30 March 2007

Link building

Everyone wants to build their site traffic. There are a variety of ways of building traffic, but organic search results offers lower cost traffic than pay per click advertisements. Pay per click advertising offers other benefits, but that is a post for another day.

People understand that links are important in building their organic search traffic, but they tend not do much to actively manage their links. The very best type of links are one-way inbound links, but the quality of the site providing the link is important too.

Actively managing links takes time and it relies on a series of activities. Many sites don't tend to do these things but they are vital unless you believe that link building should be left to chance or that the investment is a diversion which gets in the way of the day to day business.

These activities include:
  • research, which sites do you want to target?
  • classifying possible links, can you use any facts to help you decide which of these target sites deserves special attention?
  • developing an outline link request letter for webmasters which should be personalised to their site and describing why a link will benefit both them and you
  • testing the letter on some sites which are less important to you
  • developing an escalation process, in case they don't respond to your initial offer
I'll be developing these ideas over the next six weeks or so.

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Kempton Park on Saturday

One of my clients has a horse running in the 2:55 at Kempton on Saturday. I won't mention the name of the horse because I wouldn't want any of you to complain about the quality of my racing tips. The reason for the post is that this hobby has become a business sponsorship. The silks which the jockey wears are in the company colours and the website address is clearly shown. I would never recommend a business to indulge in this kind of sponsorship, but as it is an investment that is going to be made anyway, why not try to take a business benefit, too?

The race is a 2000 Guineas qualifier, and it is the horse's first real attempt at running a mile. It has done very well at 7 furlongs in the past but this may be a trip too far. The race is live on Channel 4.

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29 March 2007

PPA and click fraud

Advertisers will like Pay per action adverts because they will pay out only when an action is completed. In the current experiment, advertisers can define what the action is (for example, a newsletter sign-up or a sale). It should eliminate the incidence of click fraud too, because the action has to complete before the advertiser has to pay Google. That's where things may start to become more complex.

If the desired action is a sale then at what point does the advertiser pay Google? At the point that their card acceptance service registers the payment from the customer? When the product or service is delivered? What happens if the advertiser pays Google for a completed sale and the customer subsequently asks for a full refund? If these issues can't be handled automatically, then Google may fall out of love with PPA very quickly.

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27 March 2007


Pay per click has been with us for a while and it has proved to be highly popular with web marketers. It offers immediacy, targeting and test data. What it hasn't done up to now is offer every advertiser low cost. Some advertisers find that Pay per click advertising is highly expensive since they find themselves paying for clicks which don't convert into sales or relationships which can be exploited subsequently.

Google is experimenting with Pay per action advertisements. During the experiment, these will be available only on Google's content network, but because they focus on advertiser-defined actions they may ultimately prove to be even more popular than Pay per click ads.

While the experiment is in beta, there are some additional limitations for advertisers wishing to take part:
  • U.S advertisers only
  • You must have conversion tracking (or be able to implement conversion tracking code) on your website
Advertisers will have to think through just what an action (a sign up for a newsletter, a sale of a book or another product, for example) might be worth to them and that will no doubt mean that bid prices for sales actions could rise sharply which will do Google's share price no harm at all.

I can't wait to see this experiment roll out beyond the content network and then into Europe. This looks as though it will be a very exciting innovation.

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26 March 2007

What is the purpose of your website?

There is a point of view that the main point of website is no longer to simply sell a product or a service but to begin a relationship with the visitor. As a concept I'm not entirely convinced by this since it is difficult to test, and the essence of the proposition is that it won't be testable for a period.

The idea of changing the purpose of a website from one which sells to one which develops a relationship is that a site which is attempting to develop the relationship is more interested in giving the visitor something than it is in selling a product or a service. Normally the things being given away are in exchange for an email address and the list which develops becomes the focus of an extended email campaign which may include additional free materials in order to cement the relationship further.

The idea is that by getting the visitor to commit to a free gift, you have achieved significantly more than the average website which has no way of capturing any information at all about its visitors.

The core of the argument is that permission marketing like this allows the website operator to provide the mailing list with a wider and more comprehensive view of the products, services and value that he/she can add to potential clients without actually attempting to actively sell anything. It's because this is so difficult to test that I have difficulty with it - if a sales effort fails it could be either that:
  • the relationship isn't sufficiently mature and the sales offer will be more successful at some point in the future
  • the offer wasn't well presented and wouldn't be successful, irrespective of how mature the relationship is
That confusion seems to me to get in the way. Give things away by all means, but don't allow low response rates to promotions to become confused by assumptions about the maturity of relationships. If a promotion fails then take a hard look at the offer. Test it if necessary on a subset before mailing it out to the entire list. Use that research to tune the offer further.

Permission marketing is a great way to build a list, but I'm not convinced it is the way to really build sales. To do that, you need to qualify prospects and that is a very different way of developing the offer.

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23 March 2007

Copywriting thoughts

Read, read and read again!

Don't just keep a swipe file of advertisements or PR copy to raid when you have to create a new piece of copy, read the material to try to understand what works and what doesn't. If you use the swipe file simply to provide you with crude templates then it is almost inevitable that your resulting copy won't perform quite the way you expect.

Good copy relies on you being truthful about the product or service to the target audience that you want to keep, it doesn't rely on using psychological trickery or deception in order to force people to make a purchase from you. Writing to an audience that you want to keep will help you keep the writing more focused and readers will qualify themselves better, too. Then, when the product or service lives up to the descriptions in your copy, you can expect that you will benefit from word of mouth and referrals to support your campaign.

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22 March 2007

More on digital rights management

If you are attempting to develop a business, it might be a good idea to think through the customer experience. Here is a post about someone who couldn't get his properly licensed tracks to play at all.

You have launched your great new idea but somehow you have alienated your distribution channel. No-one could have foreseen that, surely?

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21 March 2007

The longest suicide note in history?

Peter Gutman is a researcher at the University of Auckland, New Zealand, working on the design and analysis of cryptographic security architectures. He helped to write the PGP encryption program and has authored a number of papers on security and encryption. Most of his time is taken up with development and support of the open source cryptlib security toolkit. He has exposure to industry practices and trends and says that his background is a 50/50 mix of industry and academia.

That's all a bit serious which seems only right since Mr Gutman is a person with bottom. Serious he may be, but he can write exceedingly amusingly and at length about the failures of Vista as an attempt in managing Digital Rights. Like many people, I had heard the disasters about people not being able to play their properly licensed HD material on their new high-end HD kit, but Peter Gutman makes a compelling case that the concepts within Vista are very badly flawed.

This is a long document, but is well worth a read, if you have the time. It shows what can happen if suppliers ignore what consumers might actually want to do with the hardware they buy. Here are a few nuggets:
  • At 44 pages, Microsoft's “Output Content Protection and Windows Vista” document may well be the longest suicide note in history.
  • ... in order to work, Vista's content protection must be able to violate the laws of physics, something that's unlikely to happen no matter how much the content industry wishes that it were possible ...
  • ... Windows content protection will make your hardware more expensive, less reliable, more difficult to program for, more difficult to support, more vulnerable to hostile code, and with more compatibility problems ...

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20 March 2007

Changes at Webmaster Central

Google is improving the functionality of the data that is being made available at Webmaster Central.

The information provided now includes up to 100 complete phrases used to link to a site, not simply the individual keywords. Phrases are aggregated by eliminating capitalisation and punctuation.

This kind of information has always been available, but not directly from Google. Webmasters now have fewer excuses for not attempting to take stronger control over linking text.

This information is distinct from the long tail of keyword phrases used by people in their organic searches but there are tools - like Hittail - which collect the phrases people use in their organic searches to find your site and report them as an aggregated list.

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19 March 2007

Marketing Business Services

The big word in marketing Business Services has always been reciprocity. Business Services firms work with intermediaries to put them in touch with work and the reciprocity principle - you scratch my back and I'll scratch yours - has been a major feature of the partner relationships that have developed over time.

Sometimes this was driven by professional ethics, when a particular group of professionals felt that they should not accept commissions for introducing work to another firm or give commissions on work that was introduced to them.

What has kept reciprocity alive is probably something much more Darwinian. Organisations work more positively with a small group of intermediaries where they understand the obligations clearly. Trying to develop similar relationships with all intermediaries would be counter-productive because of the amount of energy that would be required to support all the relationships. Broader partnership marketing has to be financially based. Where reciprocity gains over broader based partner relationships is in the more detailed understanding and trust which can be conveyed to clients.

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15 March 2007

Eye tracking gives us clues on how to write for the web

In late 2005, Nielsen/Norman conducted an eyetracking test with 255 people in New York City. Sessions with each test subject lasted about one to two hours.

The study helped to highlight how people read web pages and illustrated some interesting differences in the way males and females scan the screen differently.

Here is one of the key findings:

An original press article should not be used on the web - Rewriting & reformatting can increase recall.

Rewriting a dense text resulted in higher comprehension and retention than the original newspaper article.

The original version was revised to increase white space, make the main idea concise, remove unnecessary images, shorten lines of text and adding a graphic for each element in the article.

The eyetracking data highlighted the length of time that readers spent looking at each area of the screen. Readers spent a longer amount of time (about one minute) viewing the original version of the content but remembered 34 percent less than those who received the reformatted story. In both cases a greater amount of time was spent looking at the left-hand side of the page.

Readers find it difficult to read large amounts of dense text on screen unless it can be made memorable in some way. Take this into account when constructing copy and test wherever possible the readability and clarity of what has been written.

BTW, this post has been constructed to follow those guidelines, so make sure you remember what you have read!

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What will 3-D Secure Enabled actually change?

I suspect that the major change in this experiment will be to business models based on capturing card details for subsequent processing by a Virtual Terminal. 3-D Secure Enabled requires transactions to be live and for the cardholders to key their pin numbers into the Bank's system as part of the checkout process.

That will mean some changes in the online eCommerce world where a surprising number of transactions are handled indirectly, rather than in real-time. The good news for etailers is that it should reduce the level of fraud and charge-backs, but it may mean some ingenuity on the part of existing partners to ensure that everyone is happy in the new environment.

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14 March 2007

Increased level of security planned for eCommerce

The future of online payment processing is coming under significant debate, both nationally and internationally. In the UK fundamental changes are happening. The major clearing banks are attempting to make online banking and credit / debit card clearance significantly more secure. This is both to reduce the current levels of fraud but also to give normal customers the confidence to spend more money online.

In order for online retailers to process Maestro cards from 1st July, 2007 all merchants will be required to be “3-D Secure enabled”. Inevitably this change will cause teething troubles.

For those of you not yet fully aware of “3-D Secure”, the process is actually quite simple; as part of the website checkout process, at the point when you seek to authorise payment from the customer's payment card, the customer is taken to a pin / password entry screen. This screen is hosted on their own card issuer’s servers. The customer will then need to enter the correct password (like a PIN number). If the wrong password is entered then the transaction will be rejected and the merchant will not get the authorisation of the order. However, if the password is correct the customer will be returned to the shopping site to finish their transaction.

While this promises a reduction in the level of charge-backs levied against suspect transactions, online retailers need to make sure that their sites will be compliant by 1 July.

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13 March 2007

More Feedburner stats

Taking a quick look at my FeedBurner stats for the week-end I noticed that Sunday's figures for subscribers seemed to have taken a sharp dip. Feedburner expects subscriber numbers to reduce at the week-end and has several reminders dotted around its site so that neophyte bloggers aren't shocked when they see their numbers coasting south.

This was a little different though since on looking a bit further, the email subscriber category was missing and since emails work on a push basis, they tend to be much more static than the figures for other types of subscribers. Adding those subscribers back in, the week-end total was actually pretty flat.

Now that I have satisfied myself why the total dipped so sharply, I can stop worrying about it and do something more important.

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11 March 2007

Get the right headline for your readers

I have just read an interview with a copywriter called Gary Bencivega. He tells a story of writing headlines for investors. One of his clients sold gold and silver coins and bullion. In this case it was an ad for silver. The headline ran for many years, “Why the price of silver may rise steeply”. He suggested that the agency should test a headline that sounded stronger, bolder, more confident such as ‘Why the price of silver will rise steeply’. He wanted to make it sound as if the writer believed what he was predicting.

Testing the new headline showed that the original was better. “Why the price of silver may rise steeply” outperformed “Why the price of silver will rise steeply” by about 200% despite having the same body copy in both versions. He found it difficult to understand why “may rise” worked so much better than the more forceful “will rise”.

Finally he concluded that it was the disbelief factor. Most investors are knowledgeable and thoughtful. The promise of something that is unknowable such as “will rise”, makes readers conclude that the writer didn't know what he/she was talking about. By building in a little bit of understatement at the headline stage, investors got pulled in to read the whole of the copy.

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FeedBurner stats

At the end of January I made a post about FeedBurner's stats for this blog. At that time, the all time stats showed visits by 51 different types of browsers, bots, readers and aggregators and that was an increase of 10 in the previous 6 weeks.

Today, the same report has 61 lines excluding category headings so there are plenty of new programs out there sampling the blog universe.

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10 March 2007

Don't always trust the results

There is a tool that I use every now and again to report on websites. It provides summary information about the extent to which a site is indexed on Google, MSN and Yahoo! as well as providing information about inbound links.

This morning I took a quick look at some of the underlying data and found that although the numbers reported for indexed pages were pretty accurate, the figures for inbound links were significantly flawed.

It is important to understand how report programs work and to test out whether the figures they report are accurate. That's true for spreadsheets as much as for other reporting programs. I worked in a Big 5 environment for a number of years and they generated good revenue streams simply by showing clients that the spreadsheet models that they were using in their businesses were defective.


How important is the brand?

In Rain's 2007 report on lead generation, there was an interesting insight on the importance of brand in the sales process. Brand matters: 65% of well known companies report themselves as being good or excellent at lead generation while the comparative figure for less well known organisations was 44%. If you are well known, whatever lead generation tactics you employ are likely to work better.

So what does that mean? It could be that branded companies are overemphasising their abilities at lead generation, but that sounds unlikely. It could be that less well known organisations less gung-ho in their self evaluation but that sounds unlikely too.

The Executive Summary - 6 Lead Generation Insights - can be downloaded from Rain at no charge.

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08 March 2007

What should we spend the money on?

Sagefrog carried out a survey last year of 100 marketers in North America and discovered that the activities that respondents reported as having the lowest ROI were:
  • Direct mail
  • Advertising
It's easy to understand why marketers feel negative about Advertising, it is difficult to justify print advertising and there is no guarantee that the beautifully crafted ad will even be read. Direct Mail on the other hand is much simpler - lower cost to develop and simpler to test. It's odd that a technique which has a long history and which is still developing major revenues for some organisations should be regarded so negatively by this group of respondents.

The survey results can be downloaded from Sagefrog.

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07 March 2007

Putting SEO specialists to the test

What does the word globalwarmingawareness2007 mean to you? Probably not much unless you are a Search Engine Optimisation specialist putting your skills to the test in the current SEO World Championship.

To be eligible the winning domain must be registered on or after 15 January 2007, it must contain a banner or link to the competition site and the site must comply with Google's Webmaster's Guidelines. The winning site will be the one that scores the highest aggregate search engine ranking position in Google, Yahoo! and MSN for the keyword globalwarmingawareness2007 on 1 May 2007 (roughly 15 weeks after the competition began).

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Filter behaviour

Yesterday evening I found a legitimate email in my SPAM box. I marked it as not being SPAM and replied to it. Weirdly, the sender's next email landed in my SPAM box this morning so the SPAM filter is not learning quite as rapidly as I would like.

The point of the post is that SPAM filters aren't totally reliable. It is important to look at the contents of the box periodically in order to make sure that nothing important or even interesting is being hidden away from your Inbox. That remains true even when you are reasonably certain that the SPAM filter has learnt your preferences and is behaving consistently.


06 March 2007

Yet more stock photo sites

Here is another tranche of stock photo sites. As before, I have listed sites which have their own image databases rather than image search sites. I have tried to exclude sites which have overly complex licences or onerous terms of use.

FreeMediaGoo.com was created for developers by developers. They provide a way for developers to gather assets that can be used in print, film, TV, Internet or any other type of media both for commercial and personal use. The content is royalty free. No need for links and no limits to the number of images that you can use.

There are 10 directories set out with 16 thumbnail images to a page which are fairly quick to browse. This is a simple site to navigate.

This is a more idiosyncratic site, based largely on cityscapes and metropolitan images. It is the work of a single photographer - Jeremie Zimmerman. There are 23 directories, some of which have sub-directories.

You can freely distribute copies of images, modified or not, for a fee or for free providing that you:
  • attach the Creative Commons licence, in its entirety, to the copies or indicate precisely where the licence can be found
  • attribute the author of the originals
There are no thumbnails which makes this a more awkward site to browse, but keyword or category search is possible. Use of the images for personal or commercial projects is free but the source - Free-stockphotos - should be attributed and (preferably) a link back to the site provided.


There are over 2700 photos already categorised and another 800 or so are 'in the queue'. Usage of images is absolutely free and doesn't require attribution of the source or a link back to the site. Registration is required for download and the site has a very comprehensive classification system.

There are 950 images on the site. Images are the work of a single photographer - Aarin Yu. Images are free for use. The site offers images that are free for personal and commercial use. Images may be downloaded for use in a web site, print ads, brochures or any end products.

Use requires attribution irrespective of the medium. The copyright information will need to be legible. If these images are in use on a website, a link to AarinFreePhoto.com is required.

There are about 65 directories. GeekPhilosopher provides royalty free stock images, wallpapers, and desktop backgrounds. Currently, the collection categories include free photos of children, people, sports, fruit, vegetables, eggs, fun and different, medical, airplanes, flowers, outdoors, sky, sunsets,clouds, stars and planets, water, domestic animals, butterflies, insects, grazing animals, birds, horses, famous paintings, music, texture, tile, and paper.

The images in the database comprise both original photographs where Geekphilosopher owns the copyright - those images are free for use except redistribution - and other images which include public domain and expired copyright images.

bigfoto.com, is a royalty free photo agency offering free use of low resolution images (with link or attribution). Some images are available in high resolution and in those cases, specific terms of use would need to be negotiated with the photographer.


Over 2500 original royalty free medium resolution stock images in 58 galleries. Terms of Use are straightforward for personal and commercial uses - credit to the site and, if possible, a link. Prohibitions include resale of the original image and sub-licensing.

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05 March 2007

What makes a great eCommerce website?

Creating a successful eCommerce website requires the same kind of tried and tested approaches as those used in sales letters. So what are those techniques?
  • develop a focused approach to a targeted audience (pre-writing preparation) - that focus will help you to develop the right kind of copy and it makes testing simpler because you know what type of audience to test it on
  • grab their attention using a combination of powerful headlines and sub-headings which they can use to navigate their way through the site
  • hold their interest by reminding them why they are on the site (to solve a problem) and give them teasers about the solution or product that you are offering
  • develop trust - often the biggest hurdle for budding copywriters – building an interesting and emotionally-compelling story that can get through built-in lie detectors that readers have developed and make them trust you, as well as convince them that you have the right solution or product
  • demonstrate your credibility using testimonials although if you are already high profile in your market, talking about your background by mentioning specific achievements (facts and figures) will work as well
  • make your offer by setting out the pricing, the main product, the incentives and so on
  • close the sale. The “Call To Action” must be absolutely clear – there's nothing worse than going through all the effort of writing a carefully constructed sales letter than to have your reader leave at the end because the close isn't doing its job

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03 March 2007

UBPs and ad copy

Remember Andy Bounds? He is very good at reminding us that everything we do as sales and marketers has to be tested in a world populated by buyers who look at the world differently from us. He believes that the copy has to meet the buyers' unique buying points (UBPs) rather than our selling points.

So where does the buyer want to see the price in an ad? Different ad producers tackle the problem in different ways, some people:
  • put the price in the headline
  • set out the price in the opening paragraph
  • leave the price until the point they are asking for the sale
It's obviously important to get this right, so let's start to look at an ad from the Andy Bounds perspective. The price is not a benefit to a buyer so emphasing price in the headline could alienate some buyers before they find out how wonderful the product is. Of course, if the product is a staple where the price is well-known then a low price could make a compelling headline providing it detailed the saving rather than the price itself.

Putting the price in the headline makes a number of assumptions:
  • the buyer is aware of the normal price for the product
  • the buyer will find the discounted price attractive rather than suspicious
Using the UBP approach, it makes more sense to focus on the benefits that the buyer will enjoy from the purchase - what they are left with after the product or service is delivered.

If the benefits are really compelling then the price can be introduced after the buyer understands what the purchase will do for them. It's at that point that the buyer makes a decision based on their individual value proposition - are those benefits so attractive that they overcome the price that you have just disclosed? If they do, then there is a good chance that your buyer will close the sale.

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02 March 2007

When is a number not a number

How many visitors did this blog have yesterday? I don't know and it isn't because I don't have access to stats.

In what you might think is overkill, I have 3 sources of visitor stats. It would be overkill if they agreed. They don't. It would be overkill if they gave approximately the same figures. They don't.

I have a range where the high value is more than 50% higher than the lowest value reported. That's surprising to me because it highlights that we still have difficulty in agreeing on the value of the base currency of the electronic world - traffic volume.


A whole new Vista awaits

At the beginning of February I posted a link to Robert Peston's experience in upgrading to Vista. This is something in a similar vein, this time from Tim Weber, Business Editor on the BBC News website.

He was brave. The machine he decided to upgrade was over 4 years old and had evolved from its original configuration. However, buoyed by the analysis provided by Microsoft's Vista Upgrade Advisor, he decided to take the plunge.

Would he do it again? The answer is no.

He believes that he should have done what he originally planned to do. Wait for half a year until the driver issues are settled and then buy a new PC. Once that was in place, he could have upgraded and tinkered with his old machine, to give to someone.

His conclusion: you will probably enjoy Vista, but there's little reason to do it the hard way.

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