Wednesday, 16 June 2010

Using Google For Business Benefit - Part 1

Google Account Page
Using Google Accounts

As most readers will already know, Google is a dominant force on the Internet.

There are other key sites of course - including FaceBook and YouTube - I'll talk about them in a future post.

There are various ways that your web developers can optimise your website to get the most out of Google. But this post is about a couple of simple things that you can do yourself, with absolutely minimal technical knowledge.

The first step is to set up a Google Account for your business - if you haven't done so already. Simply visit the page below, enter an email address and password and that's it - it just takes a few seconds:
Google Account Registration Page

You'll get an email asking you to confirm your registration, click on the link in the email, you can then log in to your account. You'll see a screen similar to the image above, with nothing under 'My Products' (if its a new account) and a link below for 'Try something new'.

There are lots of features that you can try so feel free to play around, here I'm going to focus on one very simple one. More to come in future posts.

Click on 'More' then on 'Alerts'. This feature allows you to receive an email whenever Google finds something new about your business on the Internet - web pages, blogs, news, anything.

Enter your business name in the 'Search terms' box. Take care to use quotes - for example "The Red Lion Falmouth". Notice that I've included Falmouth in the search term. This is because if you just enter "The Red Lion" you will get alerts about every pub or hotel or anything else in the world in the world called "The Red Lion". You could be even more precise if needed - for example "The Red Lion Hotel Falmouth". If you don't use the quotes at all you'll get alerts about anything to do with Red, Lion, Hotel and Falmouth - that's a lot of emails !

For the 'Type' field it is probably best to choose 'Everything', but you can restrict alerts to just one type of thing, such as Blogs or News, if you wish.

For 'How Often' I usually choose 'once a day' but 'weekly' or 'as it happens' are options.

Your account email address will be automatically filled into the 'deliver to' box.

Now simply click the 'Create Alert' button and you're done.

You can add more alerts whenever you want, or delete an alert.

If you find you've got your search term wrong and you're getting too many alerts, you can go back to edit the alert at any time.

This a a great way to keep track of your business on the Internet. If somebody mentions you on a Blog, submits a review or covers you in a news story you'll find out.

Why bother ? Well - it partly depends on your business, but for example third party reviews online are becoming more and more important. This is probably most relevant for hotels and other tourism related businesses, but there are review websites for other types of business.

If you get a nice review or news story, you can bask in the glory. More importantly - if you get a bad review, or see anything else untoward, you can take action. How best to respond will be the subject of another future post.

Final tip. You can also use alerts to, perfectly ethically, keep track of your competitors. So if your deadly rival is "The Black Horse Falmouth" set up an alert for them too. You'll be one of the first to know when they post that special "book two nights get one free" offer. Then of course you can respond as needed.

Need any further help - get in touch:
St Ives Cornwall Web Design and Marketing

Friday, 19 February 2010

Cornwall Business Networking Events

Cornwall - Business Networking Events

Myself and my wife Jo have decided to start attending some of the various networking events around Cornwall over the coming weeks. Naturally we're hoping to promote our respectives businesses, but also want to meet others like us who are building their business in the county.

I must admit that I'd developed a certain cynicism towards these events - having attended some in the past that amounted to little more than a sales presentation in disguise.

(BTW I'll admit I'm a bit of a cynic generally - definition - courtesy of Radio 4 Quote Unquote - "somebody who - when they smell flowers - looks for a coffin").

Last night we attended our first event- Business Buddies at The Norway Inn Perranworthal.

It was great - informal, friendly, had a good chat with some nice people and made some useful contacts.

The thing we had in common of course was that we're all trying to build a business in Cornwall. Ruth who organised the event ensured that everybody was introduced and made welcome. As it says on her website - "No one will be left standing in the corner on their own !".

We'll be attending the next Business Buddies Event if we possibly can:
Thursday 25th March - One Eyed Cat Truro.

Some of the people that we met - to give you a flavour of it:

Ruth Russell (organiser) - Kernow Business Solutions

Emma Lewis - HappyHopscotch Graphic Design

Linda Skeats - Quality Process Consultants

Russell Chapman - The Business League

Johnny Pope - Into 3D Virtual Tours

Next Thursday (25th Feb) we're hoping to go to Truro for:

The Hub - Find Your Perfect Partner

So maybe see you there.

Wednesday, 10 February 2010

The Importance Of Offlline Marketing

I spend much of my time doing online marketing, in various forms. But I thought it worth pointing out that I don't believe that Internet channels on their own are enough. At least in most cases.

St Ives Community Play

Last Summer I was involved with St Ives Community Play - promoting a series of performances of Romeo and Juliet on The Island in St Ives. We used the website and other online channels such as FaceBook and Twitter - which worked well. But we also "foot slogged" around town distributing hundreds of posters and flyers. Its hard to tell which proved more effective, but I'm convinced that the "offline" effort was at least as important, if not more so, than the "online".

St Ives Jazz Club

Another good example of a balanced approach to marketing is St Ives Jazz Club - who stage live modern jazz every Tuesday night. They have a great website which I manage and update quarterly with their new programme. They also have an extensive email list which they use to send out a weekly newsletter. But they also take care to get their posters out all over town, renewed every Wednesday morning for the next week's gig.

Jo Downs - Valentines Day Poster

A final example is Jo Downs - who sells handmade Cornish glass from a number of shops around Cornwall and beyond, as well as through an online shop. Take a look at this great Valentines Day poster in the window of the St Ives shop this week (click to enlarge the photo). Its well designed, witty and highly effective. It really caught my eye and I'll be heading down there later to buy a gift for my wife Jo.

So to sum up - having a well designed web site and using other online marketing channels can be highly effective. But don't neglect your efforts on the ground. In the end what you're trying to achieve is not an award winning website or poster - its simply more sales.

Sunday, 31 January 2010

Business Analysis - Mind Maps

Mind Map - Stakeholder Analysis
Mind Map - Stakeholder Analysis - Click To Enlarge

One of my professional skills is Business Analysis and I'm often asked - "what is all that about ?"

Basically - its about using a range of techniques to deliver better business systems - to help businesses to achieve their objectives. Systems may use information technology, manual processes and usuallly a mixture of both.

The classic approach to this follows a series of logical steps:
  • Understand the current business - where are we now ?
  • Understand the requirements - where do we want to go ?
  • Prioritise the requirements - what should come first ?
  • Design Solutions - what will get us where we want to go ?
There are many techniques to support this process and I'll be saying more about this in future posts. But I thought I'd start with a simple but powerful one - Stakeholder Analysis using Mind Maps.

One of the challenges in building systems - whether a website, a new hotel booking system or anything else - is understanding the differing needs of various groups of users.

A good starting point is to do some stakeholder analysis to identify who these users might be.

The example above is a mind map that I drafted out today - you can click on the image to enlarge it in a new window. It took me about ten minutes to do the first draft. Its not finished yet but will serve to illustrate the technique.

To draft it I used was a brainstorming / creative thinking approach - I took a blank piece of paper, a pen and then jotted down what came into my head. Maybe not very systematic - but a powerful way of generating ideas for further analysis.

Fairy Press is one of my clients - a small publisher based in Porthleven Cornwall. The owner has written a series of childrens books which he is self publishing. His key aim is simply to sell as many copies as possible. He also has a wonderful portfolio of illustrations that will be used to illustrate the books and sold separately as limited edition prints.

The target market for the books is 8 - 11 year olds, though we hope that other age groups and adults may enjoy them as well. Also - we're bearing in mind that it will be adults who are doing the actual purchasing - as children on the whole don't have credit cards or PayPal accounts !

A key part of the marketing strategy is a new website that I'm building and optimising for search.

Fairy Press

The mind map above identifies some of our potential audience for the site. This will help us to optimise the site to meet their varying needs. Just to pick out an example - Schools - what do we need to add to the site to appeal to teachers and other education professionals ? Schools Worldwide - should we look at translating the site into other languages, if so which ones ?

The other thing that the Mind Map reveals is the need for prioritisation. It has identified at least 20 potential groups of stakeholders and I could add more. We can't build a website right now that will meet everbody's requirements - within reasonable constraints of time and cost. We will probably start by focussing on that key audience - young readers and their parents. We can then launch, see what happens, gather feedback and build from there.

I'll be saying more about prioritisation in a future post.

Friday, 22 January 2010

Best of Cornwall Websites 1

Shelterbox Deploys from Newquay Airport To Haiti - January 2010
ShelterBox Deploys from Newquay Airport To Haiti - January 2010

This is the first in a series of posts about Cornwall websites. Every so often I'm going to pick out a couple of websites that, in my opinion, represent some of the principles of good web design and marketing.

I'll be folowing up with further posts about these principles and how you might apply them to your own business and website.

Hayle based charity that specialises in international disaster relief. Based on a simple idea - supply boxes containing essential items directly to people in disaster areas worldwide as quickly as possible. A really well designed website.
Design principle - easy to use and navigate:
A clear and easy to use menu that directs the user to the part of the site that interests them. Additional links on the Home page to key content.
Design principle - up to date:
A "Latest News" box that really is "latest" plus a slideshow of current deployments.
Possible improvements:
Maybe a short statement on the Home page of who they are, what they do, why its worth getting involved.
ShelterBox Website
Falmouth based private company specialising in Internet multimedia. Has forged partnerships with a number of Cornwall "heavyweights" including Eden Project, Fifteen Cornwall and Cornish Pirates.
Design principle - content is king:
Fantastic content - relevant, varied, interesting and constantly added to. The key to achieving this has probably been the partnerships mentioned above.
Possible improvements:
Maybe could benefit from more text content to complement the video and images.. Website

I'll highlight some other good Cornwall websites in future posts.

Please do comment below if you have any ideas to add.

Monday, 18 January 2010

To Twit Or Not To Twit

Twitter - A Useful Online Marketing Tool ?
Twitter - A Useful Online Marketing Tool ?

Much has been said recently about the use of "Social Networking" sites for marketing purposes.

Twitter is one of the biggest and I've been using it for the last few weeks.

Naturally it depends what you're marketing but I've certainly found it a useful part of my online marketing armoury.

I gained my first new client directly from Twitter a couple of weeks ago - St Ives luxury holiday apartments Sail Lofts. They've taken out an advert on my St Ives Self Catering page and found me because I post about my site and updates to my St Ives Cornwall Blog. They use Twitter themselves to promote their business.

I must admit I was a bit sceptical at first and held back from joining the site for quite a while. But when Idid join the first thing that struck me is just how many Cornwall businesses and organisations are on there and tweeting away regularly.

It didn't take long to build up a following. Searches on "St Ives" and "Cornwall" revealed quite a few local members, who I added to my "follow" list. I then found that a lot of people added me to their own list in return. I also set up my profile carefully so that I would appear when others did similar searches.

I take some care to twitter responsibly and not just blatantly promote my business or my clients. I often link to my blog posts which are written to provide useful information about St Ives and what's happening here. I also write about what's happening and what I'm up to - things like "its just started snowing", "don't miss St Ives Jazz Club tonight" and "I'm off down to The Sloop for a pint".

So I've personally found Twitter quite useful. I also enjoy using it - its fun !

The main downside for some is the time required. I work online so its relatively easy for me to keep a Twitter tab open in my web browser most of the time. For others this won't be so easy - but its probably at least worth your while to take a look to see what it might offer you and your business.

Twitter themselves have posted some great guidelines for business users here:
Twitter 101

Take a look at some of these Cornwall businesses and organisations who are using Twitter to promote what they do::

Shelterbox on Twitter - charity - international disaster relief. on Twitter - multimedia content from Cornwall.

The Sail Lofts on Twitter - luxury self catering apartments.

Check out my twittering here:
Steve On Twitter

Saturday, 16 January 2010

What's In A Name - Domain Registration 2

Website Development - Register Your Domain
Website Development - Register Your Domain

In the previous post I talked about the need to think about registering Internet domains for your business. Here I'll move on to the practicalities and how to register.

The cost of registration varies - there are many registrars out there offering a variety of services and prices. I personally use XCalibre Communications - I use them to host most of my websites and they offer a good level of technical support if needed.

XCalibre currently charge £9.95 for a domain, £19.95 for .com and £19.95 for .net - this is for two years registration. A little more expensive than some - but I prefer to use a registrar that I trust.

You can do this yourself - or get a web developer like myself to do this for you.

When you register you will need to fill in an online form with ownership details.

One important point - especially if you ask somebody else to handle the process for you. Make sure that domains are registered correctly in your name or the name of your business as appropriate.

Also - remember that you will need to renew registration, normally after two years. If you registered correctly you should get an email reminder - but don't rely on this. Make a note of the renewal date and set up your own reminder - I use Google Calendar.

A couple of cautionary tales.

One of my clients realised that her domain was about to expire and needed renewing. There was no paperwork and we had to spend some time tracking down the original registration - involving emails (among others) to Australia and Switzerland. We then discovered that her previous web developer had registered it in his own name not hers ! Luckily we managed to contact him and persuade him to fill in the necessary paperwork to transfer the domain to its rightful owner.

If he had refused we would have faced major problems and a difficult choice. Start again with a new domain for her website - losing all of the search engine ranking acquired over previous years. Otherwise - the cost and hassle of a legal action against the web developer.

Another client - a tenant of a St Austell Brewery property - found that his website had disappeared overnight. When I investigated I discovered that the domain had expired. The previous tenant had - perfectly legitimately - registered the domain in his own name a couple of years previously.

Renewal notices had been sent to his email address - but he'd changed his email when he moved on so didn't receive the messages. He was most helpful when contacted - luckily he was still in Cornwall, at a different brewery pub. He managed to dig out the original paperwork, I was able to renew the domain and the website was back online within 24 hours.

I have no formal legal expertise so I can't comment further on the legalities - except to repeat that the first principle with domains is "first come first served".

So act now - get those domains registered.

Get in touch if you'd like me to help:

St Ives Cornwall Website Design