Category Archives: Business

Bad ads

Finally, I  plucked up the courage to purchase my shiney new Samsung Galaxy S3 (more on that later) and whilst reading the latest news on the Guardian app I noticed that they (or their ad server people) still don’t know how to do ad targeting properly.

See my screenshot of the app below, taken on my new Samsung Galaxy S3 and showing me an advert for… wait for it… the Samsung Galaxy S3.

Obviously I’m never going to click that ad. I already own an S3. I’m using it!

The worst bit is that it’s easy to detect that I’m using it. They should know that I’m using an SGS3 and remove that ad accordingly. Any marketer wanting to keep their job should be aware of this and be eliminating such horrendous wastage from their marketing budget. You’d think the Guardian would want to make their offering useful, too.

image

Okay, rant over. As you were.

The choice is clear for out-of-work journalists: pay £2,750 or… less than £100

As a freelance WordPress consultant by day I am horrified that a company can justify charging £2,750 for a WordPress site built using a pre-built theme costing £55 .

The example they give on their hideously long sales page is unremarkable at best. Let’s do a quick comparison;

Even employing me as a freelancer, £2,750 would get you not only a WordPress installation bolstered by a bunch of security features to tighten up the out-of-the-box setup, but a completely custom theme designed by a professional web designer and a good chunk of custom development work.

Having taken a look at euvue.co.uk it looks very simple and something I’d probably charge less than £500 for. Having said that, the exact same site could be placed on my Journal Local platform (also built on WordPress) for a small monthly fee which wouldn’t even approach £500 over 12 months.

So what are Super Local Sites charging for?

The sales page mentions training. That would sound good, if it weren’t for a system that, once you get clicking around, is very easy to get used to and even if you struggle there are a wealth of tutorials, including videos, on the web for free.

I still can’t figure out where that £2,750 is going…. maybe into revenue generation tools?

“Unlock your earning potential with the built-in advertising management system, including sliding banner, 4×4 blocks and classified ads with full AdSense compatibility (Google advertising). You could expect to pay thousands for this unique system however we have taken a sensible approach to pricing that won’t break the bank!” (my highlighting)

Let’s just discredit one thing for a start: no one in their right mind will consider Google AdSense to be a credible revenue generation tool for a sustainable web site. I’d love to know what’s unique about the ability to use WordPress’ built-in Text widget to paste Google AdSense code into your sidebar (here’s a free online tutorial showing you how in 9 steps), or even one of the many advertising plugins already available. I wonder which classifieds plugin they’ve installed (that takes less than a minute to do, by the way, thanks to WordPress’ built-in plugin search and installer).

No, I’m still stumped. Once you get past the features that are standard in WordPress anyway Super Local Sites appears to be charging for something that could easily be created in a day without hardly spending a penny.

I actually find it offensive that anyone can charge that amount for something so simple and that’s built mostly on freely available tools and resources. The fact they’re charging £2,750 to out-of-work journalists is even worse – my fear is that many journalists taking the risky plunge into entrepreneurship will get burned by the unnecessarily high overheads and fail in their first year.

Spotify are digging their own grave by not going social

There’s a phrase I picked up from somewhere a while ago and now use it quite a lot. It’s;

No involvement, no commitment.

The basic premise is that if you don’t feel involved in something then you’re less likely to be committed to it. Take work, for example. If you don’t feel as if you’re an integral part of the place you’re less likely to give two hoots about getting in on time, meeting deadlines etc.

This basic idea seems to be behind so many things, including social media.

For me, Facebook works because it makes it so easy for friends to involve each other in what they’re doing. Earlier this year, Neilsen released some stats showing the amount of time people spend on top sites. Facebook, the 4th most popular site and most popular social network, pushed passed the 7 hour mark. That’s over 7 hours a month that the average user spends on the site.

Spotify. I love it. I have a premium subscription allowing me to listen at a higher bit rate than most users and, with the app on my 32GB Nokia N97 I have an incredible MP3 player at my fingertips.

But Spotify is in trouble. It’s not reaching enough subscribers in the UK – it’s biggest market – putting the whole business model in doubt.

I’ve been saying for ages that Spotify needs to get social. It needs to add that element of involvement that keeps people so glued to Facebook. I ‘scrobble‘ what I’m listening too so that my habits are recorded by Last.fm, but I never use the service because it involves the effort of opening up another service, but if those features were built into Spotify… wow. Then I could interact with my friends, just like I do on Facebook, but focused around our shared music tastes.

Nothing provides that in one place. It takes two apps and some manual copy/paste to share stuff.

So as exciting as mflow looks, it’s a bit too much like Last.fm but on the desktop. Sure it’s great that I can share songs I’m listening to and like, but I have to switch from Spotify to mflow and search for the track that’s already right in front of me in Spotify. Again, ball-ache and I can’t see myself using mflow long term because of the extra effort involved.

What Spotify needs to do is add mflow-like features. Let me “favourite/like/love” a track/album/artist. Show this on my friend’s start pages, as part of a timeline of activity including what I’m listening too. Show me a chart of my compatibility with my friends.

Give me a profile which shows what I’m listening to, charts of what I listen to most. Let me share tracks, albums and playlists with friends easily from within the application.

Let me involve my friends in my Spotify experience and let them do likewise. We’ll all be more committed to using Spotify – and with the added benefits, far more likely to pay that £10 per month for the privilege.

Update: What I’m proposing is nothing new, it’s human nature. Check out Dan Slee’s post on mix tapes as the pre-internet social media.

Update #2: Spotify made a u-turn; they’re going social! This article on Music Ally describes the Facebook integration features which will allow easy sharing of playlists and tracks between friends. Not only that but they’re sorting out my second bug-bear: existing music libraries. No longer will I have to suffer the embarrassment of using Windows Media Player as Spotify will now incorporate music already stored on your PC. Fantastic! Well done, Spotify.

Is Google AdSense really that bad, or are advertisers failing themselves?

From the Keep It Simple Stupid department….

Google’s contextual advertising doesn’t get a lot of love from anyone; publishers or advertisers. Publishers slam the low revenues and advertisers are disappointed with the high-cost, low-return they seem to get when choosing to advertise on the content network.

Having spent years managing campaigns through Google’s AdWords program (the advertising platform that supplies ads to contextual service, AdSense) I’ve experienced advertiser’s frustration over the content network. Indeed, one of the first things I did when creating or optimising campaigns would be to turn off the content network, ensuring that my client’s ads only ever appeared on Google search results.

This was the thinking;

Chart showing more wastage from the content network than search
Chart showing more wastage from the content network than search

About two years ago I re-visited the content network and figured that actually, it’s not that bad at all. You can target very effectively. I began taking a more traditional approach to online marketing. I researched the target market and found the sites that my target market was frequenting. Then, I pumped those sites into AdWords and it told me if they ran AdSense as well as some similar sites that definitely did. I could then easily create a campaign targeting only those sites that I’d identified. The situation then looked very different;

Chart showing more wastage from search content network
Chart showing more wastage from search than content network

It’s a very crued way of demonstrating the point, I know. What it does make you think about as well is the amount of wastage you get from search. I’ve always had great difficulty dealing with ‘keywords’ because it’s impossible to know what searchers are thinking when they type them in. Let’s take the common example of ‘mp3 players’. Is someone searching for ‘mp3 players’;

  1. Looking to buy an MP3 player?
  2. Researching MP3 players with the intention to buy at a later date?
  3. Trying to figure out what an MP3 player is?
  4. Looking for a supplier of MP3 players?
  5. Searching for a local shop selling MP3 players?
  6. Attempting to find software that will play MP3s?
  7. Researching in-car MP3 players?

I could go on… Imagine you are selling portable MP3 players by Sony. You find an MP3 player review site, add that to a Google AdWords campaign and target keywords including Sony. Your ad will only display on Sony MP3 player reviews. The great thing about that is you are catching your target market right at the point where they are trying to make a purchase decision. If they’re happy with the review there’s a good chance they’ll want to buy that MP3 player and conveniently, your (hopefully well-written) ad is sitting right along side.

I liken it to being able to cherry pick people off the street to pull into your high street shop. It really can be that powerful. So is it really the case that Google’s contextual targeting is flawed? Or is it just that advertiser’s aren’t taking full advantage of the system?

Well, it’s a bit of both. Google’s system needs to be smarter – showing ads for hotels in Lichfield isn’t very relevant on a site who’s target market all live in Lichfield. Google is also just doing what it can with the ads it’s been given though. Advertiser’s need to get smarter, too, and realise that this power is at their fingertips if they only look. Having said that when Google updated the AdWords interface a while back they manage to bury all the features I’ve just told you about. It took me ages to actually find them again!

Google make a big song and dance about how quickly and easily you can be up and running with AdWords. It’s true, anyone can do it in less than half an hour. It’s rarely successful though and to make a success of AdWords you need to really know your stuff, to the point that you can pass their certified professionals exam.

So what’s the solution? Pay a pay-per-click agency thousands to do it for you? Spend hours learning AdWords inside out? Well, yes ….and no. Why not KISS?

When we put AdSense on The Lichfield Blog we weren’t surprised that it didn’t generate a lot of revenue. After something like 3 months we switched to the much simpler and easier Addiply system. In the first month we had secured £42.50 of advertising revenue, beating those 3 months with AdSense by miles. It took some phoning around and it’s by no means a living but it pays some costs and considering it’s very much a ‘suck it and see’ effort, it’s gone very well.

There’s still some ground to be covered… Addiply is simple and easy to use, AdSense is feature rich and powerful once you know what you’re doing. There’s a middle-ground somewhere and in this period where local media is looking for ways to make the web pay, that middle ground is going to make publishers and advertisers everywhere very happy… as well as a small pot of gold for the person who gets to that middle ground first!

Hat-tip to Rick who prompted this post after finding Jeff Jarvis’ mood swing ads.

Would you go into a high street shop that if it required handing over your name and address to do so?

I’m gonna assume the answer is no. Giving info like full name, postal address, e-mail isn’t the kind of thing you expect to have to do purely to browse around.

So why do so many web sites insist on asking for exactly that?

I got a little irate earlier this week (maybe ’cause I’d been in a bad mood all day) at eMusic. I was doing a bit of research for my post about Spotify and just wanted to find out how much eMusic subscriptions were so I could compare the cost and support my argument that Spotify is too expensive when put up against the likes of eMusic.

Could I find out about the subcription plans let alone the prices though? No. I faced the same wall whatever I tried: a 13 field registration form which was just step 1 of a 3 step process.

It’s the same story with sites like Love Film which ask for your bank details just to get a free trial. They say stuff like “to make it easier for you to sign up after your trial, if you want to.” No it’s not, you just know some people are flakey and won’t be arsed to cancel. Or, like me, will cancel last minute but you’ll have already charged my account in advance for the first months subscription that I never actually said I wanted. (I got my own back, by the way.)

I had a brief conversation with eMusic on Twitter about this little phenomenon;

  • eMusicNews: @philipjohn This link should point you in the right direction:http://bit.ly/mMGrR
  • PhilipJohn: @eMusicNews That asks me to login. How is that useful if I’m not a subscriber and want to know what my choices for subscribing are?
  • eMusicNews: @philipjohn I believe there should be an option there to set up an account. If you go through that process, you should see plan options.
  • PhilipJohn: @eMusicNews Yeah but only if I give you my passport, birth certificate and god knows what else. It’s called a barrier to conversion.
  • eMusicNews: @philipjohn Hi Philip -if you fill in the first reg page, the 2nd page shows you the available plans.
  • PhilipJohn: @eMusicNews I get that but I don’t want to part with personal info just to see your prices. It’s like demanding ID to enter a high st shop!
  • eMusicNews: @philipjohn Sorry….

Know the phrase, “sorry isn’t good enough”?

You might be thinking, “why do you care so much, they’re the ones loosing out?” They probably are missing out on customers because they’re putting up a barrier to conversion.

Thing is, I’m passionate about the web and how it can be used successfully for businesses. But putting up barriers to conversion in any business is surely a bad idea (unless they’re designed as a qualifier). I hate to see examples of the web done ‘wrong’ because I want to see a web that is easy to use, free of frustration and ultimately a good experience for the user.

Yes, I’m an idealist, bit of a dreamer but it’s not impossible. It’s certainly not hard. So why not JFDI?!

I’ll make this an open letter to all on line businesses… open up. Take down your barriers. Let people in. You’ll benefit in the long run.

The internet will make you accountable for your actions

I wouldn’t normally advocate reading The Sun, but as much as it pains me to do so I need to make a point.

A woman has apparently initiated divorce proceedings against her husband after spotting his car outside another woman’s house, on Google Street View.

“Top media laywer Mark Stephens” was quoted saying, “I suspect the husband’s lawyers will claim it was an invasion of privacy that will cost him his marriage and Range Rover.”

He may well lose his marriage and precious shagg wagon but it’s not Street View that’s brought that cost upon him, he’s done that all on his own.

And here, my patient readers, is where my point comes in.

The internet is an open and democratic medium. Get filmed, photographed or otherwise captured doing something you shouldn’t and you could well face the consequences.

It’s not the fault of the internet, of Google, of ISPs or of web site owners. It’s your fault.

Moaning about having your ‘privacy invaded’ because you got caught humping your cleaner thanks to the internet is akin to complaining that you got caught speeding because you happened to have been followed by an un-marked Police car.

The solution is quite simple: don’t do anything you wouldn’t want anyone knowing about. Especially cheating on your wife!

And guess what, the same applies (even more so, in fact) to companies.

On an almost daily basis my twitterstream contains tweets pertaining to bad customer service. I always worry for those companies. I wish, for their sake, that they’re monitoring Twitter, and the rest of the web.

If not, they are potentially letting their reputation sink lower and lower. As tools like Twitter, Facebook and Get Satisfaction gain traction, more and more people are making themselves heard. Word of mouth as a communication medium has rocketed to new heights.

So, if you’re a business do two things right now.

  1. Smarten up. Don’t do anything you wouldn’t mind the world knowing about.
  2. Keep an eye on what’s happening to your brand online. Failure to do so could result in a seriously damaged reputation.

Reasons to use Twitter: Real life user experience feedback

This is the first of (hopefully) many posts highlighting ways in which businesses can use Twitter. I’ll be trying to use examples whereever possible.

First: Real-life user experience feedback.

Frustration at Google AdSense led @tonypiper to tweet,

Adsense has got very confusing recently.

A great opportunity for the AdSense team at Google to get instant feedback on what people are finding difficult so that they can make some improvements.

There could be lots of people talking about your product or service not just on Twitter but throughout the web. Are you finding them and addressing their concerns? The impact on your reputation either way could be dramatic.

Microsoft, Yahoo Deal Would Strengthen Google

I’m getting might pissed off with all this talk about some “deal” between Microsoft and Yahoo now. I don’t see how Microsoft forking out $15 billion for Yahoo’s search business would have any impact on Google‘s share.

Sure, on paper, Yahoo’s share would drop to 0% and Microsoft would jump from 8.5% to 29%, but Google’s share would still sit at 63.1%. (Based on comScore’s latest figures.)

Today, a large Yahoo shareholder, Ivory Investment Management urged the company to sell to Microsoft to maximise shareholder value.

How exactly does “maximising shareholder value” increase either Yahoo’s or Microsoft’s chances of stealing market share from Google and actually making a difference in search?

Come on folks, instead of wasting Yahoo’s time and money on lining shareholder’s pockets, how about giving two shits about making the product worth using. Isn’t that what makes Google better than Yahoo and Microsoft? Isn’t that why you’re lagging behind? Come on, it’s not rocket science.

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Ethics and Corporation Tax

One thing that really bugs me is tax avoidance. I used to think it was a great idea until one day, whilst having an inner groan at the constant lack of cash in public services I realised that avoiding tax is, in fact, incredibly unethical and irresponsible. Taxes, whether you like them or not, are there to pay for all those things society needs. They pay for our health service, the roads, street lights and so on.

Just like as individuals we pay income tax, companies pay corporation tax – a tax on profits. Many corporations, including big household names, employ tax avoidance schemes utilising subsidiary companies in tax havens like Luxembourg. These schemes allow them to pay as little tax as possible on the massive profits they earn.

Billions of pounds are essentially being kept out of Government hands and in the pockets of wealthy shareholders, denying society of much needed cash to improve public services. So I was glad to read today that such practices have been outlawed.

Ever the sceptically minded, though, I can’t see it making a huge impact. Corporations spend hundreds of thousands on accountants to build these complex structures designed purely to avoid paying tax simply because the returns are so huge. Put simply, they’ll find another way because the financial benefit of doing so is so great.

But what’s the solution? Then I thought back to the income tax. With individuals, we are charged income tax at 20% (unless you’re lucky enough to be in the higher-rate tax band) with the benefits system helping those who don’t earn as much to get by. Corporations and individuals both earn money and have to use that money to pay their operational (or living) costs. Anything left over is then a bonus. However, we are taxed differently – corporations pay tax on anything left over while individuals pay on everything we earn (let’s ignore the untaxable allowance for simplicity). So why not tax corporations on everything they earn and then kick-back a little bit for every pound they don’t make a profit on?

It’s a nice idea, I think, but whether it will work in practice is something for the accountants and economists to battle out. My first thought is that avoiding that method would just be a case of making your accounts look like less profit was made. Probably not a hard thing to do. Yet, for big companies with lots of shareholders that would probably be a bad thing as the one thing shareholders want most out of their investment is a good profitable company.

I’d love to here thoughts on this idea, especially people who will be more well-versed in accounting than me.

Are All PR Professionals Scared of the Web?

For some reason I’m doing a good job of finding opinion pieces preaching to businesses about why they shouldn’t do SEO, PPC, social networking, blogging and so on. Obviously, being an internet consultant that could be bad for business but it’s getting my back up because I can see a common theme running through a lot of these – fear of change.

Fact: the internet is changing the way we all do business. Problem is, people don’t generally like change and this seems to be quite prevalent in traditional marketing circles, where a distinct lack of understanding of the differences in online marketing is manifesting itself into attacks on the worth of online tactics.

Case in point: This afternoon a client sent me a snippet from an innocently title article, Generating press coverage for your accountancy practice, by Tim Prizeman of PR advisors, Kelso Consulting.

Essentially he is suffering from a lack of understanding of the role of blogging in internet marketing. Corporate blogging is an essential part of online PR. In fact PR is a bit misleading in a B2B situation – it should be more like Industry Relations. Corporate blogging allows you not only to talk to your industry (like you do offline through press releases, interviews etc) but to actively participate in industry discussion with both journalists and industry peers (like you would do at an industry conference). It breaks down geographical barriers.

In part of his article, Tim says, “The next time a development arises that effects its readers (eg tax change, VAT tribunal, or you just generally think that people in that industry are missing a particular trick) immediately ring up the journalist and say something along the following lines: “Hello, I’m Mark Tomarket from accountants Tick & Bash. The change in yesterday’s Budget increasing employers’ national insurance could have a dramatic adverse effect on employment in this town because of the large number of retail and other labour intensive industries – is this a story you are interested in covering?”

The beauty of corporate blogging is that you become a semi-journalist. Instead of phoning a journalist you would simply write a brief blog post on your thoughts and because of the nature of blogging, that post would be immediately distributed around the web to all those people who are interested in that topic (ie, your industry peers). The benefit being that it gives your company credibility by showing that you are fully aware of your business environment and the forces affecting your market. That inspires confidence.

It doesn’t take a lot of time like Tim says, either. In ten minutes one can set up a blog, write a post and notify any clients and associates that may be interested creating an instant, targeted (if small) readership.

I’d like to know how Tim came to the conclusion that most have become moribund and why that makes all efforts at corporate blogging worthless. Tim himself admits that “a modest number of these have large and growing followings” which is surely a sign to us all that blogging can work.

I may be reading between the lines too much here but the tone of Tim’s article suggests that in order for a blog to be successful it must have “a large and growing following” but what about the thousands of blogs created by individuals to entertain their groups of friends, colleagues or community groups. Blogs that may only be updated once each month, if that, and only have a small following of twenty or less but are still much loved and cared for areas of the web.

Tim calculates that 179,900 unsuccessful blogs are created each day, adding to the already “71.75m existing little visited ones” again assuming that a less active blog is an unsuccessful blog. The phrase “it’s not the quantity, it’s the quality” comes to mind.

My immediate conclusion is that Tim is suffering from a lack of understanding. He’s never seen successful blogging and so he can’t comprehend it. In all likelihood he’s only ever seen blogging done badly and that’s all he has to go on. Funny enough, one of the most popular blogging efforts on the web today is that of Guardian Unlimited. The online arm of a publication Tim should be very familiar with. Guardian Unlimited in fact won awards for it’s web site and many people are now beginning to turn to media blogs instead of buying newspapers.

My second thought is that Tim is scared. He’s a traditional PR consultant and the internet is becoming more and more powerful. Businesses are switching more of their marketing budgets on line and away from offline marketing because they’re seeing such good returns in comparison. This is obviously affecting Tim’s business and he’s trying to circumvent.

My advice to Tim: Open your mind and realise that blogging is the most prolific form of online PR. Blogging is your cousin and you’d do well to get along or you may find yourself fighting a losing battle.

To the rest of you (accountancy practices included); keep an open mind and never dismiss an idea until you have all the facts. Always take advice about an industry from industry professionals and be mindful of ulterior motives.

If you’re thinking about blogging or internet marketing in general then philipjohn is always available to answer questions without any obligation. Call him on 0844 884 5419 and he’ll help in the best way he can.