Should I use the keywords meta tags?

In case you are in a hurry, the short answer is No.

Google stopped using the keywords meta tags years ago, get people still seem to be trying to leverage these things to get their website “up the rankings”.

The reason Google stopped using them is people generally used them to try and get themselves up the ranking and play the game. They rarely provided much in the way of genuine info that Google couldn’t already get from analysing the data on the page.

Google does however use the Meta Description tag, often (if you have a good quality description) to populate their small excerpt you see on the google page.

So go and spend some time improving and updating the content of your site, but please don’t waste any time coming up with a list of keywords, it’s a waste of time.

South Africa – The dark horse of the Internet

With the World Cup coming up in 2010 South Africa has been getting quite a lot of press. Some people see South Africa as being behind the rest of the world in terms of infrastructure, technology, business etc. In some ways this is true, you only need to look at their roads to see there is much room for improvement. However, when it comes to business, in particular online business, my word does the rest of the world need to stand up and take note.

South Africa seems to have embraced the Internet culture and used it to great effect. You only need to follow South Africans on Twitter to see how excited people are about being a part of it all. There are constantly meet-ups (tweet-ups, as they are called) and dinner parties arranged for people who have formed a community from knowing each other online. This happens in other parts of the world too, but I am in the UK and I have not seen half as many over here.

If I look at products I use every day I find a lot are made in South Africa. I send SMS via the internet using BulkSMS… made in South Africa. My SearchStatus Firefox plugin which I have been using for years comes from Quirk eMarketing, a South African firm. There are a growing number of successful Internet sites that you may not know that come from South Africa. South Africa online presence seems to be growing faster than I can ever remember it doing so in the UK.

Almost every week people are tweeting that they are in seminars about media, marketing, the Internet in general. The shear number of these events just shown how positive they are about progress. South Africa has a TEDx function coming up. TEDx is a kind of miniature TED conference where very clever people speak about their specialised subject. These things are great and I really wish I could attend this one!

I have been following the changes online for a while now and all I can say is the enthusiasm is infectious! They have their own social network called Afrigator too. To look at it really is a polished production, but more than that if you look at 95% of all African blogs they have the Afrigator link stating “I am an African Blogger”. This is the crux of it to my mind, these people are PROUD to be a part of it all and they are excited for the future.

I can’t help feeling that certainly in the UK people feel the Internet has come as far as it can and has leveled out a bit. The excitement has died down and people have found other things to be enthusiastic about. If you can relate to that I implore you to start to follow a few South Africans on Twitter and see what they are up to. The enthusiasm displayed is something I just can’t help wanting to be involved with, and something that the UK for one could really learn from!

Twitter spam and #squarespacefail

There are not a lot of things on the internet that irritate me more than spam. I go to great lengths to configure my email server to weed out the spam and only deliver the emails I want to receive. I can do this because I have control over the email server and the associated anti-spam systems.

Recently I have noticed a sharp rise in twitter spam. Squarespace, a blog (amongst other things) hosting company in the states recently announced they were to give away 30 new iPhones to people who included #squarespace in their tweets. This took off like wikd fire and at one point they were generating 170 mentions PER MINUTE! Well worth it from their point of view.

Unfortunately this campaign resulted in innocent bystanders getting flooded with tweets by desperate, greedy twitterers trying to get a free iPhone at the expense of pissing off the people who are following them.

My guess is in the next month or two we will see the major players in the twitter game producing 3rd party products to filter the spam from twitter. Seesmic Desktop and Tweetdeck would be where my money goes. Twitter is manic enough once you get enough people in your follow list, without having half of them generating veritable white noise.

I guess this was inevitable really. Every service that comes about (mass mail, email, sms etc) gets abused, and someone always fights back against it. It is just a bit sad that a form of communication which started out so simple will soon require plugins just to filter the wheat from the chaff.

There are two things I have learned from this. Firstly, that while this constant spamming is inevitable, where people get irritated there is usually a solution around the corner. Secondly, Squarespace will not be getting any of my money, ever.

Twitter as a marketing tool

Before you make a dash for the “back” button, bear with me. I promise this is not another attempt to jump on the “twitter as a marketing tool” bandwagon.

The Internet seems to be on fire with people either marketing themselves on twitter, trying to find out how to market themselves on twitter, or trying to find others to listen to their (usually expensive) method of marketing themselves on twitter.

Personally I am getting fed up of it. I see people day in day out trying to use twitter to get something for nothing. They rapidly get as many followers as possible and then start bleeting about their blog posts, their company, or their products. Enough already!

I liken it to some idiot standing in the town centre shouting at the top of his voice how fantastic his skills are in whatever field he works in. Do you think people would listen. Hell no, most people would cross the road to avoid such an imbecile.

So why do people keep doing it? Because the don’t understand. They see it as a captive audience who they can dish out their message to. The trouble with captive audiences is they put up defenses. When approached by someone in the street with a sign-up form, most people are armed with the “no” response even before they make contact. Sound familiar?

What most people miss is the opportunity to gain respect, take part, make friends and most importantly to help others. I say most importantly because firstly it gives you that warm feeling inside, knowing that you have helped another individual, and secondly because human nature dictates (for most of us) that if someone helps us, we want to help them in return. So, answer questions when you get chance (yes, even the daft ones!) and provide information when you have it. Before long your reputation will grow and then you will earn the right to be listened to.

This does not mean said person that you helped will be reaching for their wallet and looking for the “buy it now” button. What it does mean is that this person will listen to your message with an open mind, and have more propensity to see what you say in a positive light. From that basis you can open communication.

So, if you see emails/tweets/blog post offering “get rich quick” schemes, or “get 10k followers on 1 day” schemes, please do me a favour (and yourself) and block them/delete them/get as far away from them as possible. All they do is clutter up what is actually a very lively and friendly social network.

If you are looking for a moral to this blog post (should blog posts have morals… dunno?) then it would simply be “treat others as you would like them to treat you”. Twitter is great for that!

Kontera affiliate review

konteralogoI decided a while back that I was going to use this blog as a springboard to try out new technologies and to write about them. I have tried a few and am in the process of experimenting with several others, but I have come to the end of the line with Kontera Affiliates and would like to share my experience.

As you can probably see I do have a small amount of monetization on this blog. Nothing too in your face or things that impede the user experience, but just a small amount which generates the odd click every now and again and puts a few pennies in the pot.

I have other sites that use heavier monetization strategies, but for the purpose of this blog I deliberately kept it light.

In August 2008 I implemented Kontera Affiliate links onto my blog. Kontera scans your content and links certain words in your content to adverts. As well as linking to the advert it also pops up a small advert when you roll over the word. To be honest the implementation is not too bad, although I am still unsure about the popups.

The problem I found is two fold. One, the earnings per click is very very low, in fact I would say lower than I have seen on any other network. The second issue is Kontera seems to have a very weird way of linking things. I would mention something about server speed or similar and it would link to Sun Microsystems. I can assure you most people looking at this blog will not be in the market for direct-purchasing a Sun server!

So, the failings are two fold and for this reason I have pulled the Kontera implementation before I even reached the minimum earnings for withdrawing the cash.

I don’t mind earnings being small, my focus is (and always will be) improving the content, earnings are just a bonus. What I do object to is diluting the quality of the blog by showing visitors adverts they have no interest in and have no relevance to their interests.

I will replace Kontera shortly and see how that goes.

If any of you have experienced Kontera, positively or negatively, I would be interested to hear your experiences.

Be nice, it costs nothing

Can you put a price on being nice? The chances are you already have. When you go to a restaurant, do you sometimes tip a little bit more if the serving staff were extra nice/professional/helpful? When you shop somewhere and the assistants are nice (not pushy) and give good advice, you go back next time, right?

Although you cant always equate these experiences to exact amounts, it is easy to see the value in being “nice”.

Of course, sitting here with my coffee it is easy to say these things, and reading them you may well agree, but out in the real world, when we are running at a million miles an hour, it is not always quite so obvious.

We’ve all been there, trying to do 5 things at once, only to get an email or take a phone-call from a customer (or potential customer) with a question. That’s when we need to remember the value of being nice.

In actual fact, the value of being nice far outstrips the cost of being nice. If you go out of your way to be helpful the customer will remember it. Whether you reap the benefit of this now or later, either way it will be remembered.

The same can be applied if you are not so helpful, always remember that.

The actual cost of being helpful is zero, or close to it. If you can greet every request, every phonecall and every email in the same positive manner it really does not cost you anything, but the rewards can be immense!

So next time the phone rings or you hear the chime of a new mail arriving, remember the value of being nice, it’s worth it, I promise!

How to compete – Lesson 3 : The personal touch

This lesson follows on from “be different” and in some ways is the same point, but I think this one deserves it’s own post because it is very pertinent to those likely to be reading this blog.

It may sound obvious but one reason some people prefer to deal with smaller organisations, or individuals, is the fact that they can get some personal attention, and they can feel important.

Large corporations can seem cold, and when you call up you will probably never speak to the same person twice. For a demonstration of this, call up your telecoms provider a few times and see if you speak to the same person.

Be a good little fish

Sometimes being a small fish in a big pond can seem daunting, but use it in the right way and you will find in many ways it can be a significant advantage. i have dealt with clients who are so impressed with the level of service and communication that what started out as a small job rapidly grew into more business, simply because I treated them personally, communicated effectively (and often!) and was transparent in the whole design process.

Call back!

I cannot stress this enough. If you promise to call a client at a specific date or time, DO IT! This may sound so obvious but it is amazing how often this does not happen. Large corporations are worse at it than small ones, I must say. What I will say is if you keep your promises you “may” have a customer for life, but if you fail to keep your promise you may not keep them til next week!

Follow up

This is one aspect that is often overlooked, and is something that can be very effective. Maybe it is because a lot of us designers come from design backgrounds as opposed to sales backgrounds. We prefer to get stuck in, producing products, designs etc.

If you speak to a successful sales person they will have a big list of clients. When they have a gap in their day they will be on the phone, checking in with their customers, keeping at the forefront of their mind. This is oh so easy to do, not necessarily by phone, but certainly by email. Even if you don’t get more business from it, it will no doubt be appreciated and make the customer feel important.

It’s not rocket science

This is probably one of the easiest posts to apply to your work. It is pretty much ALL common sense. Maybe you are doing it all already, maybe you can improve.

The overriding message here, I suppose, is make your customers like you. If your customers like you and respect you then guess what?… They will talk about you and recommend you. You will have heard it time and time again but personal recommendation is the best sort of business you can get. It is easy to achieve if you play your cards right and follow some simple rules, but is often overlooked.

How to compete – Lesson 2 : Be different

If you want to compete in the online industry you will already know there is an enormous amount of competition. You can go head to head with the big hitters if you like, but you will always be going uphill. One advantage the smaller players have in this industry is versatility, the ability to change quickly without all the corporate red-tape restrictions. The ability to be different!

There are barriers to being different, like there are in many areas, but most of it is in your imagination. It is easy to doubt the wisdom of being different, and to think “if it was worth being different then everyone would be doing it”, but in actual fact you will find people tend to act a bit like sheep, following each other and doing the same thing. The ones that branch out and find a niche often do very well.

This may sound easy, but how do you go about it? Well firstly it is a case of either spotting a gap in the market, a need for a service that is not provided, or generating a gap in the market, providing a product and then convincing people they need it.  The first one is slightly easier to do, but the second one is more exciting!

One way to spot a gap in the market is to look at a good example of the service (or product) you wish to compete with. No matter how good it is, if you think hard enough you will no doubt be able to spot areas in which it could improve. If you can spot several of these and come up with how to improve upon it then you have taken the first step to spotting a gap in the market.

Example – a car wash

Car washes have been around for many years. They provide a fairly simple service of cleaning the outside of your car. You would think this had been done to death, or had it?

I used to take my car to carwashes every few weeks. The car came out quite clean but it always used to worry me what would happen if the rotating brushes caught a bit of grit. It never happened to me, but I have heard some horror stories.

A few years ago we saw brushless carwashes springing up. Now admittedly these wouldn’t clean a filthy car as well as a brush, but they take the fear out of the experience and that is enough to convince some to take their car there instead.

This is a classic example of spotting a problem that doesn’t have a solution, and providing a similar, yet different, alternative.

If the same person who came up with this idea had decided to compete with the same equipment I am sure they would have failed, or at least not succeeded to the extent they did.

Vive la Différence!

Whether you are starting out in business or looking to grow, consider your market and consider your options. Sometimes it is far less effort to step around the giant than to fight it head on.

Have a think about opportunities in the market. What do people struggle with? What do YOU struggle with? If you can answer these questions then you may be able to spot YOUR gap in the market!

Remember, some of the best inventions and products in t he world have come from people not following the herd.

Comment your way to the top

I have been chatting to various people about various marketing strategies over the past few weeks, as well as trying out Entrecard. My findings have been very interesting. The debate has largely been about whether different methods bring in visitors, and if those visitors are “valuable”.

Trying to get your head around marketing strategy can be really confusing. I find the easiest thing to do is consider yourself to be the “visitor”.

Do you consider yourself to be valuable? Personally I do think my visit is valuable. I don’t necessarily click on the adverts on someone’s blog, but I will read the posts, the comments, and I generally leave a comment along the way, providing I found the article interesting and have something useful to say.

Commenting as a strategy

Of course, when you leave a comment it also links back to your site. Some sites use no-follow and some do not, so in search engine terms the link may or may not be useful. For the purposes of this article we are talking about “useful” in human terms, not the world according to Google.

Looking at people blogs it is quite clear some people are using commenting as a marketing strategy. The same people crop up blog after blog, seemingly on a quest to get that “first!” comment below a post, as if that will magically get extra clicks to their site.

On a personal level I don’t think I have ever clicked these. I quite often scan down the comments and where I see someone making well informed (or just generally witty) comments I do click through to their site. In terms of a marketing strategy I am not so sure, but every little helps, SO LONG AS YOUR COMMENTS ARE USEFUL.

The danger with all these sort of things is the minority spoil it for the rest of us. If you get a few of these “spammers” (for want of a better word) trying to compete for the “first!” comment then it does dilute the quality a bit. Fortunately this blog has not been affected (so far) by this, although I know a few that have.

I must admit I do make an effort to comment wherever I go. I think it is polite. If someone hands you a book they have written and then you hand it back, it is polite to comment on what you think of it, especially if they have not charged you for the privilege of reading it. Blogs are the same. If someone has taken the time to write an article I want to let them know what I think of it.

Go forth and comment!

Some people seem afraid of commenting on blog posts. Please do not be afraid, as someone who spends quite a bit of time writing articles I can definitely say that all comments are welcome (providing they are constructive). If there are aspects that I write about that you think are poor, could be done better etc, I want to know! I aim to improve my articles as time goes on, and the comments I receive (good and bad) help me to do this. If it is determining what I could improve on, or just find out what topics people like to read more of, comments are what make it worthwhile.

How to compete – Lesson 1 : Don’t under-sell yourself

It is very easy, especially when embarking on a new business, to undersell your services. Whether it is rear of not getting the “win”, or lack of confidence in your ability or value in your product, it is very easy to pitch too low, to undersell yourself and ultimately to de-value your product or service.

Valuing a product, especially a non-tangible product such as web or graphic design, is a difficult task. If you are new to the business or just starting out on your own it can be a daunting one. You are sat there with no clients, trying, hoping, praying for your first contract. It is all too easy to take “doing whatever it takes” a little too far and lowering your price just to win the deal.

That’s not to say that you don’t need to compromise at all in the beginning. Many a company has fallen by the wayside by being over-confident in their ability, and more importantly in their potential to sell. When you don’t have the reputation behind you and the large client base of the large firms you need something different, something that separates you from the big boys, but in a good way. Just try not to make “price” the difference.

You will no doubt be well aware of the saying “you get what you pay for”. It is a well known and long established saying, and that didn’t happen by accident. As much as people don’t want to pay over the odds, they will also be wary of people charging too little. It is a balancing act, and one that needs careful consideration.

If you have a competitor who is charging less than you, try to work out why. Where do they save over the costs you have? Are they an economy of scale? Do they cut corners? Are they using sub-standard materials, or heaven-forbid are you charging too much? Be honest about all of this and have confidence in your product.

If there are reasons why they are charging less and you can identify them, then that is half the battle. While there are customers happy to save a few bucks, there are also customers who are focused on quality. In the long run customers will not thank a supplier for a lower price at the expense of quality. In time you will speak to potential customers and you WILL find many who have had bad experiences from people who in hindsight seemed “too cheap”.

The key to all of this is have confidence in your product, know your market, set a price you believe in and stick to it. Lack of belief in these things is often the reason people under-sell themselves.

People will pay for good products and good service, but before you can convince them you must convince yourself in the value of your product.