Thursday, 27 November 2008

Indian attacks shouldn't be Google's number one

Martin Belam (who is infinitely brighter and better qualified than me) thinks that it is a failure of search engines that search results for Mumbai and India don't have stories about the terrorist attacks at the top. I don't agree.

The terrorist attacks may be the most significant thing about Mumbai or even India, today. But search results are about more than that, signified by Google's weighting to older content. The terrorist attacks will be dealt with and the city needs to recover. What it doesn't need is a prospective American tourist deciding not to visit in three months time (assuming it doesn't run contrary to state department advice) because of a legacy story on a search engine.

There are issues about news and search, demonstrated by the coverage around Bob Woolmer's death (as opposed to the reports of his murder). Google News is a step in the right direction although that's not without its problems. But if the main Google search results worked in the way Martin suggests, it could be more bad news for Mumbai.

Wednesday, 26 November 2008

Press Complaints Commission - a model of inaction

I want to bring attention to a very important article by Martin Moore of the Media Standards Trust about the Press Complaints Commission.

I can't find anything in it with which I disagree, so here are my modest suggestions for reform:
  • Bodies like the Media Standards Trust need to build a public coalition around a reform agenda
  • There must be a public trigger for the PCC where a number of complaints leads to an automatic investigation
  • The PCC must be able to act when a press article causes sufficient public concern that failure to act would bring the industry into disrepute
  • The PCC must remain politically independet but, perhaps, should report annually to parliament as other regulators do
Any other suggestions?

Tuesday, 25 November 2008

Vandana Rawat website review

Vandana Rawat contacted me to ask me to review her websites, web security guide and Wendy genuine help. I've tried to identify some key lessons that should help other people thinking about blogging or running a website.

1. Well done for asking
Asking someone to review your site is a great way to get them to link to it, looking at it (and coming back to see what you do with it). Particularly good thing to do in the early days. It's something I should do more often.

2. Post frequently
I find blogging is a trade off between quality and quantity. You have to post every day, if only to encourage search engines to visit frequently and find your new content. It won't always be brilliant or insightful, but at least it keeps regular readers coming back rather than drifiting away. And you can always revise posts.

3. Position advertising well
Vandana has lots of advertising prominently displayed on the two sites. I find it off-putting. If advertising revenue is important, I'd recommend getting a regular visitor base first, and then introducing helpful and discreet advertising (which users are more likely to click on and earn you money for) than prominent, tangentially relevant advertising on these sites. Vandana - I would rather your profile was in the top right hand corner (rather than bottom right) instead of advertising.

4. Stick with it
If you are organising a great party, it takes time and dedication. You can't just decide to throw a party the night before. Blogging is the same. It takes time to find your voice, develop an audience and identify your niche.

5. Unique content
Vandana seems to have useful, unique content on both her sites. There needs to be a USP for everything you post.

6. Link, link, link
Not linking inside your posts is like taking receipt of a business card and not giving yours back. It's also a good way of bringing your site to the attention of others.

7. Identify your community
Blogging is about being part of a conversation - not always speaking at a group of people. Therefore , your blog needs to fit into - but be a distinctive voice - within a series of other like-minded or at least similar-subject matter blogs; something I'm not yet good at.

8. Encourage comments
A blog looks better (but isn't always) if it has comments. Therefore, when you write, encourage people to comment by posting provocative, thoughtful posts but also ones with genuine question marks - not just the sort you expect to see in a government 'consultation' document.

I hope that's useful. Please chip in with your own advice and correct me if I've got anything wrong; I'm sure I've missed plenty of other things which I will return to in later posts.

Monday, 24 November 2008


I'm working with a couple of friends to highlight which are and which are not passing on the 2.5% cut in VAT announced today.

It's very early days - take a look at our cut VAT campaign site here.

Train station announcements: could they be worse?

Could Train station announcements be any worse? I know they're famous for being too muffled but it's the order of the sentence that gets me.

I was in Liverpool Lime Street recently thinking about the amount of effort companies go to when communicating with customers. Whether it was the detailed info about the coffee beans, the messages about M&S bags or the constant information screens on cashpoints, companies try very hard when they talk to customers. So do the train operating companies. You can not travel on a train without knowing who runs the service.

Yet station announcements are unintelligible because no one seems to have considered how they come across to the listener. Consider this typical announcement:

  1. The next train
  2. leaving from platform one
  3. is the 09.24 service
  4. from Liverpool Lime Street
  5. to Manchester Piccadilly
  6. calling at . . .
  1. I know it's a train
  2. I want to know where it's leaving from, but not just yet because I don't know whether it's my train
  3. Again, not so helpful
  4. Yes, I know where I am
  5. Ok, that's largely helpful
  6. And this is the information I want. But by now I can't remember where I have to go in order to catch it
It's not a big thing. Unless you arrive at the station with little time and want to board your train.

Sunday, 23 November 2008

Don't optimise your site for search engines and this is what happens

I blogged recently about Barack Obama's transition website, pointing out that it was badly optimised for search engines.

This is the consequence: a Google search for Obama transition finds it languishing in 10th place, behind nine news stories. There's no guarantee that these are positive, focussing on the issues that Obama wants or communicating accurate information.

Wednesday, 19 November 2008

Blog recommendation

Check out Matthew Taylor's blog. Well worth a look. He covers neuroscience and its impact on public policy, the state of society (social pessimism in particular) and gives a bit of political commentary

Monday, 17 November 2008

Google Translator - is it useful?

Google has announced a new translation tool as part of its feed reader.

The team here says that it's another step towards a truly international internet (echoing Google's remarks). Interestingly, below the post are a list of blogs that are talking about the story. Even excluding spam, I think it's significant just how few of those are in other languages.

Is translation into English necessary on the web any more?

Friday, 14 November 2008

LSO St Lukes: brilliant

LSO St Lukes is a brilliant venue with first class music making which works hard to build participation in class music. I just wanted to record my thoughts to improve their online reputation!

I first heard of LSO St Lukes when I worked for UBS, promoting its sponsorship of the orchestra.

Now I take my baby daughter most Fridays to attend the (usually free) lunchtime concerts. The event is MC'd by a local composer who gives a good, brief overview of the works and the performance is usually led by LSO players. There is almost always a local primary school class in attendance and a Q&A session in the middle allows for a bit of audience participation. The event is sufficiently relaxed that you don't feel intimidate when a baby makes a noise.

Last week I heard a double bass recital from the leader of the bass section of the orchestra. It was the best I've ever heard the instrument (even if the player had previously been a cellist - suggesting that 'he grown up' to play the bass).

I went today to their special concert for under fives. Unfortunately it was sold out (£1 tickets) but part of me was delighted that the event attracted such an audience.

If you can get there, do, because it's a great way to listen to classical music at a low cost and in a very accessible way.

Thursday, 13 November 2008

Football League - could do better

The Football League could do better on their website. I really don't want to talk about the Liverpool game last night. But this aspect of Carling Cup is worth talking about: the Football League's website.

Last night the official Liverpool FC website published the team sheet 45 minutes before kick-off, as usual. However, the first draft saw Benayoun starting and on the subs bench. The next had six subs. This sparked a debate on the best Liverpool fans' site, Red and White Kop: how many substitutes are you allowed in the Carling Cup?

The conspiracy theorists argued that maybe a player had refused to play, so disappointed was he to not be in the starting XI. I tried to find out the rules. I went to Google and entered Carling Cup rules the 2007/08 version. The first result was this badly formatted page giving access to the rules as a pdf (a pet hate).

Rule 9.1 states that the team is allowed five substitutes of which no more than three can take part. And yet both teams named seven substitutes.

It could be that both teams broke the rules - or it could be that the Football League hasn't updated their website. Either way, having out of date material on the site, ranked number one on Google isn't much use to anyone.

Wednesday, 12 November 2008

Progressive London - web asessment

Ken Livingtone has launched Progressive London - a new coalition of interests to oppose Boris Johnson and build political support for Ken's agenda. Dave Hill has the full story.

As is fashionable these days, it's backed by a bespoke website. So what could they do differently to boost the credibility and influence of the site?

1. Have a clear understanding of your keywords
The homepage has a meta description with some (pointless) keyword tags. However, these relate only to the content that they have, rather than the issues they want to be known for. There's no Boris Johnson for a start.

2. Fix the URLs
The URLs are random strings of numbers rather than a description of the page content - bad for search engines.

3. Build the content
There should be a page for each policy that the group oppose which it should aim to be in the top 5 of Google.

4. Build the links
There are too few links to other websites and too little mutual back-scratching. Where's the link to Ken's article in The Guardian, or the links back to the websites of members of the coalition. If you're going to have a links page, at least make sure they're reciprocated.

6. Improve the user experience
This will come but it isn't great at the moment. Nowhere to interact, only a box which asks you to sign-up without any declaration of what you are signing up to, data protection pledge etc.

Any other thoughts / ideas?

Tuesday, 11 November 2008

Anfi Emerald fails to act

My previous post about Anfi Emerald has been met by silence. I'm a bit surprised because I asked for them to contact me on the feedback form, as well as pointing the company to my blog.

I notice that my post has now risen to 11th on a Google search for Anfi Emerald and the TripAdvisor listing (complete with my comment) appears in the all-important top 10.

I wonder if the company just doesn't monitor its online reputation or hopes that the good outweighs the bad. One thing that the company has done well is to use an online distribution company for its press releases. Whilst this makes little impact on press coverage, it often helps SEO.

Equalities and Human Rights Commission: invaluable lesson on search

The Equalities and Human Rights Commission has had an invaluable lesson on the importance of search.

It used to be easy for public relations consultants: get to know a few journalists (drink with them if necessary) write a good press release and give them a call. Job done.

Now there are far more things to consider, including what impact a news story will have on an organisation's internet reputation.

EHRC boss Trevor Phillips gave a wide-ranging interview at the weekend during which he said that Barack Obama could not have emerged in Britain's party political system because of "institutional racism" within the Labour party. He accussed (former?) comrades of willing the ends but not the means.

The remarks have provoked a strong reaction - most of which the EHRC may see as beneficial. However, does it want this to be the only issue associated with its chair?

Type "Trevor Phillips" into Google. These are the results. If you search "equality human rights commission" it may not be top 10 (yet) but with the Google News clipping and the Times article 16th it will still make an impact.

Assuming that a body responsible for seven equalities strands doesn't want to be known for this alone, how could this have been avoided? I won't give you all the tips of the trade but try putting "Tesco" into Google. Notice how the first newspaper site is ranked 17th. I know that Tesco are bigger and have been around longer. But Google - and its users - don't account for that and their perception of the organisation changes accordingly.

The standard reached by Tesco must be aspired to by any organisation seeking to influence public life.

Monday, 10 November 2008

Iain Dale's impact on Sally Morgan

Iain Dale, one of Britain's most high profile and effective blogger, has written about attending an evening with Sally Morgan.

It will be interesting to see what impact his blog has on her online reputation. If his account is a fair representation (and I have no reason to think otherwise), I hope it has a considerable impact.

Sunday, 9 November 2008

SEO for

The brilliant Martin Belam has written about the search engine optimisation of He takes a slightly different look to my post about links in the transition website. It's worth a look.

My view is that for all it's important for us mere mortals to understand how to promote our content on Google, the President-elect has better things to do. Various publications suggest that Google puts greater emphasis on official sites (.edu .gov etc).

Is Google really so big that the President-elect should be trying harder to optimise his site for Google rather than vice versa?

Saturday, 8 November 2008

When is Yahoo better than Google?

Here's a tip for communications professionals.

Most people in the UK use Google. However, it isn't always better.

For example, try to judge the authority of President-elect Obama's transition website, Put into Google and you get 0 results. Put it into Yahoo and you get 1453 results.

The more comprehensive Yahoo database is more useful for PR, marketing and comms people. Perhaps another good reason for the halt called to negotiations between the two search engines?

Thursday, 6 November 2008

Protecting your online reputation

Wannabe journalists are encouraged to blog to get a job in the profession. And graduate students are always warned to think twice about what their Facebook page says about them. Unfortunately these two stories didn't register for Birmingham Mail (former) journalist Adam Smith. This video shows why.

The story is in its full gory detail here. In essence, the journalist was filmed, drunk, saying that he cut and pastes stories from the BBC News website rather than filing original copy for the readers of the Birmingham Mail.

I'm sure this is a horrible time for Adam Smith. And unless he takes corrective action, the story will remain on Google for his prospective employers.

But will it do him harm or will his actions earn him the notoriety of a Piers Morgan type?

Web visits strategy

An article on search engine watch has reminded me of the importance of planning before building an excellent website.

In the old days, a company would have commissioned, written, posed for the photograph and printed a corporate brochure, without thinking about who might read it and how they might receive it? I hope not - although I did work for an organisation who did just that. A customer complaint might have started with a petition outside the store or a letter to the CEO.

But many people do exactly that when building a website. They say 'we need a website' and act accordingly. Instead, why don't you try a variation of the following:
  • We need to talk to our customers in a cheaper way. How could the internet help? or
  • We want to be known for our CSR programme. How can we promote it online?
The answer will probably include a website but that will only be the start, not the end of the job. It should also include:
  • a list of websites, forums and networks that are interested in the subject
  • a laser-focus on the relevant search terms
  • a demographic of people on social networking sites
  • multi media delivery to engage audiences with different demands
And it might include a website - or you might save yourself a few grand by thinking first, then acting.

Tuesday, 4 November 2008

EDF Energy customer service

There was a power cut on our side of the street yesterday evening at about 5.30pm. In the old days we would have just gone out for dinner but with a baby we had a mad dash for food supplies and sterilising tablets. I've written before about how EDF provide a decent service, but the customer care could be better. This time, EDF dealt with it ok, but a bit of customer service would have been nice.

When the power went off, I stepped outside to find out the extent of the problem. I was reassured to see an EDF Energy van parked on our street - although on reflection, it was surprising that it was already there. Unfortunately, there was no telephone number on the van as far as I could see.

Eventually we got through to customer services on the phone who said that it was being treated as an emergency and should be fixed by 9.30pm. I was delighted when the power came back on shortly after 7pm.

What would have been even better is if EDF Energy had called us to explain what was happening. Instead, angry residents gathered around the van hoping to get some news and becoming more agitated the less visible the engineers were.

Had the engineers had knocked on every door (or every other and asked us to tell a neighbour) we would have been able to plan accordingly - and known who to thank when the problem was sorted.
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