Why the Case Study needs to die

princess and the frogThe case study as an element of marketing communications has outlived its usefulness. It’s one of those things that exists as a short-hand for ‘how xyz company benefited from using our product/service’. We’re used to case studies from text books we read at school or university. We’re drawn, to like moths to a flame, to use the term on websites because it has (fake) intellectual weight. It sounds impartial; ‘case’ as in ‘legal case’, ‘study’ as in ‘serious examination’.

Who are we kidding?
A case study on a company’s website is never going to be impartial and it probably isn’t even that exhaustive a study either.

So what do we call them?
How about ‘customer stories’ or ‘customer success stories’? Let’s face it, we’re never going to write about failures of our product or service to meet a need.

What makes a story?
The 5 Elements of a Story are well known, pick your explanation. I’m rather partial to the version that uses the medium of hiphop.

In short: Setting, Plot, Characters, Conflict, Theme

Instead of writing a bland case study these elements, and the fact that we’re calling it a story not a study obliges us to make it interesting and readable.

Who does this already?
Smart companies like MailChimp present their customer successes like this and you can find plenty of examples in business books. You know those business books that are hard to put down? Books like Guy Kawasaki‘s How to Drive the Competition Crazy, Seth Godin‘s Free Prize Inside, David Meerman Scott‘s New Rules of Marketing & PR and others (feel free to add your favourites in the comments below). In these books we hear about how a person overcame a problem, presented in a way that illustrates the writer’s point. These aren’t dry ‘case studies’, though they’re often referred to as such in reviews, perhaps because to call them stories might seem childish.

Further reading
For some detailed learning of why thinking in terms of storytelling, pick up a copy of Ann Handley and CC Chapman’s Content Rules. My Kindle app tells me the word story appears 100 times in the book, that’s how serious those guys are about storytelling.

Let’s remember why we’re doing this
We put content on our websites to be read, not to tick off an item on a to-do list and fill a hole in a sitemap. We owe it to our readers to be interesting, in return for their attention.


image credit: Frog King by freno via Creative Commons on Flickr

Case study – the sports bar – part three – summer update

Just a quick update on the website situation

Web traffic is holding steady (even though it’s off-season for their main sports).

Now number 2 result on Google.com (above the local 10-pack) for a search for “Sports Bar Prague”. Beating out sportsbar.cz

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Not performing as well on Google.cz (which Firefox defaults to when you’re in the Czech Republic) because there is no Czech version of the site. Though the Czech language version of the Facebook Fan Page that we set up does make a showing lower down the first page, compensating somewhat.

When clicking through to the Local Business Results, the fifth entry (E).

So what has brought this about:

  • The changes listed in part two of the case study
  • Google Local Business listing claimed
  • Facebook Fan Page
  • Twitter Bot sending out upcoming event tweets
  • Youtube video uploaded (thank you Animoto!)

Confession time, I employed a fair but not 100% repeatable trick of buying an expired domain name of a now closed competitor and have that link through (after a short delay, and showing an explanatory message) to The Pack’s website. That brings just 1 or 2 clicks day from the directory websites that are too lazy to remove it or note that it is now closed – no Google Juice in terms of pagerank was hijacked in the process – that had long drained away because the original site had been offline for months.

Next steps

  • Train staff on entering events in Excel and importing that to Google Calendar (currently a text file is edited on the server to populate the What’s On page)
  • Switch to WordPress blog platform – numerous reasons, but particularly: ability for the client to update their own image gallery, highlight upcoming events, implement a decent contact form, the availability of plugins to read Google Calendar
  • Switching to WordPress will allow the easy use of the translation plugin (as used on this blog to provide machine translations) meaning an automatic translation to Czech can be provided, enabling better results on Google.cz (which prioritises sites in Czech, unless you change the settings)
  • In-bar advertising of their facebook page
  • Encourage reviews on the sites that have their reviews aggregated into Google Local reviews (and Google itself)

Watch this space!

Case study – the sports bar – part two – website optimisation

Limited by the brief (and time and budget) to reworking the existing design, rather than replace with a WordPress driven site (my personal preference), below is a list of the basic SEO and general site changes I made.

  1. More meaningful title tags, meta descriptions and keywords
  2. Logo/header graphic turned back into a single image and named more explicitly (no longer img01.gif, img02.gif).
  3. Replaced Flash navigation with text links
  4. Homepage now contains the text that had previously been on the About page and a smaller image rather than just an image and no text.
  5. Renamed a couple of menu items to make more sense to users (Live Sports > What’s On, Events > Specials [the word for special offers in Czech is the same as the word for events, essentially this was a mistranslation])
  6. Changed from static html to php so we can use includes for header and footer information, making further edits easier
  7. Navigation inconsistencies (opening a new window for the food and drinks menu pages) have been corrected.
  8. Removed Flash audio player
  9. Switched Flash schedule player for a simple text file include, schedule now displays on the page, as text, and is searchable.
  10. Added a Google Map to the contact page – there was no map there previously.
  11. Google Analytics tracking code added for ease of statistics monitoring.

Based on the first few days of stats from Analytics we will be able to judge the efficacy of these changes. The initial keywords that are bringing in traffic are purely the name of the bar – serving to highlight that the site’s SEO was pretty poor. The Pagerank as of today is 2/10 and the site is not coming up in the first few pages of organic search results (SERPS). I will cover how this situation has changed in a month or so.

Case study – the sports bar – part one

team huddleOver the next few weeks I will be documenting the progress with this project.

The pre-match
A local sports bar, well appointed, with friendly attentive staff, serving good beer and food, with a website badly in need of a rework and an all-round ‘experience’ uplift as well.

The site is an SEO disaster area: the homepage contains no visible text. All navigation on the site is in Flash – just to get rollover and a sound effect. There’s a music player that loads up by default and makes the site a liability for someone to visit at work. The title tag says simply ‘The Pack’, the meta description is in Czech (the site was put together by a Czech web designer), the meta keywords don’t contain any references to the most popular events (English Premiership Football). The one link on the homepage that’s not done in Flash is to another company’s site. There’s no differentiation between the www. and without versions of the web address. All this combines to create a situation where the site doesn’t come up in the first 10 pages for a Google search for ‘Sports Bar Prague’ (though Google suggests ‘the pack sports bar prague’ as a related search). The content pages are a little better – there’s human and machine readable on most of them.

The ‘experience’ part of the study is all about lifting the quality of service at the same time as making sure that opportunities are not missed to improve ‘share of customer’.

The crowd
There are several distinct sets of visitor to this sports bar:

Tourists – in small or large groups, usually in Prague for a long weekend, can’t resist the opportunity to watch live football while drinking Czech beer. Owing to its proximity to Wenceslas Square and the guys paid to give out fliers or just pointing groups of lads in the right direction, there’s a fair amount of walk-in trade, as well as people that found the address online.

Expat locals – foreigners living in Prague, usually relatively well paid. This bar is a little pricier than the one further up the street (further away from Wenceslas Square) but it is better equipped and has better service so often groups of them will go here to watch live sports from their own country via satellite.

Native locals – Czechs don’t often go here to watch games – when there’s a match on that’s of ‘local’ interest it’ll be shown in any number of regular pubs, serving cheaper beer. The odd group however will come here to watch games not available on TV or seeking a change from the typical Czech fare served in other pubs.

The team-talk
Without spending too much time on redesigning the site, rectify the biggest SEO failure points, replace the Flash navigation and improve the usability for regular visitors, adding more information – a map for example. The key constituencies that the website needs to better serve are the expats and the tourists. The site needs to be easy for tourists to find and to do as much as possible to make sure that once they’ve found the site, this is the bar they go to. For expats the single most important page is the one listing the schedule for the week. Presently that schedule is updated by the non-web savvy bar manager – updating a text file on the ftp server which is displayed by a flash app.

Once the various issues with the website are resolved, giving a solid foundation to go out and create outposts I will move on to the more creative side of the project.

Photo credit: Bring back Buck