Wednesday, 31 December 2008

Building a community for your blog

Successful blogs are part of a community. They don't just repeat content from other websites but they are part of a collection of other sites that share interest in similar issues - although not necessarily similar views.

On a simple level, you can identify the community of a successful blog by looking at the sites that are listed in the blogroll - usually provided in the right hand panel of the homepage. However, the community is more than that - it's about an interaction in the content between different sites.

Take this example from Tory blogger Iain Dale. He has written about a story he discovered on Biased BBC. They may share a similar political belief (Tories traditionally dislike the Beeb) but they have a different focus in their writing.

Alternatively, Labour blogger Luke Akehurst republishes content from (unbiased) Guardian journalist Dave Hill but they share another similarity: they are both residents of Hackney.

It doesn't always work favourably though as I pointed out here, even a negative review can help your website's search engine profile!

So when you've setup your blog and you want to get readers, how do you start to build a community? Here are some starting points:
  • your content - find out which other sites report your content
  • your beliefs - which blogs share your beliefs or directly oppose them?
  • your interests - which blogs are in your local community, get on the same train as you, read the same local newspaper as you, both hate/love marmite?
  • degrees of separation - which other sites might interest your readers or who can you do a favour to by reviewing and linking to their site?
  • things you support - use social networking sites or Twitter to find out where you share an interest with people. Do you like a band that shares a bill with another band? Think laterally.
Let me know any other great tips and I'll review your site and give you some extra publicity!

What I'm reading today

There's only one article I'm reading today, and I'm doing so ad nauseum:

Dyson's - they're great when they break

I got a Dyson a couple of years ago. We needed a new vacuum cleaner, my wife was not thinking about the cost properly and I persuaded her to get a Dyson because they look cool and are as manly as you can hope for from a vacuum cleaner.

Recently, I wondered why we bothered. It stopped working after less than two years. That's when I realised how great Dyson's really are. Why? Because:

1. They come with a five year guarantee

2. The helpline is really well run, with long opening hours and staff who seem to know what they're talking about

3. The Dyson is so well designed with colour coordinated parts that you can take it apart yourself (with instruction from the aforementioned helpline) to find out what's wrong and fix it. It's so good that even the individual components have diagrams so you don't need to resort to an instruction manual.

Now I would always by a Dyson, not just because they're the Apples of their field but because they are so well built.

Tuesday, 30 December 2008

Protecting and promoting online reputations

Newscounter has just launched a Google group about to identify best practice and emerging themes for organisations and their staff charged with protecting and promoting online reputations.

Take a look and join in the debate.

Monday, 29 December 2008

Measuring Twitter impact

There's an interesting debate on measuring the impact of Twitter.

Our experience is that not many companies track their products on Twitter. There isn't currently the volume to justify it. However, there's a growing case for doing so because:
a) Twitter is an incredibly useful tool for SEO (see Newscounter's Twitter page.)
b) Opinion formers use Twitter
c) An increasing number of journalists use Twitter personally and for new content

See some of the discussion here.

Do you know anyone who uses Twitter to monitor their brand reputation?

Sunday, 28 December 2008

Newscounter website problems

I don't like to over exaggerate but we've had a nightmare over the last month with our new website. We wanted to update it to better-reflect our core business. Things are developing so quickly that, inevitably, by the time we had the new site up and running, it needs further revision.

But our biggest problem was with hosting. I won't bore you with the intricacies, but the end result is that is no longer in the Google top 10 for Newscounter. A good thing, therefore, that no one searches for Newscounter! Anyway, we're now running from which is a short term fix and - unfortunately - has far fewer links than so ranks lower in Google.

An important lesson for anyone developing a new website - get the hosting packages right before you change with the website content.

Friday, 19 December 2008

Citizen driven media complaints

A couple of months ago I was considering how you could open up the Press Complaints Commission. Two of the biggest problems with the PCC, as currently constructed are:
  1. that it will only accept complaints from a very small number of people. The majority of complaints are stopped at source.
  2. that mediated corrections (the majority solution) are rarely perceived to be commensurate with the original story
My solution was Digg meets Pledgebank meets the PCC. It goes as follows:

  1. You join the citizen media complaints commission. You pay, say, £5 a month to join
  2. Anyone can register a complaint with a piece of media coverage. The complainant makes their complaint and states how they want it to be addressed
  3. Members of the commission vote as to the most deserving complaint.
  4. The winning complaint gets all the money in the kitty to pay for publicity to rectify their complaint. This could be Google advertising, a billboard outside the newspapers, students paid to flyer journalists - whatever.
I've not been able to take this forward in 2008. So I'm asking for your help to finesse the idea, restructure it, mash it up - whatever. As long as you can commit some time to making something happen in this space in 2009.

5 Great blog titles

We recently looked at 5 reasons why blog titles are important. Next, it only seemed fair to give some examples:

1. Leaked: Labour's new Ad campaign
It starts with exclusivity / insider gossip. It says what it is on the tin. It is open enough to stimulate comments.

2. Yet more Tory economic stupidity
Provocative. Clear subject matter for the post. Doesn't give it all away though - you want to know what the stupidity is.

3. Sniffer dogs and breast cancer
Clear what it's about. Yet intriguing for the juxtaposition. Works supremely well on search engines.

4. Top-Sellers? Bah, Let's Look At The 10 Most "Engaging" Games
It's a list, it's provocative. You want to know what's near the top. See how it's doing on Digg.

5. Hallelujah: the perfect Christmas song
Everyone's talking about that song. Sometimes about whether it's appropriate for Christmas. So this headline says it all - and fits in with an existing debate.

Thursday, 18 December 2008

5 reasons why blog titles are important

A blog title is the most important part. Why?

1. Because you'll increase your audience from social networking sites
Go to Digg, Delicious or any of the other sites where people share content they like. See how many articles you read, how many you click on. Then reflect on how many you clicked on just because of the title. It's like going to a bookshop when you're not sure what to buy. Get the title right on your blog post and there's a greater chance that you'll get more clickthroughs from these sites.

2. Because mostly 80% of people will read your title, 20% will read the content
And if the title grabs, then those figures will alter.

3. Google measures how quickly people leave your site
A compelling title, and people will read your post. An interesting post, and people will click on your blog. And your blog will be more important to search engines like Google.

4. A blog title is the ultimate soundbite
If you can't say what you want to say in the title, maybe blogging isn't for you. Try writing a masters thesis instead.

5. The title is your sales pitch
With millions of blogs, thousands of news sites and hundreds of emails, why should someone read your blog? Your title is your sales pitch. And get them hooked, and you'll have people returning.

Tuesday, 16 December 2008

5 things wrong with my blog

I know, I know. My blog should be an exemplar for all those people we're helping with their blogs. But we're so busy helping them, that we don't have time to help ourselves. So here, for the benefit of others, are five things wrong with my blog:

1. I don't post daily
It's so important to post every day. It tells search engines that it's worth coming back. I don't, so they don't.

2. I'm not part of a community
Having a dialogue with Martin Belam isn't enough. If this blog is to be successful, it needs to be part of a conversation with other blogs.

3. It is too unfocussed to be useful to audiences
I don't have regular features, content spread across several days, content which is relevant to the same person on consecutive days etc. etc. etc.

4. I don't link enough
If I don't link to other blogs, how can I expect anyone else to return the favour?

5. It looks rubbish
You can get away with lots of design sins in web 2.0. But not as many as these - at least, not until the content is a great deal stronger.

Monday, 15 December 2008

Which posts make a great blog?

We've been advising a few CEOs recently on their blogs. One of the key areas where our advice is important is helping with the way that content is written (not what is written).

We've developed our thoughts into this introductory presentation: Great blogging: which posts work?

Wednesday, 10 December 2008

The financial case for blogging

Yesterday we examined the business case for blogging. The other set of benefits of blogging are financial; not in the sense of earning money by blogging (although that is possible) but the benefits of blogging over other forms of communicating with the same stakeholders.

A decent blog should be getting an audience of at least 250 readers a day and often hit 500.

We've made a number of assumptions here (and this is largely meant to be thought provoking).
  • a blog takes an hour a day to write
  • this chief executive is paid £100,000 per annum
  • our consultancy fees are included
  • a redesign is necessary
  • the blog is hosted externally
Based on this, a blog costs a maximum of £2000 per month, or 27 pence per reader.

  • If you had a daily newspaper column in a high circulation national newspaper, you would have a larger audience at a cheaper price.
  • If you were on the Today programme each day, blogging wouldn't be worth it
  • If you addressed a conference of 500 people, blogging would be more cost effective
  • If you sent an email newsletter each day, blogging would reach more people
  • If you brought billboard advertising, radio advertising or a TV spot, blogging would still be cheaper
  • If you brought keyword advertising on search engines, blogging would still be cheaper
Some people have alternative access to a significant audience every day at a low price. If you don't, blog.

Tuesday, 9 December 2008

Social networking and brands

David Cushman has an interesting article here on the relationship between social networking sites and brands:


Business case for blogging

The CEO of a third sector organisation asked me last week how we could justify the time spent on his blog (about one hour a day).

So, in two parts, here is the business case for blogging for busy third sector CEOs. We start with the business benefits and tomorrow will look at the financial cost.

Get an audience for your latest activities
Few organisations have a page of press releases that a search engine visits each day. Therefore, it could be as much as a week before your latest report/research/campaign gets noticed online. An effective blog will be noticed daily, giving you an online platform for your latest activities to be noticed.

Change perceptions of your organisation/campaign/constituents
A blog can provide a means to change perceptions by engaging with your audience frequently and over a sustained period. It could be older people communicating young people that they have a valuable contribution to make (or vice versa). Or people with disabilities making their experiences more real. Or an international charity taking big stories and humanising them. The nature of the platform provides a unique opportunity to challenge perceptions and the means to measure your success.

Lobby for change
The art of good blogging is being part of a network of blogs. You can use your blog to lobby for change and create alliances of other bloggers who support the same issue. You can also target your campaigns at political bloggers with high influence.

Engage your key stakeholders
A blog can engage with your key stakeholders in a more meaningful and frequent way than any other form of communication. Whether explaining your activities to donors, raising awareness, campaigning for change, a blog gives you a platform to talk regularly with your more important stakeholders.

Demonstrate your expertise

If you want to establish yourself as a media commentator on a particular issue, a blog is a good place to start. You can rehearse your key arguments, establish your credibility and gain a profile for your views on a particular subject. And if your organisation has a back-catalogue of research its a good way of getting fresh attention for old work.

Engage with journalists and commentators
So many journalists and commentators blog that it's critically important that you do too. Your blog can provide them with new content but also just remind them of your organisation and what you are saying. Social networks are also a useful too for this.

Deliver excellent return on investment
We will look at the numbers tomorrow but blogs are the most cost effective, easiest way to communicate with a large audience frequently.

Survive and thrive in a recession

I recently attended the best networking event I've been to in two years. It cost me £40 but in return I got to eat lunch with a number of small business owners and talk honestly about how we were going to cope with the economic downturn.

The event was organised by Tom Ball and his team at Cognac, the company that created our marvellous Counterpoint presentation. Tom has subsequently written up the lessons learned from this event, and the others held in the series.

The book, “The Wisdom of Crowds”, states that a crowd is wise if: there is diversity of opinion, independence, decentralisation and some form of aggregation. Most articles about the recession take their data from experts – who can be expected to be a skewed data sample. We got the most diverse people we could think of and held a series of dinners over October and November to debate the recession - pulling together many wise minds from different industries. The diagnosis was mixed: It’s going to get very nasty – but that opportunities will abound for those nimble enough to reach them.

To state the obvious, the big challenge for businesses is cash – businesses are likely to be squeezed from all sides:

  • Sales volume down
  • Prices down in some areas
  • Increase in bad debts
  • Invoices paid later
  • Customers reduce stock

To quote Jon Moulton “Everything we do to prepare will make the recession worse – but to not react will kill our own businesses”

No-one knows the answer and this is by no means scientific – but from dozens of articles and hundreds of conversations, here are our crowd’s top tips to survive and prosper in a recession:

1. React to changing buying habits

The usual rules have changed. There appear to be many, often conflicting, changes happening across different industries. For example, people go out half as often but spend more on those nights - and have consequently higher expectations (If it’s your one night out this month, it had better be good!).

People are going out less but appear to be spending more time and money at home. Escapism, nostalgia and comfort food are up. Most people are cutting back – what becomes redefined as a “luxury” remains to be seen. More people are fixing things and making things – helping places like Halfords and craft shops. The “Buying cycles” are getting extended – people that replace their car every two years wait one more year. Some people choose to go to the dentist every nine months rather than every six. Tiny individual decisions – with a huge impact when the whole world acts as a herd.

In summary the world is changing – and figuring out or choosing your new role is not obvious.

2. Cheap is no longer a four letter word

Lots of cheaper alternatives are gaining. Lidl was up 40%. Cheaper supermarkets seem to be gaining at the expense of posher ones as the stigma of being seen in Aldi recedes. But it’s more complex than that. Waitrose is being hit as people move to cheaper alternatives – but gaining as people host ready-made dinner parties as cheaper alternatives to restaurants. Is cheap the new bling?

Of course, labelling cost cutting as “focusing on reducing our carbon footprint” – such as all but banning corporate travel - makes the change green and lean. There are many opportunities to cut costs in the name of the planet which would have been ignored in fatter days.

3. Meet higher expectations

Because spending money is now a rarer occurrence, we have higher expectations when we do spend money

4. Get back to basics

Most of the actions being proposed and planned are true of business itself. Like the best of us, companies get fat in boom periods – now is the time to focus. Focus on key clients. Focus on delivery. Focus on the core business.

5. Underlying trends will accelerate

There are seismic shifts that have been predicted for years. The death of television advertising. The rise of telecommuting and video conferencing. The changes in population as the baby boomers give way to the “millennials” or “digital natives” (People born after the World Wide Web – and therefore never seen life without it).

The inertia of success has allowed them to be largely ignored – but as everything is revisited, those seismic shifts will start to erupt. Upcoming generations may sit forlorn by the side of the career ladder – or they may start the next wave of new companies.

6. Focus on fast ROI

There is a polarisation happening in buying decisions: Ignoring the blanket “spending freezes” that are delaying everything there is an obvious focus on short term results. Anything with a clear ROI of less than six months is more likely to happen, albeit needing sign-off from the CEO down. Huge “change the planet” five year programmes, long ROI projects will happen only in far-sighted, cash-rich firms preparing for the future.

7. Work on cash from all three angles

To quote Lord Harris (CEO of CarpetRight – now 3% owned by Bill Gates!) “Look after your cash. I’ve never known anyone go bust with cash in the bank”.

There are three ways to have more cash in the bank: Sell more, Spend less and move payment dates to conserve your cash. This could be an article in itself

8. Be prepared for the waves that follow

We have not seen the worst of it yet. Hopefully the Government’s swift reaction will minimise the damage – but the dominoes continue to fall as firm’s are hit by the effects of each days bad news. The effects seem worst felt closer to Banks and international corporations – and least felt in rural areas such as Devon where it has yet to have real impact.

9. Stand out from the crowd

Now is the time to be exceptional. Buyers are more cost conscious than ever – but seem more risk averse. If you really need project X to succeed, can you risk hiring the B-team? What constitutes the best appears to be changing – the cult of “bigger is better” is fading – with companies hiring smaller, more focussed teams who are the best in their field. We are already seeing clearer priorities being set and pursued more rapidly. Decisions lower down may be mired in sign-off procedures but decisions coming from the board-room down are happening faster than ever.

10. Go against the herd

The wise herd will be busy being prudent, cutting back ... so if everyone is selling who is buying? It takes two opinions to make a market. Things only sell at the point a seller finds a buyer – if “everyone” is selling, there is logic in buying – but for most, the bottom is yet to come. ROB is at an all time high. But more about that in the article about Christmas!

11. No-one knows what will happen

Far from discovering a universal, secret truth about what where to put our money, we found as many opinions as people. People advocating hoarding cash – and people convinced cash will devalue and anywhere is better. People going east to China – and leaving

For our part, we believe the need for clarity, for sales, for change has never been greater. We hope to grow and prosper – and we hope you do too.

Please feel free to share this around – and please do let us know your tips - and where you agree or disagree with our crowd!

Monday, 8 December 2008

StreetWire is brilliant

Don't just take my word for it, check it out yourselves:

Ok, so it might work better if you live in N16 (as I do) than BS32 (where I was born) but - how brilliant.

I look forward to being hooked, Twitter-style

Wednesday, 3 December 2008

UK2 - thanks

I had a problem with UK2 recently. (The next paragraph is boring).

I registered a domain that I no longer needed. I received automated emails warning me of renewal which I ignored, because the card that I used to pay for the domain was no longer valid. I then received an email warning me that the payment would be processed anyway unless I cancelled the order. I replied to the email and received no response. I then got an email saying it had been renewed and I had to pay some sort of fine. They had no record of my email but waived the payment; a truly decent thing to do as I hadn't complied with their procedure.

UK2 thanks - and if you monitor your online reputation - I recommend you to anyone thinking of buying a domain name.

Tuesday, 2 December 2008

This says it all

This post sums up how I'm feeling today.

SEO discovery

I've uploaded the introduction to Counterpoint to SlideShare. I want to know what value SlideShare can add to a search engine optimisation scheme so it's a bit of an experiment.

Does anyone else have any experience of using SlideShare to help SEO?

Monday, 1 December 2008

Top tip for blogging

Here's a top tip for blogging: lists. Five top this, ten best the other, 25 worst what's its.

The front page of the Timesonline site today shows why:

Alternative Doctor needs an alternative search engine approach

NHS Blog Doctor, one of my favourite blogs, has published an expose of the Alternative Doctor site. You can judge the legitimacy of the site and the complaint yourself. It's highlighted that the alternative doctor needs a new search engine strategy.

How influential is the Alternative Doctor site? Not very.

Yahoo reports just over 1,000 hyperlinks to the site, meaning that it has some influence - but only just. The NHS Blog Doctor has seven times as many, as you'd expect for a nationally significant blog.

Critically, the site doesn't rank particularly well on search engines. It comes number one for me on Google for a search of alternative doctor - that's good, bearing in mind the competition. However, it is not ranked prominently for any of its key terms: electronic voice phenomena, hypergravity vibration exercizer (where there isn't much competition) or cancer alternatives. In contrast, the NHS Blog Doctor post is now in the top 10 for hypergravity vibration exercizer.

The Alternative Doctor site demonstrates the importance of getting all the elements of an seo strategy in place. To be more successful it needs:
  • page titles which correspond with a keyword strategy
  • a higher keyword density
  • more links coming in to the key pages
Having a video on the homepage is good - I think. But spending almost 1/6th of it debating with yourself whether this is a website, a blog, or a bit of both is a waste of all our time!

And a note to NHS Blog Doctor - you've provided more links to the Alternative Doctor than you have to anyone on the other side of the debate. Given the high value of links from your site, won't this be inadvertently helpful to him?
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