Helping local business advertise online for 2013

Advertising online can be an expensive, and complex, minefield.

I’d like to offer local businesses, around the Marple/Stockport area, help getting online. For the first ten people to respond I will give you a “Turn £25 into £100″ voucher to redeem against a managed ad campaign.

Let me take the hassle out of getting your campaign online. Find out more.

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What is strategy?

In the past few weeks, I’ve been involved in discussions on what is strategy – and why do some people struggle with it? I work in a strategic role but have had to work hard to pry myself away from tactical, operational work (not completely successfully).

Strategy is about viewpoint, leading to assessment of, and orientation to, a situation. it is impossible to think about things strategically if you are only looking at the situation tactically.

The map is not the territory

“A map is not the territory it represents, but if correct, it has a similar structure to the territory, which accounts for its usefulness”

Strategic thinking is like having a map. It is important to separate ‘big picture’ from ‘fine detail’ as part of your approach. This is the first step to strategy.

When you take a strategic view, you aren’t on the ground looking at trees, you are trying to understand the wood. Having on the ground info that the wood is mainly made up of oak and birch trees won’t make a jot of difference to your initial planning.

Seeing the wood isn’t enough, you have to see the context of the wood. Is it large or small? Is it on a hill, or in a valley? Does a river run through it? What lies beyond the wood?

Maps help us take a strategic viewpoint. Need to get from point A to point B with that wood in the way, a map will help you plan the best rough approach to take. At a strategic level of detail, the context of the wood is more important than the fine detail of what trees make up the wood.

It is a sure sign that someone is failing to be strategic when they focus primarily on fine details. In a work environment you may have some one who is seen as a safe pair of hands, a completer-finisher. You can put good money down that they will struggle with strategic thinking.

Strategy is about the destination, tactics is about the journey.

Strategists are looking towards the destination, not necessarily knowing every twist and turn along the way but paying attention to the information they have to hand (observation), putting it into context (orientation), understanding where the plan needs to change, committing to those changes (decision) and getting the changes to happen (action).

The core strategic elements of this process are the Orientation and Decision phases. Information gathering and action may be undertaken by non-strategic staff, but effective decision-making happens a level above this.

OODA loop - Observe, Orient, Decide, Act
This process, known as the OODA loop, is the key to successful strategic thinking. It encourages a crucial set of behaviours:

  • Awareness
  • Decisiveness
  • Understanding the big picture
  • Processing changes in situation
  • Creatively assessing plans based on that changing situation
  • Working with others to develop and communicate change
  • Trust in the plan and the people around you
  • Ability to lead

The last is the big hitter – leadership doesnt happen without strategy. Trying to lead from a position of tactics only, incomplete understanding of the big picture or no understanding of the destination or direction leads to The Charge of the Light Brigade.

How can you become more strategic?

  1. Focus on a goal, not a process. Processes are there to allow people to accomplish complex tasks without having to think.
  2. Understand factors that can have an impact on your strategy and how they interconnect. Strategic thinking is about understanding connections between things, not getting fixated on the things themselves.
  3. Understand who you work with and where their strengths are. Knowing your team is critical when it comes to gathering information, and delegating tasks.
  4. Listen to the feedback from the people around you. They have detail, but only part of the picture. Your job is to understand the big picture and communicate what is need to allow people to make the right decisions. Communicate your goals effectively and trust the people on the ground to accomplish them. Keep updated and use new information to change the plan if needed.
  5. Be willing to change – and willing to explain why. Change doesn’t make it look like you were wrong. It makes it look like you are on top of things. Don’t be afraid to change.
  6. Remember that a destination is only a way point. Once you reach it, OODA loop and move again.
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Google Analytics – Tagging campaigns to help you make decisions.

If you run online marketing activity and use Google Analytics on your site, campaign tagging is a crucial aspect of understanding the impact of activity you put out into the market – as opposed to organically occurring links and search traffic.

There are some great online resources covering campaign tagging from Google, Justin Cutroni and Kissmetrics – but, while these cover the mechanics of tagging links, I want to look at some thoughts on how to approach tagging so you get easily useful data, not just segmented data at the end of your campaign.

I spend a lot of my time unpicking badly, inconsistently or thoughtlessly tagged campaigns after the fact. Normally under pressure to deliver reports brimming with insight and ROI-laden justification. The process of trying to clearly illustrate the impact of a campaign where the activity is completely fragmented is very like pulling teeth.

So just what is this tagging thing?

But before we jump straight, I just want to give a quick overview on what campaign tagging is.

Any links back to your site can have parameters manually appended to the URL that allows you to set the information Google Analytics captures on where traffic comes from and what type of link it is.

What are the benefits of doing this?

GA, by default, uses the following ‘buckets’ to segment traffic sources:

Traffic that enters the site having enter a URL directly into the address field on the browser.
Link from another site.
Split into organic or paid, this bucket records all links coming in from recognised search engines and will include paid search advertising.
Set values defined through manual or automated tagging.

Tagging the traffic that is responding to your marketing activity allows you to quickly separate anything you are driving, because it will stop showing up in referrals and instead be put into the campaigns bucket. This allows you to very quickly isolate the traffic you are probably paying for and understand how these visitors behave.

The more detail you include in your tags, the greater your ability to segment and analyse this traffic throughout, and at the end of, a campaign.

How tagging works

Initially, use the URL builder that Google provide for free. This gives you a simple form to fill in and generates your final link at the click of a button. Use the full tagged URL for any online ads, links in emails etc and you will see your marketing activity separated from your organic traffic.

The screengrab above shows the URL Builder tool and how the highlighted fields are used to generate the full URL with tracking parameters included.

It’s really that simple.

Caveat Emptor

Analytics is a great tool, it gives a ton of data but that data doesn’t always equate to intelligence. Thinking about your campaign tagging up front makes it more likely that it will help you make intelligence-based decisions about your campaigns later.

On a slight tangent here, if someone else reports on your analytics, talk to them when you are developing campaign tags. What makes sense to you, may not be helpful when they’re reporting. I’m a firm believer in anyone tagging doing the reporting (at some point) as well, so you can see how your tags affect reporting.

5 (and a bit) Tips for intelligent campaign tagging

1. Be consistent

Google Analytics doesn’t know that when you tag one link as utm_source=facebook and another one as utm_source=Facebook that you mean the same thing, so it creates two different results because of the difference in capitalisation. So setting guidelines for consistency is important. Easiest way is to set clear rules.


  • Every thing lowercase.
  • All spaces replaced by hyphens.
  • No TLDs included (e.g. so I can’t get campaign sources mixed up with naturally occurring referral URLs.
  • Name all media by what they are (e.g. leaderboard not 728x90px banner).
  • Use consistent media types (e.g. Don’t blend email, emailer, enewsletter etc. Pick one and stick with it).

2. Use the most useful level of granularity in your tags

I see utm_medium=social-media, or variations of this, cropping up a lot. The problem here is that social media could describe a lot of things.

Is it a link in a Facebook status update, a link in a tweet or a link on my YouTube profile. These are a few of the many social media sites the link could be on and, when I’m reporting on my campaigns, I may not be viewing Source and Medium information at the same time, so having everything bundled under social media might not be useful.

I make a distinction in tags between status updates, tweets, profile links so I can see at a glance what is working best without having to change my report view.

3. Tag every link you are shortening using a URL shortener

Chances are, if you’re URL shortening, you are looking to add that link to a space-limited medium, such as a tweet. Because a lot of social media content is accessed via mobile apps you need to make sure that everything is tagged because, while a web browser would include referrer data with that link (the snippet that shows which website the visit came from), apps do not send referrer data.

So tagging the link becomes vital to allow you to see collate all your tweet/status/post-respondent traffic in one place. This way you can keep the focus on your content first, rather than the software people are using to access it.

4. Apply a testing mind-set when tagging

Campaign tagging allows you to capture great data, but you need to make sure that the tags you set at the start of a campaign allow you to make performance decisions during and after the campaign.

The best way to ensure this is to think about what you would test if you could.

Want to see how a leaderboard that runs on the homepage of a site compares to a leaderboard that is run of site? Use tagging to capture that info, possibly as utm_source=leaderboard-home and utm_source=leaderboard-ros.

This way you can compare performance over something concrete, especially where there is a cost difference for premium advertising space.

Look at it as if it were a split test. Use the tagging to define difference in elements based on the following (where appropriate):

  1. Where the ads/links appear
  2. What the ads/links are
  3. What the ads/links say
  4. What the ads/links are trying to get people to do

If you are looking to test two headlines, use utm_content=your-first-headline and utm_content=your-second-headline so you can see immediately which one worked better. If you’re testing calls to action, put the calls to action in.

If you’re testing design elements, use clear descriptions of the tested difference. For example green button and red button, female shot and male shot etc.

If your tagging allows you to split successful campaign elements from unsuccessful ones, you’re on the right track.

4 (and a bit) Don’t use tags like Ad1 and Ad2

Because then you need to keep a separate record of what Ad1/Ad2 etc correspond to, and what you were trying to understand as part of the test. It’s redundant, open to errors and risks not being visible to everyone who needs to see it.

5. Connect tags to goals

If you are testing calls to action that encourage respondents to sign up for a newsletter, make sure the ad_content tag and the goal title relate to each other. This way you can immediately see if the activity is having the desired effect.

If you have a content tag of utm_content=objective-call-to-action where objective is what you want to activate and call-to-action reflects the call(s) to action, you can build a quick report which shows you:

  • How many people actually signed up for the newsletter from activity aimed at driving that (objective)
  • How many people signed up from each call to action (allowing you to refine messaging)
  • How many people completed a different goal than the objective for this activity (are you giving people the right options or selling the right benefits?)

Wouldn’t that kind of report let you make decisions faster, justify your decisions to others more easily and generally screw as much value out of your activity as you can?

Give it a try and let me know what you think.

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New adwords targeting – Ideas of March

I too must admit to not fitting in the time to blog as much as I could. And I do tend to capture a lot of great links (and subsequent ideas) through Twitter, without necessarily getting them out of my head and sharing them…

So, i’ll try to write some short blog posts in response to the content that I find most useful on Twitter, and then update them if it seems that we can use them as I’d hoped.

Google have announced a revision of targeting options for Adwords which will make a huge impact on a lot of the campaigns we run.

We run a lot of international campaigns for the HE market and it’s pretty common for us to be structuring campaigns around, for example, people in London looking for a course and people outside of London looking for a course in London.

We’ve, until now, had to rely on geo-targeting, based on IP, and lots of specific keywords with location included.

This new method will allow us to drill right in to people who not only know what they want, but know where they want it, regardless of their location – for mobile campaigns this is a game changer.

Very excited.

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New Adventures in Web Design | A great new conference

New Adventures in Web Design logo

New Adventures in Web Design conference, 20th January 2011, Nottingham

I’ve just got back in from an inspiring day at the New Adventures in Web Design conference organised by Simon Collison. Here’re some thoughts on what made #naconf a great success.

When this was first announced in July there were some rumblings, quickly rebutted by Colly, that this was another conference with the same old faces.

Chief grumbler, Paul Robert Lloyd’s closing back-handed compliment turned out to be borne out.

With the 5-star lineup, this careful curation could very well mean New Adventures In Web Design is the must see conference for 2011, and I’m intrigued to see what presentations will feature.

Yes, the conference included many faces well known to regular conference attendees, but these speakers are there for two reasons – they are T-Rexs in the UK web-scene (even Dan Rubin because he’s an honorary Brit) and they are friends of Colly’s.

That this conference was Colly’s first and because of the high regard with which he is held, all the speakers pulled out the stops. Colly’s curation led to a series of ground-breaking thought pieces that had each speaker bringing there own particular spin to what became a couple of consistent threads that connected the sessions: The new maturity of the web industry and how art direction can develop better design.

High points

Dan Rubin kicked things off discussing use — and misuse — of language in relation to the web industry which can lead to inaccurate metaphors and difficult to explain concepts. His call to action? Let’s start looking at the language we use to describe things, is it effective, does it work when explaining to people outside the industry?

Everyday I see this is a necessary change, looking forward to the conversation.

Mark Boulton was hot on Dan’s heels with an introduction to some work he has been doing on developing a New Canon for web design. Mark is well known for his work on typography for the web and his current project seeks to re-establish some rules that have been ‘lost along the way’.

Alongside Rubin’s comments on how we view, describe and understand what we do, Mark’s input seeks to bring rationale to the design process so that design remains about the choices made to best deliver the content — not the best way to shuffle boxes in photoshop.

The New Canon is based around 3 themes: Responsiveness, Connectedness and Binding. The core idea revolves around binning the notion of the page which, as we design for a wider range of viewport sizes than ever before, is becoming increasingly difficult to work with. Ignore edges that aren’t physically there and design out from your content. Create scales and designs based on content. Embrace the em and eschew the pixel. Bind your design decisions to the content and to the device.

While a brief introduction to where this can go, it lays the groundwork to a shift in how we approach web design when it is possibly most needed.

Sarah Parmenter delivered a great session that blended design psychology with CRO. A refreshing change on the design conference circuit, I loved her approach to design based on understand the cultural and personal significance of design to the viewer/user and how that could lead to significant changes to increase the effectiveness of the site.

Andy Clarke was on fine form, telling the story of story, using western comics — detectives are so last year — to illustrate how pace and rhythm in the narrative can be reflected through layout, design and art direction. Enthralling subject matter and superb visuals, delivered flawlessy, made this a truly inspirational slot. I just wish i’d had design lecturers like that while I was at uni.

And @gablaxian’s cookies were great.

All in all a great day. Colly you should be very happy with yourself. Same time next year?

Posted in Conferences, Inspiration | Tagged , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Shock… and anger

Having been shocked to hear the news about the multiple shooting that happened in Tucson, AZ last night at a constituency contact event by Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, I hope she and the other victims injured recover.

Sadly six others lost their lives at the hands of the gun-wielding attacker that looks politically motivated, but may be the act of a very disturbed individual. Last night the internet was awash with expressions of shock and anger, both at the attack itself and the disturbing Tea Party rhetoric that, although not proven, many feel may have contributed to the attack.

Being from the UK I am possibly more shocked by gun crime than my American friends but I’m always saddened by anything like this – not only because of the personal tragedy but because, every time a democratically elected official is attacked, the actions of one override the voice of the many.

This isn’t about choice, expression or even politics… It is plain violence. Stupid, shameful and intolerable. Derek Powazek sums it up well.

Enjoying freedom in a democratic society means that, if you don’t agree with your representation or the society you live in, vote or leave. Don’t shoot people, that is the act of a savage.

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Starbucks in all but name

Starbucks have announced this week that, alongside a plan to further develop their offering, they are relaunching their iconic identity. Gone is the louche use of their company name in the logo and instead we see a simple, elegant treatment of the core image-based part of the logo – the siren. No longer confined within a constraining ring, the new logo lets her stand on her own, green on white. No words, no extra graphics… a bold move.

New Starbucks logo

But, as I look at the old logo on a cup on my desk, I think it’s a great move. The old logo looks, well, old. It’s too heavy, something the new logo isn’t. They have reduced the brand down to just two elements (the siren, which has massive internal resonance) and the colour (which has massive external resonance) and it is completely, instantly recognisable.

Under Consideration have a great write up – although some of the comments are a little knee-jerk.

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All change for the New Year

At the end of the first week back after the Christmas/New Year break it’s looking like the reshaped digital team at SMRS is settling in well.

We’re finalising some interesting developments bringing together a range of our offerings into a strong integrated package for our digital services. Very excited and looking forward to getting this approach out to clients.

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Coughs and sneezes… A history of Public Health posters

1940s Public Health Poster

A brief history of public health posters in the audio slideshow from the BBC.

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Reading List

A Practical Guide to Information Architecture by Donna Spencer.

Available from fast-growing imprint Five Simple Steps, Donna’s book takes you through the core ideas and practices a web designer or content manager needs to develop successful IA.

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