Monday, 23 February 2009

Dare to Act - website evaluation

Dare to Act is a new website campaign launched by the Hungarian Civil Liberties Union. There are lots of strengths in the website that other campaigning organisations can learn from. However there are also some areas where Newscounter would advocate a different approach.

A clear call to action

There are three clear calls to action on the site: get to know the case, dare to act and keep yourself updated. The user can understand completely what to do and how to use the site. The information is informative and entertaining and motivates users to take action.

A range of different actions

The motivated user has a range of different actions - sending an email is easy enough (although would be aided by a single point of contact and the urge to CC the UN secretary general seems a little implausible to be effective. Interestingly, they enable users to send a fax, as well as share the site with friends.

Good integration of multimedia content

The video is neatly embedded in the site and it's easy to navigate between the different sections.

However, there are a number of weaknesses to the site which may hinder the effectiveness of the campaign.

The site isn't well optimised for search engines

The site lacks a meta description or clear page titles and there are few internal links. It is hard to find the site on a search engine unless you have already heard of the campaign.

Content can't be linked

By building the site in flash, each page doesn't have a separate URL which makes it impossible for other websites - and bloggers in particular - to link to relevant parts of the content. Yahoo currently records just 27 websites linking to the domain which is far fewer than you'd expect - particularly given the quality of the website and its content. However, publishing the videos on YouTube was a sensible way of compensating partially for that.

There's no community dialogue

The website won't build a community because it doesn't allow any dialogue between the users.

No capacity for updates

There doesn't appear to be any capacity for regular updates from the campaign (also a missed opportunity for better SEO). A campaign blog, forum or Twitter account would provide a capacity for the campaign to provide regular updates to engage users on the development of the campaign.

Lessons for other campaigns

There are some critical lessons for other campaigns:
* ensure that the structure of a website is usable for different levels of users - those who will just engage but also those who want to participate and lead a campaign
* if you choose to build a website in flash, provide alternative ways to help bloggers and others engage with the campaign
* blog if at all possible to provide regular opportunities for users to engage with the progress of the campaign. Even if the campaign doesn't change regularly, the policy and political context in which you are operating changes weekly and probably daily.

Friday, 20 February 2009

Labourlist: on course to be a top political website

Labourlist has been so successful in its first five weeks that it is on course to be one of the top political sites in the blogosphere. How have they done it?

It has certainly been controversial and site editor Derek Draper's conduct occasionally aggressive and even offensive. But whether you like it or not, it's working.

Building links

Last week I noticed that it had attracted a significant number of links into the site. This was particularly surprising as some of the biggest right wing bloggers have refused to link to labourlist.It isn't yet competing with the biggest sites but is growing at a significant rate and if it continues, won't be far behind its main rivals before long.

Generating traffic

I then noticed how much traffic it generated to some blogs that Newscounter helps. It's not a huge amount of traffic in absolute terms, but far more than I expected for a site of that age and which had attracted that volume of criticism.

There is also some interesting traffic data from Alexa which suggests that its traffic is already in the same ballpark as Iain Dale and Guido Fawkes. At Newscounter we no longer put any faith in Alexa stats because the data samples aren't properly weighted to reflect reality (at least in the UK). However, as the Manchester Evening News blog points out, Labourlist is already out-performing Conservativehome.

It's still early days for Labourlist and it's difficult to compare with other months and other websites because it's only been live for a few weeks. However, people who have seen the stats (and our subsequent analysis) has suggested that in the first five weeks it's already on a similar scale to where the right wing sites were after several years. I predict that if it continues on its likely growth trajectory, it will be one of the biggest political sites in the UK blogosphere.

Using social networking

Although he's still finding his way around Twitter, Labourlist editor @derekdraper has been named as the third most popular political twitterer.

Labourlist key achievements

There are a number of key achievements on Labourlist in its first few weeks:
1. It has set the agenda on bigger blogs. A crude search suggests that Iain Dale's blog has mentioned Draper up to 1900 times whilst Guido Fawkes has referred to Draper on 9000 occasions.

2. It has ignited a chain of conversations on multiple websites - one key criteria for a successful blog - evidence by the rapid growth of sites linking to

Challenges for Labourlist

There are a number of further challenges facing Labourlist, particularly if it is to fulfil Draper's ambitions for a site that speaks to the population rather than the Westminster village.

1. Can it provide unique content sufficiently frequently to keep users and deepen their relationship with the site?

2. Can it provide the mix of content necessary to be controversial enough to get online attention but informative enough to keep users returning?

3. Can its posters provide more provocative and thoughtful articles which increase the number of comments - and demonstrate their authenticity by re-engaging with those comments?

4. Can it be sufficiently generous with its success so that it increases the infrastructure around centre left bloggers, which in turn will lead to the long term success of Labourlist?

I've deliberately left off any measure of electoral impact from Labourlist: even Iain Dale hasn't achieved demonstrated a clear relationship between a good blog and electoral success. When he stood for parliament, the Conservatives actually lost votes on the previous election, bucking the national trend.

As Labour used to say: a lot done, a lot more to do.

Thursday, 19 February 2009

Self indulgent blogging must be done in moderation

Self indulgent blogging must be done in moderation. I will continue to repeat that to myself over the next few days. And, out of respect for the people who I advise blogging, I now recognise how hard it is not to indulge now again. But I also recognise how damaging it can be if you over do it.

Let me explain:

As I may have mentioned, I had a good few days on Matthew Cain's blog recently. I increased my blog readership and got lots of visitors, lots of comments and lots of links. And I'm still dining out on that (traffic and comments-wise). I wanted to maintain that momentum. And then I relaxed. Rather than remembering what was good about my first few posts to make an impact, I wrote easy articles that I wanted to write. And not just one but two or three.

I still got an audience for my thoughts on behavioural economics, the challenge of text ads to newspapers' editorial independence and the relevance of political parties. But it wasn't as much as previous posts and although the last couple of days improved, the trend is from a lower base than last week.

I call these self indulgent posts because:
* they were about what I was thinking, not what the wider community was thinking
* nobody had asked my view and I had no expertise to advance this view
* I couldn't initiate a wider online debate about these issues and so my thoughts were in isolation to the rest of the online world

To put it another way, I was like a pub-bore. Yes, there is a place for posts about pet subjects. But not one after another for a week. And not when your audience is fresh and new and still getting to know you.

Wednesday, 18 February 2009

Increasing blog readership: first steps

Key Lessons
• Write a post about an issue that you know will be of interest to a specific audience
• Leave a short comment on relevant posts with a hyperlink to attract readers
• Reply to comments in a timely fashion to continue the debate
• Write about similar issues to maintain a reader’s interest in your blog

The readership to Matthew Cain’s blog has increased exponentially over the last few days. This wasn’t a coincidence but a direct result or employing some simple, tried and trusted methods to recruit readers.

How I increased readership

Last weekend I received an embargoed copy of a report from the Media Standards Trust regarding the Press Complaints Commission. I’ve a long standing interest in this from running the right to reply service in 2006/07.

When the report launched, I blogged in support of the Trust, with a simple, relevant and obvious headline and a post of around 700 words. I then wrote a couple of lines in the comments section of all of the stories which criticised the report. It was just a simple two line comment, along the lines of: The Trust does not favour government regulation, just a better regulator. It’s a shame the PCC aren’t willing to engage in the debate:

The next day I noticed a conversation between two people I follow on Twitter: @JTownend who writes for and @currybet who blogs at JTownend was asking for ideas of how the PCC should be reformed. I blogged with some ideas for reform and Twittered with a short link to my entry. @JTownend noticed it and kindly included a link to my article from – generating over 100 clickthroughs to my blog.

That evening, I had an email from a friend drawing my attention to a email newsletter from Compass. He pointed out an unfortunate proofreading error. I knew that fellow Hackney blogger Luke Akehurst had previously written criticism of Compass so if I was to also criticise Compass, I would need to get his attention. I didn’t think there were too many other bloggers interested.

I wrote a brief post criticising Compass. It was nearer 700 words but I used bullet points to make it easier to read and chose a pithy title. I then put a link to my blog on one of Luke’s old posts – about the direction for New Labour. Luke moderates his comments so I knew that he would read it himself if he had time, but it wasn’t as intrusive as an email to his work address.

I then did a search for Compass using Google blog search and made a similar comment on a couple of other sites, along the lines of: I’m disappointed at the lack of new thinking produced by Compass. If that’s the future, we’re all doomed:

Luke picked up on my post and wrote a new blog entry. At Newscounter we estimate this happens about every 1 in 20 times you leave a comment on a personal blog (excluding newspaper sites or forums). After Luke wrote about it, premier parliamentary blogger Tom Watson (an offline friend of Luke) saw his post and welcomed me to the blogosphere – the last time I will ever be mentioned in the same breath as Sir Tim Berners Lee and the Queen. I found out that Tom had written about me because his blog appeared in my pingbacks window in wordpress. I then posted on Twitter to express my surprise that Tom had posted about me.

At this point, the blog started to take off. The post currently has 18 comments and has had over 600 views. I replied to each comment as quickly as I could, which not only encouraged most people to post again but actually elicited more considered views from three or four people, which was rewarding.

I kept an eye on my pingbacks box and left a comment on the site of everyone who wrote about me. I tried to be as polite as possible and engage people in the substantive issues.

On Sunday I noticed remarks by David Cameron about the funding of political parties, published on ConservativeHome, which appeared on the PoliticsHome ticker. Given that this is my specialist subject, I wrote a quick post urging Cameron to do the right thing and left a comment on the ConservativeHome article, something like ‘Cameron will regret it if he fails to reform party funding:

This post attracted over 500 readers, 17 comments and a few returning commenters from the previous post.

The challenge now is: how to sustain the readers through this week.

Monday, 16 February 2009

Internet psychology

Thanks to @rodsloane I have come across the internet psychologist: Graham Jones.

Take a look at his site. He has some really interesting stuff.

Thursday, 12 February 2009

Improving my blog using plugins

The content management system I use for Matthew Cain's blog is wordpress - my favourite blog provider. Having now generated some traffic, started to get some comments and got a few blogs linking to mine, I now want to improve the blog itself. I'm going to try using a few plugins - optional extras provided by the wordpress community.

1. Managing spam

I've installed the Akismet plugin to deal with spam. It's free, has a good algorithm which (apparently) also learns from all the other users so when spammers develop a new method, the system updates quickly to correctly flag new spam. It's not actually yet identified spam - a signal that my blog isn't getting particularly wide attention!

2. Using a site map

Lots of SEO experts say that you should have a site map. Apparently a site map helps search engines crawl through all your pages (rather than just the homepage) and it can even tell the search engine how frequently each page is updated. So I downloaded the Google sitemap generator (it works as well for other search engines) to create a site map.

Currently Google has indexed 57 pages on my blog - which appears to be all of them. I've posted 29 times and together with the tags and about pages, it adds up to around 57.

Google last visited my site at 15.30 yesterday - shortly after I published my last post. So it's visiting often enough.

I've got 10% of my traffic from search engines, thanks to people searching for my name (Hi Dad).

I'll be looking closely at these figures to see if there's any positive change as a result of the plugin.


I've added an RSS subscription widget. RSS isn't well used proportionately but heavily used be techies. What it does is take your blog posts and publishes them in the user's chosen interface - a bit like their own newspaper page. It's an easier way of monitoring updates on your favourite blogs than visiting each through your bookmarks. And it's a way of keeping readers who visit once.

I'm starting with a base of 0 so we'll see if my blog is popular through RSS subscriptions.


I've installed a search engine optimisation tool. My URLs and headers are already optimised for search engines, because I do that when writing them. However, this tool allows me to define the meta content description. I won't bother with the keyword tags as it doesn't make any difference any more.

New content feeds

I'm experimenting with 2 plugins which generate new content. One will take all my Newscounter Tweets from Twitter and publish them - ensuring 2 or 3 new pieces of content in between blog posts. The second, postalicious, takes feed from my bookmarking site. So every time I save a bookmark in Delicious, I can produce an aggregated bit for my blog - passing on articles that I find interesting. Currybet does this particularly well with his recent links feature.

Increasing interactivity

I'm trying a meet your commenters tool. This plugin displays web pages and profiles of those users in the dashboard, so you can add them as friends if you are in the same social network. I don't know how well it will work, frankly. But because I'm trying to build a community, hopefully this will involve people more closely in my blog.

Monitoring loadtimes

I'm going to be keeping a close eye on the site load times. This is what they are currently:

And I need to make sure that it doesn't get too slow. I want my blog to be accessible to people with a dial-up modem. After all, if you want to build a community you need to be inclusive.

I will report back on progress shortly.

Wednesday, 11 February 2009

Blogging in pictures for the RSA

Matthew Taylor of the RSA (a Newscounter client)has developed the notion of a framework to judge the credibility of an apology. It's particularly appropriate, given the apology of senior bankers to the treasury select committee.

We've developed it into a graphic for him, so that it can stand alone as a reference point for judging future apologies. Matthew's already done media interviews on the art of the political apology so hopefully it will further reinforce his insight in this area.

Tuesday, 10 February 2009

My blog lessons - generating an audience

I've been developing a Matthew Cain blog. As I wrote recently, it started with a wave of excitement and frustration that I had so much to say but hadn't setup the blog so far.

Post every day

I then stopped posting each day. Of course, there's no search engine reason to post every day. But I still tell people to do it because if they don't they will stop posting. It's just what happened to me.

Getting the posting habit

I started to talk about the snow in Stoke Newington. After the initial post, I needed to follow it up and did several days later. But then I found something else on my internet travels that I wanted to talk about. I'm one of the UK's few experts on political party funding.

Building an audience

I made a comment on Labour List about party funding. It didn't generate any interest. But now that I started, I got the bug. The more I post the more I want to write. So I wrote about the T-Mobile inspired flash mob. I followed my own advice and put links on 4 other sites, which generated a couple of comments - to which I replied (of course).

Generating comments

Then today, I made a quick post for the sake of putting up something new. But then I was thinking about blogging. So I posted twice more. Suddenly, I'd convinced myself that my view on George Monbiot was really important.

To build an audience, I:
1. put into Google Blog search Monbiot AND Blears
2. Clicked on the top 12 results
3. Re-wrote my headline to make it more provactive
4. Left a comment on 10 of them - 9 were anti Blears
5. Started replying to the comments

I now have 12 comments and have added those commentators blogs to my blogroll.

Key lessons
1. It's difficult to get into the habit of writing unless you do often
2. Being an active commentator on a live web issue does generate traffic and comments
3. The issue has to be of interest to a number of sites
4. Respond to the comments to open up further discussion, not close it down
5. Find ways to build the relationship with the commentator further
6. Have your analytics package configured. I didn't have - so can't measure the success of this!

I'm not trying to suggest this is best practice - but it's my experience and I'll record how I build on this.

The story of Counterpoint

Monday, 9 February 2009

Expensive printers

Newscounter has recently changed its printing suppliers. It will no longer be using Matbaa in Stoke Newington for emergency jobs because they are just too expensive and the charging policy is unfair and not transparent.

From now on, we recommend Hanway Print in Islington.

This is the full details in Matbaa is too expensive.

British Bankers Association engages with blogs

Well done to the British Bankers' Association for engaging with blogs. I came across this article on A View from Middle England.

The BBA has left a comment clarifying its position and informing readers what it really thinks. The way they've done this is to be applauded:

1. The BBA has been monitoring its online reputation
2. The comment is clear, concise and the contributor transparent
3. There's a link to more information for readers who want it
4. The BBA has engaged in the content of the article, accepting where it went wrong but putting the blogger straight

The only other suggestions we'd make are:
1. The username could like to an identifiable person at the BBA. This would help users (and particularly the blog owner) check the authenticity of the comment
2. If they provided a link to a specially created landing page, they could track the clickthroughs and thus learn more about the site and the views of its readers. This would help develop the BBA's blogging strategy further.

Otherwise, a good effort from which others can learn.

Friday, 6 February 2009

Professionalism: the minmum standard

Until now, I was pleased with myself for overseeing the production of a very professional piece of marketing. It's certainly the most professional thing we've produced this year.

Then I read Seth Godin's thoughts on professionalism. He argues that professionalism is really the minimum acceptable standard. That smaller startups like us, need to reach that level of professionalism to be accepted - then argue for our niche. Not excuse our lack of professionalism as a tradeoff with our niche.

It's well worth reading.

Tuesday, 3 February 2009

Printer Charing Cross - Don't

I won't be using the services of Printer Charing Cross. The company is not in Charing Cross and is not called Printer Charing Cross.

Instead, they appear to have stuffed Google as a misleading search engine optimisation attempt.

I wanted a printer in Charing Cross. I'm currently sat in Charing Cross. So I googled printer Charing Cross. I clicked on the first link and went to call them. Then I noticed they are based in Basingstoke.

I'm not impressed. The first three results in Google all link to this company which is called Branded Print in Basingstoke. But claims an unethical association with Charing Cross.

If it's not their fault, I encourage them to give up the domain names, relocate or make clear on their homepage that they are based in Basingstoke. In the meantime, I encourage bloggers to make clear that they are not based in Charing Cross.

Monday, 2 February 2009

How to write a blogging strategy

Is it worth having a strategy for your blog? Maybe. First, here's the limitations of a blogging strategy:

Blogs must be flexible

You've got to be able to write about the issues, people and events that are in your radar at any point. If a blog strategy gives you reason to pause before writing, then it's getting in the way. A successful blog must reflect the issues you really care about.

Blog traffic can be unpredictable

It's the posts that you think no one will want to read which will by amongst your most popular ever. Those that you thought too niche, too specialist, or too quirky will find an audience that you never knew existed. If a blog strategy prevents you writing these, then it's getting in the way.

A blog is part of a conversation. Conversations can't be planned

Planned conversations (you know the ones: 'we need to talk') are always uncomfortable. That's as true on a blog as in real life. The critical factor of a blog is its authenticity. If a strategy prevents your blog being 'authentically you', it's getting in the way.

All this isn't much help if your boss has asked you to write a blog strategy. So what might that strategy note include?

Analyse your audience

It can be instructive to analyse your audience. What are the issues I most care about? Where is the conversation happening currently? What do blogs currently write about? Do I have a niche? Understanding your audience and its market place is sensible research and can make the job of building your blog that much easier.

Audience recruitment

An extension of the previous rule really. If there's a blog, person or company you want to read your blog, write a post specifically designed to recruit them. I've done this a couple of times and it's always worked.

Posting for a rainy day

If you have a strategy, it might make it easier to post on a day of bloggers-block. For example, if I know that once a week I have to review a book I've read, at least I know what to write about.

Understand your analytics

A blog strategy can be a useful device to ensure you are understanding your web analytics. If a post gets lots of traffic or a good number of comments or links, analyse why. Then write another post like it. If that succeeds, you came to the right conclusions.

Good blogging takes three to six months

It takes between three and six months to get to where you want with a blog. If a strategy would help give you focus, then give it a go.

Ensure that you've tried every technique to promote your blog

If your strategy helps keep your focus on utilising every technique to promote your blog, it's doing you a service. But retain the ability to abandon one technique in favour of another if you see it's not working.

This all notwithstanding, I usually recommend clients have a weekly menu and structure to their posts rather than a strategy per-se. That ensures flexibility whilst building on what works.

Any other tips, criticism or peer review gratefully accepted.
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