What’s the point of Yahoo?

As Carol Bartz is sacked we ask if the problems at Yahoo are simply caused by bad management.

The CEO of Yahoo, Carol Bartz, has been ousted from her job after just over 2 years at the helm of the rather troubled internet giant.  Apparently, she was informed by telephone that she no longer had a job and true to form sent a rather inappropriately worded email to all Yahoo staff announcing her sacking.

It could be argued that she’s been responsible for a lack lustre financial performance along with some questionable deals that included signing over their search operations to Microsoft.  Additionally, advertising revenues have remained flat during her time at the helm even though the market has been growing significantly.

So, Ms Bartz, you’re out of a job and the blame game is successfully in play.  But we at The Levels think that the problems at Yahoo are far more deep-rooted than simply some bad management.  What is the point of Yahoo?  Are you a media company, a technology giant, a communication provider?  When you look in the mirror what is it that you see?  Until you can answer this question we don’t think it matters who’s at the helm the problems you’re facing will only get worse.

As Microsoft, Apple & Google continue to carve up the digital world in a land grab that reminds us all to clearly of the Age of Empires (& no we don’t mean the computer game), what is the future for Yahoo without a clearly defined identity and raison d’etre?

So, if the board of Yahoo are listening we’d like to make the following suggestions:

1. Sell off your Asian assets

2. Don’t try to take on Facebook – do we really need ANOTHER social network?

3. Concentrate on what you do well and define yourselves through that.  See yourself as a communications provider and deliver the very best services out there.

4. Hire some good ad sales execs.

As we go to press we hear that an All Hands meeting of the Yahoo board and senior management is under-way.  Hopefully we’ll get some of those answers!

Read the original report of the sacking at AllThings D

Business issues you should consider before you launch your website

Website launch party imageAt The Levels we agree with the mantra that it’s all in the planning!  Every now and again we’re asked what we think are the most important business issues to consider when launching a website and we keep coming back to that mantra.

Write your business plan, consider your customer, understand your market and your place within it.  Once you’re confident you have a great product, you’ve engaged with a web development agency and you’re about to hit the “Go Live”  button stop for a minute.   Take a look at the site afresh and go through the following check list.

1. SEO AUDIT

Run a full SEO technical audit of the site: However good (& or expensive!) your web development agency is, it’s vital that you take another look at the site from Google’s perspective.  It doesn’t matter how powerful your content is or how numerous your site back links may be, if you don’t have a clean & searchable site you’ll struggle to place well at Google and the other search engines.  An SEO audit of your test site will allow you to fix any major issues before you launch.

2. ANALYTICS
In order to measure the success of your site and to spot any usability issues it’s vital that you’ve deployed an appropriate web analytics tool.  Spend some time with your provider or your web development agency configuring the tool to measure  the success metrics applicable to your business and to flag any usability issues that might present themselves after launch. If you’re spending any money marketing the site then ensure that your agency or marketing department is using your analytics tool to track these campaigns as well.
3. eCRM PROCEDURES & POLICIES
We all hope that no one will ever be critical of our site or the business we run but in reality everyone likes to complain some of the time!  Before you launch you need to understand exactly how you will deal with negative comments or complaints.  Have a clear & documented eCRM policy in place.  Ensure  that everyone in the organisation is aware of this and understands escalation policies. 
4. CONTENT POLICY,  CHECKLISTS & TRAINING
If you have a team of writers or contributors adding to the content at your site you need to establish the ground rules.  Work with them to establish a tone of voice and brand identity that will colour all of the content you deliver to your users. It’s also vital that they’re considering how their content will be consumed on-line.  Are they trained to write for the web? Are they aware of SEO considerations when uploading content?  Have they been fully trained on your content management system?  If you’re running a content heavy site it’s worth considering a “Writing for the Web” training course to refresh even the most experienced journalist on the latest trends and techniques.  

5. CHANGE MANAGEMENT
As with any business it’s vital that everyone involved in the launch and development of the site has clear sight of the change management responsibilities and procedures.  You must have well defined & documented sign off polices in place and quality checking on any changes that effect the user experience.  Many a great website has been ruined by a lack of change management. 
6. TEST, TEST & TEST AGAIN
Before you launch you need to test every element of the user experience again and again. Have you delivered a site that meets the needs of your users or the assumptions you have made about them?  If you have the resources to run lab tests to observe users travelling through your site then do it.  If your launch budget doesn’t run that far then ask your friends, family and colleagues to play with the test site and let you know what they make of it.  It’s better to delay the launch of a site which subsequently meets the expectations of your customers  than to launch with a substandard product.  TEST, TEST & TEST AGAIN

Social Media Tips for Small Business

As social media evolves and it becomes harder and harder to get your voice heard amongst the noise there are a few pieces of best practise that all businesses should follow.  These are especially pertinent for small to medium sized firms who are launching themselves into social media for the first time.a street with shops

1. Stick to what you know. If you’re a garden maintenance business we don’t want to hear about your views on the Alternative Vote. What we want are your tips for growing the perfect sweetpeas and a nudge when it’s time to get the tomato plants in. Remember you’re the expert and your customers will listen to you if you demonstrate these skills and give them genuinely interesting and informative information.

2. Tell me that you’ve joined the party. Let your customers know that they now have a new way to communicate with you. Put up a sign in your shop, email your customer database or add Facebook ‘Like’ functionality to your website. No one will know you’re there unless you tell us and talking to a void can be depressing for even the most optimistic of us.

3. Give me a reason to be your friend. Social media is a crowded place with everyone competing for your customers’ attention. How do you stand out in all that noise? Give them a reason to be your friend. If you’re an independent coffee shop will you be offering free refills for everyone who ‘Checks In’ with you on Foursquare? If you’re a fashion retailer can I be notified of sales and special offers via Facebook? You need to make your customers feel as if they’re being rewarded for their loyalty to you.

4. Make a plan and make some time. We all know how precious time is when you’re running your own small business and it may seem daunting to think about adding yet another task to the daily list of must-dos. The trick with social media is to plan ahead – think about what you want to post and pull together a weekly plan of attack. You can then use a service like Tweetdeck to schedule these updates well in advance and it’ll then go away and publish them for you across Facebook and Twitter at the right time and in the right place.

5. Remember that this is SOCIAL media. You need to be prepared for your customers to talk to you through these channels as well as listening to you. It might also be the case that they aren’t always saying nice things about you. If they have a reason to complain about service and they do this through social media this isn’t such a bad thing. Resolve the issue in public and show everyone just how much you care about customer service. Don’t ignore the complaint, deal with it and show all your customers how important they are to you.

Google takes on Facebook’s Like Button and gets a little more sociable

Google social

“The web’s a big place so sometimes it helps to have a tour guide”.

This is how Google describe their +1 technology, a recommendation system that allows you to  flag interesting or relevant pages within search results, sharing these recommendations with people you’re connected to through Google.  As Facebook carries on it’s relentless expansion this is another move from our friends at the search giant to make their results and services ever more “social”.    It’s simple, elegant, easy to execute from a users perspective and in time will give a deeper more human feel to search results.   What’s not to love about this.

A Google account’s required to use this new feature and allows users to share their recommendations through Gmail, Google Chat, Google Reader and Buzz. Currently, the button is only available on the search results page, but in the future Google has plans to provide this button to companies so users can +1 their site without ever having to leave the page.    You’ll also be able to +1 Google Ads that you find beneficial.

In Google’s own words:

“Say, for example, you’re planning a winter trip to Tahoe, Calif. When you do a search, you may now see a +1 from your slalom-skiing aunt next to the result for a lodge in the area. Or if you’re looking for a new pastarecipe, we’ll show you +1’s from your culinary genius college roommate. And even if none of your friends are baristas or caffeine addicts, we may still show you how many people across the web have +1’d your local coffee shop.”

And here’s where things get interesting from an SEO perspective; look again at the last line “And even if none of your friends are baristas or caffeine addicts, we may still show you how many people across the web have +1’d your local coffee shop”.

Matt Cutts recently went on record saying that one of the best things you can do to improve your ranking is to get “social”.  So, together with this statement we can see just how vital a carefully executed social media strategy is to search optimisation going forward. Getting people to +1 your content is going to deliver more organic traffic and better results.  We’re also hoping that’ll deliver cheaper paid traffic too if +1 ranking is incorporated into their data.

So all in all this seems like a great move all round.  An elegant and useful service for the user and a simple way to improve Google’s results based on the service and reputation of the sites it’s indexed.

We’re now sitting back and waiting for the multitude of “Get more +1’s at low low prices” emails from every black hat spammer out there!

To read the original Google post to go:

http://googleblog.blogspot.com/2011/03/1s-right-recommendations-right-when-you.html

Google recruit us to help in their battle against the content bandits

Google versus the content farms imageGoogle have taken yet another step forward in their war against the content farms who fill up their ( & our) results with spammy nastiness. Writing on the official company blog last night Amay Champaneria and Beverly Yang, Search Quality Engineers for the search giant revealed new functionality that allows you to block the sites you don’t want to see.

This functionality isn’t aimed at sites that don’t quite meet your expectations in terms of the search you’ve made, but rather at the sites that you find offensive, pornographic or in their words “generally low quality” ie the content farms chasing traffic by writing about subjects purely because they’re popular search terms.

You’ll need to be signed into your Google account to use the new features, but once you have and you click on a result and return immediately to Google you’ll be asked if you want to block all results coming from that domain.  Click yes and you’ll receive a confirmation message as well as the option to undo your block.  Once you make a new search these results will magically disappear!  You’ll be notified by a message either at the top or bottom of your results that pages have been blocked.

So, back to Farmer and the content bandits.  At the bottom of the blog post Amay and Beverly write “while we’re not currently using the domains people block as a signal in ranking, we’ll look at the data and see whether it would be useful as we continue to evaluate and improve our search results in the future.” In other words they’re recruiting us to help them get rid of the spammers.

As marketeers how do we respond to this?  Well the good news is that you don’t need to hire the editorial team from The Times!  But you should be producing original and high quality copy that’s rich and useful to your readers, subscribers and visitors.  If you’d like to know more about Farmer and how to craft website content that actually benefits from this update then give us a shout at lucy@the-levels.com and we’ll get back to you.

To read the original Google post go to http://googleblog.blogspot.com/2011/03/hide-sites-to-find-more-of-what-you.html

 

Google take on the content farms with new update

image of a farmerYesterday ( Feb 23rd 2011) Google announced a major algorithmic change.  Although they haven’t given this one an official name many in the SEO space have nicknamed it “Farmer” (more of that later).   Google  admit the change will have a significant affect on the search results we see, impacting almost 12% of their US queries.  So, why the change?

In the company blog post Matt Cutts writes “this update is designed to reduce rankings for low-quality sites—sites which are low-value add for users, copy content from other websites or sites that are just not very useful.”  In our analysis this looks very much like they’ve declared war on the content farms.

Content farms produce articles based on keywords that are highly trafficked.  They respond to the changes in search behaviour and churn the stuff out.  Generally, it’s badly written filler guff that’s only there to grab the attention of the search engines and offers no real or tangible value to the readers.   In other words it’s spammy as hell!

This has been a long time coming, some insiders report that Google engineers have been working on this update for over 18 months.  With a initial roll-out to the US announced we’re hoping that this will eventually roll out to the rest of the world.

Cutts adds, “we’re very excited about this new ranking improvement because we believe it’s a big step in the right direction of helping people find ever higher quality in our results.”

So, lessons to take from this?  Invest in the content at your site, get your staff blogging, find an advocate and give them a voice.  Think about how you’re going to deliver useful, vibrant and search friendly content that’s a true resource for your customers and will serve you well in the future.

Using a content farm might seem like a convenient and cheap alternative but remember when we used to say that about buying links back in the day?

If you’d like to talk to us at The Levels about putting together a content strategy and delivering  training your staff to write effectively for search then just give us a shout at lucy@the-levels.com.

To read the blog post in full go to http://googleblog.blogspot.com/2011/02/finding-more-high-quality-sites-in.html