Thursday, March 27, 2014

Sponsored Video: 3 important things

This post is the second in my series on Virgin Media Business. The first looked at innovation in Scotland and discussed the company’s Three New Things competition. Now the results of that competition are in and there are winners.

Buffalo Grid gives away large solar-powered charging devices that allow local businesses or entrepreneurs to charge their customer’s smartphones.

CubeSat created a “space resistant” material that can be 3D printed. The result? Much cheaper satellite construction.

Three Over Seven have a smartphone app that lets customers scan their feet and receive a pair of perfectly fitted 3D printed shoes the next day.

Three Over Seven won the votes of the audience of the day and it is one of two companies that use 3D printing.

3D printing is one of my “important things”. The future here is wide open and we’re still to see what 3D printing looks like on a business level and whether it’ll be a thing for consumers. Will we see homes with 3D printers and with their ability to produce functional utilities? The attraction of Three Over Seven’s offering was that it didn’t ask people to try something out of their comfort zone. The system used smartphone apps, which we’re familiar with, to allow 3D printing elsewhere.

Phones are the second of the three important things. Both Buffalo Grid and Three Over Seven make use of mobile phones and in very different ways. What do they have in common? Just how ever present mobiles have become and how important they are now.

Lastly, looking at what Buffalo Grid and CubeSat had in common was infrastructure and flexibility. Innovation that makes the next wave of innovation more likely and easier is top of the pile. This is my third important thing – infrastructure. As it happens this must be an area close to Virgin Media Business’ heart too. This is a company with fibre optics in the ground.

Putting the three important things together paints a picture. We’re creating a landscape with the infrastructure in place to support widespread use of smartphones and allow the next wave of contenders – like 3D printing – to exist.

If you look at what people in the 60s, 1920s or earlier predicted the future would be like you would enjoy a gallery of fun and fanciful ideas. You wouldn’t have seen anyone predict the infrastructure of telecoms or the internet. Infrastructure and communication changes are hard to imagine.

Disclosure: This is a sponsored video post. The video comes from Virgin Media Business but the topic, words, typos and thoughts are all mine.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

5 guidelines for evaluating blogs

I understand why SEOs have metrics to act as proxies for PageRank. I don’t always understand attitudes towards them. We’ve no idea how close they are to matching PageRank – essentially they’re an informed guess. SEOs aren’t always consistent either. Over a beer lunch you can generally get an SEO to dismiss PageRank as not a metric to bother with and then get them interested in a sure fire way to earn links from DA 70 sites.

There are other ways to judge websites. A guideline based approach to determine whether or not a blog passes a series of tests or not isn’t any better, or any worse, than the PageRank proxies. It’s just a different way of doing things.

I first started to codify some of these guidelines after discovering the Bechdel Test. This test applies to movies and is simply devastating.

To pass the Bechdel test a movie must have two female characters who talk to each other about something other than men.

How many of your top 5 movies pass the Bechdel test? It was this test that inspired my Colleen/Jac Test. Mine wasn’t named after the woman who created it but after the colleagues who told me about the Bechdel Test and then listened to me share the idea to adapt it for outreach.

Is the Blog Even Legal Test?

Are you confident the blog is disclosing incentived posts well enough? Can you tell at a glance which are sponsored posts or do you suspect there is advertorial content masquerading as editorial.

Why this guideline?
These blogs are all set to be a future problem for you. It could be that Google will tag them and they'll become a source of unnatural links or a regulatory body like the FTC or OFT will get involved. Disaster.

Who tends to fail this guideline?
The failure to disclose is unfortunately widespread. Travel and Mum bloggers have the reputation for responding with "Only if you pay me" to editorial pitches but in reality it happens in all verticals. In many ways agencies and brands have contributed to the problem by facilitating it.

The Colleen/Jac Test

Are there at least two opinion pieces in the last ten posts and do they discuss something other than goods and services.

Why this guideline?
We're looking to check that the blog is more than reviews, reviewbait and similar. The rule also works to sniff out blogs overloaded with sponsored content. The phrase "opinion piece" can be interpreted as you see fit but I tend to rule in recipes and style guides.

Who tends to fail this guideline?
Beauty and travel bloggers often run afoul of Colleen/Jac test and that's often because they're powered exclusively or heavily by company supplied products or travel deals. This guideline isn't a good match for review blogs.

The Zero Hour News Test

Does the blog often cover news from the subject area it covers within the first hour?

Why this guideline?
We're looking to see if the blogger is close enough to their interest area to be among the first reporters or whether they're simply part of the echo chamber. This rule helps spot influencers and potential influencers.

Who tends to fail this guideline?
Low quality news sites that act as two bit aggregators often fail this test.

The Navigational Search Test

When you search for the blog's name/brand does Google respond with a navigational SERP? (If you can't tell; does the site come top?)

Why this guideline?
Are people actually looking for the blog by name? This suggests influence, community and loyalty. All highly desirable.

Who tends to fail this guideline?
Blogs on domains like and with no other brand of note tend to do badly here. Another common group of blogs that don't do well here are lifestyle, fashion or beauty blogs with branding composed of product names. For example, "Little black keyword" or "Keywords and dreams"

The VP of Pretty Things Test

The Vice President of Pretty Things is a derogatory term for marketers a million miles from the blogging front lines who just don't get it. It may be petty of me to have the term but these are real people, often highly skilled in their area and who will have influence on your projects. To pass the VP of Pretty Things test blogs need to look great, or be written by someone famous or have such traffic stats that even a VP of Pretty Things will concede the site deserves to be included in the campaign.

Why this guideline?
If your outreach successes are not good enough to put on a PowerPoint for a VP of Pretty Things to review then it often is genuine cause for concern.

Who tends to fail this guideline?
Blogs on default templates or too heavy with ads. Blogs that are too far away from a brand's perceived demographic are just as likely to fail.

Replacing metrics?

I'm not suggesting that any of these guidelines will replace metrics that SEOs and their clients like to talk about. Although I wish they were used alongside some of the better metrics.

In particular, if SEOs and clients (or fellow in-house digital folk) agree on their own blog evaluation guidelines before an outreach project begins then that helps both the project and with the evaluation afterwards.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Innovation in SEO: The "technical build"

It sounds simple and common sense; build a website so search engines love it from day one. The alternative is to build a site, then consider SEO and then spend more money to make technical changes. For example, don’t build your site out of frames and Flash.

SEOs reading this post will know that although the concept sounds obvious it is still all too common today to find companies building sites before considering SEO.

If you agree with the points in this post then you will be piling on the pressure. I argue that the SEO technical build is no longer just about getting the right URL structure, content and tags. I argue that a “technical build” today must consider how a new site will operate, react and reach audiences in a world in which we are all publishers.

We’re all publishers?

We are. People and companies publish lots of content on the web. Sometimes they do this without thinking about it; Facebook or Twitter updates are publishing, for example. The result is a very noisy internet. Brands are just one source of information in a sea of information.

We’re all publishers, this has changed the web and how digital marketing works. Look at how Google has raised the bar so that process based publishing is no longer a positive quality signals. Links from article sites or exact match PR hubs or even from blogs that fail to manage a certain quality are not links you want.

To earn links that matter brands must now successfully engage with audiences and do so in a way that creates positive quality signals; links, those social indicators that Google does look at, author when that’s appropriate and so forth.

I explore the evolution of We’re all publishers a little more in my 2014 predictions piece. I dare say this blog will loop back to it again but for now let’s look at what it means for “technical builds”.

The SEO build in the publishing world

A website that’s been guided by a SEO expert from planning stage to production will have more going for it than just the correct technical markup, content, sitemaps and so forth. Today, a site that’s been built with SEO in mind will able to satisfy a publishing strategy .

Examples of modern SEO build considerations

  • Easy and appropriate location for linkbait publishing
  • Integration of editorial and commercial content
  • Blogger / Press media hub onsite
  • Native video player capabilities
  • Dedicated landing page strategy for;
    1. Retargeting
    2. Display
    3. Affiliates
  • Page retirement strategy
  • Content flow/publication support such as drafts, on-schedule posting,preview links

What does this mean?

In the past it was possible to consider the “technical build” in a much more isolated state. The technical SEO offering advice had to concentrate on making sure the code was as appropriate as possible.

Today, the SEO offering build advice also has to think about the audience. She needs to understand what the brand will have to do in order to engage with creators, curators and community moderations in order to win their attention. She needs to understand the publishing strategy the brand use to assist with SEO and make the right technical recommendations to support that.

It moves the role of the technical build from a checklist or audit to that of a strategy. That’s a big ask of anyone in that role but an important one. The "Publisher Build" is here to stay.

What are your thoughts?

Picture credit: Giuseppe Zizza.

Friday, March 07, 2014

Fat but loveable: How the aquatic Wordbank rumbled into Google Images

Pop over to Google Images and search for wordbank. You’ll see some surprising creatures.

Why on Earth does Google think walruses are “wordbanks”? This is an interesting consideration if you’re interested in unpicking Google’s algorithmic thoughts and the influence of certain social platforms.

Like so many quirks of the internet – the wordbank began on Reddit. Jim Ruderer shared a picture of a class assignment completed by his five year old son to /r/funny.

The five year old had confused seal and walrus and had taken the name “wordbank” from the wordbank he was using and applied that to the walrus. Reddit found it funny. They found it so funny that Reddit was cracking wordbank jokes for days. Threads included;

  1. Just a Wordbank relaxing on a beach
  2. A newborn baby Wordbank
  3. Highly evolved bipedal Wordbank
  4. John Lennon: the obvious next step in the “wordbank” saga.
  5. A wordbank asleep on top of a Russian Submarine

There are many, many more.

Yes, Reddit’s fond of Imgur.

CNN covered the story. Google, though, was faster; and Wordbanks started to invade the Image SERPs.

Needless to say many of these threads have very few links and almost no inbound links from external sources. However, they have frequent mentions of Wordbank and Reddit’s impressive weight behind them.

Tuesday, March 04, 2014

Sponsored Post: Innovation in Scotland

When I heard that Virgin Media Business was looking to support game-changing digital innovations I was interested. When I was offered the chance to write about the Three New Things project, a search for ideas and projects that deserve more public attention and an award event later on in March with key influencers and commentators I was happy to write about it. There’s a prize of up to £25,000 in free business telecoms available.

My mind immediately turned to work and home. I spend as much of my time as possible looking for innovation in media. Media, as I define it, is the art-and-science of connecting with people. Innovation is popular; brands want it. The catch is that true innovation is hard, it is complex and it is loaded with risk. That’s not popular.

I’ve learnt to respect those companies who find time for true innovation, especially those who take risks and manage risk correctly. It's especially important for start-ups or those with funding targets to make. At least with £25,000 of phone bills sorted companies would have one more step towards handling risk.

In particular, innovation at home came to mind. There’s loads of innovation going on in Scotland. The impact of the TechCube in Edinburgh is noticeable. The TechCube holds companies like Stipso who have a “living data” system complete with infographic and engagement services, Make it Social that facilitates booking as a group but paying as an individual and Peekabu that lets you control your media through motion.

There’s plenty outside the TechCube or Glasgow's DEG too. There’s IQ chocolate, a superfood with headquarters in Stirling and a presence in Edinburgh, which manages to organically offer up less than 199 calories per bar. There’s the soon-to-launch Caledonista digital publishing venture that hopes to bring more digital to Scottish style. There’s innovation from established players too; look at Popcorn Horror and their experimentation with apps and ways to support independent horror or Distrify which lets movie creators crowd fund and market their movies at the same time.

It isn't just about single companies either. I'm a great fan of the Scottish Games Network. There are lots of unsung (or under sung) heroes in Scottish gaming. It's an industry that needs to fight for recognition while leading the way in innovation. The Game in Scotland 2014 event held in Dundee recently was packed with brains and new ideas.

Which examples of Scottish innovation (and Three New Things is open to all of the UK) would you like to see step forward and enter?

This post is sponsored by Virgin Media Business. The contents, angle, ideas, typoes and grammatical howlers are all mine.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Voicebombing: Surprising Google voice search results

The phrase "voicebombing" is inspired from Googlebombing and used incorrectly. Googlebombing is the art of getting a host of pages to link to a target site using an inappropriate phrase.

To produce a real "voicebomb" you would have to assume Google used a different filter for voice powered results and that a group of people set out to manipulate it.

This isn't really voicebombing because Wil Wheaton actually uses the slogan "Don't be a dick". He is a celeb with a strong association with the search term.

That said; I only found that out after this voice search and when Google responded by reading out Wheaton's name - I was so surprised it was funny.

Thursday, January 02, 2014

2014 predictions: We’re all publishers

It’s my first day back in the office since the holidays. I have some time before lunch. It feels appropriate, if a little late, to write some predictions for the year ahead. Since time is against me this won’t be a short post.

My theme for this year will be “We’re all publishers”. This isn’t a prediction. In many of my conference and expo presentations in 2013 I made this point to provide some context for the evolution of digital.

This year, the English libel laws will change to reflect that we’re all publishers. People without special insight into marketing or legal regulations tweet, swap messages on Facebook and publish videos they’ve captured on Vine. The English system now moves to give those publishers more support and it comes at the expensive of those pressing libel claims in Court. This seems fair as the English system had been weighed too far in the other direction before. Hopefully Scotland will follow too.

This is a rare instance of the legal system, I think, adapting ahead of the digital marketing world. There is plenty happening in the digital marketing world because we’re all publishers now but it feels disjointed and uncoordinated. I wonder how that will change in 2014.

Key Themes

  • Expertise
  • Data
  • Automation
  • Relationships
  • Privacy & Regulations


I see a bifurcation of the role of “SEO Account Manager”.

There will now be the “mathematical and planning type” – those SEO account managers who can coordinate all the levers and buttons SEO campaigns now need to press (and the people involved), work with schedules, client restrictions and these people must also be able to dig into data to pull out insight. These account managers will certainly handy at pivot tables in Excel.

The other is the “creative type” – these are those SEO account managers who can come up with linkbait ideas, who can conceive effective outreach campaigns and even those with the talent to produce their own ideas. In many ways it will be these account managers who speak most often to clients as a key skillset will be the ability to layer SEO on top of everything else brands are doing.

These two roles are in addition to the two expertise sets I already recognise; the technical account manager and the outreach & engagement account manager. The former is a dab hand at the technologies and code required for SEO and the latter an expert at publisher relationships.

On that note, I think we’ll see less chat about “bloggers” and more chat about “publishers”. This is a good thing.

“I think (I hope) we’ll see more concern in 2014 about the difference between advertorial and editorial”
I think (I hope) we’ll see more concern in 2014 about the difference between advertorial and editorial.

The twin effect of commercial outreach (via PR agencies and SEOs) and blogger conferences is that many bloggers now seek financial compensation in exchange for anything. I have observed that many bloggers are not clear on the differences between an advertorial offer or an editorial pitch (and neither SEO firms nor PR agencies are very good at helping here). This needs to change or a bunch of bloggers and brands will end up on Panorama.

In Performance Marketing

The phrase “performance marketing” is overloaded. At least it is better than the meaningless phrase “performance media”.

In essence, in the most sophisticated digital market in the world – the UK – the affiliate industry has done a fantastic job at rebranding itself into performance marketing. If you go to performance marketing awards or a performance marketing conference then you’ll be hanging with affiliate networks, publishers and merchants.

Others, especially highbrow marketing consultants from the States use "performance marketing" as some sort of bucket to put search, affiliate and related activities in. If "creative" don't get to lead the project then it'll likely just be some "performance marketing".

I’m not sure the affiliate industry will win the battle to completely own the phrase “performance marketing” in 2014 but I am sure they’ll have a great year. Generally, I mean. Specifically some networks might struggle in the new reality.

I think brands will embrace CPA innovation this year. The economic recovery in the parts of the world were affiliate marketing is fairly well regulated is perfectly timed with the security and safety that CPA offers. In particular, brands will be keen to see affiliates trail blaze in new areas and technologies.

Affiliate networks will continue their shift; either towards the full agency model (Rakuten and Digital Window, for example) or more fully towards just providing the tracking and payment technology (jostling up against Impact Radius and Performance Horizon).

Cookies and data will likely be an issue too. Should affiliates get paid for the data they collect and which brands (and networks) can harvest? If brands are using retargeting on top of affiliate traffic then are affiliates due a commission on the value of that data?

I do think Viglink and Skimlinks will have a good year if they can tap into the wider collective awareness of bloggers. The companies have been battling for control of the platforms – deals with Automattic and the like – but brand awareness with bloggers would be a layer on top of those strategic deals with the technology providers. Both companies will have to innovate hard this year.

“The known unknown is Google. Will they push the CPA space this year with an alternative to the now defunct Google Affiliate Network?”
The known unknown is Google. Will they push the CPA space this year with an alternative to the now defunct Google Affiliate Network? It’s possible but it’s been possible for a long time. Could Yahoo (or AOL? – attempt 2) throw an impressive curveball and offer a CPA based YSense to a mass market of publishers? That seems less likely even if it sounds wonderful.

In Display

I think the distance between programmatic and premium will shorten. It already feels that the difference between the two isn’t in where the ad slot happens to be but how the ad slot was filled. In other words, publishers may try and pre-fill inventory with set price deals providing it remains cost effective for them to do so but the rest of the placement will be programmatic.

Some of the effort previously spent pushing premium will slide towards “native ads”.

I think there will be more fuss this year about the impact of botnets and click fraud in display. It has to happen. There’s certainly an opportunity for some suppliers to stand out from the crowd by caring about this and offering protection.

On the same note; I predict we’ll see ongoing discussions around the role of agency trading desks, transparency, data ownership, privacy and retargeting. These have all been topics in 2013 but it feels like there’s still lots to work through in 2014.

I don’t think we’ll see a runaway leader in the realm of Display on connected TV in 2014. By connected TVs I’m also including gaming consoles like Steambox and their consoles. I do think we’ll see more brands exploring the possibilities though and this will lead to overlaps and tensions between digital agencies (who understand the tech) and traditional agencies (who previously would make all the TV-clip style ads).

Facebook, Twitter and other social platforms will be busy with their Display offerings. This might not create pressure on CPM but it might certainly push minimum spend down. That’s a good thing.


Brands and agencies will both have to think long and hard about the Google Display Network. Do they have a Search specialist running ads on this network just because it’s Google? Or do they have a media buyer running ads on this platform because it has the word “display” in the branding?

“I don’t think the biggest change in 2013 was Enhanced Campaigns. I think the big change in 2013 was AdRank and how extensions now influence Quality Score. ”
I don’t think the biggest change in 2013 was Enhanced Campaigns. I think the big change in 2013 was AdRank and how extensions now influence Quality Score. We’ll see more effort with ‘creative PPC ads’ as brands and their agencies try and boost their performance on this new third side of the equation.

Of course, interactive PPC ads are very much what Google wants. Once PPC ads are effectively microsites in their own right that are designed so they easily fit into card design then they’re ripe for placement in areas like Google Glass, mobile apps and perhaps any other device you care to plug Android into (Google gaming console, anyone?).

2014 will see more brands get their HTML 5 and mobile sites ready. About time, huh? Expect to see the knock on effect when it comes to mobile click prices.

In Social Media

Social Media is media. The clue is in the name. Agencies will be forced to stop writing creative experiments off as “social media” and pay more attention to the sort of campaigns that actually engage with the correct audiences.

The phrase “social media” is too broad. We’ll start seeing more specialists (and perhaps the threesome of SEO, PR and content marketing will churn something out here).

It’s entirely possible to be a top social media professional without knowing how to set up a Facebook advertising campaign, or a Twitter one or a StumbleUpon ad. Equally, you can be a high performing social media manager without knowing what size of infographic bloggers usually prefer or what the most popular Wordpress caching plugin is.

As a result of this need for expertise and specialism within Social Media we may see some movement back to channels like Display or SEO. For example, setting up that large paid for Facebook campaign might well be Display budget again and a blogger outreach campaign may be handled entirely by SEO experts because it was conceived entirely for SEO purposes.

It’s going to be hugely interesting to see what all the main platforms do this year. Google+ and Pinterest have growth potential if they can sort API access and integration out. Facebook will likely make inroads in mobile and video but struggle with branding issues and parents. Twitter will have to work hard to show both advertising results this year while hinting at even greater possibilities next year. LinkedIn will continue to be a darling platform.

We’re all publishers

Ultimately, I think we’ll see more brands and agencies using job titles “Head of Natural Media” or “Head of Biddable Media” as a way to cope with the platform expansion and vast array of choices.

We may well see marketing experts who specialise in working with certain publisher types and those types may be vertical or size. For example, we’ll see “travel marketing” experts (digital travel marketing experts if you still feel the word digital is necessary) or “small scale publisher” experts.

Image credit: Caroline.