Category Archives: Business Marketing Online

What would you ask for?

When it comes to managing their websites’ search engine optimisation, most people still think in terms of generic keywords. And with good reason: come top of the search results for ‘blue widgets’ and you’ll get a lot of visits, including some potentially decent commercial ones.

But we need to expand our horizons into more difficult territory if we’re really going to score in the future. Google cracked the results for generic keyword searches long ago, and those are just the bottom level of three or four which the search engine of the future will need to solve. Above this are simple factual queries (e.g. “When were blue widgets invented?”), then ones which require more understanding of language (“What was the first type of widget in general use?”, and finally those which need to analyse data and make a decision (“What’s the best type of widget?”).

These harder categories are becoming more prevalent, as users realise that Google can make a decent stab at the answers nowadays. However, it’s a long way off being able to confidently answer the last two levels, so if we can help it along, we can score in several ways.

What we know is that if someone asks “What’s the best type of widget?”, Google can’t independently tell us yet. One day, there’ll be enough computing power and data for that to happen, but it’s a way off. So the search engine has to drop down a few levels of complexity to one where it can be confident, and that’s going to be returning a page in its index which happens to be titled “What’s the best type of widget?”. If our website is the only one which has that page, there’s a very good chance we’ll be the first result it offers.

But by creating the right pages, we’re building for the future in two ways. To begin with, Google’s language interpretation will improve, so our page will also show up for related queries. In addition, while people are clicking on those results, we’re building up our site’s authority for other searches.

How do we focus on what queries to answer on our websites? SEO experts will immediately start talking about ‘keyword research’, but I’d be prepared to bet that for most readers, that might be fruitless. Most experts work in competitive markets, where huge numbers of related queries are made online every day. When you’re involved in technical fields, the search volume is much lower, and usually too low to confidently pick out any data. For me, intuition is still the best way. Picture those people who you imagine are the ideal prospect: an existing expert looking for an alternative supplier, or someone coming into the field for the first time. What would they ask for? What would you ask for?

Easy backlinks, very little persuasion required

Backlinks are still a key driver of ranking in search engine results. You need to get them. In particular, the best backlinks to your site are subject-relevant ones, from high-profile sites. A link on a page about your technology from a minor site is still worthwhile, but not as good. Similarly, a link in a miscellaneous list with no background, even from a major site, is of lesser value. So how can we get a link from a trusted website, on a page which talks about what you do?

One answer is in giving testimonials. These are becoming increasingly important to many businesses, especially as data shows that whether we like it or not, customer reviews are sought out by more and more buyers. So have a think about what products and services your company uses. See if the supplier has a testimonial section on their website. Even if they don’t, you could approach them and suggest it. Offer to write them a testimonial, with the proviso that the text includes a decent description of what your company does (it shouldn’t be a problem). They might even be interested in a full-on case study, if you could knock one up.

Will they accept it? Well, if one of your customers approached you with an offer to produce a testimonial for your website, what would you say?

(PS: The best place to find out what products and services your company uses is your own accounts department’s list of purchase orders!)

Putting sales emails to the ultimate test

I usually have a good radar for emails which are going to waste my time, but this morning I actually read one of them. Maybe I was in a mood for trash, having sat down with the House Teenager the night before and watched Sharknado 5. This email began – of course – by talking about “reaching out” to me, and inevitably went on to offer “jumping on a phone call” and taking a “deep dive” into data. Where’s the *eyes rolling* emoji when you need it?

The real problem however wasn’t those current business clichés. I read four paragraphs and simply had no idea what the sender was trying to sell me. Even the bit about the “solution” – which was supposed to describe my apparent problem – was incomprehensible. As for the product itself, I could work out nothing more than it being some sort of online service.

It goes without saying that your sales emails don’t do that, dear reader. Or do they? I know you’re selling to professionals, but I’d still argue that they should still be comprehensible to everyone who speaks your language and has an average IQ. Have you checked? If you really want to put them to the ultimate test, get them read by that most cynical of beings (if you’re lucky enough to have one) – the House Teenager.

Why you need Google Tag Manager and how to get it

Behind each page on your website there’s probably quite a lot of code doing things the visitors can’t see. Examples include the code necessary for visitor tracking (e.g. Google Analytics), remarketing and more. If you want to change this, or add new items of code, you have to go back to the designer and get the site-wide template changed. Wouldn’t it be good if you could do that yourself, or even make the designer’s job much easier? Enter Google Tag Manager.

Tag Manager is a smart – and free – service from Google which can replace vast amounts of code (or ‘tags’) on your website with one small piece. This short snippet of code then tells Tag Manager to deliver all the code which you want to be delivered with each page. Crucially, you now specify what that code is externally. It’s a lot easier than playing with the website templates.

So why didn’t your website designer include Google Tag Manager on your site? The obvious answer might be “because you didn’t ask them to”, but to be honest, if they’re going to be responsible for ongoing maintenance, it’d make their lives easier, so you’d think they’d suggest it anyway. The usual reason is sheer ignorance. Trust me, on about 50% of website redesigns I see, Google Analytics code gets missed off, because many designers neither know nor care about such things. The first most clients know about this is when they look up how the traffic is doing on their shiny new site, and it appears to have dropped to zero …because it’s no longer being recorded. A website designer who doesn’t even ask whether you use website visitor analytics is hardly likely to be one which suggests using Google Tag Manager.

Faced with this sort of unprofessionalism, the responsibility falls to you to ask for it. Indeed, doing so at the outset is a good way of weeding out the guys who will provide you with a pretty site from the ones who’ll give you an effective one.

There are more reasons to use Google Tag Manager than just smarter code maintenance in the future, however. The system will:

  • Help speed up your site slightly, because of the efficient way Google Tag Manager operates;
  • Help make your site more secure, by not having different bits of code all over the place;
  • Allow non-programmers (like you?) to add and maintain many features;
  • Allow you to simply add special triggers to the site, such as tracking clicks and use of various elements.

This last point is a real bonus, because with Google Tag Manager you can easily set up things like measuring views of PDF documents, or video plays. For that alone, it’s worth installing.

You really should have Google Tag Manager running. If you’re not sure whether you have it or not, check the source code and search for ‘googletagmanager’. Then ask your web designer if they can install it – this is not a big job (usually under an hour’s work, I find, and I’m no coding expert) – and use it to deliver your analytics code and any other suitable code on the site, such as remarketing and AdWords conversion tracking.

If your designer reckons it’s a big job, or doesn’t like the idea at all, be skeptical. It may mean they haven’t done this before, and either don’t want to learn, or want you to pay for them to find out how to do it. That’s not good enough.

Link shortening is a great thing

Link shortening is a great thing. If you want to send people to a web page from printed material, we all know they won’t do it unless the URL is short and has a minimal number of slashes in it. So they might type in but tell them to visit and you’re wasting your time.

The best link shortening systems are hosted on your own domain, so people have confidence in them. With third-party services like TinyURL, you need to be confident they’ll remain in operation for years, and there’s no guarantee they will. However, not everyone has the facility to set up their own redirection systems, so the third-party services are the only option.

If you do use these, use them cleverly. For example, if you just put a full URL into TinyURL, the resulting short URL provided will be something like – a URL which is just odd, and slightly offputting. Newspapers are notorious for doing this: the shortened URLs they offer are usually such a bizarre collection of letters, numbers and symbols that you’d really have to want to visit the site to go to the chore of typing it in, character by character.

TinyURL offers you the chance to define your shortlink in plain words, however, so use this ability. Instead of settling for the random character string offered by default, I just created Common sense really.