Redirect, don’t 404, when a web page is not found

The ‘Page Not Found’, or 404, error page is the default response for any request made to your website that can not be completed due to a missing file or resource.

Plain 404 error pageAll web servers issue the 404 error and the website, most often a content management system framework nowadays, like WordPress, acts on the 404 server response by displaying a page informing the user that the page requested via the url cannot be found.

Back in the day, the 404 error page was a plain, white page with some technical information. Worse than the lack of design, the page didn’t provide the user with any options or direction as to what to do next.

This was somewhat remedied when digital designers began creating 404 pages that had attractive design elements as well as information like links to the latest content and a search box to help the user find what they were looking for using keywords.

404 error page with space invaders gameMany of these 404 pages are works of art in their own right – some going so far as to incorporate interactive games. Many even encouraged the user to share the 404 page on social media!

The user-experience- and business-minded among you will immediately see why these attractive, interactive, share-worthy 404 error pages actually exacerbate the problem that a user is having; They’ve asked to see a certain page on your site and are instead presented with options to take them further away from the desired resource or to waste their valuable time with games. Any frustration your visitor is feeling by hitting a 404 page is likely to be amplified by these options.

A better solution is to automatically redirect the user to content that they are trying to access, but may not know the correct web address to get there. To illustrate I’ll use a simple example:

A user wants to see your About Us page and types http://mysite.org/aboutus.html into their browser. However, this page doesn’t exist; the real address of your About Us page is http://mysite.org/about-us, so instead of showing them a 404 page how about taking the web address they’ve typed in, assessing which page they might actually be trying to get to and then redirecting them to it. So, even when your user types in /aboutus.html they are taken to /about-us by the site. This makes for a much better user experience.

Now, I did say the example is a simple one, since the user even when hitting a 404 can still use the top-level navigation of your site to find the correct About Us page.

However, say your site has undergone a restructure e.g. it may have a been a static site and it now sits on a CMS that forces a particular url structure that your site did not previously observe, or indeed the site has moved from one CMS to another. If you have a well established online brand then there may be a number of emails and other web sites that carry old links to your site, links still utilising the old structure. So we want a way to map the old site links to the new site links, so that an old url called is automatically redirected to its newer format, so a user never doesn’t see a frustrating 404 page.

This problem is easily solved when using open source content management systems like WordPress, which has a number of redirect plugins that make adding this functionality to your website simple.

One such plugin of which have some experience is Redirection for WordPress. This is a powerful plugin that allows you to set up custom redirects, to set auto-redirects so the user is sent to the closest matching url, and it logs 404 errors to help set up those custom redirects. It’s free and worth checking out if you’re in the market to improve your user experience and help visitors find information on your site rather than hitting them with a frustrating 404, no matter how attractive.

A Tale of Two John Lewises

This week UK store John Lewis launched their Christmas TV ad dubbed “the Bear and the Hare”. As so often happens this sparked a deluge of activity on social platform Twitter.

Now, one can be forgiven for assuming that the John Lewis Twitter handle is @johnlewis. It is not. It is @johnlewisretail; @johnlewis is actually an American from Virginia called, yes you guessed it, John Lewis.

So poor @johnlewis has been receiving a myriad messages regarding this ad; Of note however is the poise with which John Lewis is sending tweets to him on to @johnlewisretail.

John Lewis Plc has taken note and will soon be sending a gift to Mr. John Lewis for his patience and help.

John-Lewis_ johnlewisretail_ on_Twitter

X-Factor, Social Era And Co-Creation

The X-Factor UK live shows kicked off tonight and one of the features was the renaming of one of the groups from GMD3 to District3.

The producers of the show had negative thoughts about the group’s original name and suggested putting it to the viewers for suggestions for a new name, which resulted in thousands of ideas. District3 is the name the group chose.

This is a classic example of utilising the social environment to crowdsource and empower potential fans to co-create the brand of the group.

8 Simple Rules To Grow Your Twitter Following

I’ve been tweeting for a few years now and these are the 8 most simple rules I use to grow my Twitter following:

1. Focus the mass of your tweets to two or three topics, ideally:

  1. Topics you are passionate about – finding things to say about something you are passionate about is easier than for a topic you have little interest in;
  2. Topics you are knowledgeable about – much like #1 above it becomes easier to find something to say when you have in-depth knowledge about a subject, be it a fresh tweet or a continued discussion.

2. Be prepared to spend time constantly posting tweets & retweeting

There are times that my tweeting frequency has dipped and these periods have always resulted in a lull in new followers and sometimes a loss of followers too. If followers think you’re no longer a part of the community they’ll cut you out, just as happens in similar real-world social situations.

3. Be real – Interact with other tweeple

This is social networking after all so befriend some followers and be authentically social – this makes it more likely that their followers will begin to follow you when they see interaction between you.

4. Be prepared to tweet at odd hours

It may just happen that the bulk of your followers, or the most important of them, happen to live in a different time zone to yours e.g. the majority of my followers are American & I’m in the UK. To feed their appetite for your tweets you will need to tweet at hours that make sense to them. Scheduling tweets can be one solution to this (see #5).

5. Use a social dashboard

Social dashboards, like Hootsuite, make it very easy to manage multiple accounts, searches, lists and to schedule tweets at those odd hours in #4.

6. Set up a list of ‘evergreen’ tweets

I recently found myself quite busy and unable to tweet regularly on one of my accounts – I set up a spreadsheet and put down all the tweets I could think of that were non-timely, about 80 tweets. I then set up a schedule using Hootsuite to have two or three fresh tweets sent out every day for a month. This was useful in maintaining a flow of original material for that account and gave me a good library to fall back on if I face a similar time-crunch in the future.

7. Before retweeting, always follow the link and read the content

This doesn’t apply to those tweeple who you know always post quality material but for anyone else be sure to check the material they’ve linked to, to ensure the quality is up to par for your followers. A bonus is you can customize the tweet for your followers if you know the content.

8. Welcome new followers personally

As much as possible welcome new followers personally – I say as much as possible because when new followers start streaming in it can get difficult to keep up; However this personal attention will pay off when followers begin to cull their lists of people to follow – chances are they’ll remember you over those that didn’t welcome them.

So, these are some simple rules I try to follow with my social interactions – you’ll note that they are not specific to Twitter and can be used for any social network you’re active in.

If you have any tips I’d be happy to hear about them – drop me a comment below.

Happy socializing!

American Idol’s Twitter Hashtag Madness

Season 11 of American Idol has had the strongest Twitter presence, more than any other season. The live show contestants all have Twitter accounts (I’ve written here about the ill-thought out Twitter names) and hashtags are in strong use this year to tie themes together.

All well and good however the hashtags are being over-used, with a detriment to the marketing efforts of the American Idol social media team. Here are a few of the Twitter hashtags :

#AmericanIdol
#telljimmy
#60sOnIdol
#idol
#BritsOnIdol
#IdolMansion
#KrisAllenonIdol
#PartyRockingonIdol
#ColdplayOnIdol
#CarrieOnIdol

Out of all of these, and this isn’t a definitive list, the only hashtags required are #idol & #telljimmy.

#AmericanIdol is too long (13 characters) which takes a mighty chunk out of a 140 character limit, especially considering one may want their tweets to be retweeted.

#idol & #telljimmy are just right as #idol pools together everything about American Idol and #telljimmy, being a weekly segment, is ever present throughout the season.

But what are the rest of the hashtags about? Why not tie everything together with the one strong, short hashtag: #idol?

Why make viewers, and fans, remember & use hashtags that are going to have a short lifetime? Some of these only last one show e.g. #ColdplayOnIdol.

Why deprive the main hashtags a top trend ranking by using so many, short-lived hashtags?

Most viewers will be sat watching the show whilst using a pad or their cell phone to tweet – I doubt they appreciate having to type out new hashtags every week on their tiny keypads? Apps like Hootsuite save frequently used hashtags; Even more annoying that a viewer has to knock out a new hashtag and not be able to use one already saved.

Grand effort American Idol but some simple lessons need to be learnt for next year.

American Idol Twitter #Fail

This year’s American Idol, season 11 of the popular singing contest, is the first time in the show’s history that I’ve seen a really big push on using Twitter as the main social media engagement channel with each competitor’s Twitter handle being advertised heavily on screen.

But have they got this aspect of social media marketing right? Ratings suggest not; Even with the contestants’ twitter presence this season of Idol is only averaging about 10% more social activity per episode than in season 10 – considering how much social has grown in the past 12 months that’s a pretty dismal number; 10% should have been the bare minimum bump, without contestants’ own twitter presence being so heavily advertised, surely?

Aside from the fact that American Idol is late to the ‘Twitter for marketing’ party the format used for the Twitter accounts is pretty awful :

first name initial+last name+ai11 so for example Elise Testone’s handle is @atestoneai11

Now, although fans are likely to remember it after a few shows the fact is you want to make it as easy as possible from the word ‘go’! Why make the fans do mental gymnastics when all they want to do is tweet about their Idol?

To make matters worse not all the contestants Twitter handles follow this format e.g. @cavanaghai11 for Hollie Cavanagh – hello, where did the ‘h’ go?! Standardization, even the bad kind, is always necessary.

Secondly, why use only the first initial of the first name? Throughout the season the contestants are primarily addressed by their first names by Ryan Seacrest & the judges and their full names are only used when being introduced.

So why this strange format American Idol Social Media team??

Wouldn’t something like

@Idol11_phillip make more sense than @pphillipsai11;
@Idol11_hollie,
@Idol11_jessica,
@Idol11_joshua,
@Idol11_skylar,
@Idol11_colton.

(I didn’t have to think hard to write their first names for these handles but I’d have to do some research to recall their last names).

American Idol Twitter hashtags

#justsaying

#witnessmyrevival Lucozade ad fail

I’m sat in front of the TV and just saw the ad that starts with the hashtag #witnessmyrevival for the sports drink Lucozade. Trouble is, this is probably the 4th time I’ve seen the ad and I’ve had to make a conscious effort to remember the hashtag. Why? Because the hashtag only appears once, at the very beginning. By the time you’ve watched the ad and made a decision to tweet about it you have no idea what hashtag to use. Sorry Lucozade, that’s a #fail for me.

SEO : Are you a ‘cool kid’?

Think back to your days in school – remember the ‘cool’ kids? How they were the most popular? Got the most attention? How everyone wanted to run with them? How your social ranking was based on who you knew and in what context?

Well, search engine optimisation is exactly the same. If your site is in the same circle as the top-ranking sites in your industry it will benefit from the association and rank well too; but if your site is not associated in any meaningful way with the industry leaders you will continue to struggle to get a better rank on the search engine results pages.

This is especially true after the now infamous ‘Panda’ update Google made to its algorithm in April 2011. This update reduced the clout of ‘content farm’ sites, sites that aggregate and list other sites based on industry or subject e.g. directory sites.

Such sites used to rank well (they were ‘cool’) and every website they listed or mentioned benefited from the high ranking as their link back counted as a quality inbound link for the destination site. But the moment Google downgraded the status of such sites, many sites listed that had no other ‘cool kid’ associations felt the pain of also falling in ranking.

So, in order to rank well in the search engine results pages, one of the most important items on your search engine optimisation checklist, now more than ever, must be to cultivate inbound links from high ranking sites in your industry.

If you’re not cool, you may not get noticed.

Social Marketing is Person-to-Person NOT Business-to-Person

so·cial [soh-shuhl]
–adjective

  1. pertaining to, devoted to, or characterized by friendly companionship or relations: a social club.
  2. seeking or enjoying the companionship of others;  friendly; sociable;  gregarious.
  3. of, pertaining to, connected with, or suited to polite or fashionable society: a social event.

Definition from dictionary.com 

If we look at the definition of the adjective “social” it becomes clear that any social interaction involves two or more people, not a corporate entity.

When businesses attempt to use social marketing channels like Facebook and Twitter, they sometimes do so behind a corporate identity or profile; this just does not work very well.
Even the best known brands require there to be a front-person who creates and nurtures relationships with followers, readers and fans.

After all, when was the last time you sent your gas or phone company a Christmas card? You, as an individual, will not have that kind of social relationship with a business entity; they on the other hand will try and maintain what is essentially a one-sided relationship with you – they will send you a Christmas card – but it’s not because they want to be friends with you.

But on social networking sites, it is a different story – these are one-to-one relationships and a business just cannot hope to nurture a fruitful relationship with a person when the person doesn’t know who he or she is ‘relating’ to.
It becomes another push channel, throwing marketing messages out hoping somebody will see them and react. This may happen initially, when a profile is first set up and word gets around that a brand is now on the same platform, but that excitement will quickly dissipate as it becomes clear that there is no truly social element to the interaction.

It also doesn’t help if the business operates an ‘avatar’ profile i.e. a non-real person who does the engagement. Think about your friends – do you know the personality types of each one, how they react to certain events, news etc. You probably do and that’s because each one of us is a unique individual; one that can be easily recognised by those closest to us.
A non-person profile operated by a business will not have a unique personality, or at least not one that will be consistent. ‘Friends’ and followers will quickly see through this and ignore anything that comes their way from that profile. Worse, there could be a backlash of negative sentiment toward the profile if people feel they’re being ‘gamed’; relationships are, after all, based on trust.

So if you are a business that wants to benefit from social channels be sure to have a real person represent the business; Pick this person carefully as it is with them that a relationship will be formed by your soon to be brand ambassadors and customers.

SEO : Marketing Silver Bullet or Long-Term Strategy?

Where Search Engine Optimisation is concerned too many businesses still believe that it is the “Silver Bullet” of online marketing and that once the web site has been optimized the job is done. However, just optimizing your site pages with context, keywords etc is not enough; these are internal factors you can directly control however there are at least a couple of external factors that require constant, long term attention :

Search Engine Algorithm Updates

It is getting harder to maintain a top 10 listing in the search engine results pages (SERPs). This is because the search engines are forever tweaking their algorithms, releasing a few hundred updates every year. With every new update, the chances are that the formula you use for achieving a good ranking for your website will need tweaking too.
And because rankings are relative whichever of your competition understands the changes and is able to update their mix accordingly is likely to achieve a better ranking post-update.

The Rise and Rise of Social

With the launch of Google+, the various new features Facebook releases every year and the waxing/waning popularity of the numerous social networks, the quality of inbound links, one of the prime ingredients of SEO, changes regularly. Every change in the social landscape and the amount of social activity that generates traffic has an impact on the ranking of your site.

Both of these factors are in constant flux and as such they require someone with knowledge and experience to keep up with them; This makes SEO an important part of your marketing mix.

Rage Against The Machine Twitter / Facebook campaign beats X Factor winner to UK Xmas no.1

This past week saw one of the most exciting races for the coveted UK Xmas #1 slot, a race headed by Rage Against The Machine, a nineties rock/rap band, and the 2009 X-factor winner Joe McElderry.

Using the power of social networking tools Facebook and Twitter, Jon and Tracy Morter started a campaign just over a week ago to steal the #1 away from the X-factor winner. And they won!

Figures show “Killing in the name” by Rage Against The Machine at over 500,000 and Joe McElderry’s “The Climb” at just over 450,000 sales. Considering that Rage Against The Machine is little known today and that the X factor final had over 10 million phone votes cast, more than two-thirds for Joe McElderry, this is no small victory. And let’s not forget that “Killing in the name” was only available as a download.

Reasons aside about why this campaign was run, this is a great example about the power of social media marketing and what can be achieved when a message, carefully crafted, resonates with a group of people. The search term #ratm appeared a number of times this past week in Twitter’s trending top-10 list and the campaign’s facebook fan page got thousands of comments to posts, not to mention a following of almost half-a-million facebook users.

If anyone still thinks social media marketing isn’t serious business, think again.

Social Media is changing Customer Service

“The customer is always right” is a term that is taking on new meaning in the increasingly connected consumer world. Why? Because a bad experience can be advertised around the Internet within minutes by a disgruntled consumer using their connections on various social networks they are a member of, doing damage to a brand that could take months to repair.

Consumers have never before had such power to reach literally thousands of like-minded individuals with their opinions of a product or service. Where before a bad experience would have been told of to a handful of people, usually family and friends, today those same family and friends too will have hundreds of connections that they can pass the news on to instantly.

Even worse for businesses, anyone can now create a concerted campaign using a cheap video camera and the power of services like YouTube. Ann Minch started a ‘Debtors Revolt’ in exactly this way against the Bank of America when they raised the interest on her credit card. She created a short, 5 minute video stating her case to Bank of America and made the video publicly available to view. The campaign took off rapidly as the link to the video started appearing on blogs, social networks and Twitter. The video, below, has had over 240,000 views since September.

The bank reacted the only way it could without the publicity getting worse – it reversed the hike after attempting to negotiate another rate – Ann Minch refused and made the bank reinstate the original interest rate.

Such stories are going to become mainstream as more and more consumers realise the power they have at their fingertips.  Businesses have only ever had to worry about a small percentage of customers coming back to them with returns and complaints, A small customer service department would suffice in dealing with the low rate of complaints. Feedback involved polling the customer base where typically only a small percentage would respond, never providing a true picture of what customers felt.

Now, a business needs to be more on the ball with how their customers perceive the service or product. They need to feel  the real-time pulse of the marketplace in order to prevent a small number of customers from negatively influencing a larger number of potential customers.

Customer service departments need to become more involved in the marketplace by becoming part of the conversations their customers are having. This will not only enable gathering of real, emotional feedback but allow the business to gauge the direction the marketplace is moving in to give them an advantage over competitors who are not involved in the social media space. If a business engages with it’s customer base where they are most active they have the ability to influence perception in a positive way and increase business as a result.

Twitter and LinkedIn announce ‘status update’ partnership

In an announcement on Monday Twitter and LinkedIn said they are rolling out a service whereby it will be possible sync status updates between the two services. Facebook and Twitter already do this to a degree and it just makes sense that the world’s most popular micro-blogging platform and the world’s most popular professional networking platform should collaborate in this way.

Check out the announcement video from Twitter co-founder Biz Stone and LinkedIn founder Reid Hoffman –

Why you should build a Positive Personal Brand

What is a personal brand? It’s the process by which you market yourself to others, whether you’re looking for a job or establishing yourself as an expert in your field or even just posting tweets on Twitter. It’s what you’re seen to wear in online photos, what your ‘voice’ on the Internet sounds like, what your personal web site talks about, what your Facebook page is all about – basically the ‘digital’ you.

In this ever-connected world, everyone is a brand, and this gives each of us great power and opportunity to really sell ourselves. If you use social networks or blog or participate in online forums then you are already in the public eye to some degree. Anyone can Google you and find out all kinds of information by reading your tweets, your blog posts and the conversations you’re involved in anywhere on the ‘net. 
Of course, the flip side of this is that if you’re not active in the digital realm then your personal brand profile is going to be pretty small and in today’s world that’s probably going to work against you in the long run. The Internet has enabled transparency and the less transparent you are the less desirable you become, especially as other personal brands around you become more prominent.

The question is, is your personal brand Positive or Negative?

Today, practically anyone who is likely to interact with you at almost any level of your life is going to Google you and find out everything they can. Employers already do this, as do recruitment agents when checking on potential matches for jobs. If you want someone to collaborate or partner up on a project they’re going to check out the ‘digital’ you first for suitability. 

What many people don’t realize is that almost anything they put out on the Internet is likely to remain available to view for all posterity. This includes Facebook posts, Twitter tweets, comments on blogs, personal videos on Youtube and Vimeo – anything and everything, and if even some of that stuff is ‘bad’ it’s going to work against you to some degree. As Gary Vaynerchuk likes to say, “your grandkids are going to be able to check out everything you’ve ever done”! A good example of how negative content can come back to bite is when a few Virgin Atlantic staff were laid off last year for making derogatory comments about their employer on their Facebook pages.
So you want to make sure everything you do in this digital landscape is positive. Anything that can be found out about your interactions need to show you in the best possible light.

Do that and you’re already on your way to building a strong personal brand.

Crush It! Why Gary Vaynerchuk wrote his new book

Gary Vaynerchuk’s new book Crush It! is already available from retailers all over and I’ve already ordered my copy – if you’re not sure if this is for you check out this video montage from Gary about why he wrote the book…

[viddler id=d3311a3a&w=437&h=333]

Gary Vaynerchuk interview

Raj Kotecha of Creative Content Agency interviews Gary Vaynerchuk on how to leverage social media and build a brand. This 30 minute interview is one of the best I’ve watched in quite some time with many gems of wisdom from Gary. He also talks a little about his new new book on social media, Crush It!

A million giraffes demonstrate the power of social marketing

A web designer betting his friend that he could use social networking to make a ‘million of anything’ led to the creation of the website www.OneMillionGiraffes.com, which called for users to send the creator one million giraffes that they’ve made, either as models or drawings.

Although he didn’t really think he’d get much of a response, within hours he’d got over 60 and by the end of the first day he had 134! In just over 2 months he’s received 134,277 and is well on the way to win the bet by the end of next year.

However, all Ola Helland did was to advertise the site and what he was doing on his Facebook page and on his twitter account and he got this overwhelming response; proof that if you have an interesting concept to market it can spread like wildfire using simple social networking tools.

Check out the site here

Facebook apps stealing data and spamming

ZDnet.com reports on some Facebook apps that steal login details and spam victims’ friends lists. Some of the Facebook apps mentioned in the report are:

  • Stream
  • Posts
  • Your Photos
  • Birthday Invitations

As always, when using social networking sites watch out what apps you use and ask yourself if you absolutely have to use every app that comes your way!

Read the story here

Pay-As-You-Go Email Marketing from MailChimp

Email marketing, although a proven and required part of a marketing strategy, can be costly with most online suppliers charging a hefty monthly sum to use their systems.
Those that operate for free have limitations, usually something like ‘100 recipients only’ which is ok for low level activity but unsuitable for a growing business.

Setting up your own system e.g. using something like PHPList is often tedious and  takes some technical knowledge to set up properly and working just right.

MailChimp, SurveyMonkey’s little brother (or sister, who knows?!), offers a Pay As You Go plan so that you can budget how much you spend on your email marketing campaign. The price plan goes from $15 for 500 credits to $2,500 for 500,000 credits.
This kind of plan is especially suitable for businesses that don’t have a periodic mail-out as credits can be rolled over and the there are no standing fees e.g. monthly charges.