Comments and observations on business, marketing and life: by Martin Donohoe

Category: web marketing (Page 1 of 4)

Web design and local media sites

The design, functionality and commercial success of newspapers in the online space is a subject dear to my heart! I’m particularly interested in the dynamics of local media and the sometimes painful transition that local papers are undertaking as they work to find a viable way of profitably developing their online presence.

I saw two articles today that have different takes on this subject:

Redesigning And Re-Thinking The News is a thoughtful look at the recent redesign of the NYT site and raises some valid criticisms of the newspaper industry’s approach to putting content on-line.

The Brads

Brad Colbow - why your newspaper is dying

This is Why Your Newspaper is Dying raises some valid points, but is (in my opinion) mis-titled should really be “This is how to improve newspaper web design”.

Both articles (in common with many other articles on the topic) are quick to criticise the advertising that inevitably accompanies newspaper site pages – from a design or aesthetic perspective this is valid. But, given that the successful implementation of paywalls is at best, a long time away, how else should a local media organisation be financing itself?

That isn’t to say that there aren’t different solutions that perhaps aren’t widely adopted yet or are still being developed, but right now I’d say advertising is a critical component for local media sites.



Disaster recovery – careless computing

Having had that sinking feeling when my laptop declared ‘no os found’ (this means windows has departed your hard drive), I’m remarkably happy to be back online and with more or less all of my data intact. A quick trip to pc world for a new hard drive and external caddy (to be able to access my old drive) together with a midnight download of Acronis Disk Director 11 meant that I was able to rebuild my system quickly and without too much fuss.

Yes, I had backups available to me but in this case I was actually able to retrieve and repair the original hard drive meaning I suffered very little data loss. I’ve taken the opportunity to clear a couple of years of accumulated rubbish off my machine and it runs that much faster for it. Key learning outcomes from this event? Well, point 1, keep doing (very) regular backups and point 2, make use of “the cloud” but don’t rely entirely on it – which is where my normal theme of online marketing comes in.

Over the past year or so, it seems that one cannot move for references to ‘cloud computing’ which in essence is data stored on remote server groups that are 3rd party owned. So far, so good. But, and this is a substantial but, what happens to your data when it is remotely stored?

  • From a business perspective is it compliant with all the rules and regulations that you should know about.
  • Who can access that data?
  • If there’s a problem with your access to the data, how easy is it to work around? Really?

All of these issues were at the forefront of my mind today when I read this article. Sure, we all use cloud computing in some respects: flickr, google tools, facebook, to name but a few. But, when it comes down to it, you cannot beat having physical access to your data (or at least knowing it’s on a dedicated server in a specific location).

Obviously, on a personal level it’s fairly easy to manage the data and make these decisions for your own pc. However, if your entire CRM database with a million customers is floating in the clouds – it raises some interesting questions. Questions that if the average online marketer is being honest, they probably haven’t ever stopped to consider.

Don’t surprise your customers – they won’t thank you for it.

I was a little perplexed today when after typing an address into my browser – I landed on a page entitled “BT Web Address Help” with some rather generic Yahoo advert links. My immediate thought was that my browser had been hijacked and that I was on some kind of dodgy listings site.Not the sort of feeling you want to give any of your customers I would argue.

However, after a little investigation, it turns out that BT has been making some unilateral changes for its broadband customers and has done a rather poor job of communicating with them. BT are redirecting your browser whenever you go to a web page that doesn’t exist, so in my case, I’d mistyped the URL I wanted and ended up on a BT page instead of my normal browser / google error page. I tried going to a dummy url to demonstrate what you get to see.

BT DNS hijackAlthough in itself, this is a fairly innocuous thing for BT to do (compared to say the Phorm debacle) it causes problems on a number of levels.

1) Customers don’t like sudden unexpected change – as my reaction shows. A quick search for “BT Web Address Help” shows that many people have concerns about unexpected changes!

2) BT have failed to communicate with their users – customers are paying for a service and expect to receive it on theirĀ  terms. Calling something a help feature doesn’t actually make it so. The only help the page offers is increasing Yahoo ad’s click through rates!

3) BT have made the service automatically opt-in and made the opt-out not that easy to find (bottom left of the page under preferences if you are looking for it). This flies in the face of good practice and smacks of ‘we’re a big company and we’ll do as we see fit’.

4) There are already lots of people complaining about this change across the web. There might be a lot more to follow. I can’t see any evidence of BT using social media to engage on this topic so they are jut generating bad press.

5) BT already made most of these mistakes by running the Phorm experiment and getting tons of bad coverage. Were any lessons learned?

So what does this have to do with general online marketing? Well, I think there are a few key points that we can draw out that apply to any business operating online:

1) Communicate changes clearly and well in advance to your customer base.

2) Try to avoid implementing changes that are blatantly just for the company’s benefit especially if they have the potential to generate negative coverage (as there is nothing in it for your customers).

3) Think very carefully before assuming ‘opt in’ as a default setting.

4) Monitor your brand and products online – be prepared to engage. Silence generally doesn’t do the trick!

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