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Digital Marketing | Aqueous Digital

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The importance of local SEO

The Importance of Local SEO in 2017 and the Future

In today’s digital age, all businesses, no matter how small, need to have a website and an online marketing strategy.  As competition for the top spot on Google continues to grow, local SEO is becoming more and more important.

A whopping 64% of smartphone users use their phones to conduct local searches, and Google has responded to this by focusing more on location specific search results. When a location is typed into the keyword search, the 3 nearest listings are shown in a more detailed ‘3 pack’, ahead of other local businesses. Many people won’t go beyond those first 3, so if your business isn’t optimised for local SEO, you may be missing out on a massive opportunity to grow your customer base.

Here’s a look at the most important factors of local SEO in 2017 and how you can optimise your website for the future.

What Is Local SEO?

Local SEO allows you to concentrate on your niche market in a specific geographical area. It’s an essential part of digital marketing for businesses that benefit from local rather than national or global customers.

As online competition grows, local SEO can help you stand out from other business rivals in your area.

Mobile Technology

The majority of searches today are done from mobile devices such as tablets and smartphones as opposed to PCs. However, the growing popularity of wearables means that searches are becoming much more proximity based. People literally want to find a product or service that’s metres away, not miles away.

Google uses an account holder’s search history and location to provide the most specific results relevant to them.  So if you’re competing with a bigger, better-known national brand, you may outrank them if your location is nearer.

Online Directories

Being listed on reputable local business directories and reviews sites such as Yelp and TripAdvisor is one of the best ways of growing your online presence. Many small businesses are missing out on this opportunity, so being listed gives you a competitive edge that you can use to your advantage.

Ensure your company details (NAP) are accurate and there are no variations. Any discrepancy or difference in spelling could stop you from being listed all together.

Google My Business is not only free, but it also gives you the chance to feature in the big ‘3 pack’ if your website is optimised for local SEO.

Localised Content

Google’s aim to constantly improve user experience means that local and individualised searches are now a major priority.

Producing blogs and articles that are relevant to your location will help with your Google ranking. Localising your content will also create local networking opportunities and improve your exposure by covering topics, events etc. that people in the surrounding areas will be interested in.

As the internet becomes more accessible and more mobile than ever, the popularity of local search trends is only going to grow. By taking advantage of local SEO now, you’ll be one step ahead of the competition in the future.

Social media for SEO - Aqueous Digital discusses

Social media and why it should not be ignored

Social Media channels such as Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and Instagram have proven to be the most effective digital marketing tools for reaching out to customers and promoting your business. Yet there are still many small businesses that complain they don’t have the time or resources to manage their social media marketing.

Consistently producing and promoting quality content, analysing and using customer feedback to improve your business, and reaching out to potential prospects via social media channels is not easy. It’s something you need to keep on top of from day one. Yet it should be a priority.

Here are just a few of the benefits of social media and why it should not be ignored.

Brand Visibility

If you’ve spent time, money and effort creating a brand for your business, you need to get out there and share it. If you’re not visible, you don’t exist.

Social media channels give you direct contact with customers and prospects enabling you to reach out and share your brand’s voice and content, ensuring that your brand will be easily recognisable. A good social media presence establishes your professionalism, authority and credibility while helping to build trust in your name.

Valuable Feedback

Want to find out what people really think of your business?  Comments, likes and shares all provide valuable feedback that can help you improve your customer service. If you don’t read customer reactions, you’re missing out on an opportunity to fix problems you may have. Use negative feedback to see where you’re going wrong and prevent a problem escalating, while positive feedback can be used as testimonials that you can share with your followers to promote your brand.

Boost Your Rankings

Social media also plays an important part in your SEO strategy. A strong social media presence will help boost your rankings on Google. The more ‘real’ followers you have, and the more sharing that goes on, the higher you’ll rank in search engine listings.

Save Money

By investing in social media marketing, for example, paying someone to write, manage and publish on your social media channels, you’ll be saving a large amount of money on traditional marketing costs.

One positive comment shared on Facebook or multiple posts on all your social media accounts can have a far more positive impact than placing an ad. And it’s free!

Understand Your Target Audience

Social media is one of the quickest and easiest business communication tools to use. You can access your customers and prospects in real-time. Conversing, sharing ideas and getting valuable feedback immediately gives you a deeper understanding of your customer’s interests, wants and needs. It helps you fully understand your target audience so you can analyse the results and adapt your products and services to suit their needs in an ever-changing, fast-paced marketplace.

By using social media for your business you’ll be stretching your brand further and extending your business presence on a global scale. Ultimately, you’ll have the opportunity to grow your business by converting followers into customers.

To discuss your online needs, contact Aqueous Digital today.

 

Aqueous Digital discusses the closure of DMOZ

What does the closure of the DMOZ directory mean for SEO?

 

The SEO community was left to reminisce about the good ol’ days of the internet after the ancient relic that was the DMOZ directory closed its doors last month, but has the closure had any effect on SEO or rankings?

The AOL-owned DMOZ web directory disappeared from our browsers on March 17th 2017, leaving just a link to a static mirror of the site which can be found at www.dmoztools.net and the following message.

 

 

What was DMOZ?

For those that weren’t familiar with DMOZ.org, the website was an Open Directory Project that had been around since 1998 (under one name or another) and used human editors to organise websites rather than computers. The directory listed millions of websites that had all been added and categorised by thousands of volunteers.

When it started out in 1998 (the same year Google launched) its main competition was the Yahoo Directory.  Over the years Yahoo saw the benefit of machine-generated search results and gradually phased out their directory, until eventually closing it down in December 2014.

 

SEO and DMOZ

Then

For SEO, having your website listed on the DMOZ directory used to be a highly sought after prize.

This was during a time when the directory was very active, with new links constantly being added, reviewed and modified.  Before Google’s rise, DMOZ bought websites a lot of direct traffic and Google even had the directory copied as the Google Directory which they linked to on their homepage.

However as Google grew, DMOZ began to decrease in popularity and requests to be listed on the directory began to take a longer and longer time to process, until it became a near impossible feat.

 

Now

10 years ago or so having your link listed on DMOZ may have been the Holy Grail, but over more recent years the directory’s SEO value had significantly decreased as it has become less popular, relevant and current.

Machine-generated search results and Google’s growth have slowly but surely bought about the demise of the open directory.

Late last year both John Mueller and Gary Illyes from Google made negative comments about directory listings, suggesting that they now provide less SEO value than ever.

 

Will DMOZ’s closure effect rankings?

So far there has been no obvious reported effects on rankings from the closure of the mostly redundant DMOZ directory.

The only reminder to webmasters and SEO professionals will be the NOODP meta tags that have been used to instruct search engines like Google not to pull in descriptions from open directories like DMOZ.  If you have this tag in place on your website it will not have a negative effect, it will simply now be redundant.

 

Curlie?

Although many people in the SEO community may believe that it’s time to let open directories like DMOZ rest in peace, for those that have devoted years to the project it is proving hard to let go!

On the 31st March the DMOZ Facebook page posted a link to a website called https://curlie.org/ that contains a static page mirroring the late DMOZ directory and the defiant message ‘Humans still do it better.’

Jonathan Guy - Aqueous Digital

Aqueous Digital marks anniversary with £1m vision

We are always happy with a bit of good publicity and the following press release is a bit of a celebration for us. We turned 5 last week and to celebrate we thought it would be nice to look to the future and to our plans for expansion.

A digital agency is celebrating its fifth anniversary with record turnover and plans to triple in size over the next three years.

Aqueous Digital was established in June 2011 by Jonathan Guy, who will be a keynote speaker on search engine optimisation and digital marketing at the International Festival for Business in Liverpool.

The business, founded in June 2011, generated revenues of £300,000 in the year to October and aims to reach £1m by the end of 2019.

Alongside SEO and digital marketing services, Aqueous provides its clients with pay-per-click and reputation management.

Aqueous, which has Google Partner status, employs six staff and is based at The Heath Business & Technical Park in Runcorn.

Its nationwide client base ranges from professional services firms such as solicitors and accountants to hire companies, colleges, online retailers and IT support businesses.

Jonathan, who has more than 30 years’ experience of sales and marketing and previously spent over 20 years at Yell Group, said: “We have achieved steady and sustainable growth in our first five years and we are now looking to accelerate our expansion.

“The digital sector has seen massive growth and this is likely to continue.

“Over 50 per cent of searches in the UK are now on mobile devices, almost 20 per cent of searches on Android phones are by voice. This fundamentally changes the way we have to optimise websites to help our clients’ rankings.

“At Aqueous we are very confident that the future will continue to provide opportunities to deliver additional value for our customers.

“Digital is becoming more complicated by the day, but our packages take away the worry that businesspeople have in understanding and keeping up with the changes.

“Added to that, we have invested a significant sum in technology over the past 12 months to enable us to double our output and keep ahead of the competition.”

Aqueous Digital Birthday

5 years on, how has search and SEO changed?

Today, Aqueous Digital celebrates its 5th birthday. It’s quite a milestone; five years is a long time in the world of digital marketing. As one of the most rapidly changing industries, it can be a challenge to keep up with what’s going on, let alone stay one step ahead.

Fortunately for us, we’ve grown year-on-year since 2011. We’ve had three office moves to make room for new staff and we’ve built a steady portfolio of clients with a 90% plus retention rate. We’re proud of these achievements, particularly as more web design agencies move into the online marketing space.

So what are the major trends in online marketing today, and how has this affected the way businesses reach their audience in our new, digitally-dominated era?

The best companies can adapt

Success online means being willing and able to adapt to ever-changing circumstances in the quest to occupy that hallowed ground of page one on Google, often for an ever growing list of high volume search terms.

For us, it’s a question of never taking our eye off the ball. Search engines are a law unto themselves, with regular – and often unannounced – algorithm changes. In truth, only Google really knows Google, though there are many so-called SEO experts who will try to tell you otherwise.

The rest of us combine the latest knowledge of Google with sound tried-and-trusted marketing techniques in the hope of building our clients’ businesses online. It’s rarely the realm of magic and overnight success, and more akin to a sensible yet creative well-executed strategy.

The good thing is that we’ve seen consistent good practice will keep a company on the first page of Google, regardless of the box of tricks and quick-fire techniques employed by their competitors.

Artificial Intelligence is the future

Google Rank Brain Artificial IntelligenceMany companies are now looking to integrate artificial intelligence into product development. Although true AI is still a long way off, the use of ‘machine learning’ is very much a product of our time. Machine learning, as the name suggests, is where a computer teaches itself rather than being taught by humans or following data heavy programming.

Of course, Google is already ahead of the game – late last year it announced it had developed RankBrain, a machine-learning artificial intelligence system. RankBrain is one part of Google’s algorithm that’s used to help process its search results. According to an article in Search Engine Land, RankBrain is designed to help better interpret multi-word or long-tail queries to find the best pages for the searcher.

‘Google can see patterns between seemingly unconnected complex searches to understand how they’re actually similar to each other. This learning, in turn, allows it to better understand future complex searches and whether they’re related to particular topics. Most important it can then associate these groups of searches with results that it thinks searchers will like the most.’

The rise and rise of localised search

Being found for a localised search is increasingly important, as recent research by Google found. Their study showed that 50% of consumers who conducted a local search on their smartphone visited a store within a day, and 34% who searched on computer/tablet did the same. Importantly, 18 percent of local searches lead to sales, compared to 7 percent for non-local searches.

For businesses looking to take a share of this highly valuable and potentially repetitive custom, this has had serious implications for the way in which they approach their online marketing. It doesn’t matter whether you’re a multi-national high street retailer or a small, one-town store, your customers expect to be able to find you online and get directions, store opening hours and a host of other information, all at the touch of a button.

Everything is mobile

Mobile phoneAccording to Ofcom , smartphones have overtaken laptops as the most popular device for getting online. Two-thirds of the population now own a smartphone, using it for nearly two hours every day. In fact, we now spend almost twice as long online with our smartphones than on laptops and personal computers.

This trend has implications for companies marketing themselves online. It’s no longer enough to have a good website, you have to have a responsive website. A responsive website is one which alters the way its displays information based upon the device being used to access it. A mobile-friendly website will be designed with a smaller screen view and touch screen navigation in mind.

Plus, because mobile-friendly sites make for a better user experience, Google now uses this as a ranking factor and as a way of improving its own user experience. Visit any search results page and you’re likely to see the ‘mobile friendly’ label against a selection of results.

Increase of paid-for options in search

Not so long ago, Google displayed three Adwords at the top of its results page and a long list of Adwords on the right-hand side. Now, there is a myriad of options open to any company with an online advertising budget.

Just a few months ago, Google added a fourth Adword slot to the top of its results page, and a further three Adwords at the bottom. It removed the right-hand side ad panel and now only shows ad displays from Google Shopping when it feels it would benefit the searcher.

No doubt, this continual flexing of its advertising power muscles will continue to evolve. For companies operating in competitive marketplaces, there’s no getting away from it – for competitive search terms the first page of Google is a crowded place. Organic real estate is being crowded out by paid for options and long tail organic is now the holy grail for many companies.

Social media became the place to become famous

Facebook logoSocial media is, without a doubt, one of the most influential marketing channels available today, and Facebook leads the way.

The most recent research on Smart Insights says that 63% of smartphone owners use the Facebook app on an average of 15 days per month. However, Instagram, YouTube, Twitter, Google+, Snapchat, Vine, Pinterest – these are all social media channels which get phenomenal levels of engagement. In the business environment, there are many LinkedIn advocates who swear by the platform as one to not only promote themselves and their business but as a great lead generation tool.

The result is that marketers have had to re-think the way they reach and influence their audience, hence the rise in social media and content marketing roles across the digital sector. Many marketing teams now comprise social media specialists – there’s certainly an art to building an audience and turning it into your biggest fan base.

What are your thoughts on the biggest challenges facing online marketers today? And what trends do you see on the horizon? Feel free to share your thoughts below.

RAR Logo

Aqueous celebrate being recommended by RAR

We are delighted and frankly a little bit proud of the fact that we have recently gained ‘recommended’ status by RAR, the Recommended Agencies Register.

To be recommended you literally have to have been recommended by your customers for the work you do and there is no better validation than asking people you have been working with to tell an independent body what they think of you.

Customers were asked to rate us against an number of areas where we help them and we achieved above 80% (and in most cases much higher) for SEO, Paid search & PPC, B2B Brand Strategy, B2C Brand Strategy, New Product Development and Web Design. In fact our overall score was around 90% against everything we do which on the face of it seems quite good.

Recommended Agency

Of course we’re not happy with this; we’d love to get 100% so rather than sit on our laurels we have embarked on a programme of improvements internally including introducing new software and reporting, new process flows and streamlining our product offering to provide a more streamlined and clear service for customers.

Now we have three simple package areas of ‘Grow’, ‘Sustain’ and ‘Recover’ so no matter where your website ranks in Google, we have a package that will fit.

So a huge’ thank you’ to all our customers who took the time to rate us. We will of course repay your vote of confidence by redoubling our efforts and continually looking for improvements so we can help you rank better in search.

The Recommended Agency Register (RAR) is a vital part of identifying and contacting SEO, web building, marketing and PR agencies that come recommended by their clients.  It’s the only platform where clients vouch for their agencies by rating them on the services they deliver. You can find out more about RAR here.

 

Directories are now irrelevant

The Phone Book finally commits suicide

The death of printed directories has been forecast for some time now but despite these predictions they have steadfastly refused to go away. Every year without fail a new and generally thinner product gets delivered to your doorstep. Increasingly however it gets moved straight to the recycling bin as fewer and fewer people rely on them to find products and services.

In fact with Google currently quoting the statistic that “94% of smartphone users have looked for local information” it proves beyond a doubt that the value proposition of directories has finally been destroyed. After all, who carries a paper directory with them when they leave the house other than reps selling advertising in them?

Imagine therefore my surprise when I received a letter from BT this week about our classified listing in the Phone Book. It told me that we were going to be included in the next edition as usual however they then added

“..normally there is a charge of £36.86 per quarter (ex VAT) for this service, but in recognition of your loyalty we are waiving this charge for the next edition of your Phone Book.”

 

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BT LetterA couple or fairly obvious points jump out at me here as I’m sure they do for you as well. Firstly, when has the ‘Free Line Entry’ in a Phone Book ever been anything other than free? Just because you add in a theoretical charge for it of £179.60 a year doesn’t change the fact that no one has ever paid for their free entry.

The clue is in the name BT and suddenly springing a charge on unsuspecting business owners around the country doesn’t change this fact.

Secondly please don’t confuse me with a ‘loyal’ customer as I’m nothing of the sort. Our entry in your product is only there because it is free. The second it becomes something I have to pay for is the moment you would see my loyalty disappearing over the horizon. Also I’d be more inclined to be a loyal customer if you spelt my Company name correctly…

Thirdly, we know that you are relying on decision makers ignoring this letter and that in twelve months’ time you can start to apply your quarterly charge automatically in the hope that they don’t notice it. But if this is supposed to be a clever marketing strategy it shows that you have rocks in your head.

Yes, we appreciate that it costs money to print and produce the Phone Book but adding in useful information such as the classified entries at least gives you a chance that someone might just pick it up. Let’s face it virtually no one uses it to look up domestic phone numbers any more. But springing the charge on unsuspecting business owners simply leads to one inevitable result; the death of your product.

When Google dominates the search market in the UK and most people are now using electronic media to search, this move will just hasten your demise. Not only are you alienating the one group of people who might have the funds to prop up your printed product but if businesses opt out you are destroying the only other asset you have.

In this day and age, the one currency which still carries any weight is data and the providers of telephone directories used to have this in abundance. At least with free entries in your Phone Book you have some idea of the businesses currently trading in the UK.

Of course those publishers that managed to sell off this asset back in the 90’s or early 2000’s as it was ‘non core’ are left looking foolish today.

The reality is that we have never had a customer call from the Phone Book, either in its printed or electronic form. And for that reason alone we will be doing what many businesses do I expect and removing our entry altogether. And with fewer businesses appearing in your pages your product simply become even more irrelevant than it already was.

So, anyone who has predicted that the printed telephone directory might be dead before 2020, it turns out you could be right. But I bet you never thought it would commit suicide?

Thomson, Yellow Pages & BT Directories

Is organic traffic a right or a privilege?

UPDATE: 17th March 2016

Exactly one year on from this post I have been amazed by how much (and how little) everything has changed.

I wrote at the bottom of this piece last year “The $64,000 question I would contend is ‘When did it become a right to NOT have to pay for your advertising?’” not thinking that it was anything more than a rhetorical question. In the last year however, Google has made more moves to ensure that everyone pays something to join the party.

In February 2016 they removed the PPC adverts on the right-hand side and extended the top three to show four advertisements, thereby pushing organic listings further down below the fold. On mobiles, where this matters more now that 50% of all search is made on a mobile device, the organics are being buried. In many searches advertising followed by Google My Business listings means that organic listings are hardly noticeable.

Add to this the current trial in San Francisco Bay Area, USA to push people searching for a ‘contractor’ to use their new Beta service which incorporates your Google My Business information and it is evident that the days of free advertising are rapidly disappearing.

Of course, there are still millions of searches where organic returns are the mainstay of the results but much like the old directories where 75% of the book was free entries, the free entries are largely ignored where the advertising dominates. Google is arranging its landscape so you see advertising where they make more money and this should be no surprise.

The new questions I suppose is “How long before there is a backlash against this monopolistic behaviour”?

In the 1990’s Yellow Pages tried ‘re-scoping’ directory areas under the rationale that it gave users more relevant results but the main outcome was 10 years under the watchful eye of the MMC and OFT with a legal cap on revenues. It killed the business at a time when the internet was starting to eat their lunch.

All that is needed now is for the CMA to receive enough complaints from businesses that Google is forcing them to pay disproportionate amounts for their advertising and the whole market could be thrown into confusion.

Watch this space…..

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I was struck recently by an online conversation where someone was bemoaning the fact that Google has almost removed their website from its search results causing huge amount of damage to their revenue flows. This particular website had not paid for any advertising anywhere, nor to appear on any of Google’s properties, yet was happily cashing in thousands of pounds a month from appearing in organic search.

Naturally the removal of their site from search was something of a body blow but I was struck by how much we all take organic traffic for granted.

Thomson, Yellow Pages & BT DirectoriesIf we go back fifteen years there was a dominant media in the advertising market called directories. Every business was entitled to have a ‘Free’ line entry in a single directory which would put them in the section which best reflected what they did. Even back then though the producers of these directories were at pains to point out that what they were giving away was a ‘discretionary’ line entry. They were not obliged to provide it but did so predominantly to provide a more comprehensive product for end users and ultimately to generate a prospecting list for their sales people.

The books were delivered for free and paid for by advertisers, most of whom generated a positive ROI from their advertising so all in all it was a virtuous circle. Everybody won from the process or at least there were very few losers.

Fast forward to today and the entire landscape has changed. Google dominates in a fashion that could not have been imagined back in 2000 and directories are all but gone.

The ‘discretionary’ free entry that we used to get is still there but the paradigm has shifted; you now need a website to join the fun. Get one of those and you can ask Google to come and index your website, entirely for free and based on what it finds it can rank you in the most relevant searches for the things you do or sell. Sounds familiar?

Much like the directories once you have a website indexed on Google it will offer you advertising, to give you even more chance to connect with people who want the things you sell.

The key difference here is that Google can and will use its ‘discretion’ as to whether your website appears anywhere in any of its search results and can change its mind on a daily basis. Unlike the old directory days when you had one entry in one place you now have hundreds, or in the case of e-commerce thousands of places which need to appear in search. As do all your competitors so it becomes a bun fight to get yourself seen amongst the noise. Barriers to entry are lower so you don’t need heaps of capital to compete and some of the best websites are run by people in bedrooms on a part time basis.

Which brings us back to our unfortunate website owner. They are no longer generating the volumes of revenue they once were from their website because Google has removed their ‘discretionary’ entries. Sure it hurts but they are and always were ‘discretionary’.

There is no right of appeal and no higher authority to which you can complain; you just have to lump it.

All of which kind of points us back to organic traffic being a privilege rather than a right. Of course this isn’t made clear to people when they jump into the pool to start with; generally they find this out when they start to swim in the deep end with the big boys.

The fact that Google is a ‘de facto’ monopoly provider does not help the piece and will naturally lead to accusations of unfair tactics, bullying from a monopoly provider and a callous disregard for small businesses everywhere.

We have all heard these accusations and they are well understood but no one seems to ask the key question behind all of this. The $64,000 question I would contend is ‘When did it become a right to NOT have to pay for your advertising?’

If we can answer this then we are some way towards deciding whether organic traffic is a privilege or a right.

Our 2014 Predictions

Predictions are incredibly hard. Either you get it spot on and appear to be prescient or you are so wide of the mark that you look foolish. There is no middle ground and for that reason most people wisely stay clear of making them.

Given that I’m not most people, nor indeed wise, I thought it would be interesting to put in print some predictions for 2014 to see if there is any mileage in the things I can currently foresee.

So here goes, a couple of predictions for 2014.

The Rise of Localism

Back in the pre internet days there was a general rule that applied to most businesses in the UK; namely that 80% of the business they did would be in a 10 mile radius of where they were based. Whether that statistic was correct or not was never really queried; it generally held true that people dealt with local businesses.

The arrival of the internet opened doors never previously possible to many people and it came as something of a revelation to a number of businesses that they could just as easily deal with customers on the other side of the country, or the other side of the world, as they did with local people.

In turn this led to a flood of businesses set up with no local base at all and in some cases no product either. Kids in bedrooms became middle men drop shipping products they would never see to people they would never meet in places of the world they couldn’t even pronounce. And they made a fortune.

As we enter 2014 however we can see a growing dissatisfaction with this arrangement. Whilst online transactions have become more secure many people have still had a bad experience at some time and there is a greater degree of awareness and caution when dealing online. Barring the high street brands and well known global players, people are happiest it seems when dealing with someone they know.

All across the UK more and more businesses are coming online and realising that they can never compete with the biggest brands. In some areas Google’s first page of results is dominated by big names and firmly entrenched aggregators. Just try looking for a local tradesman such as a builder, joiner or roofer in your area and see how many actual tradesmen’s websites come in the top ten.

Faced with the fact that they simply can’t compete with these people firms are turning to more local methods of promotion. There has been a huge rise in the number and type of networking events that now exist. Local magazines that serve a single town are thriving where local papers, who still try to exist on advertising revenues but have to cover a wider geography, are shrinking. In straitened times there has been an amazing degree of camaraderie and more and more people are seeking out local businesses and tradesmen to supply their needs. Where I live there has been an extraordinarily successful local market running for most of the year; it has surprised even the Council who arranged it, but local people flock to it every time it is on and spend money on the local High Street.

So for 2014 we predict that this ‘localism’ will continue to grow and thrive. We have been aligning most of our clients towards the local market for the past twelve months but 2014 will see this accelerate. People still like local; after all it’s where we all live.

Further Fragmentation of Channels

In conversation with a colleague of mine the other day he remarked that he thought that the internet had brought huge cost savings to many businesses and delivered massive revenue gains.

He was a little surprised when I disagreed.

Part of the issue with online is that people develop goldfish like memories and the realities of what happened even fifteen years ago gets airbrushed out.

Prior to the internet there were a great many very successful companies in the UK, all of which did extraordinarily well without a website or any online sales. For those who can’t remember or indeed imagine such times, what they did was use the telephone. Vast call centres sprung up for products such as Insurance and extensive advertising across the available channels of TV, Radio, Outdoor, Directories, Newspapers etc. drove a constant stream of enquiries to their doors.

The arrival of the internet and the requirement to have a website simply added a layer of cost to most businesses. Overnight they had to build and maintain a website, and in many cases they had to add on a team of staff to maintain and update it. This added a huge cost layer into these businesses which they could not offset by reducing cost elsewhere. They still had to maintain the number of call staff on hand as these people we still handling calls; it was just that now there was an extra stream of calls, from the website.

And in all of this, there was no extra money. The number of people wanting to buy insurance for example didn’t suddenly go up because the internet was invented. The amount of money spent per head didn’t rise dramatically. In fact insurance saw a drop as people found it easier to compare prices and switch suppliers.

The internet added another channel to the marketing mix but the amount of money available to spend didn’t increase. Year in year gains for online saw corresponding declines for directories, print, radio and TV. We may have had another channel but we didn’t have more money to spend on it.

Lumping everything online into a single ‘online’ bracket was fine in the early days, but now it hides a hugely complex market. The rise of Social Media for example as advertising channels has carved more money out of people’s budgets and redistributed where cash goes online.

Typically now people will look at online in terms of search engine optimisation, pay per click advertising, display advertising, email marketing and increasingly social media. But even this is not straightforward. Where do you advertise to get the best return on your advertising investment?

Almost daily there are new start up businesses, apps and websites that want to take a slice of your business. A year ago no one had heard of Snapchat yet now it is notorious as the founder turned down a $3billion offer from Facebook for his business. Given that it makes no money at all at the moment this could be considered to be one of the worst decisions the young owner could make, but he, like many others, are looking at businesses like Facebook and Twitter who from rapid growth but no revenues have turned into profitable businesses.

This is of course missing the point. A recent analysts report into Snapchat outlined that the firm would become profitable when they started to introduce advertising into their platform, which is of course the big plan for the business. But it misses the point in that this won’t be new money. The money it hopes to make will have to come from the existing pool and this means it has to come from somewhere people already spend money on advertising.

Snapchat is just one example of a new platform that is fragmenting the revenue stream; now multiply that by the number of new apps and platforms that are being introduced each year and the problem of fragmentation becomes clearer.

Which channels should a business use to advertise? In the absence of the clear pre internet structure, there are now a myriad of available channels from which to choose. But which are best? And how is a roofer in Rotherham supposed to makes sense of them? Are they sufficiently knowledgeable to be able to make the right decision about where to spend their advertising money?

This fragmentation of channels has created huge confusion for business owners all over the world and will continue to do so. The absence of any clarity on this means that many businesses will be left high and dry wondering why their advertising doesn’t work.

Whilst the fragmentation means that more and more channels and platforms will be fighting to take the advertising spend, the poor old consumer will be left in the dark. The move from broadcast media to focused channel advertising means that people may never see the business or product they need as they are simply on the wrong channel.

And in all of that the one thing to remember is that there in no more money. We can’t magically create cash out of thin air (although Bitcoins might fall into that category) so revenues have to come from an existing channel.  Which one is going to suffer most? Will it be the hard hit traditional media such as Newspapers or will Google finally feel the hit and see their quarterly revenues fall?

The Abuse of Personal Data

There has never been more personal data easily available than today and yet despite safeguards and assurances it has ever been more vulnerable than it is today.

Every day we log into our computers and we create yet more personal data that is being taken and  used by a big corporation or government. In many cases we are simply unaware that this is going on but even if we do see a ‘cookies’ pop up and click OK we are no nearer understanding what this actually means.

To really understand the scale of what is going on here take a look at this stunning interactive graphic which clearly illustrates the size of the issue.

Personal data should be, and the clue is in the name; personal. It should be data about ourselves which is personal to us but which we choose to share with a business. In the pre internet days this meant that if you ordered from a mail order company you knew you would be placed on their mailing list and get future catalogues. You also knew that at any point you could write to them and ask to be removed from the list and it would happen.

Today, you enter your details into a website and before you know it you can be on a million other lists around the globe, none of which you have agreed to share your data with.

For 2014 we forecast a rise in the number of data breaches that are reported and a corresponding rise in consumer dissatisfaction with this state of affairs. Something needs to be done about this and people need to understand just how important this issue actually is.**

Big Brother Backlash

Hot on the heels of the personal data issue we foresee a backlash against Big Brother. Now of course Big Brother, as depicted in Orwell’s prescient novel 1984 doesn’t really exist. Or does it?

People can and will debate this long and hard however when you look at the current digital set up and structure you can see that there are some parallels between fiction and the real world.

Today there are three main organisations who are trying to own our lives; Google, Apple and Microsoft. All three have a game plan which involves integrating themselves so deeply into our daily lives that for us to consider extricating ourselves from their grasp is unthinkable.

In 2013 Apple introduced a brand new iPhone which had fingerprint recognition at the heart of the operating system. You need to use your fingerprint to use the device. Millions bought these phones and willingly gave Apple their fingerprint data.

In real life people have been fighting against the State taking and keeping fingerprint records for many years and even today lawyers are fighting hard in court to ensure that the State cannot control its Citizens by forcing us all to provide fingerprints for its database.

Apple on the other hand give us a shiny new phone (which you had to pay for by the way) and suddenly we are falling over ourselves to give up the one thing that libertarians have been fighting for years to protect.

Google are no better. One Google ‘sign in’ for everything essentially means the end of online freedom. You are owned by Google and to use their products and services means you need to have an account with them. Once it is in place they track your every move and link it all together.

The idea is that they can give you a better, seamless and more intuitive service if you share this data with them. The reality is that you cannot escape. No matter what you do or where you go online they capture that data about you. On your android phone when you log in you log into  Google and they capture everything about where you go and what you do. They are now encrypting this data in Analytics but providing it for customers who buy their pay per click advertising offering. They are effectively selling your data to the highest bidder.

Microsoft on the other hand have taken it to a whole new level with their new OS. Not only do they want you to create an account but to use their platform they now want to own everything you do. We tried using the new OS recently and before we could use ‘Word’ we were asked to verify that we owned our website by placing some of their tracking code in the header.  I wanted to write a letter, not give you access to all my data.

It seems that these days you can’t buy a copy of Microsoft office as you used to; all you can do is lease it on a monthly basis. That’s a neat business model, but why didn’t you do that twenty years ago? Nothing in this new offering is designed with the end user in mind; it is all designed with data capture at its heart.

These three aren’t alone though. New players arrive all the time, most obviously amongst which are Facebook. One of my friends was clicking on Facebook on his phone the other day. The screen froze and despite repeated taps it wouldn’t move. When it did finally spring into action he discovered that his taps had confirmed to Facebook that he went to Nottingham University. And now he’s stuck. He didn’t go there, has never been there and to the best of my knowledge has no intention of ever going there. But can he remove this from Facebook? No. He’s stuck in one of Dante’s levels where he cannot under any circumstances change what is happening nor right the wrong.

We had a similar issue a year ago when a client asked us to log into his gmail account to link it to his website. One of the team did this whilst logged into our own Agency account, which is of course under my name. Google now insists that this clients’ account is my ‘pseudonym’ and there is nothing I can do to remove it. I am inextricably linked to the client forever.

For 2014 we forecast the start of a fightback. We can see more and more people being disgruntled with these large corporations wanting more and more of our lives and data and a backlash against this happening.

Social is Social

Finally for 2014 we think that this is the year that Social Media is recognised as something people use when they are being social.

The problem with the internet is that despite the original aims of being a platform where people of the world could come together and work collaboratively for the common good, as soon as business got a sniff at it then it quickly became somewhere for people to make money.

Every new platform that is launched is done so by people who want to get rich and social media is no exception. Almost every new innovation is around making money. Just look at Snapchat who are planning to make money by adding advertising in 2014.

Twitter now have adverts in every feed, as do Facebook. In fact every social platform you go to these days pretty much has advertising at its heart.

What people seem to forget however is that advertising is an interruption to what you are doing. Nobody likes being interrupted. Pre digital these interruptions could be filtered out but today it is almost impossible to do so. The advertising on these channels has become ubiquitous and frankly intrusive.

Twenty years ago the nirvana for Marketers was to be able to provide personally targeted adverts to individual users at the right time, achieving the ‘cut through’ that traditional media lacked. Today on social media we pretty much have that but instead of feeling personal it feels like we are being stalked.

For 2014 we forecast that it will be the year of consumer backlash on these platforms as more and more people find ways of filtering and avoiding the advertising.

Summary

You may of course decide that some or all of the above is complete hogwash and just the deranged ramblings of a confused man. You might have found something that struck a chord. Either way feel free to leave comments below. As 2014 plays out we will see if any or all of the above come to pass and whether the arrival of 2015 leaves us feeling safer or more vulnerable online.

 

 

**This article was written in over the Christmas break 2013 ready for issue on 6th January 2014 however as with all things, particularly forecasts, events have overtaken this piece. On 31st December 2013 the entire user base for Snapchat was hacked from their systems and made available online with the last three digits of the phone number removed.