Category Archives: Web Marketing

Web Marketing

Rebooting the news: what this means for marketers

I’ve recently been turned on to the Rebooting the News podcast hosted by web/media luminaries Dave Winer and Jay Rosen. Their experience is manifest in the low key, dare I say low-fi, approach to podcasting. If you’re looking for scripted professionalism, you’ll have to look elsewhere. This is the rumpled jacket Columbo of broadcasting. What you will find is a couple of guys who share a common interest, but often a different viewpoint, speaking their mind.

That common interest is the effect of technology on media and journalism. Not surprising given that Dave Winer is attributed (among other things) with the creation of RSS, the engine which revolutionized blog publishing, and Jay Rosen is a journalism professor and strong proponent of public and  citizen-based journalism.

So, why would a B2B tech marketing dude like me be interested in the impact of technology on the media industry? Because I feel the lines between marketing and media are in danger of blurring, or should I say, melting. As social media continues to seep into every crevice of our lives, marketers can no longer broadcast messages as we once did. We need to be more relevant. More informational. More like a news outlet than a brochure. For this reason I feel there is much we can learn from the massive transformations underway in the mainstream news industry. They arguably have had a lot more experience than us marketers in creating emersive, engaging information-rich content.

In a recent issue of Rebooting the News hosted live at the Online News Association annual convention, Dave and Jay layout the major themes they have covered on the show. Although aimed at news outlets like the New York Times, some of the issues strike me as deserving of special attention in the context of online marketing…

Give traffic away

A key factor in building successful online information systems has been the notion of giving your traffic away. Google is perhaps one of the most extreme examples of this. We go there in droves to find answers. But the answers we find aren’t generally on Google. It drives us elsewhere for the answers – few of the links presented to us on search results pages are on the Google domain. It’s effectively an algorithmic curator, desperately trying to retrieve the best, most relevant content on the web and deliver it to us. Dave Winer points out that the major news outlets have not picked up on the value of this service. They still act as know-it-all walled gardens, reluctant to link off their own domain. Looking for further information on a particular news story? The only links proffered are from other stories across the same publication. There could be more background on Wikipedia and explanatory videos on YouTube: but you’ll have to go find them yourselves.

The same argument can be leveled at corporate websites. We talk about how social media breaks down the walls of the enterprise, connecting the pieces between our ecosystem. A company has suppliers, partners, customers, industry analysts, press, all now apparently in closer communion. However, how much of this ecosystem do we expose on our pages? For instance, on a page explaining the application of a software product, we could link to a partner blog showing an innovative implementation, commentary form a respected analyst, or customer testimonials from Twitter (Radian6 offer this on their homepage). Each serves to bolster up and add color to the claims we make on our pages.

Rebooting the News: give visitors away

Why isn’t this happening? I can think of a few reasons: we spend so much time working on the content of our pages we forget to work in the inter-relationships with other relevant pages out there on the web. Perhaps more importantly, we are currently not incentivized to do this. As web marketers, our performance is measured in terms of behavior of our visitors on our site. We use engagement metrics that are specific to our site: like average number of page views and registrations completed. If we start sending our traffic away, the numbers by which we prove ourselves will tank. External links do also need additional curation. Relationships tear, whereas links can be more permanent. If you no longer deal with a partner and they have stripped your reference from their site, you’ll need to update your links accordingly.

The key point here is that this effort in giving traffic away can offer the kind of third party validation that could inch your prospects closer to that all-important sale. We just need the processes, tools and discipline to be able to apply this in a consistent manner.

News updates and background knowledge

Dave and Jay also describe how the web gives us unprecedented access to the back story around any given article. As stories unfold, news articles can be plotted as markers on the timeline of the lifespan of the story. Often readers will pick up an article half way along this timeline. The beauty of the web is that an article can link to content further back on the timeline tracing the story’s evolution and context (and multiple perspectives). Unfortunately, this theory isn’t often applied.

We can relate this to corporate websites too. When we build content or put up an asset, we can contextualize it. Want to go more in-depth? Check out the experts on our forums. On the other end of the spectrum, here’s some 101 resources for all you newbies. We’ve also got blogs, YouTube videos and Wikipedia pages crammed with more details. (Check out this post from Jeremiah Owyang on the subject of linking social media content to corporate websites). Again, all this makes for a richer, more immersive experience for the visitor.

Wrap up

I understand that in Rebooting the News, Dave and Jay are trying to improve the flow of information and the communications process in a democracy. Maybe I’m soiling their pretexts by reducing them to the grubby world of commerce, but I feel their recommendations do bleed over into the world of online marketing, and if adopted can improve the overall web experience for those seeking information in this domain.

Do you agree?

What is the ideal blog template width?

Got caught up on a discussion around what screen resolutions most people use these days to view blogs. Made me dig into the trusty Google Analytics to see if I could discover anything for this very blog.

This is what I found:

Less than 10% of the audience use 1024×768 or less. Given that the majority of visitors are using around 1280, I’d suggest you can happily design a template at 1,000px with the sound knowledge that practically none of your audience will have a horizontal scroll. This is slightly wider than the advice from BloggingPro earlier this year.

Looking at some of the top blogs out there, Mashable weighs in at around 970px wide. Politico is a royal 1,000px and Robert Scoble’s blog sits at around 960px.

Any web designers out there know how this compares with regular websites?

Developing IBM’s largest Twitter profile: grassroots marketing the @developerWorks way

I recently had the opportunity to catch up with Frank Carlos, a grassroots marketing expert on the IBM developerWorks team. Among his many accomplishments has been the development of the @developerWorks Twitter profile which has amassed a princely 33,000 followers.

@developerWorks on Twitter

In my mind, this makes Frank something close to the Ashton Kutcher of the B2B tech world.

So, how did he do it? A few lessons came out of the conversation with Frank.

Curation is the key

The @developerWorks twitter account works as a syndication channel: posting links to content from across the developerWorks site. However, rather than just automatically spewing out the contents of an RSS feed, Frank takes the role of editor, curating the content and only posting the pieces he thinks make most sense. This resonates with Paul Gillin’s claim in B2B Magazine that curation is the new creation and as the amount of information out there on the web grows exponentially, we find real value from those who can pick through the haystack and just hand us the needles.

Let’s be clear though, the role of curator involves some serious graft. Frank points out that he posts over 20 tweets a day. Every day. Obviously, in order to do this you need a large network of content to pick from.

Focus on the audience

developerWorks is an IBM resource for developers and IT professionals, allowing them to build skills around the gamut of technologies that IBM solutions touch. It covers IBM’s own platforms and tools such as WebSphere, Rational, Tivoli and Information Management. There is also a mass of content on popular programming languages and applications, including PHP, Java, Ruby, Android and HTML5, and it is in these areas where the @developerWorks account is focused. (As an aside, a recent developerWorks study shows just how important these technologies are to the developerWorks audience).

Going after popular topics is a shrewd play that has obviously paid off for the @developerWorks account. Just picking a random selection from today:

@developerWorks tweet sample

Here you can see posts covering Cloud, JavaServer, Ubuntu, RedHat, Scala.

Sure, many of the tweets are related to IBM solutions, but the relationship is made with popular tech topics of the day. The message here is if you know there is a popular theme related to your offerings, exploit that relationship!

Let folks know you’re out there

There are a few attention-grabbing tactics that have been employed to publicize the @developerWorks account: none of which have cost a dime to implement (well, beyond the internal resource).

The first, is the choice of a somewhat unusual URL shortener to post links: StumbleUpon. The advantage of this service over other shorteners such as bit.ly or the newer goo.gl is that the links are automatically added to the StumbleUpon network and Frank points out that his links receive a good chunk of traffic directly from the StumbleUpon channel.

Another technique used by @developerWorks is that of following people in the networks where you want prominence. Using the Android example, you can search on people using the ‘#android’ hashtag and follow those that appear to be tweeting on-topic. Following them also puts you on their radar. If you’re putting out quality content in that area, there’s a good chance they will follow you back.

The use of hashtags in tweets is a great way of associating your content with topics/subjects. How do you find the right hashtag? One way is just a simple search on Twitter, such as this one for ‘#android‘. What you are looking for is a hashtag with a hive of existing conversation around it. And, yep, the mighty Mashable has a primer if you want to know more on making the most of hashtags.

Prove the results of your work

Syndication is the core objective of the @developerWorks account. Frank keeps detailed records on each tweet and how many clicks it receives. As well as knowing that he drives 200,000 clickthroughs a month, he also can break that down by topic and IBM technology. All through the clever use of spreadsheets!

Much is talked about the ROI of social media. For syndication you can go beyond counting clicks and approximate the value of the channel by looking at how much it costs you to attract visitors using other channels. For instance, you can take your hashtags and find out how much it would cost you to get traffic for those terms through paid search on Google. You can take this a step further if you have a good connection between your web analytics and your CRM and calculate how many of these clicks have turned into customers.

Although I bring this up last, tracking the value of your work can be the most important piece. As you’re probably aware, if you can’t find a way to express the value of your efforts, you may find your management pulling the rug from under your campaign.

I should come clean and point out that one of the motivating factors in my decision to move to the developerWorks organization was wanting to be a part of a team that is making excellent use of social media in innovative and effective ways. Frank’s use of Twitter to build the @developerWorks profile is an excellent example of this.

Do you consider SEO to be part of your product development?

Just saw this throwaway tweet from search guru Danny Sullivan, who I guess is currently attending SMX East in New York:

What this would suggest is that HTC looked at what people were searching for around their phones (say ‘htc purple’ or ‘htc evo fuchsia’) and realized that there was latent demand that they weren’t addressing. As a result they are now bringing out a line of multicolored phones that presumably will be on the end of these searches in future, leading to more satisfied customers and obviously a few more dollars in the bargain.

What a great example of using one of the cheapest market intelligence tools out there: internal and external search metrics. For external search, query your web analytics tool for your keyword referral data. Look at what search terms are used on Google, Yahoo, Bing and the other major engines to reach your site. Are there terms for which you don’t currently have neat product placement, but could provide something with relative ease? (If it’s longer term you may need to work it into the product roadmap). Perform the same exercise with your internal site search engine. Most solutions in this space will provide metrics on what are the most commonly searched terms on your site.

If you want to look further afield at what people are searching for on Google, you can also poke around on the Google Keyword Tool. In this example you can see related terms for the base keyword ‘htc’:

The next step is perhaps the toughest: particularly if you work for a large enterprise. Somehow you need to get this information over to your product team. They may already be clued on to what you can learn from the web and embrace your research. My experience is that there is generally some education to do (and possibly the building of a process) before you can embed this search-based market intent into product development. Still, at least you know your product portfolio will become more closely aligned to the (online) market.

Do you have any examples/experiences of your own to share?

Twitter customer testimonials: the Radian6 way

As you’d expect from an savvy social media monitoring organization like Radian6, their homepage has all the social bookmarking icons that have become de riguer for any website in this space.

However, they have something interesting going on over on the right hand side of the current homepage layout:

radian6 homepage

Well, it’s not unusual for companies to play up their customer testimonials to help build trust for visiting prospects. However if you click through on one of the testimonials, you are taken to a page listing all the props they have received on Twitter:

radian6 twitter customer testimonials

What a fascinating approach! Talk about portraying trust. These obviously aren’t testimonials extracted under duress by a demanding marketing team five years ago. Just real people providing unsolicited tributes and recommendations. If you so desire you can even click on their profiles and go through and see who they are. Oh, and look at the timestamps: praise flows on a daily basis.

Could this work for you? If you have a lively customer base on Twitter, and products they are all singing about, why not highlight this on your website?

Setting up Twitter customer testimonials

The first step is to favorite all those positive posts. Radian6 has done that here:

Radian6 favorites on Twitter

The next step is to take the RSS feed from this page and build a page on your site that displays this in a tidy Twitter format. If you are non-technical, ask your IT team to knock something up or look into modules that can do this for you. If you have a site built in PHP, you can try adapting this script from Lylo.

And that is pretty much it.

I’d suggest this as a great example of how social media can supplement a web marketing strategy. Any other examples? Let me know…

Google Instant: longer keyword searches on first page?

You probably have seen the latest incarnation of Google search, unless you live in a cave. The Google hype machine swung into operation with a ballsy approach to a teaser followed by the Google Instant announcement and launch in the US the following day.

Since the Big G did such a good job of explaining this, I’ll let them do the talking courtesy of YouTube:

It remains to be seen what users make of this, but one expected behavior, is the use of more complex search terms as users can amend their query instantly based on the results they see. Merissa Meyer, Google’s VP of search products and user experience elaborates here. Let’s say I start looking for ‘android phones’, I can instantly see results for this term, and also derivatives. I can instantly go in the direction of telephony providers, such as ‘android phones t-mobile’ or ‘android phones verizon’. Actually, I notice there is a comparison link with an iPhone on the first page, so I could go in the direction of ‘android phones iphone’ and check out the relative merits.

For users that take to this new way of searching (there are apparently those who don’t), there are potential behavioral shifts that could affect what search results are shown, and, more importantly for us online marketers, what search results are clicked.

A couple of examples:

As noted earlier, search terms are expected to become more complex. This means we could see more traffic coming into our sites from the long tail of search: terms that could be four or more words in length. When we think of what keywords to promote and optimize, we may be able to find traffic even when we widen our portfolio into quite specific niches.

The navigational buttons that take you on to additional pages of results are that much further away. When using Google Instant, most of the clicking and typing happens around the query box at the top of the results. Don’t like what you see on your initial query? Instant makes it much easier to refine that search and see if the follow-up is more successful. This means less time flicking through the second and third page of results in search of relevant links. For marketers, this could well put additional pressure on taking that coveted spot on the first page of results.

It’s early days for this service and user adoption and behavior patterns are by no means set, but Google Instant has the potential to have a significant affect on the field of search marketing.

What the pundits are saying:

WordPress as an intranet CMS – the Tech Liminal way

For some years the WordPress platform has been called a ‘lightweight content management system’. It’s functionality goes way beyond that of a standard blogging platform (driven by the large number of plugins and theme extensions), and with a bit of know-how you can mold it to fit your content management needs. That’s just what Anca Mosoiu from Tech Liminal did on a recent assignment to redesign the intranet for a Government organization. She ran through this case study at a recent WordPress Meetup and I caught up with her at her Oakland office and received answers to a number of questions that had been perplexing me since her presentation.

What are the main advantages WordPress offers in terms of improving information architecture?

Anca explains that before using WordPress, the intranet was a laundry list of largely static links. Updates to the homepage were handled by the webmaster. Deeper content was tied up in a wiki – content that had grown organically over time with very little structure and in some instances out of date.

WordPress helped impose an overarching organizational structure, removing much of the extraneous/duplicate content – at least from the homepage. It also allowed for the display of dynamic content by pulling out the latest content for different sections:

Underlying this framework is WordPress MU (multi-user) with a network of sites powering the different sections. MU by itself does not support a hierarchy: this was developed by Anca to permit the hierarchical organization of the sites, which is great for organizing deeper content, such as the different components of the HR department.

WordPress also relies heavily on Categories and Tags (and more recently custom taxonomies) for organizing its content – something Anca utilized to great effect with the display of announcements from across the different sites in the network.

One area that required custom development was the common network navigation (the top menu) shared by all sites in the network. The top menu was built to give people the sense of a site hierarchy. By applying the same theme to all of the sites in the network, visitors get the feeling they are always within the same website.

What are some useful customizations/plugins to consider for a WordPress intranet CMS?

A selection of the plugins Anca recommends:

TinyMCE Advanced
Tables are not easy to achieve in WordPress unless you have a good understanding of HTML. However tables are a common form of content organization in an Intranet, and this plugin does a great job of bridging the gap. In addition to tables, the plugin gives you much more choice over formatting choices.

WordPress MU LDAP plugin
Useful for connecting WordPress up to a database of users (using the popular Microsoft LDAP interface). For instance, it allows company employees to post comments on the site, and update relevant content, using the same password they use for other applications such as email .

WordPress MU Sitewide tags
This plugin, used for some time on the WordPress.com homepage, aggregates tags across all the sites into a common network cloud. As tag clouds are a great way of displaying large bodies of content in a meaningful way, this is a considerable navigational aid.

Customized link widget
Link lists are used in various places on the homepage to display important links. This widget developed by Anca’s team, allows you to set up custom classes for different link lists so you can alter the appearance of each list. It also allows you more control over the ordering of the links in the list.

What role does the intranet manager play?
The role should be more communications-based and less about the technnology. You ideally want someone who can help motivate the workforce into constantly generating relevant content. In addition, they should be able to help coach content providers and help fix minor issues that come up (such as post formatting). The individual should be able to form strong links with employees across the organization to make the intranet a lively, collaborative space.

Do you track how successful the implementation is? Eg. page views, frequency of posting
Tracking and analytics were set up as part of the site architecture from the beginning. The site has been only been up for a little over a month, currently having four users signed up to provide content. At the point of launch, new posts were being made at the rate of about one per day.

What are the key differences between designing an implementation for an Intranet vs. external consumption?
Anca points out that with an Intranet site, there are different priorities and constraints. One thing that can generally be guaranteed is the browser that will be used to view the site – there’s no need to cover every case, since everyone is standardized on Firefox. Contact information, personal names and email addresses can be published on the site without privacy concerns. There are less worries about security, because the site is behind a corporate firewall. This can also be a drawback, in that it provides disincentives to upgrade.

The site itself can be much more specific, since there are a fixed number of actual constituents and stakeholders. However, since there are these specific constituents, a fair amount of effort was expended getting everyone’s buy-in.

How long did it take to setup this implementation for the JGI Intranet?
All in all, the project lasted about 6 months. About 3 of those were focused largely on development, while the rest was focused on gathering support for the new site, inventorying content that would need to be added, and creating a design that would meet the needs of most of the organization.

Anca’s presentation on this project:

Anca Mosoiu is a partner in Tech Liminal, a web design/development agency and all-round tech-house based in central Oakland. They host regular Meetups to support East Bay bloggers (which I can testify has helped me breathe new life into Caged Ether).

Twitter profiles: what brands can learn from celebs like Khloe Kardashian

I better get the disclaimer out of the way first. I have no idea how I came across this. I checked into my personal computer around 11 yesterday morning to find this page staring me down on my browser:

If you must, check out this brazen masterpiece for yourself.

It could be I inadvertently clicked on some banner ad, or maybe in a semi-conscious flurry of activity, serendipitous surfing delivered me here, but for the sake of posterity, I’d like to blame my wife.

I actually had no idea who Khloe Kardashian was (honestly) and still only vaguely know: I understand she’s married to a renowned baller and comes with a pedigree only achievable from having a glamour model sister. The fact that she has a million and a half followers on Twitter makes me believe I live in a media-starved pit and need to get out more.

But that’s not why I’m writing. What caught my attention is how she deals with her fawning Twitterati. The esteemed Global Grind online gossip-mart hold her up as a paragon of tweeting. And this is where I realize I need to get off my lofty (read snobby) high horse and pay this article some attention. The report is crude and to the point, but I believe their analysis is fundamentally sound and bears some relation to the not-so-steamy world of big B2B business.

Let’s run through their criteria point-by-point, and draw comparisons with the B2B world:

Khloe responds to her fans. Do we, as B2B marketers monitor our Twitter @profiles and associated #hashtags for relevant queries and mentions with the same veracity? Or are we just seeing Twitter as another marketing broadcast channel?

Khloe sends pictures. Twitter is much more than a 140-character medium thanks to the humble ‘link’ which can grace any Tweet: a Twitter account is a showcase for your noteworthy content,  whether it be articles, audio, video or pictures (you may want to favor descriptive product screenshots over floss-bikini pool scenes).

Khloe chats with her family. Do you have an open conversation with your ecosystem, eg. suppliers, or even better, business partners? Show some of this intimacy on Twitter. You’ll display a strength that goes beyond your company walls, and also build the reputation of those nearest to you.

Khloe allows the world into her amazing life. This is pretty wide generalization, but there are a couple of takeaways here. Look over your Twitter channel and see if it gives a good representation of your brand: your personality, thoughts, aspirations and beliefs. Does the rich fabric of the life of your firm come across? Or do you appear as little more than a stream of press releases and marketing brochures?

Now I bring this up in light of a recent report by Wildfire, a UK PR agency, claiming that many companies are not as clued up as Khloe when it comes to Twitter:

“… only 3% of the tweets in the study were retweets and just 12% were replies. Shockingly, 43% of brands with a Twitter account had never replied to a tweet.”

The study they are referring to, believe it or not, consists of a sample of the fastest growing UK tech companies.

It looks like we as marketers have some way to go to really understand the rules of engagement on these emerging channels. The most clued-up celebs have realized that they need to break down the walls of PR agents and marketing hype and talk directly to their followers. How long will it take for us in the B2B tech industry to follow suit?