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Archive for January, 2010

How to grow a forum online- the right and wrong way to go

January 28, 2010 By: Dr Search Principal Consultant at the Search Clinic Category: Uncategorized

Growing online forums should be simple, however some people make it harder to be succesfull.

Dr Search recently come across this guide from FeverBee Richard Millington on the Right and Wrong way to develop a community:
how to set up an online community

Do you think the person that created this forum really had a clue what s/he was doing? Nobody will participate in a forum that looks this empty.

There are a few lessons here:

    1) When you launch a new forum you begin with just one subject/topic. As the forum grows and it becomes clear that you need more than one place, you create another topic.

    2) Don’t try to predict what your community will talk about in advance. This is what leads to empty forums like those above. Just respond to what they talk about – and put an influential member on that topic in charge of that section. 
If your members talk about obscure widgets from china a lot, create a separate forum for it with someone who speaks about the topic the most in charge of moderation.

    3) It’s really hard to be the first person to create the topic. So when you do create the second forum you transfer relevant existing threads (and if you have any, you don’t need the forum) from the old forum to the new forum.

p.s. This is my favourite example of a terrible online community.
Thanks to Richard Millington

Yahoo profits increase but sales fall

January 27, 2010 By: Dr Search Principal Consultant at the Search Clinic Category: Uncategorized

Online marketing giant Yahoo has posted a £95m net profit in the fourth quarter of 2009, but has seen it’s sales continue to fall.

The profit figure is an improvemen on the £200m loss in the same period in 2008, but revenue fell 4% to £1 bn.

Yahoo struggled during the global downturn as advertisers trimmed their budgets. The firm cut more than 2,000 jobs to try to reduce costs.

Shares in Yahoo rose 1% in after-hours trading in New York to $16.17.

“The fourth quarter marked a strong finish to 2009, which was a transformative year for Yahoo,” said chief executive Carol Bartz.

“Our business has positive momentum and we feel good as we head into 2010.”

For the whole of 2009, Yahoo made a £598m profit, up 43% on the previous year.

Larry Page and Sergey Brin Google’s founders to sell shares

January 26, 2010 By: Dr Search Principal Consultant at the Search Clinic Category: Uncategorized

According to an SEC filing late last week, Google’s founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin “each intend to sell approximately 5 million shares” — over a period of five years. 
This is not a reaction to any particular development in the market or perception of the outlook for Google; rather this is part of a plan to diversify their portfolios over time.

According to the filing:

” These pre-arranged stock trading plans were adopted in order to allow Larry and Sergey to sell a portion of their Google stock over time as part of their respective long term strategies for individual asset diversification and liquidity . Using these plans, they can gradually diversify their investment portfolios and can spread stock trades out over an extended period of time to reduce market impact .”
Larry and Sergey currently hold approximately 57.7 million shares of Class B common stock, which represents approximately 18% of Google’s outstanding capital stock and approximately 59% of the voting power of Google’s outstanding capital stock. 
Under the terms of these Rule 10b5-1 trading plans, and as a part of a five year diversification plan, Larry and Sergey each intend to sell approximately 5 million shares. If Larry and Sergey complete all the planned sales under these Rule 10b5-1 trading plans, they would continue to collectively own approximately 47.7 million shares, which would represent approximately 15% of Google’s outstanding capital stock and approximately 48% of the voting power of Google’s outstanding capital stock (assuming no other sales and conversions of Google capital stock occur).

Google has a dual class stock structure, consisting of Class A and Class B stock. Currently Brin and Page control about 59% of the Class B stock, but a minority of all outstanding shares. Class A shares have one vote each and Class B shares each control 10 votes.

At the end of the five year diversification term specified in the SEC filing, the two co-founders would own 47.7% of Class B shares. And together with CEO Eric Schmidt they would still own more than 50% of the Class B shares.

There have been unsuccessful efforts in the past to equalize the voting power of all shareholders.

One could argue that this dual-class stock structure enables Google to do things like stand up to the Chinese government, against the dominant logic of the market and potential objections of Class A shareholders (especially institutional shareholders). Indeed, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer has criticized the move as “irrational.”

With the closing price tonight at $542 (£338) if the full 10 million shares were sold today they would generate around £3.40 billion in cash. However they would still have stock holdings worth approximately another £30 billion.

Facebook campaign puts the boot into First Capital Connect

January 25, 2010 By: Dr Search Principal Consultant at the Search Clinic Category: Uncategorized

Disaffected commuters on the Bedford to Brighton train line have started employing Facebook social media to apply pressure on government transport chiefs to strip the operator of its franchise.

First Capital Connect (FCC) has come under criticism since last year, but anger has mounted over the last two months following severe timetable disruption, cancelled and delayed trains and customer misinformation on the Thameslink line.
The problems have been blamed on drivers working to rule and the cold snap. However it is the management which is supposed to be in charge of the system.

But increasing levels of frustration among commuters have led them to set up a grassroots campaign that appears to be gaining political weight. An ‘I hate FCC’ group has been set up on Facebook, which now numbers over 2,000 members.

An online Downing Street petition has also been signed by 4,758 people, while a spoof website has been created – First Crapital Connect – “We’ve Got You Over A Barrel” – leading thousands of commuters to register their fury at the company. Local newspapers along the route have also been inundated with letters of complaint.

As a result, Paul Burstow, Liberal Democrat MP for Sutton and Cheam, lodged an early day motion last week calling for FCC’s franchise to be withdrawn. If the move were to come to pass, it would be the second route to be taken back into public ownership, following the nationalisation of National Express’ East Coast route in November last year.

The importance of Twitter

January 22, 2010 By: Dr Search Principal Consultant at the Search Clinic Category: Uncategorized

Dr Search has been fairly reserved over our coverage of Twitter this year. However, Ricky Gervais’s recent experience of the social media has raised both his and Twitter’s profile.
Ricky Gervais, who, after just 6 tweets, anounced that he was quitting the service:
“I just don’t get it I’m afraid. I’m sure it’s fun as a networking device for teenagers but there’s something a bit undignified about adults using it. Particularly celebrities who seem to be showing off by talking to each other in public.”
“If I want to tell a friend, famous or otherwise what I had to eat this morning, I’ll text them. And since I don’t need to make new virtual friends, it seemed a bit pointless to be honest.”
Dr Search agrees with his point about celebrities, and feel that the way many have jumped on the Twitter-wagon, building their own profiles in the process, can be slightly nauseating.
Especially when so many of them simply bring their broadcast mindset to a dialogue based communications tool.
But his suggestion that Twitter is simply somewhere for teenagers to share what they had for breakfast is so very wide of the mark that it demands consideration.
The idea that Twitter is simply a glorified version of Facebook’s updates, used for nothing other than posting inane titbits from people’s lives, is not an uncommon one, and one that many share. But it also betrays a complete lack of understanding of what Twitter offers. As Gervais himself says, he just doesn’t get it.
In essence, Twitter is just a tool for communicating with others, nothing more, nothing less.
But then again, so is a phone. Would people say “I’m not going to use a phone, if I want to talk to my mates, I’ll do it in person”? Of course they wouldn’t. Because a phone is only as interesting as the things it’s being used for.
Need to check whether a store has an item in stock? Use a phone. Need to connect with friends and relatives on the other side of the world? Use a phone. Now swap the word phone for Twitter and you start to see quite how wrong Gervais is.
For just as a phone is an endlessly versatile tool, one that made distance a thing of the past- and which is now driving the Internet into previously impenetrable areas, such as rural India and Sub-Saharan Africa. Twitter is only limited by its users’ inventiveness.
It can be used to source information, crowdsource investigative journalism, raise money for charity, connect with like-minded peers and, yes, occasionally tell people what you had for breakfast. It’s proving to be a valuable tool for individuals, entrepreneurs, businesses, both small and large, politicians, charities and even historical buildings.
Of course this doesn’t mean that Twitter will be right for everyone or even every brand. But writing it off as a waste of time is like throwing away your phone because you don’t like being cold-called.
Like a phone Twitter allows one to one conversation. However you also have the opportunity to use a speaker phone to reachmany more poeple.
Additionally Twitter’s focused niche role allows one to find the target market so accurately by segmenting one message directly.

All in all Mr Grevais’s observations about Twitter have a certain semblance to his “dancing”. Unusual and excruciating, but also entertaining.

Bad customer service costing billions of Pounds in lost revenue

January 21, 2010 By: Dr Search Principal Consultant at the Search Clinic Category: Uncategorized

Another study reveals the shocking cost of poor customer service- this time it’s Dr Search’s alma mater- Oxford Brookes University who delivers the damning verdict on poor service standards.

Its survey suggests that three out of four people have switched at least one product or service in the last two years due to poor service. 

And the University’s Professor Merlin Stone estimates that if the study is reflective of the entire population, firms could have  lost up to 20 million good customers, costing them around £3.39 billion.

More than one in five people blamed poor customer service for switching to other firms in areas including finance, telecoms and utilities.

Lifestyle firm WhiteConcierge, which commissioned the study, said the findings suggested that more than 30 consumers were signing up with different companies every minute of the day.

The report found that the worst affected sectors for losing customers over the past two years were motor insurance, electricity and home insurance.

Organisations have to work harder than ever to keep their best customers. Consumers have become increasingly demanding and discerning, and with the rise of price comparison websites for example, it is now much easier to compare and switch products.

Jonathan Breeze, managing director of WhiteConcierge, said: “Price is undoubtedly one important factor for causing people to change providers but many companies cannot compete on this at the moment. As our research findings show, issues surrounding customer service experiences are also key and can be addressed more readily.”

The findings have come as no surprise to the CRM community. In the recent tough economic times, service may have been one of the many cutbacks made across the breadth of the organisation. However, service is precisely what will keep current customers and continue to attract new ones.

Much has been made of the birth of ‘Generation Y’-ers – those who multi-task throughout life and communicate with organisations via a multitude of channels. This should strongly underline the need for businesses to reassess their service provision. 

This young demographic’s demand is for more, not less, personalised and tailored services, fully utilising technology to deliver robust services. Organisations that are providing and delivering robust services win; there is no second place.
Dr Search concludes by suggesting that although price is always a decision making factor- service is becoming increasingly important.

Website Marketing budget guide- the real costs of online marketing

January 20, 2010 By: Dr Search Principal Consultant at the Search Clinic Category: Uncategorized

Online Marketing cost guide by Dr Search. Although we at the Search Clinic are pretty open about our services- both what we offer and how much it’s going to cost you, when we found this recent post at INeedHits we thought that we would repeat it as a third party independent guide for your benefit.

Whether you’re just starting out, or re-evaluating your website strategy, it’s important for you to get your plan and budget right.
The rule “Build it and they will come” rarely works in the online space. For you to be successful with your website marketing strategy – you need to have a solid plan and be realistic about the real costs of doing it properly.
Too many business owners spend £1000’s on getting a fancy website developed, only to find they have no money left to promote it.
One of our sales guys uses this analogy
“It’s like building a shopping mall in the desert. Without the budget to promote it – who’s going to find it?”
So to help you get your website design and marketing budget right – here’s a quick guide to what you need and the approximate costs to do it properly.
  • 1. The website: Development/Design & Maintenance
The development of a website has many variables. Accordingly the costs can vary significantly depending on factors such as whether its static or dynamic, whether it includes a shopping cart, is the design bespoke or templated etc, etc, etc.
The reality is that websites can vary from £1000 – £50,000, and 90% of the time, you get what you pay for.
If it’s really cheap, it’s likely that there won’t be much functionality and it’ll use a template. The flip side of that is that if it’s too expensive – ask yourself whether you “really” need all the bells and whistles.
And most importantly – shop around. Draft a detailed requirements document and then check with a few website designers/developers to get the best price.
Also, don’t forget to budget for hosting and maintenance. Websites need to be updated in terms of content and systems (e.g. cms) regularly, and without hosting – you wont appear anywhere.
  • 2. SEO – Search Engine Optimization
The simple truth is that the majority of website traffic comes from search engines and directories. Most of our clients see upwards of 60% of traffic coming from search engines like Google, Yahoo! and Bing. While the organic search engine traffic is free (no click costs), you do need to invest in a professional SEO program to ensure you’re maximizing this free search engine traffic.
SEO campaigns again vary significantly. To hire an industry leading SEO consultant can cost as much as $1000 per hour.
Here’s a guide on SEO pricing that Rand Fishkin from SEOmoz posted 2 years ago. As you can imagine – prices have grown since then…but it serves as a guide for the premium end of the scale:
Low End
Mid Range
High End
Site Review + Consulting
Hands-On Editing of Pages/Code

Manual Link Building Campaign
Keyword Research Package
Monthly Retainer for Ongoing SEO

Professional SEO is an investment.
If you’re in business for the long haul, you’d be crazy not to allocate a decent proportion of your initial online budget on SEO – (or if your budget is tight, then study hard and invest the many hours needed to do it yourself).
To get started with an SEO campaign (fully managed by an experienced SEO professional) that’s going to generate serious ranking and traffic results – you should be looking to pay at least £500 per month – minimum.
  • 3. PPC – Google AdWords and Other Search Advertising
As with all things, you’re probably looking for some quick wins in terms of traffic and results from your website. This is where PPC (pay per click) Search Engine Advertising (e.g. Google AdWords) helps.
With a well setup Google AdWords campaign, you can have highly targeted visitors delivered to your website almost instantly. It’s a great way to ensure you’re still getting a return on your website investment while your SEO and other strategies take effect.

Professional PPC campaigns, depending on your industry and how much traffic you need, can cost as little as $200 per month and the sky is the limit. But be aware that with cheaper campaigns, you’ll find most of your investment is going into the setup and management – rather than the media (click costs) – which makes it hard to generate decent ROI.

A serious PPC campaign for a small business should start at approx £500…and depending on your goals – go up from there.
  • 4. Affiliate Marketing
Affiliate marketing is a very cost effective way of generating traffic for your website. With most affiliate networks offering CPA models (cost per acquisition) – it allows you to generate traffic that you only pay for when the visitor converts (makes a purchase, signs up for a newsletter, submits a query).
The challenge with affiliate networks is that they take time to be effective and the best networks are often very selective as to who they promote.
Most decent networks will charge a small set up fee ($500-1000 upwards) and then take a commission on every sale or acquisition. Some of the larger ones will also charge a monthly management fees to help you optimize your campaigns.
Most publishers will be looking for between 10% – 30% commission on sales, or a decent bonus for lead/enquiry based programs.
  • 5. Social media, Email marketing & Ad Networks
There’s a range of other website promotion opportunities such as Social Media, Email marketing and Ad Networks.
With Social Media, it’s definitely an area that small businesses should be getting involved with, but remember; it’s not a fit for every business and Social media is like SEO – it’s an investment and normally takes a while to generate good results.

There are plenty of other ways to drive more traffic to your site, but in reality – the areas mentioned above will be your main traffic sources.

So with that in mind – you can now get a much clearer and more realistic picture of what it costs to get serious results online. Even if we use the lower end of these costs as a guide, small business owners should be looking at

Cost Guide
Website Development £1000+
Hosting & Maintenance £120+
SEO – 6mth program £3000
Search Advertising (PPC) – 6mths £1200
Affiliate Marketing Depends on Program
Others Depends on Tactics
TOTAL £5000+
Now that’s only a starting guide, and as I’ve mentioned previously – the cheapest options aren’t always the best in terms of results and generating good ROI.

So if you’re starting a new website project – you can see there’s more to consider than just the website design costs. If you want your new website in 2010 to be a success – be realistic when doing your planning and budgeting!

Now it’s the Germans turn to attack Google

January 19, 2010 By: Dr Search Principal Consultant at the Search Clinic Category: Uncategorized

Coming hard on the heels of France’s attempts last week to curb Google’s activities (See France considers extra tax on Google, Yahoo and Facebook ) now the Germans are considering anti competitive legal rulings.

Last week, in a German magazine interview, government minister Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger suggested that Google was “becoming a giant monopoly.” She casually asserted that government action might be coming at some point if Google didn’t become more “transparent” and responsive to government concerns.

Almost on cue several companies have filed diverse complaints with Germany’s Cartel Office about Google.

Those complaints, which have not yet been publicly released, involve the following, according to Deutsche Welle:
* German newspaper and magazine publisher associations the VDZ and BDZV have reportedly filed their complaints about uncompensated use of article snippets. There are also complaints about how publications are ranked in Google search and news results
* Shopping site Ciao, now owned by Micrososft, is upset about its AdSense contract (entered into before the Microsoft acquisition): “The Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (FAZ) reported that Ciao believes the contract to be overly restrictive, while not offering enough transparency on advertising revenues generated by AdSense.”
* Finally mapping site Euro-Cities asserts that the availability of Google Maps to third party sites for free is “is destroying its business model.”

These descriptions are based on second hand information and so it’s impossible to evaluate the merits of the respective parties’ claims.

While there may be merit to some or many of these claims, one gets the sense that there is lots of frustration being expressed in Europe and thrown at Google in the form of various legal theories to see what sticks. 
However, as a general matter, Google’s size and market power is alarming many European regulators and they seem intent on finding ways of asserting more control over the company.

Top tips to make your social marketing produce profits

January 18, 2010 By: Dr Search Principal Consultant at the Search Clinic Category: Uncategorized

The Search Clinic outlines 7 tips to help your make money from social media marketing.

1. Plan your social media strategy for 2010.
Set your 2010 social media goals. Then map out the projects that you’ll need to undertake to achieve your goals. Throughout this process, you will need to start listening to determine which online communities are most important to your business. Your observations will help guide your decisions on how to engage each community most effectively.

2. Offer exceptional products and services.
Social media is simply another tool. If your products and services aren’t great, it’ll be an uphill battle to win. You’ll find yourself firefighting against a tide of negative comments. In social media, you can’t buy reach. You can’t buy market share. You can’t buy advocacy and customer evangelists.

If you want to win, create exceptional products and services that add value and delight customers. That is the fastest and most cost-effective way to get people talking positively about your brand!

3. Focus.
Prioritize to focus your time and energy on the social networks that really matter. Don’t try to be everywhere, do everything and respond to every single discussion – instead, focus on the discussions that will influence other conversations for maximum impact.

4. Create synergy to amplify your marketing messages.
Social media participants are getting savvier by the second. Treat consumers with respect and add value to the communities that you play in. When you add value, your messages will be shared. Take stock of how relevant communities are interconnected, and build your strategy to amplify communication and marketing efforts.

As you contribute content and participate in conversations, link all the disparate sites together to optimize your results.

5. Build your brand using location based social networks.
In 2010, expect to see location based social networks take off, as more customers access the mobile web through their smartphones. This will present a major opportunity for retailers to make their mark on the ‘local’ social web to promote and engage conversations about their brands online.

Smart businesses will get on the bandwagon first with innovative promotions which will not only capture the attention of community members but also the media.

6. Allocate a budget for social media.

Take a step back and rethink how participating in social media will be funded in your organisation. Look at your total mix of marketing spend within traditional activities such as advertising, PR and lead generation. Is social media currently an integrated part of your existing campaigns? Or does it make more sense to bypass the ‘traditional’ marketing outlets and create a separate social media programme? Will you be creating content internally or using external resources and agencies to produce high-quality, engaging content?

7. Reach within your organisation for social networking talent.
As tempting as it is to hire new social marketing specialists to drive and influence online conversations about your brand, don’t overlook the talent that already exists within your company – people who are already in your organisation who are passionate about your product, services and culture. 

There may be a learning curve in terms of how to best engage with social media, but the advantage they have is that they already live and breathe your company culture, adding authenticity which will humanise your brand.

Poor customer service- the true cost of lost sales

January 15, 2010 By: Dr Search Principal Consultant at the Search Clinic Category: Uncategorized

Poor customer service is costing UK plc about £15.3 billion in lost business per annum- with younger consumers less likely to put up with poor treatment than older ones.

According to a survey undertaken by Greenfield Online among 514 consumers, 73% had terminated a relationship in the past because of bad experiences, with the average value of lost sales being £248 per year.

But the report entitled ‘The Cost of Poor Customer Service: The Economic Impact of the Customer Experience’ also found that younger customers aged between 27 and 43 were 60% more likely to go elsewhere than older ones if dissatisfied with the level of service they received.

It is becoming increasingly crucial for organisations, particularly in service industries such as finance, to ensure they retained customers by providing “exceptional” customer service.

As to what poor customer service actually meant to respondents, the study found that problems could be broken down into several categories: customers having to repeat information; feeling trapped in automated self service systems and being forced to wait too long to receive a service.

Other bugbears included speaking to company representatives who were unaware of their service history and not being able to switch easily between communications channels. Some 41% of those questioned said they were most unhappy with having to use voice-based self-service systems, while 39% said they felt it critical to integrate such systems more intelligently with human interaction.

A huge 83% also said they would welcome proactive help when they became stuck trying to undertake a web transaction or some other form of self-service activity.

With the rise of social media and increased consumer awareness, the cost of customer frustration continues to grow. Dr Search is advising enterprise businesses in the UK to develop cohesive strategies that straddle all channels of customer communication including Twitter and Facebook.”