Review: Social Media Marketing with Facebook and Twitter

I think I’ve mentioned before how useful I find the lynda.com online training library. It’s always been a great resource for learning web design applications, but it also has an ever-increasing number of titles on other software and broader web-related topics. I’ve recently been watching one of the more recent additions: Social Media Marketing with Facebook and Twitter by Anne-Marie Concepción.

The title provides a great introduction for complete newcomers to either social networking environment, but the course is sensibly structured so the starter videos on basic account set-up can be skipped by people who already have personal accounts. Setting up business accounts on Twitter and business pages on Facebook is then covered in full, with discussions and demonstrations of all the available functionality. Useful caveats are also provided when necessary. For example, you’re shown how to automatically import your blog into your Facebook page, but also warned why you probably don’t want to do this and given a sensible alternative.

The really valuable part of the title for many people will be its advice on using Twitter and Facebook strategically for business marketing, with special emphasis on increasing viral effects via ‘word of keyboard’.

For me some of the most interesting advice here included:

  • Ways to cross-promote blog posts, Twitter feeds and Facebook pages.
  • Advice on measuring the impact of Twitter and Facebook use – vital in a lot of business environments where the tools can be regarded as time-wasters.
  • Tips on using Twitter, Facebook and companion tools like Tweetdeck to search for business opportunites and ideas.
  • A useful breakdown of all the differences between pages and groups in Facebook – something I’ve never very clearly understood.
  • Discussions of the terms of use for Twitter and Facebook. I hadn’t realised that Twitter forbids links in tweets to websites which are against its terms of service.

This is a fun title which is definitely worth a viewing if you’re a lynda.com subscriber with any interest in social marketing.

Social Media Marketing with Facebook and Twitter by Anne-Marie Concepción is available on the lynda.com training site.

Related posts

Review of WordPress.com Essential Training – another lynda.com title.

Website satisfaction surveys

When you start planning a website feedback survey you’re likely to have a lot of questions in mind about the most effective way to go about it.  How long should your survey be? What are the best questions to ask? When is the best time to promote a survey during a user visit to your site? How frequently to survey? What are the benefits of surveys compared to web stats analysis or usability testing?

The following resources provide some answers (and will probably also raise some more questions…)

Paul Boag provides some useful advice on website surveys on his Boagworld site. Creating a better survey summarises twelve ways you can make your surveys more effective, including avoiding distracting your users by the way you promote your survey and remembering to consider best practice for form design.  Improving your site with user feedback is also interesting. It looks at the role of questionnaires and surveys within a range of options for getting feedback, including face to face, web stats, search queries and third party applications. Importantly, it also discusses how to assess feedback once you’ve collected it so that you can decide which suggestions to implement.

Analytics Basics: Visitor Surveys and Mazimize Surveys’ Effectiveness are two pieces by Neil Mason on ClickZ. Advice here includes to be clear about your survey’s purpose and to keep it short and simple. Remember the need to test surveys before going live and make sure the survey complements your brand as “poorly executed online surveys can damage the brand whether they live on the site or are sent via e-mail”.

The Three Greatest Survey Questions Ever is a nice blog post by Avinash Kaushik advocating a simple approach to survey implementation. The “three greatest questions” are:

  • What is the purpose of your visit to our website today?
  • Were you able to complete your task today?
  • If you were not able to complete your task today, why not?

From the same blog, see also Got Surveys? Recommendations from the Trenches which includes discussions of  benchmarking for surveys, the usefulness of open-ended questions, targeting survey participants, integrating your survey analysis with clickstream data and the benefits of using surveys as a continuous and ongoing measurement system.

User satisfaction provides advice on website surveys from the UK guidance for government websites on Measuring Website Quality, including suggested core questions for surveys.

How to make an online survey work is an article from Webmaster-Now by Phil Blasco which provides general advice and some suggested questions.

How to build response rates for online surveys is one of several useful articles on the Demographix site. It considers a key issue with online surveys – how to increase response rates. Suggestions include using incentives if appropriate, thinking carefully about the wording of the survey invitation and best practice for promoting a survey on your web site.

10 Tips to Improve your Surveys is an article on the Zoomerang site. Among other suggestions, it emphasises keeping questions simple and rating scales consistent through your surveys. It also suggests sending reminders to people who have not completed the survey to boost your completion rate.

Once you’re ready to create your feedback survey, there are now plenty of online survey solutions available to choose from. If you want to trial one before you commit to spending money, then  SurveyMonkey, PollDaddy, Zoomerang and SurveyGizmo all have free basic services with paid-for professional versions

Review: The Truth about Search Engine Optimization

Rebecca Lieb’s The Truth about Search Engine Optimization provides a concise introduction to the basics of SEO in an engaging way. It’s avowedly not a technical book, but it manages to get across some complicated concepts in an accessible fashion.

Its non-techie language makes it a good choice to give to clients or marketing colleagues who you want to steer away from SEO scammers. The author provides solid advice focusing on the need to provide ‘strong relevant content for users combined with links, keywords and phrases that make it search-engine friendly’. Readers are given a good appreciation of what to expect from an SEO professional and will also learn plenty of things they can do themselves to improve their site’s performance in the SERPs.

Amongst the sensible points made, there’s advice to ‘never hire anyone who promises the number one slot on Google’ and suitably dire warnings of the perils of link farms and black hat SEO. Detailed guidance is given on building a link strategy and minimising the effects on search engine ranking of moving domains. There’s nice balanced analyses of the importance of PageRank, the pros and cons of outsourced vs. internal SEO in organisations and the benefits of user-generated content for search. There’s also a welcome emphasis on the benefits of standards compliance for SEO, which it’s great to see presented to a non-technical audience.

Alongside all the good recommendations in the book, there were just a couple of things I didn’t totally agree with. There’s one section which reads like it encourages viewing “alt” text primarily as a keyword-placement opportunity rather than as a useful description for people using screen-readers. (Elsewhere however there is good accessibility advice on posting HTML transcripts for audio files.)

Also, I thought the section looking at Flash from an SEO viewpoint was overly negative for a book published in 2009. In 2008 Adobe and Google cooperated to deliver a great improvement in SWF search indexing and Flash sites now don’t have to be the search engine pariahs they once were (as long as developers know what they’re doing). Todd Perkins’ recent O’Reilly book on Search Engine Optimization for Flash covers the current state of play in great detail. It would be a shame if site owners just read ‘The Truth about Search Engine Optimization’ and dismissed all Flash development out of hand.

Generally though, this is a useful book you can recommend to anyone as an introduction to SEO or use as a refresher to provide a checklist of points any SEO project should cover.

The Truth about Search Engine Optimization by Rebecca Lieb is published by Que.

Related posts

Other books on SEO I’ve reviewed are Building Findable Websites and Where Search Meets Web Usability.

Review: Click – What We Do Online and Why It Matters

In Click – What We Do Online and Why It Matters, Bill Tancer uses data on internet use to demonstrate that people reveal plenty of things via their everyday web browsing which they’d never admit to in a formal survey.

The first part of the book discusses what can we learn about the human condition from internet usage data via a series of snapshots of online behaviour. These look at subjects as diverse as porn, politics, prom dresses, diets, celebrity worship and people’s worst fears. There are lots of interesting snippets to be found in all this – from the problems caused to political pollsters by the increasing tendency to drop landline phones in favour of mobiles to data indicating that Sunday is the least popular day for people to browse porn sites. The chapter on fears focuses on search queries and has a nice potted description of the authoritative status search engines have assumed in a lot of people’s lives - “Search engines, despite their limitations, have for some of us become a teacher, a confidant, a willing listener to our confessions.”

There follows a good chapter on the concepts of Web 2.0, focusing particularly on their potential downsides. The closing part of the book explores what can be done with web data analysis, the continuing power of television programming on what people search for online and  arbitrage opportunities from internet data. The final chapters look particularly at the role of early adopters and “super-connectors” in boosting online trends and how their behaviour can be used to predict the future mainstream.

I don’t think Click delivers any huge revelations but, as you’d expect from a Time magazine columnist, it’s all pleasantly readable. From chapter to chapter the book sometimes feels a bit disconnected – more like a meandering series of articles than a single tightly argued narrative. However the chatty informal style is also part of the book’s charm and helps to make it an enjoyable, if undemanding, read.

The author is particularly successful at conveying his sheer enthusiasm for the work of data analysis. He infuses his discussions of the process of formulating and testing theories with a sense of fun.  The book is at its most interesting where he happily discusses cases where his predictions have been wrong-footed by events, and then goes through the process he went through to find out what went wrong and how similar analyses could be refined in the future.

The book was published in the US last year, but I’ve been reading the recently released UK edition.  A nice feature of this is that the author has gone to the effort of  updating and anglicising the book at bit.

Click: What We Do Online and Why it Matters by Bill Tancer is published by Harper Collins

Review: Neuro Web Design: What Makes Them Click?

Neuro Web Design reviews some of what neuroscientists now know about the brain and looks at how we can use this knowledge to develop more effective websites.  The main argument of the book is that people are not in conscious control of a lot of their behaviour and that web designers can benefit from  engaging directly with website visitors on an unconscious level.

Many of the suggestions made by the author are things which you will probably already regard as common- sense good practice. However it’s still interesting to follow through the scientific reasoning produced for why certain methods  of design and content production are more effective.

Among the things you learn about:

  • Reviews and ratings can influence people very strongly because of their need for social validation.
  • You can take advantage of people’s desire for reciprocity to influence website visitors to do what you want, even if it’s just by giving them free (useful) information.
  • Invoking a fear of scarcity can make people feel that your products are more desirable.
  • Providing too many choices can be bad and lead to people making no choice at all.
  • You should list the product which you want people to buy first in product listings, because the “order effect” leads people to believe “first is best”.
  • Using the words “you” and “yours” involves readers by speaking to their self-centred unconscious mind.
  • The concept of personas and people’s need to be consistent can be used to influence website users’ behaviour.
  • The principles of similarity, attractiveness and association can catch people’s attention and link them emotionally to your site.
  • Pictures and stories make powerful website content because they talk directly to the unconscious.

The book’s engagingly written and very short, so you can easily read it all in one sitting. Despite being initially sceptical about whether it could teach me anything useful, I did end up finding it quite interesting and a worthwhile read.

Neuro Web Design: What Makes Them Click? (Voices That Matter) by Susan M. Weinschenk Ph.D. is published by New Riders.

Review: Advanced Web Metrics with Google Analytics

advanced web metricsAdvanced Web Metrics with Google Analytics by Brian Clifton is a good introduction and excellent long-term reference for anyone who needs to implement Google Analytics on their website.

Google Analytics has become a very popular web metrics tool – not least because it’s free (although there is  a limit of  five million page-views per month if you don’t have an AdWords account).  It has a great feature set – including site and map overlay reports, customizable dashboards, easy cross-segmentation of data and two-click integration with AdWords. It’s also quite easy to set up and use – in terms of basic functionality at least. However, when you need to go beyond the basics you’ll need some guidance and this book certainly provides plenty of help for many of the issues you are likely to face.

Part one provides an introduction to web analytics, including discussions of the pros and cons of using page tags vs log files, the use of cookies and privacy issues.  It concludes with a high level overview of Google Analytics, describing its key features and how it works.

Part two continues this overview with an introduction to using the Google Analytics interface and a discussion of ten important first-level reports to ease the reader into the more detailed coverage of implementation issues in part three. This is the most technical section and includes advice on best practices for configuring Google Analytics for your site and a whole chapter of hacks for dealing with areas not covered by the default reports.

Part four is possibly the most useful part of the book, since it looks at how to use the data you’ve gained via Google Analytics to drive real-world website improvements. This includes helpful advice on how to engage non-technical colleagues in your improvement efforts. I particularly liked the section on monetizing a non e-commerce website, which tells you how to get the most out of Google Analytic’s e-commerce features even if you don’t have an e-commerce site. There’s also a discussion of Google’s Website Optimizer – a tool for undertaking multivariate tests on your site which looks really useful.

The book ends with an appendix of recommended further reading including books, web resources and a long listing of web analytics blogs.

The author certainly gets very technical at some points – particularly when delving into the use of regular expressions and discussing complex modifications to the GATC. However most of the book  should still be comprehensible and useful to a non-techie marketing or management audience.  Indeed, if they persevere they can then use the book to beat their technical staff over the head by quoting the bits where particular implementation details are described as being easy for good webmasters to accomplish.

Admittedly, most of the information you’ll get here is also available online somewhere for free. However, it’s scattered around web analytics blogs and forum posts and many people who could benefit from it are not going to have the time and/or the perseverance to seek it all out. Even if you know all the hacks cited already, the convenience of having them collected in one reference book is still a great benefit. Over and above having a lot of neat tricks, the book presents a coherent approach to the whole business of analytics which makes it worth reading for anyone who needs to undertake web metrics on a professional basis.

Advanced Web Metrics with Google Analytics by Brian Clifton is published by Sybex.

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Why aren’t RSS feeds more popular?

When I suggested adding RSS feeds to our website at my workplace over two years ago I explained the need to do so partly by explaining that “They aren’t mainstream now, but many more people will be using feeds once IE7 comes out.” IE7 came out, IE8 will soon be here and RSS still doesn’t seem to be much better understood by the general public – which doesn’t say much for my predictive abilities. I still have to regularly explain from square one to users how to access our feeds, since the vast majority of people still seem blissfully unaware about what they are and how to use them.

A Hiveminds article from a couple of years ago called 5 Reasons Why RSS Feeds are Not Popular still seems largely accurate today. It remains pretty much the case that only really keen Internet users subscribe to RSS feeds. Below are my 5 reasons why RSS feeds still aren’t popular today:

  1. RSS is still unknown to most people. As the Hiveminds article put it: “The average Internet user still has no idea what RSS is or how to go about using it. … To the average website visitor RSS feeds seem to be a geek toy requiring knowledge that they don’t have time to gain or just are are not interested in.” This is still very true and it can be tough to explain to non-technical users how to use feeds due to the variety of different readers available – browser-based, online services and stand-alone feed reader applications. People are stuck in their ways and like email alerts because they have plenty of experience in using them. Understanding RSS and the tools to use it is an effort for many people, as the concepts can seem fuzzy compared to the concrete experience of e-mail which everyone shares.
  2. Corporate IT types generally aren’t interested in RSS. A lot of regular IT guys don’t seem to have much of an idea about RSS, unless they’re specifically web developers. Corporate IT departments don’t tend to support RSS readers or promote their use. There seems to be much more enthusiasm for RSS among Information Management or library professionals in organisations, but they don’t usually have as much influence on organisational priorities.
  3. Marketing people generally aren’t interested in RSS. There also seems to be a lack of enthusiasm for RSS among marketing professionals. In large part, I think this is because there is a perception that RSS is a boring textual medium and that they will have more control over the look of an email than over how a feed will be received. Because a lot of feeds don’t even have basic styles applied to them, there must also be a lot of people who have clicked on them and been frightened by the fact that they look like code.
  4. RSS feeds still fail frequently. This was mentioned in the Hiveminds article two years ago and still seems to be a problem today. The idea that validating “doesn’t matter” or “is nice if you can do it” is still prevalent with web teams, but with RSS it does really matter. RSS feeds are also out of sight, out of mind – since a non-functioning feed isn’t as visible as a page which isn’t displaying properly. The fact that so many feeds are generated automatically by a content management system means that a lot of web editors / communications team running a website don’t understand the reasons why RSS feeds fail.
  5. When feeds fail they don’t necessarily get fixed quickly. This is in large part due to the low priority RSS feeds have in organisations or personal web projects – fuelled by reasons one to four above. The people who work in an organisation, who are often the first to complain if a page doesn’t display properly, are less likely to understand or care about an RSS feed. Because RSS is low in the priorities of business managers due to indifference or ignorance, it’ll be low in the priorities of the web team, who are likely to be preoccupied with stuff they find more exciting. This similarly helps to explain why RSS feeds are often not redirected when sites are redesigned and pages are moved around. Feeds are probably among the last thing people generally think about in redesigns, as opposed to visual elements and cool functionality.

The Hiveminds article concluded that “if web browsers included feed readers by default it would probably increase RSS usage 10 fold”. It now looks as if browsers providing built-in feed readers will not in itself make subscribing to feeds a mainstream activity, since IE7 has been providing a feed reader since its launch. RSS’s successes with the general public have been away from the direct subscription model – with services like MyYahoo where people don’t even know that they’re using RSS.

People using sites pulling content dynamically from feeds don’t need to understand what technology’s behind the content they’re browsing. Many people will continue to benefit from RSS without realising it in this way and it looks like the future for mass adoption of RSS lies in this less demanding model of feed consumption, where the underlying technology is invisible to a user who just has to decide what stuff he wants to know more about.

Web work in a recession

There have been a lot of interesting posts recently on the Sitepoint and Webmaster World forums speculating about how well-placed web professionals are to deal with the oncoming recession. After a bit of research (10 minutes on said forums), I can summarise some of the main points made as follows:

  1. In so far as websites are part of marketing and advertising activities, they are likely to suffer in a recession since these areas tend to be the first to have their budgets cut when economic times are bad. However, online advertising may have a cost advantage over more expensive forms of offline promotional activity and could well see its proportion of marketing spend increase over the course of a recession. There is an interesting discussion on Webmaster World about recent trends in Google AdSense revenues which has some people reporting big drops in October and others saying things have stayed pretty steady. UK webmasters are in the happiest situation here, as the pound falling against the dollar means their AdSense revenues can actually be increasing.
  2. People working on websites which are vital to an organisation’s activities – e.g. through e-commerce or the provision of core services online – are less likely to be badly affected by cuts in a downturn.
  3. Small and large businesses alike are likely to suffer from lack of available credit. Small businesses and freelancers have the benefit of greater possible flexibility, but could be in trouble if they lack cash reserves or are too dependent upon big clients who go under.

The most sensible remedial advice on offer seems to revolve around striving to offer the best value to your organisation or client, aligning your offer closely to their business plan and coming up with ways to save them money wherever possible. Of course, I suppose we are doing this all the time anyway, aren’t we …?