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Friday, 29 May 2009

What will Microsoft's new search engine do to online businesses?

Looking at the latest trailer for Microsoft's new search engine, Bing, due to be launched on June 3rd.



I never thought I would say this, because I'm a big Google fan. But I like the way Bing organises the information on local businesses. I do wonder if the Bing approach may boost the best in each category to the detriment of the rest and ultimately reduce choice?

Microsoft prefer to say they are providing a "decision engine".

Certainly the way information is presented with the option to drill down on the features you are most interested in looks useful for researching buying big ticket consumer products and services. And there's a cashback incentive built-in. It seems to be collating the comparison sites on the preview video, so I am not sure if smaller retailers can make an impression there.

The flight price forecast feature that predicts when prices will be cheapest looks cool if it's effective. I've seen an awful lot of online promises to find cheap flights that don't survive comparison with a manual search on the well-known low fare airline sites. But, eco considerations aside, a predictor that helps nail cheap flights effectively would be good for business and personal traveller's' budgets at a time when most people feel the need to be careful with their cash.

I'm personally not so keen on the facility that limits health topics to reputable health information sources, but acknowledge that it may be a good starting point for research into a problem. My doubts stem from a guess that it may not cover alternative therapies. I prefer to try the gentlest alternatives available first and only reach for pills as a last resort as all drugs have side effects and I have experienced some scary ones.

What impact do I think Bing will have on current SEO practices? And what that will mean for online PR and marketing? It's really too early to say: Bing isn't here yet, but it will be interesting to try out. There's a lot of negative comment about it shaping up to be a big adfest. I'm not so sure. Nothing's perfect and I think it could be useful for some searches.

I suspect the sort of businesses that used to do well from Yellow Pages could flourish from the localised information allied to the recommendations and other related information Bing offers. And comparison sites look like they will get a boost.

Will I abandon Google as my main search engine? Probably not. I'm not mad about being spoon fed all my information. I'm a curious creature: I like the serendipity that Googling offers. And I like choice. Plus Google will no doubt leapfrog Bing with it's own ideas. And that competitive process could be good for all of us.

But I wouldn't be surprised if a fair amount of large company ad revenue flows to Bing if it works like the video says.

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Thursday, 28 May 2009

Why Online PR is Brilliant for small businesses - especially online businesss

I keep seeing a lot of search engine optimisation people claiming to do PR, and some of the text examples are so optimized they are a really clunky read.

The whole point about being online is to establish conversations and relationships directly with customers and anyone else you want to talk to.

You don't do that by throwing optimised content at them.

You do write brilliantly interesting or useful material that compels people to recommend you and you place it very well. Then wait for the comments.
PR folk have been identifying audiences to speak to and adapting content for them for years, so have a head start, but anyone with a passion for the subject will give them a close run for their money if they crack the placement angles.

One of the best explanations of how it all works is "The New Rules of Marketing and PR" by David Meerman Scott. Having been online and in PR for a long time, I'd pieced together a lot of the points he makes. But he was the one that pulled it all together and made sense of it - and a fair number of folk agree judging by the popularity of his book.

Online PR lets you to build a brand through making great connections: with bloggers and key influencers, which can include online media.

Meerman Scott notes that online is where marketing and PR meet, and in my book DIY PR, I made a point of highlighting that small businesses don't separate PR, marketing and sales. It's all publicity or promotion. That's why most small business owners will 'get' online PR and marketing. They are unencumbered by the separate training routes for PR and marketing and can happily get stuck into results-driven online promotion. Meerman Scott shows it's not rocket science. But it does need application and effort. With every major purchasing decision involving a Google search, it's worth getting your online PR and marketing right.

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Wednesday, 27 May 2009

Confidence in Business

Really interesting piece in this week's New Scientist, reporting on research showing confidence is as important as IQ in exam success.

http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn17187-confidence-as-important-as-iq-in-exam-success.html?DCMP=NLC-nletter&nsref=dn17187

Having been in Toastmasters for some 8 years, I've witnessed the effect of the Toastmasters' programme in boosting people's confidence many times, and the changes it makes to their lives. Public speaking must be one of the toughest barometers of personal confidence. In fact, there's a well-known US survey conducted by a major newspaper that reported walking into a roomful of strangers and public speaking inspired more fear than death itself!

It's brilliant to see people coming in to their first Toastmasters' meeting stuttering and visibly shaking, um-ing and er-ing all over the place. Then 10 speeches later, plus a liberal dose of impromptu speaking practice and a lot of encouraging support and constructive feedback, they are transformed.
Boosting presentation skills and confidence feeds through to all aspects of business and helps with networking, client and staff relations and of course, pitching for new business or investment.

I've now got to the point that I can almost count on getting a new client every time I speak in public. It doesn't always happen immediately, but I'm often amazed by the length of time people remember my speeches. I did one nearly 2.5 years ago to a women's business network. I remember it well because I had a terrible cold at the time and thought I might lose my voice. A few months ago, I got a call out of the blue from someone who remembered that talk. She is a lovely lady with a really interesting business idea: online travel salvage (http://www.travelsalvage.com/).

They offer a market for you to transfer a cancelled holiday or flight to another buyer. It works because most holiday companies offer pitifully small refunds, but do allow transfers. The transfer option gives the seller a chance to get more money back, and the buyer gets a travel bargain, so it's a win:win for both sides. They're just building up the cancelled holidays and flights just now, so there's not a massive choice yet, but I think they're more than worth a try if you need to offload a cancellation. or are looking for a travel bargain.

We did a one-off ad hoc online press release and boosted their web traffic 250%. Best of all, that resulted in coverage in a well-known national magazine: in fact they are currently Prima's website of the month (June issue).

And all that interesting business and these results stemmed from just one talk 2.5 years ago - aided by the practice and feedback I get in public speaking at Toastmasters clubs in Edinburgh!

If you fancy a break, I see Travel Salvage have a holiday in Spain for 2 people (flights from Newcastle on 6th June & accommodation) currently going for just over £100....

And if you fancy coming along to one of the 12,000 Toastmasters clubs world-wide to improve your public speaking and leadership skills using proven Toastmasters educational materials, most clubs offer up to 3 free meetings for guests before they ask you to join. The two Edinburgh clubs (called Capital Communicators and Waverley Communicators) meet fortnightly. To give you an idea of costs, each Edinburgh club charges £42 for 6 months to cover meeting room costs and fees to Toastmasters International (TMI), plus a single joining fee of £20 to Toastmasters. Obviously local meeting room rates and expenses will vary, but price is not generally a barrier to joining Toastmasters.

Once you join, you can attend any open Toastmaster club meeting in the world as a guest, so even on a bargain break, you could find a Toastmasters club where you can meet locals and participate in the club meeting! I found one in Forres, in the Scottish Highlands. It's fair to say that Forres is not a major conurbation, but they are close to a major RAF base and the leading spiritual centre called Findhorn, which has attracted many eco businesses. My husband and I had a great evening and met loads of interesting people. And I got yet more public speaking practice.

Toastmasters is definitely recommended for confidence boosting and broadening your horizons.

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Thursday, 21 May 2009

Online News Rooms

One of the first things I usually do for clients is sort out an online news room on their site with their web designer. Given all the wonderfully rich and detailed search engine content that can go up there, creating your very own online newsroom is too good an opportunity to miss. I'm amazed that even companies with internal PR advisers, or previous PR professionals, often have not got round to this. Indeed, some web designers that say they offer SEO services have asked me what an online news room is, and what should it contain.

It's really important if you want media coverage to have an online news room. Reporters rarely read releases these days: they are swamped by them. But they do what anyone does when they need information. When they're asked by an editor to write about a topic, they usually turn to Google to search for relevant information. So it really matters that you put useful content about key issues that are relevant to your industry up there in your online news room.

The online news room allows you to put up all your news releases and articles, plus background on your company, bios of key people etc. It builds up into a large body of highly relevant search engine friendly content that will really help the media write about you. And boost your website performance in online searches.

You can also add product and service background information. In fact anything a journalist might be interested in. Of course, if you have press kits, they should go up. And photos (but be sure to have a link or a request form for high resolution images as web pictures are far too small for print media). Maybe you run events that the media would be interested in? Or have good blogs, videos or podcasts that can be linked to? And financial information that you are willing to disclose - maybe about your backers (with their approval, of course).

If you run the analytics, it's amazing how many ordinary site visitors like to see what you're putting out to the media: the new room is a very popular page on a website. That means you are communicating your company progress and background to all sorts of useful people through an online news room: potential recruits, investors and clients, plus suppliers and advisers. Existing staff, friends and family will all be better able to recommend your business if they can tap into good quality information on the site. Especially if it is distilled into media-friendly factual nuggets stripped of all the marketing BS.

It's really important that people can find their way round the information in the news room, so it has to be searchable. A recent survey of journalists in the US showed well over 90% needed news search-ability on a site. At the most basic level you can put up a list of headlines with jump links to the release text below, but that will only cover a screen-shot sized list of headlines. Anything more needs to be properly searchable, but it is not rocket science as Google has a 'search this site' option you can highlight. I'm sure your web designer will come up with something more elegant if you wish.

And good PRs should be able to come up with an inexhaustible supply of ideas for releases to keep your newsroom fuelled.

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Blogging tips

I'm indebted to *David Meerman Scott's Twitter page yesterday for a link to this set of tips about professional blogging from a professional blogger and self-confessed geek called Yehuda Berlinger. I reckon he outlines a pretty clear road from start-up to star of the blogosphere and I will be working to apply a lot of his tips, including having a massive cringe at all the blogs I set up in my initial experimental phase ("not professional" says Berlinger and I agree).

As Simon Allen at Shopfitter says, "Google loves blogs" and certainly the posts on blogs appear a lot faster online than many website updates, so you get results faster with blogs if you're trying to drive more web traffic.

You can track that with the excellent free Google Analytics tools. You can even get free Google lessons and qualifications in all of this wizard stuff to enable you to boost your web traffic and increase your confidence at handling it all. Good on Google!

David is the author of the excellent "New Rules of Marketing and PR" book which outlines how to reach buyers online directly. Highly recommended (and no, I don't get anything for that!).

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Tuesday, 19 May 2009

Going Viral

When viral marketeers can make scissors and used frying oil fly (not together), it's time to re-visit how to capture the online imagination. No daft YouTube videos here: just solid inspiration and food for thought to get your business moving.

Check out: http://www.fastcompany.com/magazine/135/made-to-stick-getting-your-ideas-to-fly.html?partner=homepage_newsletter

And once you succeed, don't forget to blog about it, write a news article and distribute online, post comments on all your social media, include it in your newsletter, and tell everyone about it. And hey, if you feel like it, go on: make the video and podcast.....!

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Friday, 15 May 2009

Online Directories

Every month or so we check out the searches that potential clients might use to find companies like us. For example, one of the searches we run is on PR + Edinburgh.

Although we work for clients all over the UK, clients in Edinburgh reduce travel time (and we're always keen to reduce our carbon footprint) and we do see them face-to-face more frequently. That allows us to have deeper relationships with the key people involved. We do use collaborative working tools and webcams for conferencing. But full-on PR consultancy demands a close working relationship with the only other person involved in the business who has a 360 degree vision remit: the MD/CEO. We're the people that spot the problems and build the strategy to maximise the business reputation.

This time, during the monthly SEO trawl on PR + Edinburgh I noticed some of the more successful business directories (i.e. coming up on Google p1 searches of PR + Edinburgh) are taking their company details from bizwiki.co.uk. We were represented on bizwiki.co.uk, but the details were basic to say the least. I quickly rectified that and look forward to seeing fuller listings appear on multiple sites. I'm all in favour of sites that save us time and effort and Bizwiki.co.uk looks like a handy tool for UK business recognition online.

Check it out!

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