – Marmite XO – Social Media only launch of a product

They went out a found crazy Marmite lovers and designed an experience that would cater for these super fans

Rewarded for advocacy of the brand

Invited 40 of these super fans to an event and entered into the Marmerati. Marmerati = fake club with fake history of Marmite lovers

They then spread the word on blogs, twitter and facebook.

Then revealed a website. Asked those 40 people to recruit more people. Drive users to web site and used Facebook connect to log users in

Prize incentives of special jar of Marmite.

Once second wave was finished, they could vote on specific jarvthat would be used.

Those 200 second wave started to put more content up.

This cost a quarter of a normal product launch and they still got good product space

Tesco example – Clothing

Raise awareness of clothing at Tesco amongst fashion and money savvy audience

About the ecommerce site

Started a blog to be brand voice. Showed off the clothes. Found other bloggers to guest blog. They then had a long list of bloggers that wanted to post.

Created Tesco FB page and twitter account.

Used feedback from FB to get crowdsourcing information on what to focus on.

They then ran a series of micro campaigns.

Ran simple competition based on retweets. 400 new followers, 1333 retweets.

Key fashion bloggers invited to an event to preview new ranges. Reacted well to the event. 17 blog posts and high engagement on those posts.

Allowed bloggers to host competitions themselves.

FB page strategy was to grow the fan base through large campaign. All fans would get 50% off for an hour on a random day. Ended up with 40k friends in one day.

Generated over £1.1m in sales over period of the campaign.

Closing the Viral Loop – Beyond the Facebook Like Button

Most web pages that you visit nowadays contain a version of the Facebook Like Button.

Most web site owners assume that users know exactly what the like button is for, but what is it for? What exactly can be done with it?

In its most basic form, when a user likes a piece of content it appears on their Facebook Wall for all of their friends to see.

I suppose that the hope of web site owners is that the user’s friends will see this and then send users back to this piece of content. This concept is known as ‘Social Proof’ – where you are more likely to do something if one of your friends deems it ok to do so.

See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Social_proof for more information on this.

So I can see why those who like to show off what they like to their friends would want to do this, but what about those users who are more passive in their consumption of media.

There is a rule that states that, with social media, 90% of passively consume media, 9% interact with content and 1% create the content. If we use YouTube as an example, that means that 90% of users watch videos, 9% comment on those videos and 1% actually upload the content.

If this is the case for the like button, only 9% or 10% of users actually use the like button. How do we engage with that 90% of passive internet users?

My suggestion would be looking to close the viral loop.

Closing the Viral Loop

I believe that users would be more likely to click the Facebook Like button if they knew what was going to happen and that they were going to get something in return from it.

Web site owners are asking users to be active on their pages, to help promote that content to users without asking for anything in return. This is a very lazy way to try to grow traffic.

What steps could be used to make the clicking of the Like button more attractive to users?

Firstly, box out the like button and tell them what it will do. ‘Do you like this story? if so, click the like button.’

If users are liking your site versus a piece of content and if they click like, they will receive updates straight to their Facebook news feed – tell them!  This would appeal to their passive consumption.

‘By clicking the like button, you will receive content updates to your Facebook wall so you don’t need to keep checking back on our site.’

The Open Graph – closing the viral loop

This is where the most interesting bit comes into play.

If a site has been more sophisticated with their integration and also integrated the Open Graph at the article level, users could actually be liking a product, an actor, a musician etc.

If this is the case, then I believe that closing the viral loop becomes extremely important.

If a user is on a music news web site, such as www.nme.com, and they are on the Black Eyed Peas artist page – http://www.nme.com/artists/the-black-eyed-peas – and they click like, they should receive updates from NME every time that there is new content posted up about the Black Eyed Peas.

At the moment, there is no incentive to Like the Black Eyed Peas – not unless the user is just that passionate about the band.

There is also no call to action. Just a plain old tiny Like button.

If the like button had a call to action and had its content feed for Black Eyed Peas set up correctly, it would be much more appealing for users to click.

‘Click like to get updates from NME every time we post new content on the Black Eyed Peas’

This would be the same on all sites across the Internet and I would argue that this would result in many more users engaging with the Like button.