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.