Thursday, December 22, 2011

B2B vs. B2C SEO - Differences Between Strategic Approaches and Skills

What are the differences between SEO actions taken for Business-to-Consumer (B2C) campaigns, vs. Business-to-Business (B2B)?

KME Internet Marketing has delivered many B2B campaigns over the past years, typically regarding very technically-complex or domain-specific subject matter - we've found the following information and strategies tend to ring true for most...

For B2B SEO vs B2C, the roles and intentions of searchers are much more diverse, the engagement channels are more complex, and the visits will occur over a longer period of time representing not only diverse “solution” needs, but reflecting diverse problems and situations.

Therefore, B2B SEO requires a much more complex Keyword, Web Content Management and Analytics Strategy, in close coordination with the CRM and Business Demand Management actions.
  • Keyword strategy for B2C is predominantly about the product features, support, reviews – B2B SEO strategy is more complex and needs to include:

    a. Coverage and durability of the company, relevance of brand
    b. Breadth and categories of offerings
    c. Ability to service and support the offering
    d. Depth of competence in offering plus related offerings
    e. Understanding of the needs, issues, problems that the offering addresses
    Verifiable depth of competence and engagement in the community for the offering domain (searchers are "vetting" the company, its expertise, its reliability and presence)
    f. Case studies, client examples
    g. Offering value = return on investment, partnership, transaction efficiencies, profitable cost structures, dedicated support and training…not just price and immediately usable features
  • Keyword strategy will require understanding of industry, and include many industry-specific terms, names, references - KME is particularly adept at absorbing, learning and establishing rapid expertise in your domain content.
  • Optimize landing pages (and event landing "mini-sites") to encourage "stickiness", i.e. exploration of additional relevant and value-added material on a site – objective isn’t necessarily to close a sale, but to encourage a contact, open dialogue or continued education. This will very likely require some redesign or modification of the "Information Architecture", i.e. how web content is organized, accessed and presented to user segments.
  • Keyword strategy is supported by supplementing landing pages with existing corporate content – i.e. harvest and re-purpose internal corporate content for online marketing, engagement; this includes documents, videos, presentations and internal dialogue or forum content
  • Creating long-term CRM funnels and actively monitoring engagement strategy results is extremely important – including building profiles of the multiple buyer roles that may be searching, interacting (i.e. Executives, Buying Agents, SMEs, Alliance Managers, etc.). Keyword strategy must support multiple roles.
  • Keyword strategy and backlink creation needs to consider very important "vertical" search engines (i.e. not just Google), i.e. topic-specific sites, subject-specific forums, industry-specific directories.
  • Online community participation and community management as the conversant authority in subject-specific domains is very important – leverage the SME "star power" of employees, engineers, key and public experts (carefully optimize their profiles as part of the overall brand strategy, though only with appropriate training and employee participation).
  • Online community engagement will happen via the corporate website (i.e. onsite forums, polls, etc.) AND offsite (i.e. Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, industry boards, etc.) – keywords must be coordinated yet refined per the nature and cadence of the channel.
  • Online engagement will very likely result in "offline" communication (i.e. emails, phone calls, meetings, conferences) – so the same keyword-based messages, phrases, one-liners should be coordinated across marketing & communications channels, and "offline" events need to be precisely coordinated with online marketing tactics.

These insights are based on our long experience in the industry, serving B2C, B2B AND B2G (Government) clients. Contact us for more information, discussion or to find out how to apply these concepts to your online digital marketing objectives.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

DC Area Foreclosure Assistance Mobile Text Service by CAFN


Regional Community Service Announcement

TEXT HOME or CASA to 877-877

The Capital Area Foreclosure Network (CAFN) very recently announced the launch of a new foreclosure prevention text messaging service. The service will provide those in or worried about foreclosure with access to advice, reminders, and alerts through their mobile phones in either Spanish or English. The goals of the campaign are to increase the number of homeowners and renters that get help from a nonprofit housing counselor, and decrease the number of people who drop out of counseling.



TEXT HOME or CASA to 877-877

Parties can opt-in to the service by using their mobile device to text message HOME or CASA to 877-877, and will then immediately receive critical information and a hotline number to use when they are ready to connect to a counselor at a HUD approved counseling organization.



After opting in, mobile subscribers will receive periodic reminders, information about foreclosure prevention programs available in their jurisdiction, such as the new mediation programs in D.C. and Maryland, follow-up instructions, alerts to scams, financial literacy tips, and much more.

"We wanted to try a new way of getting our message across", said Peggy Sand, Director of the regional coalition. "Mobile phones are the most effective, easy and affordable way to connect with struggling residents."

Data from March 2011 shows that more than 9 percent of all loans (approximately 115,000 mortgages) in the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area were in foreclosure or delinquent. Prince George’s County has been hit particularly hard by the crisis; approximately 5 percent of mortgages were in foreclosure and 15 percent were delinquent in the County as of March 2011. Studies show that homeowners that seek help from a certified nonprofit counselor have a better chance of avoiding foreclosure than homeowners who work alone.

"So many individuals who have lost their homes have fallen victim twice: first to predatory lenders and then to foreclosure rescue scam artists who promise they can save people’s homes, charge thousands of dollars, and do nothing to help" said Chuck Bean of the Nonprofit Roundtable of Greater Washington, who co-leads CAFN.

CAFN believes that adding a mobile-based initiative will provide wider access to DC, MD and Northern Virginia foreclosure community and government assistance for home foreclosure victims in the National Capital Region. The success of other mobile campaigns, like those responding to the earthquakes in Haiti and Text4baby, has been inspirational for many nonprofits. Moreover, according to a May 2010 Pew Report, 87% of Hispanic households have multiple mobile phones and use them more than any other personal or handheld technology. Thanks to a recent grant from Freddie Mac, CAFN can now connect with this audience in a familiar medium.

CAFN has designed the text messaging campaign to complement its other outreach initiatives, including a newly-redesigned interactive website (www.cafn.org) and a regional Spanish and English hotline (888-794-8830). Text messages will encourage users to contact the hotline so they can be referred to a nonprofit housing counselor, and will direct users to the website for additional information and resources on the foreclosure process.

The Capital Area Foreclosure Network (CAFN) is a Washington metropolitan area coalition that supports the work of nonprofit organizations, local governments and national partners working to help homeowners and renters facing foreclosure. CAFN is jointly led by the Nonprofit Roundtable of Greater Washington and the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments.

CONTACTS:

Peggy Sand, peggy@cafn.org / 202-390-9709
Steven Kania, skania@mwcog.org / 202-962-3249

Thursday, October 27, 2011

GCN - Social Media Reaches Crossroads in Federal Government - Interview with Ted McLaughlan

Here's a recent Government Computing News (GCN) article quoting Ted McLaughlan regarding how, though the Federal Government has embraced social media, hard realities of information management and security requirements may be slowing the love affair....


Contact Ted McLaughlan via LinkedIn for more information.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Shortening URLs - Where SEO and Taxonomy Collide

Here's a question that seems to come up frequently, about shortening URLs for SEO…the answer isn't always the same,and there's usually a conflict between the SEO strategy and the overall information classification (taxonomy) design - so here's a thought process I've been through to help evaluate the approach for answering.
  • Question:

    (Note the actual client details have been anonymized to protect the innocent.)

    "Our URL strategy has been to use page titles as the end of URLs. So, the end of the URL for this item...

    http://www.[yoursite].com/Research/[Research Category]/Studies/[Date]/Evaluating-the-Effectiveness-of-[Primary Keyphrase]


    ...matches the page title exactly ("Evaluating the Effectiveness of [Primary Keyphrase]")

    Question is, is there any reason not to shorten the URLs when we create the items?

    So, of instead of...

    http://www.[yoursite].com/Research/[Research Category]/Studies/[Date]/Evaluating-the-Effectiveness-of-[Primary Keyphrase]


    we might do...

    http://www.[yoursite].com/Research/[Research Subject]/Studies/2011/evaluating-[Primary Keyphrase]


    My understanding was that there was SEO value in using the actual page titles and that it was good to maintain a consistent URL structure. But does shortening URLs as I proposed above hurt us? Many of our URLs are very long, and it seems like that could be a liability for other reasons (more likely to get cut-off, less friendly on social-networking sites, etc.)."

  • Answer:

    The very short answer to the question regarding shortening long URLs at this particular site (which is a very content-intensive, large site) is:
    "No, shortening URLs like that doesn't hurt you, unless in doing so you confuse the user or search engines". So it's a "depends if" answer – but if you methodically walk through an impact analysis, the answer should be pretty clear.

  1. What's the purpose of this page, who's the audience?

    The purpose and intended audience drive the core keyword emphasis.


    This particular page isn't entirely about the subject "evaluating the effectiveness of popular [Primary Keyphrase]" – rather, it's a landing page to convert readers (to sign up and download the real white paper).

    This page isn't either about "evaluating" at all – it's about the actual effectiveness, the outcomes, the study, the results. Therefore, a keyword that should definitely be used more frequently in the page copy, plus in the tags and URL, is "effectiveness" or "outcome". The word "popular" isn't actually accurate or useful in this context – the text speaks to "widely adopted", the reasons for which may not have anything to do with "popularity" in the social sense. A broad study of [Primary Keyphrase] will obviously include those most utilized, unless there actually is some kind of "popularity" angle or perhaps the study is actually of more niche programs.

  2. What's the primary topic, and its contextual relevance with respect to the site navigation?

    The URLs, links and tags that support a page need to support the overall navigation structure and hierarchical topic scheme (i.e. taxonomy, or ontology) and lexicon of the site


    The topic seems to be a "downloadable study of the effectiveness of most widely used [Primary Keyphrase]" – and as a "study", it rightly lives in the research section with a [Date] attribute. The word "studies" is a bit confusing, since the particular article is actually tagged a "white paper" in one place, yet categorized under "Study" in the faceted search navigation.

    The fact that it's a "downloadable study" ought to be dealt with from an SEO perspective at a higher level, i.e. helping users find "all downloadable studies" – so the truly relevant semantic theme of this page that should be optimized is "effectiveness (or outcomes) of [Primary Keyphrase], as evidenced by a [Date] [Research Category] study". This semantic theme should be optimized in the text, and also in the tags and URL.

    Note also that in reviewing various keyword combinations using the Google keyword search tool, the "[Primary Keyphrase]" (and its variants) are the only one that seem to get appreciable search traffic – so optimizing with many additional descriptors really isn't necessary from a competitive search results positioning perspective.

  3. Is the URL simply too long or unmanageable, and can it actually be changed without disrupting the site design or configuration?

    For a large, multi-level site, changing URLs and folder names can be difficult, especially if care isn't taken to stay true to the taxonomy and use 301-redirects for changes


    The URL is very long, at least for users to type in (especially on mobile devices). The few instances of this link shared on the Internet is being done with URL shorteners, so that helps the viewer of the link – but doesn't help the "sharer" (though this link doesn't seem to be getting shared very much, which may be in some way related to the fact that it's somewhat hard to share).

    It appears the last node of the URL can be changed relatively easily with the CMS; though the hierarchical nodes preceding probably cannot be changed easily without disrupting the site's overall taxonomy design.

Therefore, with the above considerations, the URL is probably most effectively and efficiently rewritten as:

"http://www.[yoursite].com/Research/[Research Category]/Studies/[Date]/[Primary Keyphrase]-outcomes"


Note all the broad and narrow keywords that truly describe this content are represented:

- research
- [research category]
- study/studies
- [Primary Keyphrase]
- outcomes

Regarding the broader question of whether ALL long URLs should attempt to be shortened

We've just determined that this particular URL could be shortened a little, mainly for semantic reasons – but this level of shortening won't buy very much here in what seems to be a relatively non-competitive search topic.

Some other URLs should probably be REALLY shortened, if the intent of the site owner is that the page should be heavily marketed, shared, and the page's topic is a very primary, current and competitive keyword. For example, if [Yoursite.com] had been very focused on selling their "[Keyphrase] Diagnostic" tool, the advice would be to shorten the URL from its current taxonomy-driven long form, to a short and sweet:

"http://www.[yoursite].com/[Keyphrase]-Tool"


If this is the case for particular URLs, that need highly-converting sales and marketing exposure, then there do exist technical mechanisms to "rewrite" the page URLs (outside of the CMS structure) so that they're much shorter and easier to digest.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Socially-Semantic Markup – Link Facebook and Google Plus (+1) to Your Website

A primary objective of work in designing and deploying websites is to enable an evolved online user experience, for human users of the website. For many websites and their owners, the core website is also a source of information, marketing messages and social dialogue that lives elsewhere. "Elsewhere" can mean any Internet-enabled channel, from social media like Facebook, Google+ and Twitter, to Search Engines, RSS feed networks, Directories, eCommerce platforms, Mobile Apps and content syndication engines.

In short, a website deployment should, as standard practice, assume the web content to be mobile and accessible (in part or in whole) from many other places – and therefore should be as accurate, optimized and standards-based as possible. A website should not only be a destination, but a source of content fragments and descriptors that "carry the flag" around the Internet, to search engines and social media networks, while working hard to escort users back.

This is especially important for an eCommerce portal or website, when selling discrete product or services (for which there are already common vocabularies). It's especially important if the eCommerce website is designed to deliver a great User Experience (UX) as well, incorporating a lot of helpful content, tools and sometimes off-topic content as well as the core product data.

It's well known that the actual website content should be optimized to find exactly what a user needs, convince them to engage or buy, as well as convince the search engines to rank highly for target products. This optimization is driven by a mix of "usability", "accessibility", "performance optimization" and "SEO" techniques. Achieving this mix isn't horribly difficult, but does require professional experience and a healthy understanding of the site's business objectives, underlying technology and online "neighborhood" (i.e. its competitors, partners, detractors).

Semantics For Search Engines

Focusing on search engines, it's imperative to make every content fragment or page on a website, whether it lives only on the site or is copied/syndicated elsewhere, as semantically accurate as possible. By "semantically-accurate", I mean the topics and focused intent of the content are crystal clear (i.e. "machine-readable") and aligned with standardized vocabularies. This includes any intentions related to "persuasion" or "marketing". Note that ALL search engines are interested in as much semantically-accurate information as can be provided; this includes Google, Bing, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Blekko – many search engines out there.

To be semantically-accurate for search engines, it boils down to the visible, unstructured web content plus the non-visible structured web content – one supporting the other.

For the visible content, this is generally a straightforward Search Engine Optimization and Marketing (SEO/SEM) exercise; determining the right keywords and their optimal use on the web page and offsite content that links back, including "alt" and "text" tags, coding good HTML markup (i.e. "header" tags, bolding and other decorations), using text instead of graphics for keywords, making sure scripts and other code are well-programmed and perform well, and taking advantage of descriptors like "Meta Tags" (i.e. "Title" and "Description") that show up in search engine results of the website.

The non-visible structured web content to be concerned with focuses these days on the new Schema.org semantic markup standards. While many standards have been evolving around adding semantic descriptors to web programming languages, like Microdata, Microformats and RDFa, "Schema.org" is a search-engine driven attempt to "normalize" (aggregate and standardize) the most useful vocabularies (useful by the search engine vendor standards). Basically, standard words and categories are embedded as non-visible HTML code within the existing HTML tags, to help search engines understand (and convey accurately to searchers, for example using "Snippets" in the search results) precisely the focus and intent of the surrounding web copy. Note that as more web projects move to using HTML5, using structured semantic markup will become easier.

Take a web page that speaks to a particular product, with pricing information. The page may include several indicators of price (specials, coupons, 2 for 1, etc.), but the search engine would like to display for shoppers what the true price really is (helping with apples-to-apples comparison shopping). The HTML code may be:

< p >Price: $499< /p >

Adding some markup around this (and only this, on this particular page), will tell the search engines that $499 is the real, for sure price:

< p >Price: < span itemprop="price" >$499< /span >< /p >

There's a bit more detail to learn about using this kind of markup, and the "Google Webmaster Rich Snippets Testing Tool" can parse your page and show what the search results focus will be, using this semantic markup.

Semantics For Social Media

To many website owners, participating in social media frequently means not much more than the "AddThis" button, highlighting a litany of chicklets with logos of many social networks. While this may encourage or enable users to actually share the webpage information into their other communities, it doesn't enable any communities to "reach into" and interpret the website (and their members' opinions of it) for themselves. Enter the "Like" and Google "+1" buttons.

Placing these visible buttons on your site certainly enables users to "fave" it, plus show them how popular it might be to their other friends and co-workers. Adding some additional non-visible semantic markup to your site will help the Facebook and Google+ tools understand precisely what your site is about, when exposed in these communities.

For Facebook, the additional markup is in their own "Open Graph" format, which is a semantic vocabulary with descriptors that establish a website or page as a "Social Object". (Check your page markup with the Facebook Linter .)Basically, Facebook can tell its community about your site (through search results, "likes", sharing), in a way that's very useful and friendly to its community. A set of core tags are (space added for rendering):

  • < meta property="og:title" content="Title of your webpage or site"/>

  • < meta property="og:site_name" content="Name of the website"/>
  • < meta property="og:type" content="Type of thing or topic the website is about"/>
  • < meta property="og:email" content="Contact email"/>
  • < meta property="og:phone_number" content=" Contact phone"/>
  • < meta property="og:locality" content=" Contact town/city/neighborhood"/> (note, lots of "address" descriptors available)
  • < meta property="og:image" content="Image about your site you want people to see"/>
  • < meta property="fb:admins" content="The primary Facebook contact for this site"/>

For Google, the additional markup is in Schema.org format, and amounts to some Header Meta tags in addition to the "Plus 1" javascript code (to actually see and use the +1 button). The Meta tags reinforce the focus of a user's intention of using the +1 button, telling Google precisely what you want the +1 community to know about the page from their friends' recommendation (Google calls this "+Snippets"). This may be a little different than the core marketing messages supported by SEO, and therefore a little different than the content in the traditional Metatags. The basic tags are:

  • < meta itemprop="name" content="Name of your site or webpage">
  • < meta itemprop="description" content="What's on your site or webpage">
  • < meta itemprop="image" content="a nice image to socialize about your site or webpage">

Note that Google's +Snippets will actually use Facebook OpenGraph markup if it's already available, i.e. "og:title,image,description".

To Do's

So, if you're building a new website or upgrading an old one (especially for eCommerce or B2C sites), be sure to consider the following to maximize BOTH search engine results for your product AND exposure within online social communities:

  1. SEO your site, plus your external content and social media profiles - visible AND non-visible elements.
  2. Determine what you'd like to really highlight, perhaps just your business, perhaps products or services….generate the Schema.org-compatible markup for these – try http://schema-creator.org/ to help.
  3. Work with your Website Programmer and Information Architect to determine how best to insert this “structured markup language”, in a way that enhances and supports the parallel SEO techniques, yet complies with the site's design and technology. Test it. Note that many Web Content Management (WCM) providers haven't yet made this easy to do – so check with the vendor.
  4. Find a way to use the "Like" and "G+" buttons, and insert them on your site – especially for products or information you feel would benefit from widespread, public socialization; sometimes it’s best to use these where the site’s personality really shows through, like on the "About Us" or "Contact Us" page.

Navigation Arts can help with your website content optimization and interactive marketing strategies, for search engine, social media and other digital channel exposure. Contact me for more information.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

SOA-UX, Services-Oriented User Experience Design Architecture

During a recent solution strategy session for a very large enterprise, a need developed for creating visual prototypes and simulations illustrating the end-state of the enterprise system to be built. The system, or really "solution" (since the ROI would be derived not only from IT, but also from organization change, process re-engineering, physical and digital asset value realization) included many audiences and stakeholder roles plus many distinct (though integrated) business services. "Services" is the key term here, i.e. not "applications" or "websites" – customers would find and use these business services offered by the company, governed with managed agreements and supported by information technology.

The best practice SOA methodologies separate business concerns from underlying fulfillment concerns, in a manner that enables reuse and evolution of each – maximizing ROI (hopefully). Business service architecture strategies begin frequently with the "What" (what is the scope and nature of the business service offered), the "Who" (who are the participants in the service agreement) and operate constrained by the "Why" (i.e., the ROI objectives drive performance measures and limitations, KPIs, etc.). "How", "when", "where", "which" and all other implementation questions follow these first three concerns.

For netcentric services, i.e. those business services intended to be delivered leveraging networked, digital technologies and content (like websites), the User Experience (UX) should be considered both in the strategy and business requirements (i.e. it’s part of the "What", and helps define the "Who" and "Why"), and in the implementation (i.e. UX design tasks, artifacts, deliverables). "Great-UX" is a corporate asset, and a positive, useful "experience" (regardless of the specific tasks or processes executed) is itself a business service. As Navigation Arts puts it, "user experience is the only sustainable competitive advantage a business can employ in the online world today".

Therefore, a successful online capability created with SOA principles requires early UX insight, and a successful UX is best associated with an SOA approach to the business service design. Best practices in SOA and UX are inexorably linked for successful online services. UX is both a governance mechanism (i.e. a set of standards, methods, guidelines) and is itself a business service.

So, in constructing a services architecture to fulfill business objectives, the first step includes Services Identification, usually approached from a "Business Domain" perspective. Let’s say the Domain is "Customer Support", and the business objective is to enable more customers to derive value from ongoing support dialogue. This objective should lower the number of commonly-repeated service requests and decrease the time it takes for the company’s stakeholders to alert the company to "root-cause" information concerning incidents (i.e. customers may find they have similar problems, and offer different, additional information after viewing what others are discussing). The new business service is "online self-service knowledge management", or from the Marketing Team perspective, the "Social Help Desk".

This business service has a few subordinate, composite services (i.e. that themselves are made up of multiple, more granular services), like an automated process for "incident discovery and alerting", a manual "live chat" service, and an application component to "search for issues like yours". Note the developing inventory and relationship of services isn’t constrained by or prescribing specific technology – though the end-state definition of the service will be informed by the technology context (i.e. define something we can actually buy or build, within budget and compliance).

The roles involved at this stage of an SOA project include those like "Solution Architect", "Enterprise Architect", "Business Architect" and "SOA or Functional Architect" – all helping to identify layers (to comparable abstraction) of reusable, independently-governed and measurable service that make sense in the overall Enterprise investment context.

What about the business service "provide a great customer experience" (i.e. provide "Great-UX")? This is certainly a measurable business objective, and should be a service that supports the successful delivery of service like "Live Chat". Unless Great-UX is the actual, independent outcome to be delivered (as in entertainment and advertising), Great-UX is a service component of the broader, composite business services. The "live chat" service may include a tailored "Great-UX" service, for example.

But what is this "Great-UX" service made of? For live chat, it may include reusable items, like common branding, buttons, navigation anchors or feedback signals. It may also include custom UX elements for this specific business service, like a Chat window frame design, a "click-to-share" interactive metaphor, or a "communications status" dashboard interface, not found anywhere else in the overall provision of the Social Help Desk.

The important thing to consider in the definition and initial design approach of UX services, is that UX services are both mapped effectively to the corresponding definitions of the business services, and are themselves defined with reuse in mind (included likely instances of unintended use, for example in third-party applications or syndicated channels).

SOA-UX, delivered.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Corporate Knowledge Management Applied to Online Customer Engagement

There’s certainly no shortage of stories regarding customer engagement and social media interactivity by many businesses on the Internet, especially when responding to negative feedback and proactively shaping the amplified, echo-chamber public dialogue that follows.

PR and marketing staff may be tuned to trending commentary through "social listening" tools, search engine alerts and direct monitoring of inbound call center or emailed sentiment. However, especially with businesses that sell quite sophisticated or complex goods and services, it can be really difficult to find and assign – quickly - the right SMEs to evaluate and help respond to quickly growing community sentiment or complaints. SMEs who not only explicitly understand the product, but who also may have valuable, tacit understanding of the intersecting contexts – i.e. how the product's being used, the nature of the user community, and perhaps some knowledge of implicit product use guidelines (that don't show up in the instruction manual).

How can this be addressed? On the one hand, the situation calls for some kind of "expertise management" capability, where SMEs around the company are routinely, digitally profiled via categorized knowledge, and this information is available real-time via search or faceted navigation. Or maybe Hal knows, down in the IT Department – so just call him.

On the other hand, it's only a sharp and informed social Tweeter that can separate the bottom-line concerns and issues from the noise and opinion, and classify the conversation for the organization in a way that enables the most effective response and applied corporate intellect. In other words, to engage the public community in the most contextually relevant and accurate way – thereby shortening the "hype cycle", diluting the angst, solving the right problem.

So the customer relationship Tweeter or Blogger needs to quickly package and convey the right query to the most appropriate SME, to help elicit the best response. Implementation of a few knowledge management concepts can help. For example, within your company, perhaps information is being "semantically tagged" - identified with additional contextual value by pre-defined taxonomies of terms associated via file metadata or a content tagging index. As the information gets tagged (not only documents, but expertise profiles, conversations, multimedia), it would probably be very useful to enable tagging not only according to pre-defined corporate taxonomies, but also in free-form (i.e. building an organic folksonomy). As well, tagging should be encouraged for "dialogue instances" – i.e. blog entries and comments, bulletin board entries, intranet or wiki page updates, etc.

For the Tweeter searching for internal SMEs, this may result in a much closer match between the external issue topic and the internal expertise, because the lexicon is more semantically accurate or inclusive. A search within the standard corporate repository for "customer software release X defects" might turn up testing parameters or results from the software development lifecycle (keying off the standard terms "software", "release" and "defects"), but a search for "the stupid XX page loses my address when I hit the recalculate button" (per the complainant) might just turn up some salient internal dialogue and references among developers about this particular "feature" (or similar ones), keying off the user-supplied tags "recalculate", "button", "address" and "XX page". Maybe even "stupid", as a signal emanating from a commonly problematic area.

The unstructured dialogue instances are also bound to be easier to interpret and verify (since real experts are involved), as to whether the issue smells like a widespread problem, or it's a short-lived, one-time issue. As well, additional material may be identified that’s easy to consume and understand by customers, adding up to support for an online customer and community engagement process that's more helpful and credible.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Google Rich Snipping of Microdata, Microformats or RDFa for SEO and CTRs

Google’s increasing emphasis this year on its “Rich Snippets” program (an observation obtained directly from one of their Client Account Managers) should encourage businesses, and especially local vendors and eCommerce merchants, to start using additional “semantic markup” for their HTML. “Semantic markup” is additional tagging (or labels) using structured data that are added to help parsers and programs that read your webpage to understand truly what specific content areas or fragments are about. Google currently supports labels about reviews, people profiles, products, business listings, recipes, and events. The labels are invisible to users, but not to search engines.

For example, a local business that states it’s located at “123 Reston Drive, Florida City, California” – might drive search engines or 3rd-party location apps a little nutty trying to figure out where it is. Likewise, a single product page may have testimonial content associated with both the product, and the company; which should show up as review summary in the search results?

Note – this blog entry only barely scratches the surface of years of debate, research and evolution of these semantic constructs and standards…there’s plenty to discuss, argue and find more information about at other sources, including Google.


Rich Snippets are the little gray text fragments that show up in Google place pages and search results, right under the title of the result and before the description of the page’s content (which itself is dynamically-assembled according to a number of inputs). The Rich Snippet text is assembled by Google (according to its own proprietary algorithms) from the Semantic Markup that’s applied within the page…using one of three currently recognized HTML extension standards: RDFa, Microdata and Microformats. Within these standard syntaxes, there are many vocabularies to use – for example, a rapidly-growing RDFa standard vocabulary for product descriptions is the “GoodRelations” vocabulary, whereas Google has created its own “Merchant Product Taxonomy” as a standard vocabulary for use with Microdata syntax.

These three standards are basically ways to describe (i.e. a “syntax”) specific concepts using standard or custom vocabularies. RDFa (Resource Description Framework – in attributes) is very powerful for use in web documents, but not specifically designed for common HTML usage (it enables extensions for XHTML documents only), so can be challenging to use across all the varying types of web pages on the Internet. Microformats were initially created to enable additional semantic labeling of HTML/XHTML documents for expressing contact info, geographic positions, calendar events, relationships, etc. You may have heard of “hCalendars” and “hCards” – these are Microformats used by many Internet products and search engines, including Facebook. Microformats have been leveraged to create a new syntax called Microdata, very closely associated with the development of the new HTML5 standard.

Wikipedia puts the relationship among the three standards very succinctly: “Microdata can be viewed as an extension of the existing microformat idea which attempts to address the deficiencies of microformats without the complexity of systems such as RDFa.”

Any of these can be used to markup HTML pages to influence Google’s Rich Snippets, and therefore enhance user experience, clickthrough likeliness and search results – but it appears that at this time, Google’s support of Microdata, the close association of the Microdata open standard with HTML5 evolution, and Microdata’s ease of use (in my own opinion) makes it a best choice at this time. This is, however, a best choice for marking up pages to ease findability on the web via Search Engines, and especially to enhance click-through-rates (CTRs) from Google - and may not be the best choice for other website intentions, audiences or 3rd-party interactions.

Actually implementing Microdata isn't too rigorous, for a few individual site pages - but if your site uses a CMS or has many product pages, that change often, it's important to establish a bit of a templated approach to the HTML tags utilized. Try not to add Microdata to any HTML that's hidden from users (except with meta tags), try to avoid adding additional SPAN or DIV tags (look for reusable DIVs or Section markers that are constant across pages), and be sure to consider which tags may change frequently (like monthly price specials), so your design takes this into account. Altogether, this is another reason, when designing or redesigning your web presence, to first carefully plan and design your Information Architecture, inclusive of the vocabularies to use in semantic markup.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Digital Asset ROI for the Entire IT Enterprise - Analytics Aren't Just For Websites

The use of website analytics and reporting software isn’t new to most website owners. Tracking and analyzing the usage of your website by people and search engine ‘bots are obviously essential activities for validating your investment. Typical metrics tracked include number of visits by various user types, number of downloads or access to particular content, and navigation routes most commonly taken by visitors to, through, and out of your site. These metrics, perhaps aggregated into meaningful reports (i.e. overall unique visits per month), tell you how your site is performing. But are these reports evaluated for the impact or opportunities they reveal with respect to your entire IT budget? In other words, do your web analytic reports support “Key Performance Indicators” (KPIs) for your entire IT Investment portfolio, not just the website maintenance budget?

If your answer to this is “no”, your overall organizational IT investment may not be properly balanced to deliver the maximum ROI from your website, resulting in a lot of money left on the table and accumulation of very real business risk.

Let’s say your analytics show a dramatic increase in conversions by users completing a particular website form and uploading the required attachments. This is good news: the marketing and SEO folks have done their job, and more users are signing up and paying for the services offered. Plus, the analytics indicate that users are spending a lot more time before and after the conversion on your site – i.e. the “bounce rates” are getting lower (or “dwell” times are getting higher) for the pages that support the conversions. Revenues are growing, feedback is good, a bit of positive press and “earned media” (i.e. positive social commentary) is generated. All is good.

What are the KPIs here? Typical website managers, translating system utilization metrics to immediate business value indicators, might categorize their metrics as supporting goals and KPIs like:

1. Higher Conversions per User (i.e. our “stickiness” campaign is working, with value perceived in upsells, cross-sells, good recurring value in subscriptions);

2. Lower Conversion Abandonment (i.e. we’re making it easier to close the sale, once the decision to buy is made); and

3. Lower Cost per Conversion – this is an indicator that is based on specific, additional cost factors (beyond fixed expenses, like an ad network buy) incurred to drive particular kinds of traffic and conversions.

Typical response to these KPIs usually begins and ends with website investment. For example, if KPI (1) is trending low, there probably needs to be more compelling opportunities for cross-sells on the landing pages, or simply better “combined” value described for multiple products. If KPI (2) is trending higher, your online form or payment gateway is either due for redesign, or there’s a serious bug in the application. Continue reading more here about Digital Asset Enterprise ROI at Navigation Arts.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Washington DC Social Media Outlook 2011 - Potomac TechWire Summary

Social Media prognostications are always fun to consider, and try (if there’s a Beta version) – but today’s Potomac TechWire "Social Media Outlook 2011" breakfast was all business, with true ROI. As a Rohit Bhargava put it, “what’s the ROI of attending this meeting?” It’s the “social” ROI, vs. the “media” ROI – and it’s actually not that hard to categorize and track.

The general consensus by presenters and the panel boiled down to a few key topics for businesses to consider, learn more about, and take action upon – here’s a few important ones.

(1) It’s true that there’s a tremendous actual and potential benefit for businesses in utilizing the “2 ½” major social media platforms, i.e. Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. But it’s equally true, that there’s likely equivalent benefit available in leveraging other social media channels and services that are similar to or actually integrated with “the mothership”. For example, using Quora for some knowledge research by audience segment, and the associated expansion of knowledge presence (on the Web) that provoking thoughtful Q & A might bring. Signing in to Quora with one’s Twitter or Facebook ID, automatically kicks off some relationship networking and associations that significant increase exposure on Quora.

(2) Organizations really need to better understand and shape their online dialogue according to purpose, audience, originating department (i.e. area of the company) and with appropriate leverage of “social currency”. For example, B2B target customers probably wouldn’t be interested in or motivated to “like” a product or service article posted on the corporate blog by the interactive marketing team, but they probably would be interested in “following” a hashtag-categorized commentary on Twitter that’s associated with a product implementation case study, moderated by a Tweeter from the engineering department.

(3) While it’s extremely important to have some appropriately-designed and resourced presence on the majors (i.e. FB/TW/LI), it’s equally important to have a firm understanding and management of the “hub” of your corporate digital media activities. At the end of the day, companies and services like Twitter and Google aren’t yours; they own the data, and they may change or fail for reasons you don’t control. As well, without a “hub and spoke” mentality to distributing and monitoring digital media and conversation, economies of scale are lost across the whole lifecyle – from content authoring, to optimization, to application of policies and rules, to tagging, to distributing, to analyzing…

It’s a wise strategy to consider building a corporate digital presence “hub” with digital engagement technologies that you own and maintain (like a very dynamic and integrated Blog), from which your categorized and optimized digital conversations and assets are distributed, syndicated, and supported (from a feedback, analytics and quality perspective). In other words, your Facebook page shouldn’t be your primary corporate hub and branding vehicle.

By far the best quote came from Addie Connor of the Washington Post’s “SocialCode” Facebook agency – (in response to a CFO’s concern about whether “buying” Fans was fiscally responsible) “with the right ROI, you’ll buy fans all day long”.

Thanks to the Fairfax County Economic Development Authority, and BIA Kelsey for sponsoring this event.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Online, Interactive Digital Engagement Governance – Building a Content Governance 2.0 Strategy and Community

This will be the first in an ongoing set of entries about Interactive Digital Engagement Governance. Contact me or Navigation Arts in McLean, VA for more information, or for ideas regarding planning and implementing such a methodology at your organization.

The concept of governance isn’t new at all to organizations building websites, whether inside (as with intranets and corporate portals) or exposed to the public. Simply put, the creation and management of web-enabled content requires everyday guidance for those who manage the content, and a process for assessing impact and making decisions about website and content issues. This guidance can come from roles-based training, online help and instruction, content management processes and policies. But how to you start an online governance effort in a Web 2.0 context - what’s the methodology?

Let’s be clear on the scope – we’re talking about governing the entirety of your online presence and digital engagement with constituents; i.e. all the people and systems (i.e. “Actors”) who engage with your content, through various channels. This includes employees, through use of your internal websites as well as their activities on the Internet, participating in social media, uploading content, creating bookmarks. This includes the content management lifecyle, not only as content is authored, reviewed and published – but also as the content is subject to feedback, discussion, monetization, syndication, repurposing and other extended use.

Governing your online digital assets can get very complex and expensive, very fast – especially as it’s released on the Internet, where it’s subject to countless forms of intended or unintended use. Blogs, RSS feeds, iFrames, email, content scraping, URL shorteners – list goes on and on with respect to the devices of torture your content might be subjected to, in public.

The repercussions of NOT governing your online content, both behind and outside of the firewall, can be equally complex and expensive. Therefore, we need a reasonably affordable, though comprehensive and scalable online digital engagement governance methodology – to build a repeatable, executable governance model that actually works.

Some of the background for this emerging methodology, in its various flavors, comes from many years of Intranet and Public Portal, Content Management and Social Media implementation for various Government Agencies and commercial entities. Common issues emerge from all of these past implementations, as they’re faced with intersection of the Web 2.0 channels.

Here’s a proposed methodology in a nutshell:
  • Create the Governance Business Case
  • Confirm the Governance Model
  • Create a Governance Plan
  • Establish Governance Requirements
  • Establish Governance Authorities
  • Validate and Socialize
  • Implement and Monitor
  • Evolve

“Governance” is essentially an integrated capability, i.e. something that an organization uses for its benefit that has a defined scope in terms of roles and organization, processes, information assets, tools and investment. Compare to other capabilities an organization might establish, like “Information Assurance”, “Application Development” or “IT Support”. Governance is a multi-faceted capability, implemented in different ways according to the context. For example, the context of “IT Support” has its own set of governance requirements; a good methodology and set of models exists with ITIL. The context here is the management of web-enabled digital content as it’s exposed to people, systems and their online dialogue. Interactive Digital Engagement.

To successfully create the Governance capability, a Business Case is required. This documents the scope of the capability, lays out the resource needs and estimates, aligns the investment requirements with the rest of the organization, and most importantly, describes how benefits are recognized and reported. The business case will help support reasonable investment, within corporate constraints, and clearly indicate how performance will be assessed.

Note that there are two main scopes of performance for the Governance program. First are the benefits it conveys to other programs; for example, “reduction of risk profile indicators” (Program Management), “reduction of negative complaints” (Customer Support), “increase in search engine visibility” (Online Marketing). Second is the performance of the actual Governance capability, i.e. “decrease in number of content policy violations” and “decrease in number of policy-related decision escalations”.

What’s the “Governance Model”, then, that will support the Business Case, and will drive implementation of the capability? It’s an organized set of governance components and relationships that need to be created, and that will function in an integrated manner. While your governance model will obviously be customized to your environment, the high-level facets should include:
  • The Authorities (i.e. Policies, Guidelines, Business Rules, etc.)
  • The Organization & Roles (i.e. the Governance Executives, Content Managers, etc.)
  • The Processes (i.e. Escalation, Impact Assessment, Decision-Making, Policy Updates, etc.)
  • The Governed Elements (i.e. what is governed; Actors, Content, Processes, Interfaces, Functions)
  • Governance Tools (i.e. what do people use within processes to help achieve governance, like forums, libraries, guides, FAQs, workflow monitors, etc.)

So, to execute the methodology and implement this capability, we need a Governance Plan. The Plan basically outlines how, when and with what resources the methodology will be invoked. Straightforward project planning, and it’s obviously important the project plan align with the overall organization investment planning. It’s also equally important that a portion of the Plan is aligned with implementation or management of a “Governed Element”; for example, rolling out governance with implementation of a new web channel, or aligned with release of a set of new content.

This essentially enables “prototyping” of the governance model with real feedback; there’s really not a good way to test a governance capability like this without engagement of actual stakeholders in an uncontrolled setting.

The beginning of the Plan will focus on Governance Requirements – these are functional and non-functional (i.e. performance, availability, security) requirements for the building and operation of the governance model – obviously traceable back to the Business Case. Requirements should also include some Use Cases and perhaps a Test Approach – i.e., examples of how this governance model will actually work, in real-life settings. As well, requirements should provide some focus on the specific kinds of “governed elements” addressed – like blog comments, uploaded documents, 3rd-party forums, content distribution processes, community groups. This exercise will help shape and detail the Plan for implementation, and inform other stakeholders (like the IT Community, the HR Department, Legal, etc.) – that that their help and input can be appropriately harnessed.

Governance Requirements will shape and help create new Governance Authorities. While the Requirements drive implementation of the Governance Model, the Authorities express the limits, rules, guidance that people need to operate effectively within it. Many existing authorities probably are relevant (like corporate legal, communications, security or systems lifecycle policies), but many will likely need to be updated or created as a result of this initiative. Types of authorities include:
  • Mission Statement
  • Copyright Laws
  • Laws regarding Personally Identifiable Information (PII)
  • Section 508 Accessibility Guidelines
  • Community Principles
  • Policies
  • Mandates
  • Standard Operating Procedures
  • Terms of Service
  • Business Rules
  • Training Guides
  • Online FAQs/Help
  • Voting

Future postings will continue to explore this Interactive Digital Engagement Governance Methodology, focusing on Validating and Socializing the Governance Model, Implementing and Monitoring it, and ultimately Evolving it.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Socialized Coupons in DC - Classified Advertising Living in Groups

Groupon and Living Social and What's the Deal are all the rage on the frontier of online advertising, representing the most successful of the quickly-growing pack of "social group coupon" merchants. They're a very popular mashup of a number of well-known online marketing techniques, implemented in a way that clearly separates them from traditional banner ads, coupon clubs or classified advertising - they're fun, feel exclusive, count on social buzz and absolutely real savings to succeed. No doubt these kinds of coupons are valuable to the users (50% off a nice dinner out? - pretty good deal); but are they beneficial to the merchants? While the ROI jury has initially spoken regarding the value of the business plan (see Google's recent offer for Groupon, and the global waves of "copycat" enterprises popping up quicker than the last wave of eBay lookalikes) - the Jury's still out with respect to reliable ROI for the merchants actually offering these "deals".

A "social group coupon" is basically a highly-discounted deal that's available typically for limited amounts and time, is highly focused and advertised online to a target demographic, and is available only after a certain threshold of people commit to buy. The value to consumers is inescapable - by simply joining a group of like-minded coupon-clippers (providing your email, and some optional demographic info), and perhaps "spreading the word" a bit while chit-chatting in Facebook or Twitter, your virtual "flash virtual coupon mob" wins the deal - ostensibly a deal that's real, since the groupthink deems it so. Who else wins?

Taking Groupon as an example, the Dealmakers and their investors win - they'll get over 50% of the amount paid by consumers for the deal, along with continued "word of mouth" free advertising among a growing, "opt-in" fan base and email list (very valuable). These deals show up not only in emails and the Groupon site, but also on affiliate sites and networks - other popular websites whose owners get paid a little to show the deals. To orchestrate the affiliate activity, "affiliate merchants" are involved (like Commission Junction), who take a little from the Dealmaker for this service - so they win, too. The affiliates win - deals that show up on websites, in twitter feeds and other advertising channels (promoted by the affiliates themselves) can be attractive enough and promoted smartly (these 2 factors aren't given) as to draw new traffic and cross-selling opportunities to the affiliates. The payment gateways win - obviously most payments occur online through Visa, PayPal, Google Checkout, whatever - all of whom take another little cut (as do some of the Dealmakers).

Here's an example of a local affiliate channel in DC/Northern Virginia - Northern Virginia Business Deals.

What about the Merchant, offering the deal? Death of a deal by a thousand cuts, or is it really helpful?

The deals are carefully constructed business transactions, pure and simple, implemented in a way that above all else maximizes ROI for the Dealmaker, and takes advantage of any market advantages that come available - like "clout" and unique reach among demographics, first-to-market positioning and exclusivity, efficiencies in affiliate management, etc. It's really pure business, no play - regardless of the "community spin" that's promoted (though there are some local entrants that do actually give back, like Amy's Offers in Loudoun County, VA, giving back some of their proceeds to the local "Unsung Educators Scholarship"). The bigger players offer less to individual merchants, presumably because their services are worth so much more - while the newer entrants may offer more, at lower cost - since they're willing to do more to build their base of attractive merchants, offers and community traffic.

The prize is many hundreds of immediate purchases of the coupon, with volume revenue overcoming the profit discount, hopefully at a price-point for fulfillment that is both expected and can be absorbed without "crashing the system", so to speak. In other words, lots of new repeat customers for perhaps a little profit or maybe just more guarantee of future profit - and you've got enough stock to cover the one-time deal.

Let's consider the benefits to merchants of some of the primay social group coupon dealmakers in the Washington DC/Northern Virginia area (note that these are vendor-supplied statistics at this time, and generalizations based on a variety of merchant-driven interactions; actual negotiations and final contracts will be very unique to the deal - KME Internet Marketing in Northern Virginia can help sort these out).

Groupon's deals with local merchants go out through an email list of over 650,000 subscribers and its affiliate network, the deal must be at least 50% of original retail, redemption rates exceed 80% and the revenue is split 50-50. The heavyweight in this area, they drive a strong non-compete agreement, waits can be long to get "in-cycle", and their approval of the actual deal may be inflexible, as it's driven by their own very detailed analytics for success.

LivingSocial.com has about 1/6th the number of subscribers, a slightly higher redemption rate, and the negotiation tends to be more flexible - quicker merchant payment, less exclusivity required without "non-compete" agreement, more likely to try new deals with new demographics (while all of these sites typically started with the young, urban tech-savvy set - they all seem to be quickly adopted by the soccer-moms and suburbanites - the same kind of trending for most new social media tools).

SoWhatstheDeal.com (by the Washingtonian magazine folks) is very local, has about 1/3 of Living Social's subscribers, but seems extremely flexible in competing for business - they are, however, still very focused on the very young, urban set (20-30), with all kinds of additional social interaction to support the marketing, including raffles and weekly events.

There are also many other new variations of "Groupon clones" out there, like Homerun, Deals for Deeds, Specialicious (from the Northern Virginia Magazine folks), Eversave and Socially Ideal. Heck, you can start your own group buying initiative, for less than a thousand dollars (to buy clone scripting software, optimize it, and get started on the marketing).

There also exist a flurry of "pseudo-clones", that aren't quite social group coupons, but social-media marketed traditional coupons - for example "CheapLocalDeals" as displayed on local media like the Loudoun Times, which is simply a traditional affiliate pay-per-click (PPC) banner ad channel (like Google's Adsense), for which the Merchant pays a fee per click or conversion (i.e. somewhat like Google's Adwords), and the affiliate network (i.e. CheapLocalDeals and the Times) each get their cut. "Socializing" the deal includes the efforts by the affiliate network to boost word-of-mouth advertising and visibility through SEO, email subscription-list building, and other online marketing tactics - all to ensure a more qualified and durable set of eyeballs who will likely click, purchase, enjoy and tell their friends about it.

Local merchants can certainly succeed, and succeed wildly by leveraging this new advertising medium - but also fail badly in overall ROI if it isn't considered an integrated portion of the overall online marketing effort. Within a planned online marketing budget, how should use of social group coupons be included? Consider the major online marketing expenses to be balanced:
  • social group coupons
  • paid banner ads and links
  • paid article and contextual ad placements, on websites, games, mobile, etc.
  • paid press releases (i.e. ads in news clothing)
  • paid classified ads and community-centric notices
  • paid online engagement marketing, i.e. onsite and offsite social media ads & presence (like in Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter)
  • paid search engine optimization (SEO)
  • paid search engine marketing (SEM), i.e. pay-per-click (PPC) via search engines
  • paid multimedia ad placement (i.e. in Videos)
  • online marketing web design and content for your own site, mobile apps, landing pages and offsite interactive profiles and presence (check out NavigationArts in DC for help here)
  • ...and so on

It's enough to make the owner of the marketing budget's head spin - especially for a small merchant, without the effective resources to track integrated performance across all these advertising channels, and balance investment against outcome. Sometimes jumping on the hype-cycle is simply a one-time investment necessary to test it out or join the game...but the hype-cycle is probably past for social group coupons, and a more methodical approach is warranted to drive the right kind of value. This applies not only to the Merchant advertisers, but also to media publishers (i.e. website owners, like Newspapers) who must balance their own coupon/classifieds community-building efforts with syndication of others that might add value, like Groupon and Living Social.

If you're a Merchant seeking help to sort out these online advertising options, including the new wave of social group coupons, drop a line here...