Google’s Personalised Search

GoogleSearch on the internet is changing. We all know how Google works – you type in your search term, hit the “search button”, Google beavers away in the background trying to match what you typed with the most likely matches and you’re presented with a list of results, all within a split second.

If you are logged into Google when you do the same search things are now slightly different. Once the results come back you are given further options. You can “promote” a site by clicking on the little up arrow next to it. This is your way of saying that this is the site you wanted and it will push it to the top of the list for next time you do that search. You also have the option of clicking “remove”, the cross. This means that the result is not relevant to you and won’t be shown next time around. Finally, you can “comment” by clicking on the speech bubble. This allows you to make notes as you go.

It doesn’t stop there though. Google doesn’t just remember your feedback on searches you have done but uses this information to predict your areas of interest. For example, if I do a search for “ajax” it will, in all probability, return results on Ajax the web programming technology. For someone else with no interest in web development but an interest in football it may return results on the Dutch football team.

The wider effect of this new personalised search is that as people start making use of it then what one person sees when they perform a search may not be what another person sees. In fact, after prolonged use it almost definitely won’t be. This means that the SEO companies who claim that they will get you top rankings on Google will no longer be able to measure how well your site is faring. They will be forced to revert to using numbers of visitors to a website as a measure of success instead, which, as any marketing person will tell you, is the only real measure anyway.

I want an ecommerce site. Maybe you don’t?

Taking a chance?I often get invited to quote for designing ecommerce sites or online stores and more often than not I actually decline the invitation. I don’t feel it’s morally right to invest my time and a customer’s money in something that is doomed to failure.

It’s not that people have bad ideas, it’s just that they don’t have a business plan. I think most of us know that most new businesses fail in their first year and online businesses are no different. All too often people see having a website as the answer when it’s only part of a larger process. I get the feeling that people still believe that they can spend money on a new website and then sit back and wait for the orders to come in.

Whilst having your own ecommerce site or online business is appealing it is a big initial investment for a new business and you should consider how many sales you’d need to cover the cost. If you can’t be sure that you can recover this cost within a reasonable timescale you shouldn’t take the risk.

There are other ways. I often advise people starting out on a new venture to start off selling through eBay. You pay a nominal amount to list your products and have to give eBay a percentage of your revenue but this is a lot cheaper and less risky than shelling out for a website. After a time, if you feel that there is a proven market and that you can make a profit then you can look at running your own site. Hopefully, if things have gone well, you’ll have a bit of money in the bank to invest too.

eMarketing Award Distinction :)

Chartered Institute of marketingThis summer I studied the Chartered Institute of Marketing (CIM)’s eMarketing Award. Last night I got my results in the post…

I’m proud to say that I achieved grade A distinctions in both my online examination and 4,000 word eMarketing report.

The course covers all aspects of electronic marketing.  I studied with Marketing Tom Media, a CIM approved centre based near Cardiff, and would certainly recommend both course and training provider to anyone interested in growing their business online.

Perhaps what is most satisfying is that the report which I wrote is not simply being filed away as an academic exercise but is actually being used as a strategy for a major organisation’s electronic marketing activities.

In addition to this I have taken on board many of the tactics and resources covered by the course and have successfully grown a number of websites. Since attending the course I have rebuilt this website and started using lots of online resources, my favourite being FeedBurner. My site now gets 3 to 4 times the traffic it had previously, ranks much higher in Google search listings and has brought in more enquiries, which is the real measure of its success.

The “Cheap Web Design” Market

cheap web designA look at what awaits “cheap web design” seekers.

I’ve been running my own web development business since 2004 and in that time I have noticed a few changes to this market. There’s far more competition now than there was a few years ago. If you do a Google search for “cheap web design“, “budget web design” or “affordable web design” then there are a lot of web pages out there with those page titles.

What I find curious is that the web design product or service being offered in this market and the pricing structures don’t seem to have moved on since 2004.

The vast majority of companies competing in this market still seem to be offering very basic static brochure sites. The process here is 1) the client sends text and images to the web designer, 2) the designer puts them in HTML pages, 3) repeat stages 1 and 2. This means that if the client needs to make a change to the website’s information – new products, price changes, news updates, etc. – he or she needs to go through the designer who probably charges a modest (if you’re lucky) fee for the work.

Much stranger than the product on offer though is the pricing structure. The majority of these seem to be sold as packages (design, hosting, email) based on the number of pages in the site. This makes no sense to me at all. It’s usual for all pages within a website to have a similar look and feel. They generally all use a common template which includes the header, footer and navigation menus along with any styles (fonts, colours, etc.) used throughout the site. Therefore, most of the web designer‘s work goes into creating this template. Once this is designed it makes little difference whether a website has 1 page or 100. It’s very curious then that so many of these companies offering “cheap web design” will offer, for example, a 4 page site for £150 but a 6 page site will set you back £350. That’s a £200 jump in price for what I’d estimate to be half an hour’s work. Cheap web design doesn’t have to mean a small website and a large website doesn’t have to cost the earth.

Chris Smith Web Development offers something different. I offer not static web pages but an installation of a content management system. This means that rather than having to come back to me to make changes to your pages you can simply log in and do it yourself, whenever and wherever you want to. No delays and no additional fees. The pricing is based on the template design so there’s no limit on how many pages you can have. All you have to do is log in, select the Write Page option, write your content, click on Publish and it’s there for the world to see, as many times as you like. You can go back and edit or delete pages, reorder them, change their titles whenever you want to.

Since 2004 I have moved on and have developed a better product. Static sites, charged for by the page, are no match for the flexibility and freedom offered by a content management system.

The Information Hungry Search Box

lionWe’re all used to the idea of search boxes on websites. The visitor types in a word or series of words which are then used to filter database results or web pages and return a list of matching results. It’s a quick and easy way of finding something without having to drill down through endless options.

From the web developer‘s point of view it’s a great tool which increases a website’s usability. From the web marketer‘s point of view it can do more.

By capturing the text typed into the search box the website owner can see what his/her visitors are searching for. This may be for existing products or it could be that they are searching for something not offered. Capturing and analysing this information can help have several benefits.

It can show where perhaps the wrong keywords are being used. It’s unwise to advertise the services of a “Heating Engineer” when everybody is searching for a “plumber”. Finding the right keywords allows you to change your text and tags and bring you closer to your potential customers.

It can help to shape a website’s navigation. If a particular area is of far greater interest than others it can be made more prominent on the site. You may even notice seasonal trends.

Where the search text is for products or services not offered by the website it brings the opportunity of developing the product/service range or working with partners to deliver these to the website visitor.

To effectively capture this kind of data you need to not only log the text eneterd into the search box but also the time, date and the user’s IP address. This additional information allows you to spot any duplicate results – there’s a big difference between one person searching for something ten times and ten people searching for something once. The date and time data allows you to see any seasonal trends or possible responses to any other marketing campaigns.

Even on a small website, which wouldn’t normally merit a search box, using this tool can provide you quickly and easily with details of what your website visitors want.