31 January 2007

Wants or needs?

If you were ever in any doubt about whether you should try to satisfy wants or needs then this article in Slate about buying and drinking a spectacular white Burgundy should clarify the matter for ever.

Mike Steinberger not only paid $700 for the bottle of hauntingly good 1996 Coche-Dury Corton-Charlemagne, a grand cru white Burgundy, he drove away from the restaurant feeling that he had paid a bargain price.

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How long is your tail? (FeedBurner stats)

It's about six weeks since I last took a look at FeedBurner's stats to see how many Feed Readers and Aggregators have accessed the blog over time. The current figure is 51 different types of browsers, bots, readers and aggregators. That's an increase of 10 new lines in the report in the intervening period.

We talk about the long tail in relation to keyword searches, but there is a different kind of long tail developing in RSS feeds.

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Where's a non-expert when you want one?

We know what we want to find - a group of non-experts in a particular subject. So how do you go about finding a non-expert? They realise that this topic is important to them but they don't think they have got it mastered - they need to know more. Where do they sit? What do they read? How do we recognise that they are non-experts? Are they capable of classifying themselves as non-experts?

Actually, thinking about it, targeting has to be based on self-assessment. It doesn't matter to us how expert these people are, it is the fact that they think that they are non-experts that makes them the right targets.

OK, now I've understood that, where are they?

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Don't forget the feedback

Feedback is important in plenty of areas, particularly in training. The mantra in training delivery is: give feedback when it isn't asked for and ask for feedback when it hasn't been offered. Both my wife and my younger son have been on training courses this week and their experiences have been very different.

My younger son has been on an induction course at Pretty Big Employer Ltd which gave him an opportunity to meet a range of fairly new starters from around the organisation and learn something about the history of the business. He seems to have enjoyed the experience immensely which is fine. The training seems to have managed the mix between socialisation and content pretty effectively.

On the other hand, my wife was at a regional course on Tuesday which was supposed to be the last word on how to improve an aspect of her College's delivery and she came home spitting feathers, complaining that the trainer was completely useless and unaware about the impact of legislative changes occurring in her area of provision. She deliberately didn't complete her feedback form while she was on the course and brought it home last night so that she could compose something suitably scathing. Now, I don't know the process for analysing those forms or indeed who reads them, but I'm in no doubt that the course designer and the trainer could both learn something fairly useful from that feedback form.

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30 January 2007

When it's gone, it's gone

Not so much an Overture, more like the finale. Overture, criticised by many for the quality of its outputs seems to have finally disappeared.

Where Overture was useful was in its ability quickly to report on keyword usage by country and that, coupled with some ingenuity on the part of the researcher could highlight which keywords were gaining ground by language of search. As I mentioned at the beginning of this post, Overture's accuracy has been under fire for a while. That said, the output provided a ranked list of keywords and that alone is almost worth the price of admission because it begins to provide an indication of the long tail which webmasters can use within their website or marketing campaigns.

It is too early to say that it's gone for good, but I can't access it all today so I suspect that it has been withdrawn.

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25 January 2007

Traffic mix

We have several eCommerce sites. As part of another exercise, I have been looking at traffic sources for each of these sites.

What is interesting is that the towels site - on almost every measure [page rank, inbound links and SEOmoz page strength] - would normally be regarded as a less successful site than the champagne site. The measure where towels outperforms champagne is in the volume of organic traffic ... and that, Ladies and Gentlemen is the only measure that really counts.

I haven't done a detailed analysis of the competitive sites, but if I did then I imagine I would understand better why the towels site is bringing such a high proportion of organic search visitors. Very often, it isn't necessary to build the perfect website to get organic traffic - just a little better than the competition.

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Link bait

Link bait is a derogatory term used to describe a trick to attract inbound links to your blog. John Chow is using a cracker. If you provide a review of his site then he will offer a link back to your site, providing you follow a few review rules which are set out in this post (essentially it should be more than 200 words and contain a link both to the blog and the post which launched the idea).

I'm not following those rules because this is such an amusing idea. Technorati's major measure of authority is links, and John Chow is subverting it in a very simple and direct way. He is currently reported at 834 in Technorati with inbound links from over 1300 blogs. That's pretty impressive, but what is more interesting is that when he launched this link bait idea, the blog ranked at 1529. Just to put this in context - Technorati is now tracking over 63.2 million blogs so John Chow's blog has greater authority on Technorati than 99.98% of the blogs they track.

I'm not a great fan of inbound links as a measure of authority and relevance and this exercise shows just what a poor quality metric it is.


Where is the business going to come from?

We obsess about our pipeline. Which companies are in it, what is the nature of the opportunity, do we have a solid chance of winning the work? These are all good questions.

It's important to use a variety of different channels for winning new business. I was at a meeting of SME consultancies a couple of weeks ago and one of the people there said that all his business had come from Networking. Networking is a powerful tool and I don't want to decry it, but it is important to have some more active channels which you can develop alongside it. The power of an effective sales and marketing process which includes a number of different channels is that you will inevitably increase your reach. The more people who know about you, the more business you will do - all other things being equal. The point about networking is that it is indirect and although you can do a number of things to make yourself more effective at networking, it is difficult to regard it as an active channel where activity links quickly and directly to outputs. By comparison, targeting particular types of businesses and talking to them is almost entirely active.

Having opportunities in the pipeline is not the same as guaranteeing that we will win the work. Sometimes the main competitor - the status quo - prevents the prospect from becoming a paying client. Things move through the pipeline at their own pace and we have to recognise that there is often a fine line between staying in touch and appearing overly eager. That said, one of our prospects has decided not to go ahead with one of their business ideas which we were very excited about. They had an enormous competitive advantage in a consumer product of growing importance. The idea was that they would start to sell direct from a website using a new brand name while continuing to support their existing B2B sales with their current brand name. The margins were potentially very attractive and we were looking forward to making the business perform spectacularly, but the status quo has reared its head and the prospect isn't going ahead.

We are looking for another opportunity which is just as exciting.

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Green is the colour of growth

The headline makes sense only for those of you who use the Google Toolbar. Google's algorithms have determined that the page rank of the blog is now 4 rather than 3. For those of you without the toolbar I should explain that the page rank is shown as a small graphic with a green bar.

I'm a bit surprised. This is a blog which doesn't attempt to cover day to day news or fashionable topics, although I did get very interested in Linkie Winkie for a few weeks last summer. That means that I have a small niche, posting reasonably regularly on the business things that I see around me. What is good about the blog is that it has generated correspondence with a number of interesting people and allowed me to monitor and take part in some debates that I doubt I would have been aware of otherwise. It has also provided an excellent proving ground for ideas which I have then re-used in our newsletter and in several White Papers.

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24 January 2007

Who thought this one up?

I went on a site yesterday aimed at an SME audience. The site has the highest pedigree. It has been developed by Famous Name Inc. and is sponsored by several well-heeled companies. They claim that the site has been running at a rate of 200,000 visitors per month since the beginning of January.

I hope they have a strategy here, because Famous Name Inc. notwithstanding, the site is tosh. I can't imagine why any SME would visit more than once - the content isn't strong enough. It is reassuring that a business with all their resources can still get something so badly wrong. They need to have a complete re-think about what they are offering their visitors.

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23 January 2007

Email disaster

Over the last week I have had a disaster with email. At first I thought that it was a delay problem and that I was receiving all the email and that all my outbound mail was being received. It seems that hasn't been the case.

That's a problem when you rely on the system to deliver yet very often systems are imperfect. It doesn't matter what the system is: email, voice mail or snail mail, a proportion doesn't get to the recipient. Sometimes because the receiver makes a mistake and drops your letter in the wastebasket with the junk mail, sometimes because the delivery process fails to deliver it in the first place.

If the communication is important then you had better make sure that whatever system you use, you check to make sure that your message has been received and understood.

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Organic champagne results

Another seven weeks on and here are the positions for the champagne site in Yahoo!, MSN and Google. We are still first page for the three search terms that I have been tracking since 13 October. Once again, thanks to Brad Callen on how to do it. Incidentally, just in case you want to check that I'm not making it up, you can access all the tracking posts very simply by searching for champagne from the blog search bar.

Here are today's results with the figures for 3 December in curly brackets, 25 November in round brackets, 13 October positions in square brackets:

3 word search term
Yahoo 1 {5} (4) [3]
MSN 2 {3} (3) [7]
Google 6 {4} (19) [not indexed in first 1000 sites]

2 word search term
Yahoo - 1 {5} (5) [7]
MSN - 8 {8} (7) [13]
Google - 9 {10} (311) [not indexed in first 1000 sites]

2 word search term
Yahoo - 1 {1} (1) [1]
MSN - 1 {1} (1) [1]
Google - 1 {1} (1) [1]

That's still pretty pleasing - still first page on all 3 terms and the upward movements outweigh the downward movements.

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17 January 2007

What do they mean?

Who are they? They are PayPal. I have a serious problem in understanding PayPal emails. My mother tongue is English. PayPal emails are created in a parallel universe where syntax and vocabulary appear to be English but where meaning seems to be completely occluded.

A few weeks ago I mentioned that we had a charge-back on one of our eCommerce sites. This means that the funds resulting from the sale being ring-fenced while the the charge-back is investigated. Last week we got a PayPal email. (The emails created in a parallel universe which are written by an infinite number of monkeys on an infinite number of typewriters before they get around to the works of Shakespeare.)

The email was equivocal. It appeared to suggest that the charge-back was still being investigated. Today I took a look at our PayPal account to find the charge-back was closed and that the decision had gone against us.

We are now out of pocket to the tune of the:
  • cost of PayPal's charges on the original sale
  • value of the towels
  • courier costs to deliver them
  • credit card company's charges for investigating the charge-back.
Great, we are now acting as insurer of last resort to Big Companies Inc..

I'm struggling with this, we acted in good faith and we rely on PayPal to offer us transactions which aren't fraudulent. It seems that the only way we can further limit our risk is to authorise sales only when the delivery address and the credit card billing address are the same - if you want to buy from us and have something delivered somewhere else as a gift then I'm sorry, you're out of luck.

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16 January 2007

Selling to the little old lady

Earlier this month, my mother-in-law decided that her house needed some work and asked a firm to quote for replacement barge boards and soffits. A salesman went around and offered her a price for the work. She knows enough negotiating to keep a trainer in business:

"Do you want to go ahead at that price?"

"No, I know that if I don't then you'll reduce it."

This was an opportunity for the salesman to do some value selling, but he didn't. He gave her a 18% discount on the spot and asked her again if she would close at that price. She didn't. Off he went with the 18% discount still live.

They sent another salesman. This was a young man who thought he might be able to play the sympathy and empathy card. He told her that he found it very expensive to live in the area, he was hoping to get married soon and money wasn't going very far. He also brought the price down again by another 9% on the last offer - just over 25% below the initial price - and asked for the business (you've got to admire some aspects of their training, they knew how to ask for a close!). She didn't buy.

She got a phone call from their manager - and after he offered her another small discount, taking it to just over 27% below the initial price, she caved and bought. When the surveyor came around to measure up he asked how much she was paying for the job and when she told him, he said that he didn't think that they could do it for the price. He might be right.

My mother-in-law comes from a long line of negotiators and she likes a little challenge during the day to keep her amused. The barge boards and soffits are just the latest example. Her double glazing came in at 25% less than the "absolute minimum price" - a final discount of about 80%. The double glazing salesman was speaking the truth - the firm went out of business just after completing the work.

Sales is a tough job, and if the only lever you have in your negotiation is price then you had better not try and sell to my mother-in-law, not if you want to make your bonus this quarter.

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Does your copy paint pictures?

I'm not the only one to stress the importance of copy - here is Brad Callen on the topic:

Here's a question for you: what makes people buy from the page or the screen? It's sales copy. And yes, it's because you are selling them a solution and not the features. But have you ever thought about what goes on inside a prospect's mind, from the time they see your sales copy till the time the they have an “aha!” moment and decide to buy your product?

Sales copy is a static medium. You can't use your positive body language, your disarming smile and a confident voice to sell – all you've got is words. Jumbles of letters. How the hell do you sell from that? The key is NOT what you say - even the most focused and ingenious copy can fall flat if it doesn't have “what it takes” to create that desire, that spark inside your prospect's head. It's all about delivery. Not visual delivery of your sales pitch but… The words that you use to deliver your sales pitch.

Michael Fortin calls them UPWORDS. Joe Vitale, another great copywriter, tagged the whole process as hypnotic marketing. Famous marketers of an older era such as David Ogilvy and Joe Sugarman swore by the principle. It's dead simple. You have to translate all that positive body language, all your confidence, all your energy, into a tightly written, powerful, visually stimulating sales copy. Visual stimulation. Painting pictures for your prospects to imagine.

This is what separates the great from the merely good in marketing and copywriting. If you want your prospect to be fully convinced that you are the best deal in town, use your words not only to sell the solution, but to paint that solution as a powerful, eyeball-grabbing picture in their minds. And once you're inside their heads, you just have to connect the dots and show them (once again using words as a visual tool) how they can use your product to erase a problem that has plagued them until they read your copy. Build your sales copy using your words as visual aids – to support, represent and ultimately sell your solution to your prospect.

Take a good, hard look at your sales copy. Are you missing the whole point? Does your copy lack focus? Are you just selling the features and assuming that the prospects will do the mental legwork for you and become motivated by themselves?

So what are you waiting for? Challenge what you have written and test whether your new ideas and copy work any better for you.

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14 January 2007

That was the 1980s - things are different now

Back in the days when I was a strategic planner in an industrial holding group, I saw a campaign for a foodmixer which boasted the power of the direct drive motor in their top of the range model. They didn't say that the same engine powered a cement mixer, which I knew because I knew the company supplying the laminations for the core.

The point was that no-one buying that foodmixer was particularly interested in the size of the motor. They might have wanted to know that it would last forever without maintenance, cut large quantities of food every day without breaking down, make life in the kitchen easier but somehow those benefits didn't come through in the campaign.

I can hear the sussuration in the background - it wouldn't happen today - I'm sorry to say that you're wrong, it happens every day. It was a major mistake in the 1980s and the rules of what works in a sales process had been thought through many years earlier by some excellent copywriters and salespeople.

I was on a website recently and the entire website was a paean to product features which no doubt would have been admired by the developers of the foodmixer advertisement. If your buyers and visitors can transform those features into benefits, then you are extremely lucky - the rest of us have to work with humans.

Try and view your copy and your offering through your buyers' eyes - what made them buy the offering, what did they value, how do they talk about it to their friends?

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Back to the benefits

We have been thinking hard for the last few weeks about benefits - what is a buyer really getting after they have had the service delivered. That's a challenging question and how many business services firms ask themselves that kind of question:
  • what will this web site deliver to the client? Will it improve visitor retention? Will it improve customer service? Will it increase sales? Will it reduce churn?
  • what will this advertising campaign deliver to the client? Will it increase reach? Will it increase sales? Will it increase or decrease the cost of sale?
  • what will this PR campaign deliver to the client? Will it increase sales? Will it reduce churn?
  • what will this consultancy assignment deliver? Is this the best consultancy intervention for the client? Will the benefits be maintained?
  • What will this coaching support deliver? What will be the business benefits? How will those benefits be maintained after the coaching stops?
Unless business services firms can answer these kinds of questions then they shouldn't be surprised that clients are reluctant to dive straight to the dotted line to sign. The last of these bullets prompted a furious debate on eCademy when Max Blumberg pointed out that most of the "evidence" about the benefits of coaching were testimonials rather than quantified outputs and that testimonials are notoriously weak at quantifying outcomes. At the time, he challenged the coaches on eCademy to provide evidence of quantified benefits resulting from their coaching. Not only did many coaches find that a foreign concept - most never asked their clients how they had benefited from their support - they just knew intuitively that coaching was "good".

This comes back to testing again. If you don't test the outcomes of your interventions with clients you risk repeating mistakes of which you are unaware. Services have to evolve to become better value, to offer the same benefits but in less time. Services have to be bit like the Olympic motto - faster, higher, stronger. Testing needs to be an important part of your delivery, not just in 2007, but as long as you want to be in business.

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11 January 2007

How is this site performing

NicheBot has a nifty new feature for those of you lucky enough to have a Google SOAP API key - they aren't issuing any more.

By editing your personal profile on NicheBot you can develop search term rankings for both Yahoo! and Google anywhere within the top 1000 URLs returned for the search term - not both at the same time, but significantly quicker than you would be able to do it yourself. If you don't have a Google API key then you are obviously limited to competition results from Yahoo! alone.

The Google SOAP API results are significantly slower than those from Yahoo! and some search terms seem to produce endless 502 errors which is one of the reasons that Google is not issuing any more. Maybe at some point NicheBot will work with AJAX API keys but that doesn't appear to be forthcoming at the moment.

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09 January 2007

Getting the copy right

Writing copy takes time. The reason for that is that few of us think like copywriters. Copy tells us what a product or service can do for us and doesn't necessarily labour the point about what the product or the service is. One of the key features about copy is that it has to grab hold of its audience quickly and keep them interested.

That means that the headline has to be strong enough to encourage people to read the first paragraph, the first paragraph has to lead the reader to learn more and finally, the call to action has to be sufficiently compelling to make the reader perform an action.

There are a lot of basic rules about copy and they tend to be similar. The key rule is that the copy has to talk to the reader as you and about the reader's problem as your problem. That's easy if you follow Andy Bounds' concept of AFTERS because you will be thinking about what you are leaving the reader or the buyer with as a result of buying your product or service.

Good copy doesn't have to follow a specific format - I have seen a 30 page sales letter which was broken up into smaller sections, each of which was terminated by a call to action. Readers who ignored the call to action at any point had the option of reading more of the letter and reading additional detail about the products and what they could deliver either from the seller or testimonials written by happy customers. This didn't follow many people's idea of a formal structure for a piece of copy but it was highly effective.

Typically, people writing copy use one of two main structures:
  • Attention; Interest; Desire and Action
  • Problem; Solution and Action
The actual structure is less important than the response it generates in the reader - and the best of all responses is to get them to read down to the last line and follow the call to action.

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07 January 2007

Advertising for the advertiser

There is a quote which is attributed to Lord Leverhulme "Half of my advertising is wasted, the problem is that I don't which half." That may sound bad, but for many businesses the figure is much worse.

Advertising is relatively expensive so it is worth looking at to see if it can be made more effective. Once again, the key is testing. If you don't know whether something works then stop until you have inserted some control codes so that you can begin to collect some data. Businesses often use their competitors as their research vehicle:
  • advertising in the same journals and papers
  • using advertisements which are almost indistinguishable
Advertising based on that kind of research is almost certainly wasted. Competitors aren't being scientific about what they are doing so they aren't a good role model.

Here are some high level guidelines for the neophyte advertiser:
  • all advertising should contain some call to action - when you have a restricted budget, the advertising that you buy should pull its weight in your sales cycle
  • don't advertise on the left hand side of the page - studies show again and again that advertisements on the right hand page get more eyeball time
  • be prepared to negotiate a rate
Many people seem to believe that advertising is the most important lever in marketing - in fact it is one of a number of methods of getting access to a market. If you treat all these mechanisms as if they are in competition with one another for your budget then you have a chance of getting better value out of your investment.

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06 January 2007

Writing that article

If you know that your PR would fit well into a particular publication then it is still worth going to them with a proposal rather than a finished article. If you take a synopsis and some samples of your writing style to them then they can discuss whether they have any themes that they would like you to explore. If you take them a finished article then it is a bit late to allow those kinds of contributions.

However, if you have produced an article and your target publication isn't expressing strong interest then don't give up. You simply have to change your approach and look for websites and publications which are working in the right general area. Many people are looking for content and providing that your article is strong, newsworthy and relevant then you might be surprised how wide its coverage can become.

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Is your presentation self-consistent

I attended a presentation last week. These kinds of presentation generate most of the presenter's income since he uses them as a sales vehicle for his paid services. The first point on the presentation was ho-hum, but the third was a doozy which made his audience sit up. The problem was that some of his later points contradicted the third which seemed like a major faux-pas to me.

I'm anal about presentations - the material itself has to tell a story when I'm not there but it has to tell it in a way which is self-consistent. The presentation that I attended just about worked despite the incongruities because the presenter had just about enough skill to bring it back even if he was unaware why he had a problem in the first place.

This comes back to being ruthless in checking and testing presentations before you make them live - once they're gone, they're gone and if you don't test it, you risk that part of your audience will never think about you as positively in the future as they did before point 4.

Presentations aren't easy, if they were then people would be better at them - most presentations are tosh. Since they are so important to many people's professional lives, they deserve more thought in the planning, development and execution. These are all skills that can be learnt and practiced - promise yourselves that you will do better in 2007. Then, having made the promise to yourself, do something about it.

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05 January 2007

Just email Rebecca

SEOmoz has had a great idea - to build an accurate measurement of search traffic for as many keywords as they can. They want to find a formula which assesses the accuracy of keyword research sources like Overture, KeywordDiscovery, Hitwise's Keyword Intelligence, Google's Adwords Estimator, MSN's Adcenter, and others. It shouldn't take much:

  1. Gather a large list of hundreds, hopefully thousands of keyword terms and their actual search numbers at Google - this can be done by getting data from advertisers who were always listed on the 1st page of results for the term through AdWords (using the impression numbers for "exact match")
  2. Gather a list of the estimated numbers reported by all of the major keyword research services for those same terms and phrases.
  3. Distill the data, tossing out those phrases that might cause issue or those reports that wouldn't have a huge impact and keep only the best, most useful ones.
  4. Compare the two sources (Adwords Impressions and estimator tools) and find out fascinating information like - which tool is most accurate? Is there a formula that would predict (based on all the estimation sources) within 10%, 20% or 30% of actual traffic?
SEOmoz is putting in some of its own client data but they need more help. They promise to collect the data, report it honestly (but anonymously - not revealing any of your keywords or those of clients) and build a tool that will use this formula. They will also provide the exact formula publicly, so that anyone can use the same information to build their own tools, use it in their internal calculations, etc.

How can you help?

  1. If you are willing to participate, please email Rebecca@SEOmoz.org. SEOMOZ will work out all the necessary details, whittle down what's required, and request screenshots to help make the data collection happen
  2. If you are a PPC expert and can help them to analyze the data and issue the requirements, please email Rebecca as well; they will need some help from the best :)
  3. If you're a blogger, you could ask your readers to do likewise
  4. If you participate at forums like DigitalPoint, Sitepoint, WebProWorld, SearchEngineWatch, HighRankings, etc. you could post about this and ask for volunteers (again, no need to link)
This kind of analysis is endless - SEOmoz may well develop a tool, but it will reflect a moment in time - as things evolve the work will need to be revisited unless one of the big keyword players unlocks the secret to offering accurate search traffic estimates.

Who sent me this email?

UK legislation for electronic communications and websites has changed and many companies are non-compliant. The details are set out in a summary by Outlaw posted on the Register.

Companies in the UK must include certain regulatory information on their websites and in their email footers before 1 January 2007 or they will breach the Companies Act and risk a fine.

Every company should list its company registration number, place of registration, and registered office address on its website as a result of an update to the legislation of 1985. The information, which must be in legible characters, should also appear on order forms and in emails. Such information is already required on "business letters" but the duty is being extended to websites, order forms and electronic documents.

This isn't onerous, but a quick check of a number of sites this morning revealed that many organisations hadn't got around to editing their websites even if they have put together a new email footer.

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04 January 2007

What is this invoice for?

Sometimes B2B service providers work with operators in the business who are not Buyers. When this is the case, it is worth providing evidence of value:
  • do the work with/for the operator and
  • EITHER provide copies for the buyer with an explanation of what the work for the operator has delivered. That thud factor can be important to remind the Buyer just what you are doing and why you are doing it
  • OR have formal review meetings with the Buyer to cover not only what has been done to date but an assessment of what needs to be done next
The risk of not doing this or having regular contact with your Buyer to review what has been done, is that the sole evidence that they have of your activity is your monthly invoice which is probably not the best way to be remembered. The advantage of the review meeting is that it provides an opportunity to develop the relationship and use the time to think forward as well as back so that the client feels in control of what is happening and starts to consider the work as an investment rather than simply a cost.

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03 January 2007

The value(?) of external metrics

I posted earlier about the difficulties of comparing the results of external metrics. Here is a more serious evaluation of my gut feel. This was a pretty exhaustive look at a number of sites using a range of sources. These included: Technorati, SEOmoz Page Strength, inlinks reported by Yahoo! Site Explorer, Bloglines subscriptions, Alexa rank, Netcraft rank, Newsgator subscribers, Compete.com rank, Ranking.com rank and Google page rank. They then compared the outputs from the metric with the traffic actually recorded at the site and tried to establish a correlation between the metric and the traffic for the range of sites in the study.

Their findings:
  1. Number of Technorati Links (0.74)
  2. SEOmoz Page Strength (0.60)
  3. Number of Links to the Blog URL via Yahoo! Site Explorer (0.56)
  4. Number of Links to the Domain via Yahoo! Site Explorer (0.54)
  5. Bloglines Subscriptions (0.49)
  6. Technorati Rank (0.49)
  7. Alexa Rank (0.49)
  8. Netcraft Rank (0.43)
  9. Newsgator Subscribers (0.39)
  10. Compete.com Rank (0.38)
  11. Ranking.com Rank (0.36)
  12. Google PageRank (0.21)

Their conclusion: none of the metrics are accurate enough to use, even in combination, to help predict a site's level of traffic or its relative popularity, even in a small niche with similar competitors ... it appears that the external metrics available for competitive intelligence on the web today simply do not provide a significant source of value ... anyone who applies this data for competitive analysis/research [should] do so with the following limitations in mind:

  • Unless the discrepancy between the metrics is high and universal, they cannot be taken to mean that one website, blog or page is necessarily more popular than another
  • Generally speaking, the more well-linked to a page/site/domain, the higher its traffic levels, but there will be a significant number of exceptions
  • Services like Alexa, Ranking.com, Compete.com & Netcraft are nearly useless when it comes to predicting traffic or comparing relative levels of popularity, even when used on a highly comparable set of sites in a similar field

Correlation coefficients can be slightly arbitrary in use, depending on how the analyst chooses to set the cut-off points. On most people's scales only Technorati is showing a strong positive correlation while more than half of these metrics would be classed as showing only a weak positive correlation.

Perhaps they should have added coin tossing to the list!


02 January 2007

Body Shop - ethical sales approach?

Just before Christmas I went shopping for presents with my younger son - typical male-bonding activity - drive, park, walk, find shop, buy, walk, go home. One of the stores we went to was Body Shop. I know that it has its admirers but I'm not one of them. Body Shop claims that its products aren't animal tested and takes the position that it is opposed to animal testing.

That may or may not be true, but at root the marketing proposition must rely on the fact that their ingredients have been animal tested at some point, although not by Body Shop and not in the formulations which Body Shop's product developers have created. In their heart of hearts, which of Body Shop's customers would answer yes to the question "would you like to be the first animal in the world to test this product?".

That qualifies as a dishonest sell in my opinion. None of us wants to be the first guinea pig to test the product range for all the other eager buyers. We may be quite happy to be the 100th or the 1000th or even the millionth. There was a furore last year when 6 paid volunteers suffered significant physical damage as part of a clinical trial. The drug company was villified for putting the volunteers at risk, but that's how life is - someone has to be the first.

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Just another specialist

At the week-end I was in Maplin, looking for an interconnect between a standard USB and my phone. Maplin is small, but rather intense - rather like the geeky guy in the corner at a party. People can see that he is there, but they aren't entirely sure if they want to go over and risk a conversation. Is Maplin a well-kept secret or a highly sophisticated strategy play?

Maplin isn't exactly elitist, but it has a techie aura which is both a benefit and a curse. Many of their lines are available more generally, but the shop isn't exactly a pop in and browse kind of place. If you want to buy a 'cool to the touch' soldering iron then you have found the right place. Having seen one on sale, I'm consumed by curiosity - how does it work? I feel like writing to New Scientist - how can a soldering iron which is cool enough for me to touch, melt solder in a few seconds? It's like the inverse of the penguin question - do their feet need anti-freeze?

The business seems to be based around a mail order catalogue which has a significant 'thud factor'. As well as interconnects, they have plenty of components for the DIY computer builder and my younger son bought quite a lot of stuff in there as part of his latest games machine project.

It isn't quite clear to me who the shop is aimed at but perhaps I would get a clearer idea if I spent any time looking through the catalogue. One of the problems with having a network of relatively small retail stores is that no store can hope to carry all their active lines. I think that the business is designed to cater for DIY hobbyist electronics and electrical browsers who are nudged into purchases by being reminded of something by seeing it on sale. Because it is based on a small sample I couldn't claim that this is a thorough survey. It would be interesting to know what their customers thought about them and what they think about their customers.

The interconnect? Yes, they had it.

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01 January 2007

Julian hasn't changed much

In the early 1980s after my wife and I came back to the UK after living in Belgium for 3½ years, I worked close to London Bridge. Morning and evening I would pass by a little shop which was crammed, floor to ceiling, with HiFi separates. That store was Richer Sounds which is now a $200 million business with 43 stores.

Richer Sounds was owned by a guy called Julian Richer and he produced a little give-away sheet with his current stock range. The give-away was outside in the street, just by the front door. People could grab a copy as they walked by and read it later. The style was deliberately chatty and jargon-free - a bit like the people who worked there. That store used to be in the Guinness Book of Records - it outsold every other shop in the UK (irrespective of sector) on the basis of revenue per square foot.

Julian's give away paper might have been deliberately chatty, but his business model was created by a thoughtful brain. He had some excellent contacts in the trade - his shop was a delight for HiFi lovers. It didn't matter what you wanted, amps, decks, CD decks, tape decks, tuners, interconnects or speakers, Julian had a great range with something to suit all pockets. Better, his staff had time to talk - they knew the products and it showed.

The product range has moved a bit over time. I seem to remember portable players and digital cameras, all of which have now disappeared. Despite those excursions into alternative product ranges, the shop has always seemed to do best with HiFi. Today the range seems to focus on HiFi and Home Cinema so there is a strong thematic link throughout the business.

What made me think of Julian was that I was in one of his shops yesterday and the colleague who served me (Richer Sounds calls all its staff colleagues), asked me where I had found out about them, which was when I realised that I had been a customer for almost 25 years (24 years and 9 months, but who is counting). Not a continuous customer - HiFi isn't something that you buy every day, but a customer nevertheless. I have bought my own kit there as well as presents for people. I have encouraged my sons to go there for their kit and I have told many people over the years that Richer Sounds is the first place to look for certain kinds of kit. All that behaviour puts me squarely in the 'delighted customer' category.

The idea of building long-lasting relationships began early and is still going strong. Here's an excerpt from their site:
At Richer Sounds we constantly strive to give our customers the very best service in the hope that they will recommend us to others and be customers for life. Every aspect of our business throughout the company is aimed at making us accountable to you, from our sales colleagues' name badges, and aftersales numbers on receipts, right down to the mystery (under-cover) shoppers we employ to visit our stores. But... we are human and even with the best will in the world mistakes can and do occur. The only way we can improve our service or solve a problem is if you tell us about it, and give us the opportunity to put things right.
Customers are still encouraged to complete a shopping survey with every purchase and Julian has his address and email address on the site if anyone needs to contact him. His picture shows that he still looks much the same as he did 24 years and 9 months ago although he is now the Chairman of Richer Sounds rather than the owner. Chairman certainly sounds more weighty.

A great business, built from a clear strategy and an absolute obsession about customer service.

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