Thursday, 2 December 2010

On-line Surveys: Best Practices and Sky.com example

I'm a BIG, BIG fan of on-line surveys. To make a really great website, you need to find out why people come to your site and if they find what they're looking for. The easiest way to find out what somebody wants is to ask him: say hello to on-line surveys.
If you launch a survey, you'll find that a lot of people are very willing to give their opinion and will give you very valuable and actionable feedback.

To give you a quick list some things you can expect using on-line surveys:
  • You can find out what the priorities of your visitors are and take action.
  • You can find out what people can do on your site and what they can't and take action.
  • You can find out what people like on your site or what they don't like and take action.
  • You'll find out how many visitors already purchased on your site and take action.
Let's look at a practical example.

Recently I visited the site of Sky UK, the provider of satellite TV and related telecommunications services. When visiting the section on High Definition, a little window popped up on my screen asking if I want to help with a little survey.



I really like this way of doing surveys: you ask a real-time visitor to help filling out the survey at the end of their visit.

How does this work?

When you accept to do the survey, a new window opens underneath your browser and you're asked to answer the questions at the end of your visit.
This is double-clever: first you invite a visitor in real time while he's busy visiting your site. This is: your visitor is having a real-time and real-life experience with your site. There is no better audience then this one to give you feedback.
And second, you'll ask the opinion of the visitor right after he visits. Not an hour after, not a day after: right on the spot, seconds after visiting your site.

If you accept to participate in the survey, you'll see something like this:


Good Practise 1: Be brief

During the survey, you're asking somebody's opinion which means that you're asking time and effort. So be a good boy or girl, and don't abuse of the good intentions of your visitors: ask what's necessary, be brief. And in case you want to ask a lot: launch various surveys to different people. Better to ask 10 questions in 3 different surveys then 30 questions in 1 survey.

Good Practise 2: Be transparent

A good idea for being transparent is using a bar indicating the progress of the survey. Your visitors will be grateful to know how much time they'll need to complete the survey.

Looking back at second screenshot, you'll see that the first question of the survey was: are you a client or not? This brings us to:

Good Practise 3: Segmentation

You're going to ask a number of different visitors what they think of your site, and you better be sure not all of your visitors are the same. Socio-demographic segmentation is very important, the question on being client or not is something else. You try to found different types of audiences on your site. This is a very important difference for any type of site. For an e-commerce site like Sky.com, the difference between client or not is very relevent: you'll want to give different services and content to these different groups.
For a site like Amazon, you might want to ask if the user already purchased before on the site. For a site like BMW.com, maybe you want to ask if the visitor will be purchasing a new car in the next 3 to 6 months. How to best segment, depends on your business and it might take some brainstorming to see how best to implement this question.

Next question on the Sky Survey was this one:



Good Practise 4: Task Management

This is a good one: why did you come to visit this site? This is the purest form of Task Management: you can consider that every visitors comes to your site with a purpose, and you just ask what this purpose is. The free on-line survey 4Q is based on this idea: it asks why you came to visit the site and if you were able to complete the task.
That's so great: in that way you get to know why people come to visit your site (look at video, find offer, compare with competitor, download form,...) and what tasks are doing good (=visitors gets to download the for he's looking for) or not (=visitor doesn't find prices to compare with your competitor). This is called Task Completion Ratio: what percentage of visitors interested in a specific task get to complete that specific task.

Unfortunately, Sky didn't ask the Task Completion Ratio. It just asks what the main reason is for you to visit your site and moved on to the next question.



Good Practise 5: Ask about site-goals.

This 'Did you purchase'-question is not a bad one: a site like Sky has a clear goal of selling subscriptions or upgrades to, for instance, their High Definition services. So it's pretty straightforward to ask if the visitor purchased that day.
But I think it's not very subtle. First of all, I suppose there are not so many people purchasing Sky HD the exact same day as visiting a site. It's not buying a car, but it's still a bigger buy then, say, a loaf of bread. Second, I suppose that Sky's web analytics or call center will already tell the ratio of purchases. Third, it sounds a bit intrusive: people know that Sky sells stuff, but it feels a bit premature and a bit pushy to ask directly if the visitor purchased.
But above all, I think it shows the interest of the company (to sell) and doesn't take in account that people could be in various stages of a purchase process. The survey doesn't take advantage of braking down the process in different steps and finding out what the satisfaction-rate of each step is. It just takes purchasing as final goal and that's it. If you break down a purcase process you can and defining goals for every stage of the process. These are called micro-goals, and every micro-goal adds to the main goal.

Good Practise 5 revisited: Ask about micro-goals

Next question:



The next question is again a good one. I would have asked for micro-goals (every step in the purchase process), but it's still good to ask why people didn't buy at this stage. This will give you an idea of what you can improve. But: if asking wether you purchased or not might seem a bit pushy, asking why not might even be worse.

Good Practise 6: Be action-orientated

The next question is a typical one, and I must say that I'm not a fan. The question is: what would you change on our site?



In my experience, people don't normally know what needs to be changed on a site and you'll probably end up with some answers which aren't actionable.
For instance: if somebody answers on the survey that he wants more info on HD – how would you change your site? 'More information' is something very general and  you don't really have a clue of where to start. When a lot of people ask for more information, your manager might ask you to publish whatever information you can get your hands on. So in no time, you'll get a site impossible to manage or to navigate, probably full of useless information. It might be a lot more useful to know that a visitor was trying to find out if he could watch the World Cup in High Definition and that he couldn't find the information necesary. Now that's actionable information.

If the last question wasn't actionable, the one following is really company-focused and not at all customer focused. Before you read the question, take a deep breath:

Does the Sky HD section on the site make you think of Sky as a follower or a leader?

What? Can you repeat that question? Or maybe better: don't repeat the question and let me just close this survey-window and I'll continue with my own business. Bye!

Serious. I know companies are interested in knowing what people think of them, and what the 'core brand values' are. But is on quick on-line survey really the place to ask such questions? You can't waste your visitor's time. If you do, they disconnect and leave the survey unanswered.


Best Practice 7: Be customer centered

I'm sure you agree that the language in the question above is very company-centered. And it's not just one question: it's a whole list.
There is also another problem with that last question: When you ask people to answer on a scale from 1 to 7, people tend to put their score at the center, which makes the answers to your question pretty much not relevant. Gerry McGovern explains this in this white paper on surveys, arguing that scaling the answers are bound to give you incorrect feedback.
Another issue with scaled answers is that, on a scale from 1 to 7 some people will give a 7 for very good and a 1 for very bad, and others a 5 for very good and a 3 for very bad, even if they experience the same value of 'very good' or 'very bad'. You could say that some people answer more 'extreme' then others. Luckily there are techniques to overcome this, but make sure you use them.

The following question also uses scaling, but at least has a pretty relevant question: how satisfied are you with your visit and how likely you are to tell a friend about it.


Next up are some socio-demographic questions. These are very relevant for the segmentation talked about above.



Good Practise 8: Be consistent

Last is an invitation to subscribe on a emailing list for further surveys.


This is OK to do, but it's a bit dodgy: a lot of people are willing to give feedback for free, but they don't want you to take advantage of them. So if you promise that a survey will be anonymous, maybe it's better to be consistent with this promise and do not to ask personal data, not even e-mail.
The same remark holds for giving incentives to people for answering a survey: if you promise somebody a gift for helping with a survey, you'll need his address and name to send him his gift. So even if you don't cross this personal data with the answers of the survey, your visitors won't believe you when you say it's an anonymous survey.
In general, it's not necessary to give the participants of the survey a gift. People are very generous and are very happy to give you feedback and help you to improve, just for free. That's a very nice things so keep Best Practice 7 in mind: bo customer centered.

Good practice 9: Be polite
Say thanks at the end of the survey.



Sunday, 14 November 2010

Track click-backs from 'Share this in Twitter'

In this previous post I've explained how you can track the visits to your site, generated after someone shared the link of your page in Facebook. 
In this post, I'll explain the same thing for Twitter: say you have a link or a button on on your site or in an email, asking to people to share your site or offer with their friends in twitter. It's nice to know how many times your site is shared using this system. But it's even better to know how many new visits this sharing has generated. And if you can find out how many of these visits come to your site, it's easy to find out how many it added to your site goals like registration or downloading a demo.

I'll use Link Tracking for Google Analytics, but if you're using another Web Analytics tool, I'm sure you can 'translate' the campaign tracking for your own tool.

Twitter has a URL which let you share a link. The URL is the following: 

http://twitter.com/share?url=http://yourpagecomeshere

After the parameter 'url=' you insert the URL of the page you want to share. 

When publishing a link, Facebook actually publishes 4 things: the page title, the description meta-tag, the url and an image (in case it can find one on the page).
Twitter is more basic: it lets you share a URL and you can include some text, in case you want.

It's important to note that you can share any URL you like, it doesn't have to be the URL of the page the share button is on. This gives you obviously the opportunity to make a specific landing page for people who come to your site from twitter.

Let's see how we can track the click-backs from twitter campaigns:

Step 1. Define the page that you want to use as landing pages
Like mentioned above, you can use a specific landing page. This gives you the possibility to use a specific promotion or a graphic or content reference to twitter.

Say we want to share the URL of my previous blogpost:
http://stefvanef.blogspot.com/2010/11/analytics-for-sharethis-addthis.html

Step 2. Add Campaign tracking to the URL
To track the click-back, we're using the link tracking of Google Analytics. 

The UTM's we're going to use are these:
utm_source=Twitter
utm_medium=SocialBookmarking
utm_camapaign=ClickBackOfferX

So the URL we want to share is the following:

http://stefvanef.blogspot.com/2010/11/analytics-for-sharethis-addthis.html?utm_source=twitter&utm_medium=socialbookmarking&utm_campaign=clickBackOfferX

Step 3. Use a URL shortener
It's important to use a URL shortener for Twitter. You can only share 140 characters on twitter, and URL shorteners are a handy way to cut your tagged URL's short. The URL we want to share, as stated in number 2, is 151 characters, which is already 11 characters too long for twitter. Using bit.ly for this example, we shorten the 151-character URL to  just 20 characters:  

http://bit.ly/aRYLZT

So if we want to share this URL in twitter we're going to use this URL:

http://twitter.com/share?url=http://bit.ly/aRYLZT

Step 4. Add text to the message
A nice thing we can do with the Share-URL of twitter, is including a piece of text. 

You just need to include an extra parameter in the query string. A query string is the part of the URL which comes after the '?' of the URL. TO include text, which will be published on twitter, you need to use the text= parameter. After the parameter you can include the text you want. Black spaces are indicated with '+'.


When you paste this URL into your browser you get to see this:









Step 5. Publish the URL on your page or in an email

Easy, right? Here you have a button to share this post in twitter, and of course it's tracked to see how many people come back to visit this post after you've shared it on twitter. 



Related posts:

Track Click-Backs for Facebook:

Comparing Analytics for ShareThis, AddThis, AddToAny and SocialTwist

Monday, 1 November 2010

Analytics for ShareThis, AddThis, AddToAny and SocialTwist

You recognize the services offering Social Bookmarking and Sharing by the buttons you see announcing 'Share this in facebook' on many websites nowadays. When you use these services, you share a URL of a page on your favourite social network or email service. There are a lot of free services which cover an amazing number of services and in this post, I compare the Analytics features they offer.

The services I'm comparing in this post are:
  1. SocialTwist
  2. AddToAny
  3. AddThis
  4. ShareThis
All these 4 services offer all of the following features:
  • They include a huge list (some 300+) of social networks where the page can be shared.
  • They all do bookmarking and emailing.
  • They all come in a lot of languages.
  • The are all free.
One of the main differences is their approach to Analytics. When used the right way, these services can provide very good social media metrics: you can see how many times your site or page is shared and in which social media. You can track how many people click these shared links and how many visits your site gets back.
A lot has been discussed on social media metrics. Consider this a solid and important first metric when defining your KPIs for Social Media: how do people share your content and does it drive traffic to your site. It's not yet a metric which tells you qualitatively how people value your brand or site, but it's a first useful step.

Here are my findings of how the above mentioned 4 services offer Analytics.

1. SocialTwist
You can find the analytics for Social Twist ('Te!! a Friend') within their own site: you create a login to get the service and the stats are found within the platform. For the free subscription, you just get to see the times your page or site was shared in 'Social', 'Bookmark' or 'Email', without any breakdown. And you get to see what is the most used service, but not more. You can upgrade to a 'Pro' account (100$ each 1000 referrals) and you can get more detailed analytics. Social Twist doesn't offer integration with Google Analytics or any other Web Analytics platform. You can't measure traffic coming back from the times your page was 'shared'.


2. AddToAny
AddToAny doesn't have any statistics on their own platform, but they do have an integration with Google Anlytics. The integration is automatic: as soon as you have a Google Analytics script on your page, you get the 'Shares' tracked as events. AddToAny doesn't offer a way to track if people get back to your site after it was shared.


Little parentesis: AddToAny is the only one of the 4 who let's you share on Tuenti. Tuenti is a ver important social network in Spain, and it's quite amazing that the other services just doesn't offer this option on their platform. Why?

3. AddThis
AddThis is good on analytics. You have a very nice interface on the AddThis site using your login. You get different features: top shared content, tops services used, geography.
You also get to see Click-backs: the number of visits who come from people clicked a shared URL of your site.
There is a pretty easy integration with Google Analytics, and you can also integrate it with Omniture.



On top of that, there is a freely accessible application which shows the most used services over the world, you can breakdown and compare countries, and every service has a little 'resume' which shows you where it is popular. A lot of data, which you can access here. Do you know what services are mostly used in your country?


4. ShareThis
Social Twist and AddThis give you some data, AddThis is better since it offers some analysis. But ShareThis is the one who goes all the way and provides real insights based on 'Shareing' behaviour.
First of all, ShareThis does everything that AddThis does: their own site has an analytics dashboard, and you have integrations with Google Analytics and Omniture.
They have something called 'Social Reach', which is very similar to what AddThis calls 'Click-Back': it measures how many people click on the links which are shared via ShareThis.
But the really BIG thing is this: ShareThis is the most used service of sharing, and is now starting to use all this data to give something as precious as competative analysis. You can actually compare the data from your site with data from similar websites: for instance, I can see how my blog is doing compared to other small blogs.
Second, I can check how my site performs versus other sites from my catagory (for example, you can compare against 'Automotive'). And ShareThis is even working on a 'know-your-audience' feature, which indicated that your site is popular for sharing for people interested in, say, 'Music' and 'Family'.


2 Important Remarks

1. Data integration is important, so I completely understand that some people will argue that another analytics interface might not be what is needed right now.
2. Note that all 4 features are external services. So when using them, you are giving access to your site to an external provider to obtain data. The competative analysis features from ShareThis can work in your advantage, since you can compare your data with competitors. But it is important to think about provacy and sensative data you are actually giving away for free.

So what's next?
If you'd ask me, we're missing a feature which measures Click-backs or Social Reach crossed with the conversion of our site goals, like brochure downloads, access to a demo, or buying a product. It's nice to know your site is shared in social media, it's better to know that people click on the shared link to come back to your site. But no doubt, it will be massive to see how many of the people coming back to your site via facebook convert in prospects. Since the sharing scripts are implemented on almost all pages, and they track which pages are shared, it can't be too difficult to let site-owners define what the goals on their site are and integrate them on the analytics dashboards.

¿Who will be the first to provide this feature?

Related post:
Track click-backs from Facebook


Share this post:

Sunday, 24 October 2010

Track click-backs from 'Share this in Facebook'

On almost every web page today, there is some kind of 'Social Bookmarking' installed. Social Bookmarking is the method of posting a site or a page in a social network, like Twitter or LinkedIn. Every time you press a link which says 'Share this with your friends in Facebook' you are 'social bookmarking'.
What you actually do with social bookmarking is posting a link on your wall in facebook or on your twitter status. This is important for people managing a website. First of all, every link counts as an incoming link, which is good for Organic Search results (SEO).
But maybe more important: it means an extra links to your site, which can mean extra visitors and extra conversion/subscriptions/revenue for your site. And it's very probable that you get good quality visitors: a friend has recommended  to visit the page, and a friend's recommendation is always a good thing.

It's impressive, which so much links and external provider offering solutions for Social Bookmarking, that so few people actually bother with trying to measure how many people actually get back to your site from a Social Bookmark.

In this post, I'll explain how to measure the incoming traffic for visitors coming from social bookmarking on Facebook. This is: somebody shared a link of a site on Facebook, and one of his friends or connections sees the link and clicks on it to visit the site.

¿How does social bookmarking on facebook work?

Sharing a link on Facebook is very easy: you just need to use the following URL:

http://www.facebook.com/sharer.php?u=here-comes-the-url-you-want-to-share

After the parameter 'u=' you insert the URL of the page you want to share. Say that I want to share the blog of my friend Michael Notté, Kaizen-Analytics, then I need to use the following URL:

http://www.facebook.com/sharer.php?u=http://www.kaizen-analytics.com

It's interesting to note that you can include every page on a share this link or button. It doesn't have to be he page where you put on the link or button hat needs to be shared.

When you use this URL, say as a text link or a button on your site, you'll get to see this:


As you can see, there are 4 things published by facebook:

The title of the page
The URL of the page
A description of he page
An image found on the page

The title and the description are both taken from the so-called 'Meta Tags' of the page. For every page you can give a small title and a description. This is generally used for search engines: the 'title' is what you see in blue on a page of the search results and the 'description' is the little bit of text you see on the page of the search results.

This is good to know: you can make a separate 'landing page' for sharing in facebook. Like you've seen above: you can implement any URL in the facebook-share page so technically there is no problem using any URL you choose. So you can make a personalised landing page, in which you can personalize the Title and the Description as you please. This can be a nice way to make a special offer to somebody who comes 'recommended by a friend'.

It's not really clear on what basis facebook selects the images you get to share with the URL mentioned above. But it looks like it just takes all images from the body of the page and you can change to the one you like most.

The trick for measuring the incoming traffic from this link mentioned above is the URL. Instead of including just the link of the page we want people to share, we're going to add some parameters to the URL so that, when somebody clicks on the URL, we can track this.

How to measuring traffic from the 'Share his': Link Tracking

Link tracking is a pretty simple method to track visitors coming to your site. You simply add some parameters to your URL, and when somebody visits your page, with a URL that holds these parameters, we can pick this up in our Web Analytics tool and soon you'll see where your traffic is coming from.

In this example, I implement link tracking for Google Analytics. I think everybody who uses a Web Analytics tool which is not GA, knows the idea behind Google Analytics link tracking and I'm pretty convinced everybody will be able to translate this method to their own tool.

Step 1: Create the campaign parameters (UTM's)
Google Analytics gives you the possibility to include parameters in the URLs that you use to drive traffic to your site. These parameters are called UTM's and you can use a different number of parameters. As a standard, Google Analytics uses 3 basic parameters. If needed, you can add more.
The 3 are:
Source: where the traffic is coming from, like another the site or a search engine.
Medium: the method used for driving traffic, like 'email' or 'banner ad'.
Campaign: whatever you want to call your campaign, like '10€Offer' or 'ProductXLaunch'.

In the case of the click-backs for Social Bookmarking in facebook, I use the following UTMs:

utm_source=Facebook
utm_medium=SocialBookmarking
utm_camapaign=ClickBackOfferY

The campaign I've called ClickBackOfferY, since I need to know this is a click-back after sharing, and I've included the 'Offer Y', which can help you in case you have a special offer linked to the sharing of the page. You could also include this in an extra UTM, the UTM_content=OfferY.

Step 2 Add the UTM's to the URL
Now we add the parameters to the URL. Say that the page you want to share is 'http://myoffer.com', then the URL with Link Tracking will be:

http://myoffer.com?utm_source=Facebook&utm_medium=SocialBookmarking&utm_campaign=ClickBackOfferY

Step 3 Implement the URL in the facebook URL

Once we've created this URL, which will be the URL we share in Facebook, we implement this into the URL for sharing

http://www.facebook.com/sharer.php?u=http://myoffer.com?utm_source=Facebook&utm_medium=SocialBookmarking&utm_campaign=ClickBackOfferY

Easy, right? Why don't you just try to share this article with your facebook friends using this 'Share this' button below and you'll see how this works: I've implemented the system explained in this post!





Saturday, 16 October 2010

Congreso de Internet Madrid: online prizedraws


The upcoming weekend of 22, 23 and 24 of October there is a Congress on Internet being held in Madrid. The speakers look pretty good, and it's just 75€ for the 3 days, so that's not too expensive. If you want to go: feel free.

I'm not going, I'm afraid. But I do have a particular reason for writing on the congress: every blog-post written about the congress enters in a prize-draw to win an iPhone 4. I'm reading Freakonomics right now, a book in which is argued that people respond to incentives. And thus: the change of winning an iPhone was the incentive for me to start writing. The only thing I have to do is punt a link to the congress's website to enter the prize-draw, so here you go:


My duty is done. I'm on the ticket for the prize draw.

The congress also has another prize-draw in which you can win an iPad, which interests me more actually. To enter in the draw, you just had to upload a static banner on to your blog or site, so that's why on the right hand side of my blog you can also see the banner for the congress: the incentive is winning an iPad, I want an iPad so there you go: banner published.

Why does a congress want people to put banners on their site and place a blog post on their blog?
  1. If people put a banner on their sites for free, you get free advertising and free visits. You would normally have to pay to have banners on websites which drive traffic, but this way it is free. In this case free is not completely free: the cost is that of an iPhone4 and iPad.
  2. If people talk about your congress or event on their blog, you get free publicity. Instead of sending out a press release in the hope that some journalist will pick it up to publish something in a magazine or journal, you have - again - people who talk about you for free. Other people read about this and talk about it to other people. This way you get a viral effect in which 1 blog is read by 10 people who each tell it to 10 other people. At least the congress hopes this viral effect will work thanks to the prize draw.
  3. If various sites and blogs link to your site, you get a good positioning in Organic Search (SEO). This is what is called 'Link Building' and is a very specialized area of working search engines: with different techniques, you try sites to link to your site. Prize draws are one possible technique, though maybe just a temporary one, which is not that good for SEO, actually.
  4. It's a fun idea to organize an original prize draw.
As an on-line marketer I've organized various prize draws. Most were on-line games. In my experience, you reach a very specific and loyal audience (read: the same people over and over), but it's hard to get out of this small circle of participants.
Also in my experience: people will always cheat. The winner is very probably a cheater and it's pretty hard to exclude cheaters.

Cheating goes from using multiple user names until cracking your flash programming so a cheater reaches a stage in your game in a time which is less then the possible time. I've seen it all.

Of course, giving your prize to a honest participant may not be a worry to you: maybe your just interested in link building, and it doesn't really matter in the end how honest the winner may be.

So are there cheaters for the prize draws of the Congress de Internet? It's not that hard to create a blog or a new section of your site in which you talk about the congress, so it's easy enough.
But it's different here: the the congress just want banners on sites and post written about it, so it doesn't matter if the same person puts a banner on 3 different blogs which he manages. That's how it goes for the businesses who organize the prize-draws: you measure the number of participants, the interactions these participants had with your brand. Giving the prize to a possible cheater is just the prize for your efforts.

Probability

So will I win? Probably not. But there is a chance.
When I posted the banner on this blog, there were 55 people trying to win the iPad and 33 the iPhone. Since that time, there have been more people joining, but let's say those 55 for the iPad and the 33 for the iPhone where the final entries.

So these are my chances:

Winning an iPad: 1,82%
Winning an iPhone: 3,03%

So I have almost double the chance of winning an iPhone. It's also good to have 2 chances of winning.

Obviously, the more people join the draw, the less probability to win. But your chances just drop exponentially. This means that your chances drop a lot faster when there are just few people are playing and a new one enters the draw. If there are just 3 people playing, you all have a 33% chance. If somebody else joins, you all drop to a 25% chance of winning. This is a drop of 8%. If instead of joining 55 people for the iPad, there are 56 people playing, my chances drop from 1,82% to 1,79%, which is just a drop of 0,03%.

But make no mistake: it's always better to be with fewer people to join.
Here you have a plot of the chances you have when entering a prize draw like the one that I'm playing in.

Though it's a pretty remote chance, if there were 10.000 participants, I'd just had a 0,01% of chance to win.

I'll let you know if I win something.

Sunday, 5 September 2010

Google Spain recommends Marathonman!

When you type 'Stefaan' in Google Spain, you get this:


As you can see, the first 3 search-recommendatios are refering to 'Stefaan Engels'. Stefaan Engels is a friend of mine. Stefaan runs marathons. He runs a lot of marahtons: one marathon a day, to be precise. And he's doing this for a whole year. That is 1 marathon, just over 42km, every day during 365 days. I'm not kidding.
He likes to call himself 'Marathonman'.

Marathonman started with his effort at the beginning of 2010 and recently he reached his 200th Marathon in 200 days.

Congratulations and big cheers rise from the crowds!!

He tries to convince people to start exercising as well, and he invites everybody to join to run with him. You don't have to run the whole marathon, you can join for the distance that you like.

Stefaan Engels runs most of his time in Belgium, but every now and then he goes abroad. He's been in Portugal and Spain and has just taken of to Canada and Mexico.
He has been already quite a few times in Spain: each time he comes over, he runs a week of marathons. He was first in Barcelona, then Madrid and a bit later Valencia. When he's in Spain, his sponsor Pronokal tries to attract some attention in the press and that has had its repercussion on the on-line world in Spain, and specifically on the search-engines in Spain. I'll explain.

We all use Google's search engine. You type in what you search for (the keyword), and when you click 'search' you get a list of web pages which give you relevant results, based on your keyword.
To help you a bit with your search, Google reads the first word you've typed and gives you a list recommendations, like in the image above. A drop-down menu gives a list of what other people have searched for using the same first word as you just typed.
Say that you're looking for 'American Airlines': you type 'American' in the search bar, and by the time you've finished this first word, Google will give you a list of possible searches. In that list you'll find 'Amercian Airlines', but also 'American Express' and 'American pie'. You can directly select what you're looking for from the list, so you don't have to type the whole keyword and it will help you to search faster.
This is clever: a lot of people are searching constantly on Google, so it's pretty easy to use this 'wisdom of the crowds' and recommend popular searches. By doing this, your search has just gotten a bit easier: instead of typing the whole keyword, you just select it from the recommended list. And if your search isn't on the recommended list, you can still type your own particular search and don't bother with the recomendation.

These recommendations also tell us something about what people are mostly looking for. I've just had a search for the word 'free' and the first recommendations are: 'free hotmail', 'free rider 2' and 'free fonts'. This gives a nice idea of what people want for free when searching on Google. Using this tool gives us the opportunity to listen to our clientes and to read the puls of the 'searching masses': what is a popular search and what isn't. And you can find out (for free) if if your company is talking the same (search-)language as your searching customer. Say that your offering fonds on your site, you might want to talk about 'free fonds' instead of 'download great and unique fonds'.

It's also nice to see if a campaign has been picked up by the people. Stefaan Engels (pictured during his Marathon in Madrid 2010) has been running marathons in Spain this year. His story has been picked up by the media and it has been published in blogs and websites. On his trips all over the world, he invites local runners to join in and run with him. So people talk about this, and want more information about his adventure and where and when they can join him in runnnig. People start to search for 'Marathonman' on Google, Google picks this up as a popular search and uses it as a recomendation, 3 recomendations actually. So based on the 'recommendations' tool on Google España, like pictured above, you can say that his trips to Spain have been quite a success and that quite some people have been looking for him on search engines.

It's interesting to note that the recommendations don't have anything to do with the actual search result. Even if 'Stefaan Engels' is recommended, the first result when you actually search for 'Stefaan', is my profile on LinkedIn and MarathonMan only shows up on a blog entry which is listed as third on the result pages.
It's also good to note that when looking only for 'Stefaan', his own website isn't even listed on the first page. But 5 out of 10 of the results on the first page are blogs or sites telling hist story and dedicating a page to him. This is an example of good online press: Sometimes your goals are not the traffic to your own site, or the position that you are ranked in Google. Sometimes it's more important that people talk about you, or that your name/brand/product resonates on the webm independent of the site where you're mentioned. Like with Marathonman, the word-of-mouth works that good that Google recommends him in Search, even if the SEO doesn't rank his page on the first page.

Of course, 'Stefaan' isn't a vey typical name in Spain, and this makes it easier to be picked up as a recomendation. If Marathonman's name were 'José', he would have a lot of competition, for example by José Mourinho and José Saramago. But my name is Stefaan too, Google doesn't consider me as a recommendation when searching for 'Stefaan'. Maybe it's just that Google favours healthy lifestyle and maybe I should start running marathons as well, so my 'recomendable-factor' will increase for Google. I think I'm starting tomorrow.

Monday, 23 August 2010

Happy birthday to my blog


Recently my blog celebrated his first birthday. Blown a candle on a cake.

Writing this blog has been many things.

It's been hard: hard to start writing things, harder even to keep writing (still haven't finished my top 5 of 2009 - uuups!). Hard also to find my own voice and to find an audience.

It's been a wonderful experience: writing down ideas and purifying them to get them realy nailed down. Getting feedback and how that enriches you. Having my little own space on the big Long Tail of websites.

It's going UP: lots of new ideas, feel like putting my money were my mouth is and do something good with it.

Thanks to all for all the support!

Tuesday, 10 August 2010

SEM/SEO Strategy: Improve your SEO with SEM-data using Tag Clouds


Sometimes a great idea is just 2 good ideas meeting for the first time.

Avinash Kaushik on twitter, 2010

The idea for this post came when reading the following 2 posts:

In the first post, Gemma Muñoz focuses on the importance of the long tail for organic searches (or SEO): we have to look further then just the first 20 search-terms for our website. The main idea of the post is that beyond the first search-terms, there is still a pretty vast number of keywords directing traffic to your site, and hopefully converting, so this traffic deserves our attention.

The second post is by Avinash. What intereseted me for the post I'm writing is number 2: Use tag clouds, where he teaches us to use tag clouds for analysing our SEO or paid search (PPC) campaigns.

After reading these 2 posts, I did the following: I investigated the long tail of our search-engine traffic of our website. I plotted the SEO and SEM search-keywords seperately in a tag-cloud, and compared both.
It's something you want to do too!

Let's have a look at practical example. Let's say there is a zoo in Madrid, which is called 'Animal Zoo Madrid'. The Zoo also has a website: www.animalzoomadrid.com
The Marketing Department of the Zoo does paid search campaigns and organic search campaigns.

Let's first have a look at all the organic searches which drove traffic to our website. I took all the keywords driving traffic to the site, put all this data in a text file, and loaded this up on Wordle. This gave me something like this:


As you can see, 3 keywords stand out. These 3 words are actually the seperate words of the 'brand' which is the name of the zoo. There are no other words who stand out, and few even show up on the tag-cloud.
So, what does this tell us? At least we have our own keywords covered, you can say. It would be nice to have some reference to see if this cloud-tag tells something good or bad aboout our SEO.

So now have a look at the SEM keywords which generate traffic to the site.


Well, this is a whole new story, right?

We still have the 3 words from the brand name. But we have a whole range of words which are relevant for a website of a zoo. There are all the animals: bear, gorilla, koala and panda seem to be the most popular searches, but also elephant, parrot, zebra get quite some searches. Then there are the keywords related to the 'practical' issues of visiting a zoo: 'Entrance fee' is quite big, since people want to know the prices. We also see 'Buy' and 'Tickets', so most likely people want information on how to purchase tickets. We have 'Restaurant' and 'Maps', which tells us that people are looking online to plan their stay at the Zoo. There is also 'Parking' and 'Trains', so people can find out on the internet how to get there, where they can park the car, or if it's better to take the train.

This tag-cloud for SEM tells us where the SEO is going wrong: it doesn't work the long-tail. Our organic search is centered around the brandname, and we haven't taken care of all the other searches which can be a great source of (free) traffic to our site. Of course we want people who search 'See living gorilla' to come to our site www.animalzoomadrid.com. We understand that people who search this online, might want to see a living gorilla. And if our Zoo offers this, we should make sure our site ranks high on organic searches for this keyword.

So now we've got some work to do: fix your SEO. There are lots of better places to get up-to-date on how to work your SEO, but I'm sure you'll want to have a look at your meta-data, give your URLs a review and see if they've got the keywords in them, see if you're using h1, h2, … And probably you'll have to give your site-map an update. If your keyword-cloud looks like the SEO-cloud we've seen before, you might want to implement a few new pages for all animals, maybe something like this:
/animals/bears.php
/animals/panda.php
/animals/koala.php

Now, what if we swop these results? I mean – what if the SEM-cloud we've seen above was actually the SEO-cloud and vice-versa? In that case, you're SEM activities would be centered around the 3 brand-related keywords, and not much more.
Again, you'll have work to do, but now for your paid campaigns. I'd start by bidding on all these words like 'bears' or 'entrance fee'. I'd put a fairly low daily limit on the bidding, and you want to check after a few days what your cost per conversion is. Some words will convert, other might not. You'll be happy enough to find out.
You might find that these 'long tail' keywords can be a bit more expensive then your brand-related terms. But that's OK: people searching for 'Animal Zoo Madrid' are likely to be closer to purchasing a ticket then people looking for 'see living koala's'. But you surely want to open up your website for people who're a bit lower on the purchase funnel and who might not know that you're zoo has got some living koalas.

So what can we learn from this

1. Work together SEM and SEO

Like the example shows, paid and organic searches are very closely related and you need to work them together. You can (and should) learn a lot by crossing te data of both activities.
SEM and SEO require different ways of working. I know a lot of companies where SEM and SEO are the responsabililties of different agencies or of different departments. If this is the case for your company then you're probably missing a great opportunity. Start working these 2 together now! Don't forget that taking care of your SEO will help you to better your quality-score, which will bring down your Cost Per Click (CPC) for SEM.

2. Be self-critical

I've heard quite some companies say: 'Our brand-related search terms come up pretty good in SEO, but not the more generic keywords'. I think this reasoning shows a lack knowledge of what SEO actually is. If you search Nike and it comes up as first in the organic results, then this is because the search robot is doing it's work, not because Nike is doing good SEO-work. The job of seach engines like Google, is to show the most relevant results of a search. Your job for SEO is to work beyond your own brand-related keywords and make an impact there.

3. Be ambitious

Some keywords can give you a hint to something bigger, to go the extra mile. In the example, we've seen that 'Buy' and 'Tickets' are giving quite some visits. So you try to position your site for these keywords.
But when there are some many people typing 'Buy Ticket for the Zoo', then this means more. Don't forget, that's your customer talking to you. That's your client saying that he wants to buy tickets. So why not start thinking of an on-line ticketing service? The keywords show the personal needs and desires of your customers, so we better start listening to what they want.

4. Go beyond visits

In this example, we've just talked about traffic coming from search engines.
But of course, you could plot your SEM and SEO campaigns seperately, but segmented not by visits but by conversions. Now that might give you even more actionable insights. Anybody wants to have a go and share the results?


Monday, 15 February 2010

My Internet 2009 Top 5: All kinds of Sports

Boy o boy o boy. Has 2009 been the year where sports has embraced the web and has turned it into it's perfect ally to make it so much more excited - or what?
I'm sure we all have are favourite sports and I haven't had my eye on everything that happened on sports coverage on the web. But the things I saw, I liked very much. I'm sure I missed out on so much more, but here are just 3 examples of how I have enjoyed sports on-line in 2009, and I hope I'll be enjoying it even more in the future thanks to internet.

There are at least 2 things which make sports and the web such great partners.
First there are the numbers and figures which make sports so great. I'm not talking about advanced mathematics, but there are the points in the league, the average per match and the time differences. It might be a boy's thing, or maybe it's just me: it's just so much fun to look at scores, calculate how many points your team are trailing or compare distances. It's even more fun to chat with your friends on what happened 4 years ago and who scored the last 3 points with just 2 seconds on the clock. The numbers tell the tale in such a way that for me it makes it more interesting to see the box-plot of a match or the scorecard, than to read an article on what happened during the match.
And that's where the internet comes in: you can find as good as any scores or stats in no time, doesn't matter if it's from the '97-'98 season or if it's live. You get a quick look at the standings; a nice interactive graph shows the story. It's all there on the web for free, right there for you. It's great to consult: just a few clicks will learn you where this player was 4 years ago and how well he bowled back then. An excellent match, if you ask me: the sports numbers are all there on the web.
The second reason why the web and sports go together so well is sharing: sports, like so much more things in life, are better when shared. The experience of seeing the same event with your friends gives it an extra angle, and feeling that you belong to a club or feel you share a match or a track with your sports idol makes it a more profound experience then ever before. And the web has become instrumental in sharing and living the experiences of sports in recent years beyond any doubt.

This said, let's have a look at my favourite moments.

1. European Basketball and a bit NBA

Maybe you'll call me crazy, but I prefer European basketball to NBA. The reason is that I like a good defence - the NBA has only 2 teams who play defence - and I prefer basketball as a team sport – not as a sport where you have 1 or 2 superstars per team who don't think of playing together with their team-mates. Basketball is of course a numbers game, so as a fan I just have to check the stats during and after every match. I used to watch matches on my TV with my laptop opened on live scores, and more often than not, I looked more at the stats. I admit that some sites on NBA are better at representing these stats – like including a plot of the position in which every shot was taken - but that's because working the numbers in sports has a longer history in the US than in Europe. Today I don't even need my TV any more while watching basketball. My favourite Spanish league is being aired on the internet by Orange, one of the sponsors of the ACB for free. It's just all there, on your screen: coverage, comments, stats. Now how great is that? The only thing maybe missing in ACB360 is the sharing part: you can't (yet?) post comments or join the experience.

2. The great communicator ends third in Le Tour

Even if he didn't win it, Lance Armstrong was the lead rider in the Tour de France. Maybe it's not so much for his comeback, but for the way in which Lance communicates that he became the lead of the play. Armstrong is one of the biggest users on twitter, and this brings your hero (or not) so close to the public, that as a fan you feel so much more part of the Tour. You actually experience with him, day in day out, how he's telling what he does and that helps you to get involved and live the experience. He posts very regularly pictures on twitpic, so you can even see what his day looks like. I remember a picture on his livestrong site of a team briefing before a race in the tour bus. You didn't get to see these things when it was a reporter who stood between you and the sportsmen. This only seems possible when the sportsmen start communicating themselves, directly to the public.
A lot of sites give live updates of events like The Tour: you see regular comments on what's happening in the race and you see a plot of the track live with the live time differences. People can log in to post live comments via Facebook or other social media, so you really get involved in the race without having to watch the live coverage. This is all very great and a big difference with what we had before internet arrived. But once the riders like Armstrong start giving you almost-live coverage of what they're up to, you really get absorbed within the sport and you even feel more pat of it then ever before.

Team meeting Astana

3. Cricket and more cricket.

I am born and I live in a country where cricket doesn't exist. I spent some time living in the UK at one stage of my life, and the combination of too much time and SkyTv made me fall for the sport: without anything else to do, I looked at 5-day Test matches during the day and that made me become a fan.
Following cricket where I live would be as good as impossible if it weren't for internet, and I must say that feeling so involved with the sport is only because the on-line cricket coverage has got it all.
First of all there are the stats: cricket is also a numbers game, and it's all there. BBC website has all scorecards – also the old ones - and extensive live scores. There are several other websites which give you even more detailed stats, with plots, fielding schemes, bowling tracking (hawkeye-style): the whole lot.

The sharing is also there: the bbc websites has a live text for most of the England matches. These involve live updates from the match. Since the sport is rather slow and takes various days in finishing, there is time to involve former players or specialists, you see reactions from people tuning in via SMS or email, there is time for some discussions on the rules, you get a picture from the action every now and then. This is all very engaging: you don't have to go to a cricket ground or have a TV in front of you to see the action. Just with your internet connection you can experience everything what's going on the field, besides the track and in the minds of a lot of spectators just like you. I haven't seen a TV footage for a very long time of cricket but I can say I was sweating as much as everybody else in Cardiff or in South Africa with Onions batting at 11 to save the match. I don't really miss the TV images: thanks to all this internet work, I have been enjoying so much of cricket the past years, and hope to do so.

Footnote: Everybody working in marketing and dealing with the issue of 'engaging' on-line with your clients: you should have a look at what sports has done to pull even more fans on board and engage with them. As a key rule, you should think 'sharing', you should think 'direct and clear communication' - don't think 'banner ads'.

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Thursday, 11 February 2010

The end of Spotify?

Only a few weeks ago I wrote in this blog that Spotify was one of my internet highlights of 2009. Today Warner Music announces that it's retreating from free music streaming services and this might just mean the end of Spotify.

When I first heard the news that Warner will no longer license their music to streaming sites, my first reaction was to have a look at what we will miss if Warner takes off its songs of Spotify. I looked up 'Label:Warner' to see which artist are on Warner's label and can be listened to on Spotify. The first 15 results included Paris Hilton and Van Halen, so I thought: no real harm done – we can do without Warner on free music streaming.
But of course my reasoning is beside the point: The greatness of Spotify is that it has everything and for the service it doesn't make any difference what artists you like. Of course, when I investigated a bit more, I learned that some of my favourite artists are with Warner, and I'm sure R.E.M, Madonna and Prince will be badly missed on streaming sites by a lot of people.

So what does this mean for Spotify? In my opinion - and this is of course very preliminary – I think Spotify is virtually dead. Not that the news of Warner will take of Spotify from the internet as per tomorrow, but I've got a feeling that Spotify will easily slip into yet another forgotten web based music service just like Deezer or MySpace. They had their time and we were big fans of them. We thought they were what the future would look like. And they did give us a good idea of what the future for music in internet would look like and they helped shaping that same future. But now that we're here, they're not around any more. OK, they are still on-line, but when was the last time you discovered a new band on MySpace and how many of your friends still listen to Deezer? The piracy P2P sites have been changing constantly over the years – moving from Napster to Kazaa and on to eMule and BitTorrent. It looks like legal platforms share the same faith.

First the reasons not to panic: Warner did not (yet) say it's going to take off its tracks of Spotify. So there is still a possibility that Warner will keep his music on existing sites, but maybe they will not upload new material, or they can stop working with new platforms.
The thing is: when they do decide to take off their music, it will be a hell of a blow for streaming services. Once you can't find the music you want to hear, you'll start looking for other ways of listening to the music. And most likely people will choose illegal P2P sites to download their music again.
Even if only Warner drops out, it's still one of the 4 majors, so you can roughly estimate that you won't have access to 25% of your favourite tracks.

In their statement, Warner told that free streaming service is 'clearly not positive for the industry'. Said in another way: we don't get enough money out of our catalogue from free streaming.
Free streaming services are funded by advertising: you hear ads in between the music you hear. The business model sounds good, but advertising revenue doesn't add up to a profitable model for the labels. They just receive the royalties for their tracks, and there doesn't seem to be big money in that.
From a business point of view, the free streaming model with advertising is equal to listening to a radio station. The only issue is that when everybody was still listening to the radio, the labels were selling lots of CDs with big profit margins. So in that time, radio was supposed to help them sell records and didn't need to produce a direct profit for the labels. Now that the industry is heavily damaged, the streaming services aren't perceived as help for their sales. The industry sees it as a threat.

I guess Warner will stay on paying streaming services. Spotify and other services offer a premium subscription, in which you pay a monthly fee to have access to the music without the advertising. If the labels get their share of these subscriptions, they'll get a share of a hugely profitable market.
So here's the big question: since I love Spotify so much: would I pay a monthly fee for it to keep it service? I am inclined to say that I wouldn't.
My service would cost me 120€ per year. This is not much compared to the price I used to pay for a CD: I can buy 8 CDs of 15€ with that amount, and this includes the services for one year. Considering this, Spotify Premium is pretty cheap.
But moving from a free service to a paid one is kind of hard after one year free streaming and some more years free and illegal downloading. Ans moving to a paying service should give you a better product. Though in this case, the only change would be not to hear the ads, which is not a big improvement.
It looks like we're used to the fact that we will find our music somewhere for free: we find the video on YouTube, we have P2P downloading. When Spotify arrived, we swapped the lousy interface of P2P for free streaming and the price we paid was listening to advertising. That was acceptable. But now, is the interface worth its money? You also have to consider that the 120€ is streaming only, so you can't put the music on your iPod to listen to it on the metro. The only option is installing it on you mobile, which is still a pretty expensive way to use internet services.

I think it will be the same story like the ones we had before: first a couple of songs are taken off Spotify, then some more, and then a big artist's whole catalogue. We'll get Facebook groups named 'I bet I can find 1.000.000 people who want Madonna in Spotify'. Then you drop out once, because your favourite artist has a new album, and you can't find it streamed. And bit by bit, we'll turn again to P2P, I suppose. I will, if I'm not offered some (free) alternative. And within a year or so, somebody will mention Spotify, and I'll remember I used to like that service but I'll find that I'm not using it any more.


Monday, 25 January 2010

My Internet 2009 Top 5: DavidLynch.com's Interview Project

2009 wasn't a good year for the entertainment sector. I wish it were otherwise, but it's not. When I talk about the entertainment business, I'm not referring to the music industry, which I already discussed here. I'm neither referring to the sports industry which will be the topic of my next post. I'm talking about everything related to film and television.

First the good news: I think the display advertising for films has been really great this year. Video has become something really big on the internet in general, and in on-line display advertising specifically. Of course the film industry benefits widely from this trend, since their main marketing has been releasing trailers. So it's just a small step to put these trailers into a banner. More often than not, these banners are very elegantly produced and they tend to be expandable, with some really special extras, some nice interaction.


Unfortunately, the good news ends here. First of all, too much campaigns are promoted by some flash mini-site: they include long loading times, annoying navigation and they completely lack any relevant content. More than often they have a game, some links to social media, even a mobile application of some sort. It looks like somebody from the studios has heard what is hip today (advergaming - yeah! Social media - wow! iPhone app - sweet), and they just need to have it, without thinking it through. A good example is this site for 2012 – you'll get my point right away. Marketing is not about having the next big thing, it's what you do with it.

More importantly: for as good as the new ways of showing film-trailers might be, it's still old-skool advertising and it doesn't reflect a clever way of understanding what the internet is about.

The entertainment industry should have learned by now that you can't fight the internet, but that you have to embrace it's model and find your way in it. The music industry has been fighting the internet for a long time, and every time a P2P website was closed, another one opened. People wanted their songs available on the internet, and piracy was the only viable option for a lot of people for a long time. Until – at last – something like Spotify or Pandora came around with a good model of a streaming-based music service.

So my question is: when will we be able to watch our films and series on a similar platform? Since I'm on Spotify I haven't downloaded one single illegal song. OK, I also stopped buying records, but if the business model of Spotify works, I've heard my fair share of advertising, and this advertising should generate income for the artists I listen to.
On the other hand I am still watching films and series on illegal streaming or downloading sites. This is basically so since there is no real alternative on-line. OK, there is Amazon where you can buy the DVD's (and before you all want to lock me up, I must say I'm one of the few people I know who still actually buy DVDs), but that's no real option, since you don't have the option to see it streamed in real-time.
There are some platforms showing streaming content, like Hulu in the US, Pixbox in Spain or Joost all over the place, but it all comes down to the same thing: if you don't have a big enough catalogue with a decent share of films and series, you're not likely to convince a big audience. And of course these catalogues are owned by the producers of film and video. So it's a real shame 2009 was not yet the year when entertainment came legally to our houses via our internet connection. And I must say, it doesn't look like it will happen in 2010. So we will have to endure some more time watching bad streaming services with horrible interfaces and bad subtitles. Not because we don't want to pay, it's because there is no legal way to watch content on-line.


Just watching series or films streamed on-line is just one step where the entertainment business is missing out. But we're even farther away of having a mayor production being based on the internet.
DavidLynch.com's Interview Project is something which might give a glimpse of what the future might be of on-line centered entertainment content.
The Interview Project doesn't aspire to be a whole lot – it's just a team of David Lynch who travel a route in the US and every now and then they stop for an interview with somebody they meet. The interviews of about 4' bring a short introduction into the lives of the people that are interviewed and their ideas and values. It's really David Lynch: you get to see the human being in all it's uniqueness.
David Lynch is a good example of how the film and TV business can adapt to a new medium such as internet. Lynch has been making films and programs for a very long time, long before the internet showed up. But he's been showing for a long time now on DavidLynch.com that you don't have to loose strength by embracing the new laws of the internet. Let's just hope that the next 'The Wire' or the next 'Avatar' will be developed on the internet. By working over time and count on the collaboration of the people, you can get a new, strong format, and above all: it can be something really engaging. Nowadays, we watch an episode of our favourite series, and there isn't much in between episodes apart from some trailer for next week's episode. In film that's even worse: you just go to the cinema, plunge into a world for 2 hours, and then finish with that world. The best you can hope for might be a sequel in 2 years time. There is so much time between episodes which we can spend engaging with our favourite show, which gets lost right now.
The best thing about the site DavidLynch.com Interview Project is it's usage of time. On the internet, time is everything. I believe that engagement on the internet comes by using time in your projects: let people come back to your site for a bit more. Reward them for their loyalty. Be fair to them, and give them a voice. Work towards a relationship. Get involved, and don't believe in a one-off.
Interview Project really understands this element of time, and has regular updates, with every time the publication of a new interview. This makes you come back to the site, enjoy it every time a little more.
Last but not least, and also considering the element of time: Interview Project has a very healthy slowness about it, which is pretty unusual on internet. Every episode lets your watch run just that little bit slower, and gives you a welcome break before we move on to our millions of status-updates, or real-time tweets or RSS-feeds.

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