Interesting times for QR codes?

QR codes (2D barcodes) have been front of mind for me recently, partly for the wrong reasons:

Malicious QR Codes, QR Codes that might unleash some malware on your phone, parroted by many outlets, including this piece by TechCrunch while EConsultancy wonders whether the link with malware could damage perceptions of QR Codes amongst consumers, pointing out that two thirds of consumers don’t know what they are anyway.

For balance here’s QR code booster Eismann O’Reilly’s reality check on the panic.

Then there was this opinion piece from Sean X Cummings, with more in the ‘why QR Codes Must Die’ vein (Google the phrase, plenty to read!). The best point from it being:

“People will not adopt a technical solution that serves to replace a manual task, if that solution is less efficient than the manual task it replaces.”

I’ve kvetched before on this blog about dumb QR codes that only take you to a site’s homepage too.

On the other hand, I saw an in-the-flesh example of QR codes done right. Here’s an ad (there are several ‘shelves’ on other walls too) from a metro station in Prague. Metro QR Codes are going after the drugstore category (a departure from their usual consumer durables focus) with this take on drugstore shelves. Scan the code, go to the product page on a mobile optimised site (helps that there’s at least 2G signal down at platform level of the metro). They’re offering free next day delivery too, to remove that obstacle. Of course a short URL would probably work just as well as the QR code.

For more on some of the latest retail developments, including a few using QR codes in the UK, read this from Neville Hobson.

Beware False Link Flattery

If you run a blog, you may have noticed a rash of ‘trackbacks’ or ‘pingbacks’ recently. These are articles on other blogs or websites that link to your posts. When you follow the link to the site linking to you, you may find that your link doesn’t appear within the body of the article at all. In fact you can’t even find it on the page.

If you look closely, you may find a ‘Mouse here for Related Links’, as pictured. Your link is hidden under there. A process, likely automated, has found your post, amongst several others, and is linking to it, in the hope that you will Approve the Pingback and in so doing, create a link from your article to theirs. Of course the link on your article is likely to appear visibly on the page to readers and without a rel=nofollow tag (links like this don’t pass ‘google juice’.

It’s a trap!

Venus Fly TrapThese hidden related links are discounted by search engines because of the rel=nofollow and almost certainly ignored by humans, because they’re not easily found on the page. Don’t fall into the trap of approving any trackbacks or pingbacks without first checking out whether you are being linked to in a meaningful way rather than a spammy attempt like this to dupe you into building someone else’s backlink profile for them. Until spam prevention filters designed to weed out spammy comments (such as Akismet) can also detect things like this, keep your eyes open!

Image Credit: Venus Fly Trap image by BotheredByBees, via Creative Commons on Flickr.

Are price comparison sites still relevant?

Whilst researching the relative costs and market share of UK price comparison websites for a client I used Google Trends for Websites (log in to your Google account to get actual numbers on the Y axis) to compare some of the big players.

The graph below tells a sorry tale. Even before March’s first Panda update, squarely aimed at aggregators, scrapers and middlemen, Google clearly had the long knives out for price comparison sites, demoting them in the search results, ousting them in place of their own Google Products/Shopping results.

Price Comparison Sites Google Trends Chart

If these numbers are to be believed, then the traffic to price comparison sites has dropped off a cliff. Whether price comparison websites are relevant or not depends on how much you’re paying per click (the usual way you’re charged for traffic from such site) and what your conversion rate is. If you’re still making money and it’s worth the effort of setting up and managing product feeds, paying the invoices and monitoring whether the traffic you do get is worth it, then yes. If you were looking at being listed on a price comparison site as a way to buy a boatload of traffic, then you may need to look elsewhere. And it’s no surprise that the elsewhere in question is Google’s own Adwords program.

Dear Facebook…

Facebook ConferenceQuit messing with the user experience and go after Google already!

Seriously, is this the best you’ve got?

You hold your annual conference, just a day or so after Google throws open the doors on Google+, aimed square at you, and all you fire back with are some changes to the news feed, a Twitter inspired subscribe feature, music sharing stuff, convincing some media sites to allow more of their content to appear within your walls, and a gaming platform update?

Man up and pick a real fight

In Q1 of 2011 Google generated $2.43 billion of revenue from their Adsense program, from which they paid $1.7 billion to Adsense publishers. Annualised, their profit on their Adsense business is nearly $3 billion. Facebook’s estimated ad revenue for the whole of 2011 is $3.8 billion. Getting a piece of that content-partner action could make a big difference to those numbers.

You know why Google are launching things left and right in a bid to create their own mass-adopted social network? It’s because they’re scared of Facebook, scared of the time people spend there, scared of how much Facebook knows about their users. They would LOVE to know everyone’s age and hometown and marital status. You know why they’d love to know it? So they can advertise to them. Google knows this is coming and that’s why we have Google+.

Instead of futzing around with the user experience, Facebook should go head to head with Google’s Adsense programme and show ads on partner sites, splitting revenue 70/30 (as it appears Google does, in general) with publishers. You can leave the fundamental Facebook experience alone for a while and nobody would complain – it’s only when you change things that people are up in arms about it. The one thing Facebook do surprisingly well is the advertising interface – it’s clean, straightforward and easy enough for small businesses to use self-serve to create ads. Just add a ‘content partners’ checkbox (but do make it opt-in, don’t want to appear ‘evil’ and opt people in without their consent – I’m looking at you, big G). Later you can add some refinements allowing advertisers to pick and choose the site their ads appear on but right now it’s not important.

People realise that Facebook know what websites they’re on – we’ve all seen the Like buttons that tell us how many of our friends like something, or the recent items liked and shared on Mashable or TechCrunch by our friends. At this point will anyone really care that the ads seem uncannily well targeted? Hey, Google are going for this exact thing with their behavioural targeting in Adwords.

Go all in

Don’t go at this half-assed like you did with Facebook Places and Deals, a nightmare to administer as a business owner, especially with multiple locations. Go for this with all your might. This is where you get to take Google down a peg or two, by taking the fight to them.

Maybe you will

Ben Parr of Mashable ‘has seen the future’ and apparently it changes everything. Maybe Facebook will step into Google’s territory or maybe it’s all going to be ’emotional’. Here’s hoping there’s more to it than that because right now everything Facebook has put out is weak sauce compared to the rocks Google has been slinging.


Image credit: Thos003 via Creative Commons on Flickr

Ask for the review

Customer Review Form on WebsiteI recently added a ‘review reminder email’ feature to a customer’s website. The website has had customer reviews functionality for years and I’ve only recently taken over responsibility for it.

A single email is sent out two weeks after purchase, summarising all the products a customer ordered that day, with a direct link to each product.

In this highly unscientific test, the volume of reviews submitted before was on average 1 per day, now it’s between 3 and 4.

Given the SEO power of User Generated Content, the business value of asking for reviews, aside from the social proof and useful additional product info that customer reviews generate.

But what if the reviews are negative?

Negative reviews help too (h/t @aeonmcn); they add further credibility and help potential purchasers make informed decisions – what’s a minus for some may be a plus for others.

Learning from Others’ Mistakes

Prague Food Festival took place for the 4th time back in late May of this year. It had been in a number of different locations over the four years and this year it was in arguably the most prestigious – the Royal Gardens of Prague Castle.

The weather co-operated and the sun shone throughout. Many of the city’s top restaurants were there serving tasting-size portions of their best dishes.

All sounds great apart from the fact that the organisers made some basic mistakes that led to much disgruntlement amongst visitors to the festival. As opposed to previous years there was very little in the way of ‘built-in’ furniture for sitting on at the venue. The grass was off limits even for walking on and there were nowhere near enough tables. Nobody thought to co-ordinate with the restaurants leading to lots of places serving very similar dishes. When the whole point of such an event is to try out lots of different things this was a disappointment for many. Other organisational mis-steps were cited, such as requiring advance ticket purchasers to go to one specific entrance, where the queue was longer than for people purchasing on the day, and a lack of toilet facilities. These concerns were all posted on the PFF’s Facebook page (some of them were removed to, a whole other level of fail) along with annoyance at how the prices for dishes had become excessive – though they were little changed from the previous year. The overriding criticism was that the organisers of PFF were only in it for the money and didn’t care about the visitor experience.

Marquees at Prague Food FestivalThis weekend saw the first FoodParade – an alternative to Prague Food Festival, featuring some of the same restaurants as PFF and whole load more from outside the central square mile of the city – up and coming places, or places with strong followings of locals but with a desire to expand their customer base. The festival was located out of the centre of the city but still just as accessible by public transport. As a visitor to both the difference can only be described as like night & day:

  • The odd PFF practice of giving you a set of chromed plastic knife & fork when you enter, that you are supposed to re-use (or find somewhere to wash, incidentally not very easy), gave way to an altogether more sensible ‘metal cutlery available at every stand’ approach.
  • The festival currency, “chefs”, had a conversion rate of 1 chef to 10 crowns, which was printed on each ‘chef’ whereas at PFF, each “grand” was worth 25kc, which you had to remember. A little touch that was aimed to be more transparent about how much dishes were costing you.
  • Tables were conspicuous by their abundance not absence.
  • All the restaurants and food retailers were treating the event as they should – a marketing exercise rather than trying to make out like bandits. Some even gave coupons for money off when you go to their restaurant.
  • The weather forecast on Sunday predicted rain. In anticipation of this the organisers put up marquees and posted pictures of the marquees to their Facebook page so people could visit without worrying about getting rained on while they ate.
  • FoodParade’s Facebook page is full of enthusiastic compliments from visitors, already looking forward to next years.

Without a doubt FoodParade’s organisers saw what was wrong with PFF and have put together an enjoyable event that stands as a true festival of food.

The marketing takeaway?

Keep an eye on what your competitors’ customers are saying in social channels:

  • Watch their Facebook pages (you can subscribe to a Page’s updates as an RSS feed)
  • Create saved Twitter searches
  • Set up Google alerts for their company names or product names + words like review, complaint, feedback.

And of course you’ve already got this kind of monitoring set up for your own brands and products haven’t you?

Credit where its due

How to attribute credit to your brand building and offline efforts in Google Analytics

logosAn often mocked excuse given by non direct response advertising media and its proponents when charged that such advertising is wasteful is that the money spent on the ads ‘builds brand awareness’ or ‘improves brand recall’.

Did you know it’s actually pretty easy to measure that online? Instead of the credit going to ‘search’, where it’s far too easy to think that the traffic is down to online efforts such as SEO, you can measure the traffic coming from branded searches and direct web address type-ins.

What you need to do is set up an Advanced Segment, called “Brand Traffic” in Google Analytics that matches:

All organic traffic where the keyword is one of your brand terms

This is all the people typing in your brand search terms into Google, Bing et al. This is called a ‘navigational’ search. Don’t forget to include a keyword that matches your domain name, you’d be surprised by how many people get the location bar and the search box confused.


All direct traffic

This is everyone who comes to your website from a bookmark, a link in email from a friend (unless they were using webmail client, then the referrer will be the domain that they were browsing on. If you want to get more specific about separating that traffic out, then add some more lines to your filter) or a link clicked from a twitter client rather than the twitter web site, when the link doesn’t have any utm parameters on it to reclassify the traffic.

There’s no such thing as 100% accuracy

One of the first things to accept about web analytics is that there’s no such thing as 100% accuracy. There will always be cases when things aren’t tracked properly but we’re not really looking for exact numbers, just a trend.

Watch your branded traffic trend

When you’re done with setting up this advanced segment you’ll have an idea of the change in time of your web traffic that is the result of your brand building efforts outside of search. Make sure you use the Annotations feature of Analytics to mark any big offline efforts you’re involved in.


Image credit: All my life’s logos by captcreate via Creative Commons on Flickr.

Testing times with Internet Explorer

I’ve had my web developer hat on a little too often of late and been suffering from one of the problems most developers loathe – testing how a site looks in earlier versions of Internet Explorer. (Yes, I know IE6 must die) but when a client’s IT department won’t let them upgrade because they have some proprietary system that only works in IE6, there’s not much I can do about it – they need to see what their site looks like on their own machines (and they’re not allowed to install any other browser so they can’t test that either).

I’m a Mac user too, so I use Parallels Desktop for Mac to run Windows 7, which is great for testing sites in Windows versions of Chrome and Firefox, as well as the version of IE that’s installed on the system (I just upgraded to IE9, it’s really much better than previous ones). The problem comes with testing in earlier versions – you can usually only have one version installed at a time.

For simple needs

If your needs are just seeing a screengrab of how a page renders, then you can use the NetRenderer web service to see how things look in IE all the way back to 5.5.

For total fidelity

You can download various versions of Windows designed for testing web app/web site compatibility with different versions of IE, from 6 to 9 from Microsoft in VHD (Virtual PC Hard Disk) format. Through the use of some command line jiggery pokery, and the Parallels Disk Tool, it’s possible to transform that into a bootable Parallels Disk Image. The downside to this process is that these disk images expire and you need to go through the process every few months.

A happy medium

The best solution I’ve found is IETester from DebugBar, makers of a code debugging solution for IE. It’s in alpha, but apart from the occasional quirk and crash (check their known problems list to see if there’s anything there that affects you), I’ve found it to be by far the best way to run side-by-side comparisons in multiple versions of Internet Explorer on my Mac, from IE 5.5 right through to IE 10 Preview. It’s free too – though you can make a donation for their efforts.

Making your fans cry, in a good way

Carl JenkinsonVideo can be a powerful medium. Someone at Arsenal TV hit the nail on the head this week with this interview with new signing, Carl Jenkinson. Arsenal signing a barely-heard-of teen is hardly news, or surprising, but what makes Carl Jenkinson different is that he’s also a lifelong Arsenal fan. He almost tears up as he talks about walking out onto the pitch as an Arsenal player, and as he does that every Arsenal fan is imagining how they’d feel doing that and possibly shedding a tiny tear themselves. It’s definitely one way to get people rooting for him – he’s one of us.

The takeaway for businesses? Just that genuine emotions are hard to beat when it comes to getting people onside.

Full disclosure: I’m an Arsenal fan.

Five Useful Free iPhone apps for Local Business Marketers

iPhone in handThe iPhone is a handy little business too for business local marketing, here are just a few apps, all free, that can help you create content, spy on your competition and keep up with what your customers are saying about you.

Share 360 degree views with Photosynth

Creating 360 degree interactive panoramas used to cost lots of money and take lots of time. The only places you’d see them would be fancy hotel and real estate websites. Armed with just an iPhone 4 and a copy of Microsoft’s (yes, I was surprised too!) free Photosynth app, and a Windows Live account (Hotmail, etc) you can shoot, upload and embed on your own website a very neat 360 panorama. The embedding part requires you to log in to with your Windows Live account to get the embed code. Any business that has a physical location they want to show off has no excuse now!

Keep your finger on the pulse with Twitter

For instantly updating your Twitter stream, posting news and specials, keeping up with what your followers are doing, or checking up on your saved searches. Make sure to turn on notifications for mentions and replies to maintain a decent response time to enquiries too.

Spy on the competition with Foursquare

Foursquare might not have hit the mainstream in terms of user numbers, but those that do use it are very much the vocal minority. As a business owner you should claim your listing, make sure your business is correctly classified and run specials anyway as the app draws attention to anywhere offering a special. So why would you want to use the iPhone app itself, when you really shouldn’t be checking in to your own location? A few reasons:

1. Keeping track of any new comments by Foursquare users (especially complaints!) at your own business but also your competitors.
2. Finding out who your (Foursquare using) regulars are, and maybe following/friending them
3. Keeping tabs on any specials your competitors are offering
4. Seeing where’s hot nearby right now (places with lots of people checking in)
5. Posting photos of your location – you can upload photos directly from the iPhone app, and places with photos get more attention

Update your Facebook page on the go

Whilst the Facebook app doesn’t make it easy to update your Facebook Page status on the go (a menu item for ‘Your Pages’ would be nice!) all you need to do is search for your Page then when you’ve found it, add it to Favorites, then it will appear on the second page of your Facebook app’s menu. Once there, getting into it is simple. Anything you post via the Facebook app will get attributed to the Page, not your personal account.

Create video slideshows with Animoto

With the Animoto app and a free Animoto account you can create 30 second videos by picking photos from your iPhone Photo Library, choosing a soundtrack from Animoto’s categorised collections then share that video on Facebook, Twitter, by email and more. Paid accounts are available that lift the time restriction and for a per video fee you can create higher resolution versions. Creating a video slideshow like this is a fun thing to do when you have a special event. You can get something up on Facebook within minutes.


image credit: John Karakatsanis via Creative Commons on Flickr.