Bringing Hollywood to Your Business... Not an Easy Task!

Corporate video has come on leaps and bounds in the last ten to fifteen years. TV commercials and the ever-improving web have given huge brands superb opportunities to capture their target audiences imagination and leave rival businesses, filmmakers and scriptwriters thinking: “I wish I’d thought of that!”

How many times have you seen a cool advert on TV or online and chuckled to yourself? How many times have you been talking to your friends and suddenly blurted out: “It’s like that advert for…”

The big brands know what they’re doing and (luckily for them) they have the cash to invest in the best filmmakers, special effects teams and screenwriters to make ads that are as good as any film you’ll see in cinemas.

Also take into account that some of the biggest filmmakers working in the UK and Hollywood today either started off by making adverts or have made ads between films. David Fincher, he of The Social Network, Se7en and Fight Club fame, came up through the music video and ad route, as did Oscar winning director Ridley Scott. Top British director Shane Meadows – of This is England fame – directed an ad for Robinson’s cordial between films.

There was a time when the term ‘corporate video’ was treated like dirt, but not now. Gone are the boring white shirt and tie videos of the Eighties, replaced with state-of-the-art effects and modern storytelling.

The internet and the advances in technology for cameras, editing software and effects software has meant that you don’t need corporate dollars to make ads and viral videos. You just need to be creative.

For some businesses, that’s where the trouble begins. There’s always a chance that your once-in-a-lifetime idea has been made already, and it’s not going to look too good if your video is labelled a rip-off by those in the know. I’ve had this situation lately, when excitedly pitching an idea for a video about Google’s Panda algorithm update:

“And then a man dressed in a Panda suit comes in and smashes all of our computers…”

The reply: “Like this video?”

The EXACT SAME IDEA is Skype’d over to me, and I’m left feeling deflated and more than a little stupid. It’s pretty funny though, so I’ve learned to live with it.

The problem that would have come with that idea is that if you don’t have the resources to put the more creative and elaborate ideas for videos into fruition, it can come across as desperate, unprofessional or worse – just plain awful!

Keeping it simple is sometimes the best way forward. Apple and M&S are two prime examples of the less-is-more approach to ad video. When you see an M&S food ad, you know you’ve seen something special… And you want to eat it that second!

The most important part of the video is to get your point across, and if you can do this by creating a good video that highlights all of your businesses best attributes without the use of explosions, hilarity and Oscar winning acting, it will have the desired effect.

Here are two examples of great ads: One simple, one extravagant. They both work wonders:

Lynx Attract

There are hundreds and thousands of student filmmakers who wish they’d made this advert as a short film. Lynx ads have always had a ‘wish fulfilment’ element to them, and here they took that, mixed it with a simple-yet-fantastic idea that could quite easily be the plot of a Hollywood movie and made this little piece of gold.

Windows

“I’m a PC!” Here is a perfect example of a company who could have spent millions on an OTT, super-special-effects ad, but who chose the simple, less-is-more approach instead. They nailed it. Any company could come up with the idea for a simple face-to-camera ad, but Microsoft did it so well here, even creating a catchphrase to boot.


Get Out of the Content Marketing Desert with these Ideas

Content, content, content is all you seem to hear these days when it comes to online marketing. You’re told that you need to create unique and compelling content in order to draw people to your website; we are in the inbound marketing age after all. When you have them there the hope is that they will be so blown away by your guide on ‘how to properly polish your shoes’ that they can’t restrain themselves from sharing your content with their network . We would all love to press a magic button and have this happen but in reality it takes a good deal of planning and a lot of hard work. Content creation can be extremely powerful but very time consuming and one thing that we don’t seem to have enough of these days is time. So, I decided to do some of the thinking for you and come up with some ideas for ways that you can generate awesome content.

Interviews

Perhaps you have a staff member who is a specialist in your industry, a customer with a compelling business story or maybe your business has won a number of awards? This would all make great interview material. Doing an interview with a person that only you have access to will really give you a unique piece of content. You can then feature it on your site or offer it out to other high quality and relevant sites.

Reviews

Most people these days will not buy a product without first looking to see what online reviewers say about it. List all the good points, bad points and your general opinion of the product or service. If you can include some pictures of you trialling the product then then even better!

Write from Experience

 People love reading about other people’s life and business experiences. Perhaps you or someone you work with has an interesting background in your sector? Write a first person piece and be as honest and open as possible about your hopes, fears, successes and failures. These types of articles are great as they are unique and real which will cause people to make more of a personal connection with you.

Use Current Trends

Think about what is in the news, what’s trending on Twitter and what the latest TV phenomenon is and create content around that. Perhaps you could write a piece on a current affairs story from your businesses perspective, an article about the parallels between zombies and shoe polishing (or whatever it is that you do) or a review of the much anticipated iPhone 5 which was released recently.

These are just 4 simple ideas that you can use to give your content marketing strategy a bit of a boost. It is worth remembering that whatever kind of content you create it must be well done otherwise it kinda defeats the object :D


The Solution to Penguin

We hit a big penguin shaped dilemma over the summer and I’m sure we weren’t alone. There’s always been a tricky trade off in SEO between short term results and long term security but the Penguin update took this challenge and inflated it to quite hideous proportions.

Penguin was real for us and hit hard in both directions; some of our sites saw huge boosts while others suffered. Out of the ashes emerged two big decisions. The first was that any site that had been hit would receive a free service until it had fully recovered. The second was that the days of pushing keywords were over. Never again would we risk upsetting this vengeful bird or any of its future offspring.

And for a while this seemed fine. Lesson learnt. Whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, etc, etc. Only it was nonsense, because within a couple of months we’d ran into a new, equally terrifying problem - with all the emphasis on brand, suddenly the big keyword rankings were beginning to stagnate, even slump, and it wasn’t going unnoticed by our clients!

The ultimate rock and hard place. You’re damned if you do and humped to death by an angry ice bird if you don’t. So what was the answer?

Rock and hard place 5

Actually, it turned out to be really simple. We did something that we should have been doing all along; we involved the client. After all, we pride ourselves on transparency and certainly had nothing to hide, so we simply explained the dilemma and asked the question - how aggressive did they want to be?

Two really positive steps forward have come out of this. The first is that it addressed the issue of different clients working to different time frames. Some were looking long term and quite happy with a slow but sustainable brand strategy. For others, however, there wouldn’t be a long term strategy without short term results, so the risk of not being aggressive actually outweighed the risk of another penguin update.

The second benefit was to our sanity. Blocking the client out means you can be judged only by the result rather than the process, even when the process is fantastic and the result partly out of your control. By making them part of the process they begin to appreciate the complexities and uncertainties involved in post-penguin SEO, and more appreciative of the lengths we go to overcome them.

And the results? Predictably most wanted us to err on the side of caution. In fact one of our savvier clients requested that we go completely cold turkey on all keyword link building until after the next penguin update. But they weren’t all this cautious. One particularly cavalier client insisted that for his business model it was best to throw caution to the wind and, in his words, “make hay while the sun shines”. Not a strategy I’m at all comfortable with but I can understand the logic knowing a little about his business, and it is his business.

One really interesting case resulted in the client reaching the conclusion that with such uncertainty in the SEO market, the best option was to invest his budget into PPC for a few months. And you know what, I agreed. For his business in his circumstances, it was probably the right thing to do.

So that’s my advice. Obvious really. If you were running any other form of marketing you wouldn’t make huge decisions without first consulting the client, so why do we treat SEO differently? We treat it differently because deep down we’re still reluctant to show our hand. We’re used to the smoke and mirrors that traditionally surrounded the industry and the prospect of stepping out into the open for the world to pass judgement is terrifying, even when it would instantly result in more intelligent strategies and happier clients.

SEO has changed forever and our communication with clients needs to change with it.


Does Email Marketing Belong Within An Inbound Strategy?

For a long time I was very negative about email marketing. For me it felt utterly outbound – buy a database, fire out a sales message, cross your fingers and hope that shear weight of numbers will see you through. No value. No relationship. No point.

I was wrong on two fronts. For a start, my pious attitude towards traditional outbound marketing was naive. There’s a reason why for decades outbound methods were the dominant form of marketing – when done well, they work. And no matter how fluffy and inbound we might like to think of ourselves nowadays, we all should all have a couple of strong outbound strings to our bow or we’ll be playing half a tune.

My second error was to draw such a distinct separation between the two models. Most comprehensive inbound marketing campaigns have an outbound component and vice versa. Email marketing is a cracking example of such conflation. Purchased databases may feel incredibly outbound but what about preference centres where visitors to your site manually opt in to receive specific information of their choice? If they found your site through your organic presence in the search engines or social media and signed up to a particular set of emails entirely of their own volition, then this all feels rather inbound doesn’t it? And then there’s the execution. Inbound marketing is built upon engagement and relationships. Can this realistically be achieved via such a seemingly uninteractive means of marketing as email? Well let’s consider a few examples of when it’s actually done well:

- Promotional offers – people love deals. Offer a voucher code or a coupon to someone who thinks they may have bought that product/service at full price anyway and they will thank you for it. As a red wine lover if a wine company sends me a brilliant deal for a case of really great red wines, in no way do I consider it spam. Targeting is the key.
- Invitations to free educational events – whether it’s an offline event or an virtual webinar, if somebody invites me to an educational event with considerable relevance to my business, then I’m only too happy to open it. Presumably the event or webinar will itself contain a strong sales message, but the email is asking for nothing. It represents value without cost.
- Referral requests – if I know lots other businesses or consumers that I believe could truly benefit from your products / services and you offer me an iPad to recommend you, then that’s value for all concerned. Value for me in the form of my iPad and value to my contact as I believe they really will benefit from the purchase.

So that’s the key – offer value first, sell second. And the secret to offering value is to truly understand your audience. If I don’t drink wine or if the educational event isn’t relevant to my business or I don’t know anyone that could realistically benefit from your products or services, then the emails are spam. They won’t work, you’ll cheapen your brand and risk getting yourself blacklisted.

What this all tells us is that when done well outbound email marketing is actually very inbound, and with email continuing to be the primary means of communication for the vast majority of businesses as well as a substantial chunk of consumers, surely no inbound strategy can be complete without it.

Dan


The March of the Mummy Bloggers (and Why I Love Them)

I have to be honest, childless me does not exactly have the patience of a saint when it comes to other people’s offspring. I gather that it’s back to school time because for the last few days my Facebook has been flooded with photos of kids standing by doors, bag in hand and school uniform on. I don’t know these children. I barely know the parents. This endless stream of kids in badly fitting school attire does alert me to one thing though; the mummy bloggers will soon be back in force and this is great news for me, here’s why.

People Trust Mums

When it comes to guest posting efforts, getting a site that people trust is a sure fire way to ensure your guest post is also trusted which in turn can do wonders for a brand. People trust mums because they assume a protective role, an all-seeing eye and a problem solver. Most people turn to their mums when something goes awry or they need advice, but if they can’t go to their own mum they will almost certainly turn to someone else’s.

Mums are Efficient

There is nothing I hate more than a guest post being accepted only for the blogger to drop off the radar for weeks. My own experience is that mummy bloggers are much quicker to respond and post than any other so the whole guest posting process is wrapped up promptly. I sincerely believe this is because mothers survive on roughly 2.5 hours of sleep a night and therefore just get more done (my own mum likes to tell me she hasn’t slept properly since the day I was born, in 1987).

Mums Talk About EVERYTHING

Provided your content is geared towards the actions or information that a mum could benefit from, you can pretty much wangle most industry topics onto a mummy blog. That’s not to say you can afford to be sloppy. Mummy bloggers are a tough crowd so you need to work hard at your content and ensure it adds genuine value to your chosen blog.

Mums are Social

Mums love a chat; they talk over coffee with friends, on the phone with family and most importantly they love to tell everyone about what little Ellie has been up to on social platforms such as Twitter and Facebook. As you can probably guess I’m not too keen to learn what’s going on in the life of little Ellie, but I am certainly interested in how many others are. A loyal, large and active social following is often achieved by mummy bloggers more so than any other group, so if they also use their social presence to promote the latest post on their site it could be happy days for me and my contribution.

Don’t think that mummy blogs are simply full of advice on cradle cap and baby proofing; many of these mothers have simply taken a break from their careers to start their family and therefore have set up some fantastic blogs with highly intelligent and legitimate content on there. The March of the Mummy Bloggers is a force to be reckoned with and certainly a niche worth tapping into from a content marketing point of view.


A non-tech guide to nailing a website redesign

One of the most valuable skills I have ever learnt has been how to plan and oversee a site design. Being very much at the creative end of the marketing spectrum, it’s all too often a process without a process. Designers like to approach these things with an open mind to see where their creative instincts take them. Fine. Fill your arty boots. But please keep in mind that the site actually needs to function at the end of it all.

The trouble is, they won't keep it in mind. And why should they? You're emploing them as designers, not internet marketers, so if you want the bigger picture to get a look in then I’m afraid you're going to have to take the reigns.

This is not intended to be a complicated technical document. It should be a simple, step by step guide to planning a site design, that anyone, no matter how technically clueless, can use to ensure their website is built on rock solid foundations.

 

1. Research the market

Always, always, always begin by checking out other sites for inspiration. Sounds obvious right? Well it should be. It's complete madness to try and better the competition without first looking at what they’re doing. Here are a couple of pointers:

1. Break it down into all the different things that make up a great brand in your market as you’ll find some sites may do a brilliant job in one area but be completely hopeless in another. So this could include best design, best user experience, best Facebook community, best email marketing campaign, best calls to action, best sales copy, etc. Break it down and make a note of the best site for each one.

2. You want to go as broad as possible to maximise the chance of finding sites that are doing a seriously remarkable job. For example, if you only operate regionally then look at the market nationally, or if you only operate within a certain segment of the market then look at the more general market. So if you sell business insurance in Birmingham, look at the national market for the term “insurance”. That will return a much more competitive set of results from which you can learn infinitely more about the strategies that work best for your audience.

 Market analysis

 

2. Ask to see the CMS (Content Management System)

Your website is a living, breathing thing, and it needs to grow. Ask the designer to give you a demonstration of the CMS to ensure you will be able to add new pages, edit existing ones, upload images, video, etc. If they weren’t intending to use a CMS then find a new designer.

 

3. Keyword sitemap and landing page key features

You should now sketch out a sitemap for all the big keywords you want to target. Based on your market research, you should have some thoughts on the kind of content you want on each of these landing pages. What features did the landing pages have that were ranking well? Did they have client testimonials, an address, dynamic search content, links to other relevant pages, images, videos, etc? You shouldn’t do this purely for SEO purposes but it is important to consider what content Google might consider to be particularly useful to searchers in this market.

 sitemap2

 

4. Identifying your USP

Being good isn’t enough. Your site needs to have something unique; a reason for people to link to it, share your information, return again in the future and buy from you rather than the competition. It could be anything. Here are a few ideas:

  • Resources/whitepapers/tips/instructional videos
  • A more active blog/news section than any other site in the industry
  • Hi-resolution imagery that other sites in the market can use if they credit you with a link
  • An active forum in which users can interact with other people with shared interests

Now’s the time to decide what’s going to make your site stand out so that it can be incorporated prominently within the site design.

 

5. Integrating your social side

No matter how anti-social you think your market might be, at the very least you need a blog and a twitter account. The other should be based on your target audience; just don’t get carried away! Every social call to action that you add to the site dilutes the attention of the user so be selective. Here’s a great post by the great Rand Fishkin on improving social calls to action -http://www.seomoz.org/blog/improving-social-subscription-calls-to-action-whiteboard-friday

 

6. Your main navigation

This is where you need to be a little delicate with your designer as chances are they think this is a part of the creative process. It really shouldn’t be. When you get in a car you know where to find the handbrake, when you pick up a phone you know where to speak, when you use a computer mouse you know what to expect when you click the right button or the left, and when you visit a website you should know where to click in order to navigate through all the core pages. If you click on the logo you expect it to take you to the home page. You expect the About Us page and Products (or Services) on the left of the nav, and the News (or Blog) and contact on the right. You expect the search box to be in the top right corner and the terms and conditions to be in the footer.

Keep it simple. Keep it intuitive.

 navigation2

 

7. Write the foundation content

Your website will be an ongoing work in progess but there are a number of key pages that need to be ready from day 1. Actually, they need to be ready a couple of months before day 1. They are the base of your website and probably determined by the navigation you’ve drawn above. Your designer should have this content before they begin designing so that they can structure the pages accordingly. Delay this content and you are giving your designer an excuse to slip the deadline. Book a day out of the office and get it done.

 

7. Design feel

You need to be very careful here as if your designer thinks you now want to dictate the design too, you’re going to have a seriously angry nerd on your hands. The design is up to them, but the message being communicated through the design is absolutely down to you. Provide them with a short description of the kind of feel you want - clean and professional, warm and inviting, fun and vibrant – this information will then determine the colour scheme and style that the designer chooses.

 

8. Give them space

Provide all the above to the designer, request a specific due date (if there’s a date you need it by them make sure their due date is at least 1 month before this as there will always be delays) and then give them the widest of berths. You’re paying them on the basis that they have the expertise and you don’t, so no interfering!

 

9. The technical stuff

I owe you an apology. I began by insisting this wouldn’t get technical and yet here we are with a section dedicated to technical stuff. It’s fine. This is for your designers eyes only - you do not need to know how the below happens; only that it does.

Redirects – if the URL’s have changed then you need to ensure the old authority isn’t lost. Request that your designer set up redirects for all old URL’s to point to the most relevant new URL.

Install webmaster tools – you need webmaster tools to monitor the health and performance of your site. Ask the designer to set it up for you.

Install Google Analytics – you need analytics to monitor the sources, composition and behaviour of your visitors. Ask the designer to install it for you.

Set up goal tracking – what is the key goal of the site? Is it to receive email enquiries? Is it to sell products? Request that your designer sets up goal/event/ecommerce traking (whichever is appropriate)

Final audit – once the site goes live you should ask that the developer performs one final check to ensure nothing has been missed. Are your new URL’s being crawled by the search engines? Are there any issues with load times? They should be able to check all of this through various free tools such as http://home.snafu.de/tilman/xenulink.html or http://tools.pingdom.com/fpt/ and, most importantly, Google Webmaster Tools.

 

10. The finishing touches

Register on Google + Local - If you operate on a local basis then you need to set up on Google + Local (formerly Google Places) - https://accounts.google.com/ServiceLogin?service=lbc&continue=https://www.google.com/local/add%3Fservice%3Dlbc

Create a plan for new content, the blog and social activity - your website may be live but these are merely great foundations. Now you need to build the 57 story sky scraper your brand deserves. What further resources will you be adding? If it’s an ecommerce site, how many new products a month will you need to upload? How frequently will you update the blog? How will you (or a colleague) find time to update twitter daily? You need a plan. Make it specific and realistic.

 

That's it. Ten steps to ensure your new site functions every bit as well as it looks. Planning so meticulously may seem like a headache you could do without but keep in mind that this is going to make or break everything that follows. Get it right, and you’ll never go far wrong.


Why I Am Moving Away From Google

Over the past year or so Google has treated me well, in fact over the last year  it has contributed to a very good proportion of our revenue (babynames.co.uk, pregnancy.co.uk, babies.co.uk etc). But the time has come for me to break away from my relationship with Google – we have had a good run but I want to diversify.

Tunnel Vision:
In the online industry it is so easy to get tunnel vision and over the last 4-5 years I would say I am guilty of that. It is very easy to build an entire business model from doing well in Google and a lot of press I read revolves around that. Fantastic resources such as SEOMoz, Search Engine Land and Search Engine Round Table allow me to wake up every day and look at what the search engines are doing, the changes they are making and the way they want to shape the web moving forward. With all this great information available at your figure tips it is very easy to forget that all these sites make their money from selling to SEO’s whether it is a product such as SEOMoz or conferences like SMX – it’s in their interest to promote a search engine lifestyle when it comes to business.

I somehow managed to ignore the fact that I had a very unhealthy relationship with Google – they accounted for such a high percentage of my traffic and my income. We monetized through Adsense, we ran PPC through Ad-words and we got a huge amount of traffic through their organic listings. Having such a large amount of money coming from a business that doesn’t know I exist is not a healthy business model. If Google makes changes within their business and it effects me negatively I am just collateral damage – they have no real knowledge of what I do and will always act in the interest of themselves as a company.

Big Changes:
After all of this we can take a look at big algorhythm changes over the last year or so. Panda/Penguin are really changing the landscape of how the web thinks – along with a lot of other unnamed updates that have had huge effects on search moving forward – it’s quite obvious that Google are trying to shape the web the way they want but that is not always the way everyone else wants the web. It’s very easy to read this post and immediately assume that I am just angry that I got negatively hit by an update Google pushed through and the truth is some of my sites got hit and some of them grew in traffic – ultimately my income stayed the same. What I am fed up with is the fact I am so reliant on Google for my business – that’s not a way to build a long term business. This is my fault – not Google’s! If Google want to reshape the web and their results they are in the right to do so – ultimately they have to act in their business interests not anyone else’s.

So there you have it – these are the reasons why I am going to care a lot less about Google moving forward. Anyone reading this will be most likely be wondering – well how do you do that?! Well watch out with posts to follow but in a nut shell -> email lists, site membership and social media.


Fighting Back Against Panda

As the Panda updates continue to roll out (the most recent refresh being on the 8th of this month), thin, frail content is struggling to take the pressure. We’ve seen it across countless sites that we own and manage – those pages with substance are finally getting the exposure they deserve, while the keyword rich but ultimately bland and generic pages are slowly but surely slipping rank. And quite right too.

As with all pure forms of SEO that offer real competitive advantage, there are no quick fixes to be found. This isn’t about writing another few hundred words and expecting Google to suddenly take you seriously. This is about thinking carefully about your user and deciding what relevant content would add genuine value to their time on your page.

Here are a few ideas:

  • Relevant pricing
  • Relevant events
  • Relevant testimonials
  • Relevant address
  • Relevant images (alt tags)
  • Relevant videos
  • Relevant news
  • Relevant products
  • Relevant links to other resources (both internal and external)

No doubt you’ve spotted the theme – relevance. We’re not looking for bland, site-wide information. We’re talking about something specific to the user that makes an instant impact on their search query experience.

Needless to say you’re not likely to do all of the above, at least not if you have anything else to do with your life. You need to be selective. Are you users likely to include “pricing” in their search queries? Would they be influenced by testimonials? Are they looking for your product or service on a location specific basis? Is there a good chance they’ll enter the page through an obscure, long-tail phrase, and therefore benefit from links to other similar resources that might provide more suitable information? The answers to these questions will determine what you use to beef up your content, ensuring a better user experience, more positive engagement metrics, more Panda-proof on page signals and ultimately the exposure it (now) deserves!


Personal branding: How a non-solicitor became one of the most famous people in law

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